Monday, 31 October 2016

Bring Me A Naive Genius, On The Double

Excuse me for a moment, gentle readers, as I wax meditative. While trying to write a post on 'The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show', the old time radio program, an old theory popped back into mind from that place that theories go to hibernate and recover from scrutiny. Old ideas definitely have to go somewhere when you're not considering them, don't they?

The theory is that, roughly, progress comes mainly from naive ideas, or that naiveté is the basis for creativity and not experience. How many artists lose their edge after their first few works, after all? Is it because they've become less talented? No, but maybe it's because they think they know how it works and stop messing about with new techniques? This isn't really about art, though, as much as the world in general. Why does it seem as if things are in a static cycle or repetition at the moment? Could it be because naive ideas are being thrown away in the cause of maintaining the status quo for the currently priviliged? Or because we see naiveté and confuse it with idiocy?

Most of the major changes throughout history are based in naive ideas. Was it a cynical move for the ancient Greeks to start handing out votes in their democracy? No, it was a dumb and original one. Was the first hot air balloon a smart idea? No, it was born from someone thinking about hot air in the most idealistic and naive of ways and then tying a basket to it. New things don't come from experience, do they? Refinement comes from experience and destruction from cynicism. In the great wide world of today, naiveté is an endangered quality. Thanks to years of exposure and overexposure to the troubles all around us, it's almost impossible to be naive.

A day or two ago, I read a story about a thirteen year old high school student who made a functioning renewable energy generator for five dollars, out of what looked like some bits of plastic and sticky tape. It works, and will one day be scaled up to something truly wonderful. She did it, with no disrespect intended, from naive origins. Let's hope that she never loses that ability to take things from the aether and make them real.

Will the human race ever truly make a change for the better? Will the world die under a crowd of abundant and automated cynics? Maybe not, but to change we're probably going to have to learn to listen to some experts, and some naive geniuses. Some of them might even be both.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Movie: 'Superman: The Movie' (1978)

It's surprising that 'Superman: The Movie' (STM) hasn't already been covered here at the Quirky Muffin, it being the prototype theatrical superhero movie. However, is it quite the prototype that we think? There is the 'Batman' film of 1966 to consider too, 'Superman and The Molemen', and even the Superman and Batman serials and cartoons of the Golden Age of cinema. 'Superman' isn't the first superhero project to take itself seriously, but it is the first complete package to make it to the big screen, complete with origin and internal consistency.

'Superman' is a difficult movie to talk about, due to its storied and layered genesis. It was made simultaneously with the original footage of 'Superman II' as part of the virtuoso performance of director Richard Donner and writing talent of Tom Mankiewicz. The ending is in fact taken and adapted from the original story for 'Superman II', explaining both why it seems to be less organically plotted out than the rest of the first film, and why that ending was what had to be used in the restored version of 'Superman II'. This change adds a sensation of roughness to the finale of an otherwise wonderfully structured and solid movie. The humour is wonderful, the verisimilitude is unprecedented, and the whole movie is so solidly based in the foundation that was forty years of accumulated Superman mythology to that date that it couldn't reasonably fail in retrospect, but was a great concern at the time. Yes, the ending is a problem, but it smells like something that was enforced from much higher up than the director or writer, and the whole makes up for it.

The most fascinating aspect of STM is that it comes from a past era when superhero movies were not established, and were not entirely pre-programmed to be all fighting, all the time. There's not a violent confrontation in the whole two and a half hours, which perfectly suits Superman the character in his native movie environment of the romantic adventure. Why does Superman not function particularly well in any medium in the present? It's almost certainly because the romantic adventure doesn't really exist any more. Brian Singer took a large chance on 'Superman Returns' in trying merge into the defunct genre, but its legacy was abandoned by the studio, and we ended up with punch-fests instead. Yes, this isn't an entirely fair analysis, but it does capture the main problem of Superman in a highly cynical age.

Watching STM is a slightly complicated process, as you effectively move through four distinct and differently toned sub-movies. You have the origin on Krypton, the upbringing in Smallville, the travails of Superman, Lois and Lex Luthor in Metropolis, and then the ending. The first three are all awesome, and star-studded, with the lynch pin trio of Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford and Gene Hackman stealing the movie until Christopher Reeve appears. It must have been a daunting challenge to step under the shadow of that cape after the legendary George Reeves, but Reeve became an instant legend, proving himself in one shot. Oh, and the John Williams music is wonderful too.

It's a comic book come to life, a wonder of the past age of movie making, and not something that will really be matched until a new paradigm takes over in cinema, if it ever does. Would it be slow for today's film-lovers? Yes, but at least it's true to the core of the character and lore of Superman, and if you can just open your mind and heart then it's an awesome experience from start to finish.


Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Peril Of Form-Filling

Losing a passport is a tough thing. Not only do you go through the trauma of hunting that vital piece of identification, but if you don't find it then you face the expense of having to get the replacement, and the expense isn't just one of money, but time, you face the peril of form-filling, that horror from times long past...

It's a tedious thing, this completion of forms, whether they be online or on paper. Information has to be collated and compiled, questions have to be asked, and there's always a required document that you don't quite have at hand. There is always a problem somewhere... even if it's just the printer jam of fate breaking in at the worst moment.

'What was your parents' wedding date?' 'What happened to your old passport?' 'Have you reported it?' Yes, I have reported it, thank you, and the police said it was a waste of time and a waste of a phone call. Once your passport is gone, then it's gone, and they'll destroy it if it's handed in. Yes, thank you very much, world. I sigh at it all, in a good humoured way. Well, I'll pretend to be good humoured, but really there's a fair amount of unrest and muttering.

Mutter mutter mutter. I wonder where it was lost? Was it on the bike trail to Bucharest? Or in the interdimensional tube transit to Splotty Newt Nest? Did the time travelling vagabond with the green shoes swipe it, or did I just drop it somewhere dumb in the normal course of events? We will never know.

It's a mystery to me that everyone with a passport knew someone qualified enough to be their counter-signatory. I wonder how that works? Is there a grand conspiracy of qualified counter-signatories wandering the country, signing things for a ridiculous fee? Is there? Is there? How do people know who they are? It bears investigation. Expect a scandal-breaking post in the near future...


PS A very nice woman tracked me down, having found my passport on one of my routes from earlier in the day. Sadly, it was a little too late. Thank you, nice lady, that was a very nice thing to do.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XVI

( Part XV , XVII )

The incidents were piling up, accumulating slowly but steadily and in extremely unlikely fashion. The Man had already fixed Mr Costa's back three times within one week, while the Woman had fixed three hunches and two colds in just one afternoon at the Toddlingham library. They had begun expanding their regular patrols, and lengthening them, to sometimes dangerous extents.

Toddlingham could not have become a magnet for the accident prone, suddenly, or could it? The accident and emergency room was becoming more and more hectic, and the ninjas of health could only make the smallest of differences, with all their skills and abilities. Minor ailments were springing up everywhere, very worryingly.

On the day that a reply arrived from the Keeper of the Appendices, Peggy, the Woman was strolling along the High Street on what was an altogether frazzling day. On walking past the Post Office, she brushed past a young man adjusted his twisted arm, before administering the  karmic cold cure to three people at a bus stop and stumbling a little as she entered the supermarket. A man helped her get her balance, and in return straightened up a little more and lost his migraine. It was her ninth migraine cure of the day, in that small town.

The duo were more than a little frazzled when a reply arrived from the Appendices. Finally, a reply! They checked the Oracle, and marked their activities on the pinboard map before they settled down to read. There seemed to be no pattern to the pins scattered around their old chapel. No pattern at all, except --

"It's almost as if that power is following us around, the way we always find so much to do on our patrols." The Man muttered to himself. "Is there no pattern at all?"

"Perhaps the letter will help." Reassured his companion. "They will have analysed that tablecloth vision, hopefully."

"Yes. I just keep getting this nagging feeling that that force out there is watching every move we make."

"Perhaps it is." The Woman waved the letter in his face. "I'm hoping that it can't read English though, so let's do this and not say a word."

The two read the letter silently.

To be continued...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Seven Hundred And Seventy Four

Twenty-five posts from now we will hit number eight hundred, and I will have to decide whether to continue the Quirky Muffin project or let it go on indefinite vacation. The leaning is toward continuation, but the original challenge of the blog has been met. It is possible to write, and write, and write some more, and not quit. An archive of eight hundred posts is a wonderful pile of evidence for that and managing to write in a coherent or incoherent manner on a regular basis.

Oh, the Quirky Muffin will probably continue. It has a lot of momentum, and far too many unfinished stories to just stop on a dime. That mass of unfinished stories will weigh on this writer's mind. It might be time to stop shirking, and focus on finishing them one at a time, until nothing is left and then start up new ones? Could that be true? Every single one of these stories has a sticking point, or gaping void, holding it back, but perhaps the 'Ninja Of Health' should be put through the analysis machine until something pops. There is something there, the germ of a useful idea encased in much procrastination and waffling. The key is in not just repeating the outlines of already completed stories. It can't be a rehash of the first parts of 'Triangles' or 'Wordspace', or 'Oneiromancy' and 'The Disappearance'. How best to proceed? Analysis or endless rambling until something pops out.

Analysing a story's status is a very vague procedure. You mainly summarise what has happened so far, and then ramble on introspectively about the nature of both stories in general and this one in particular until something clicks or you run out of hard drive space. That second option has yet to occur, but it has never been totally out of the question! At least 'The Glove' is out of danger now, and is now only stalled, with some vague outline peering through the creative mists. Maybe, just maybe, time can be scraped together and not wasted on a thousand silly little things. Degree studies? Ha! The Quirky Muffin will win out!

Now, in first assignment news, I just need to scrape together the content for seven hundred words on a notable intercultural encounter from my past... It's pretty difficult to come up with 'notable' examples of anything when your whole history is buried in a deep sepia emotional tint. Perhaps that time with the elephant at the ball of twine would count, but how would I ever explain the sherpa's boomerang skills?


Friday, 21 October 2016

Film: 'Superman' - The Fleischer Cartoons (1941-1943)

The seventeen 'Superman' cartoons made by Fleischer (and Famous) Studios are a marvel to behold. In this era of limited animation, those fully animated mini-masterpieces are spectacular. It's a little sad that the new management that oversaw the last eight packed those examples full of war propaganda and some awful stereotypes, but the quality of the workmanship is unparallelled. All the previous expertise developed from the Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons is concentrated and condensed until the whole screen is filled with technicolour exploits.

The Superman in the Fleischer cartoons is radically different to what you might expect if you have experienced only the modern DC screen universe. The cartoons are filled with rescues of every variety, and some of the best screen action you could ever imagine in a modern television show. It's fantastic. My favourite example so far is the train rescue in 'Billion Dollar Limited', which captures so much of what was wonderful about Superman as to render practically every other version redundant. You may think this is hyperbole, but the Fleischer cartoons really are that good. They're magical. In 'Billion Dollar Brain', Superman ends up pulling the train himself, after the locomotive goes off a precipice, in a spectacularly rhythmic fashion, while pulling off a dozen other feats.

Superman in the Fleischer cartoons is a rescue machine. His main interaction with the villain is at the end, after defeating the scheme, when he picks up the fiend and drops him off with the police. Clark Kent is just a bit player, working at the Daily Planet as it's one of the rare places where he can get up to the date news. He also turns up at the end to do the George Reeves wink to camera that apparently didn't start with George Reeves! Yes, the wink originated here, or in the comic strip. It's hard to say without more research. The end wink might have originated in principle in the radio serial, as did the voice actors used, the legendary Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander.

The Superman phenomenon can be pretty hard to understand now, so long past the relevant time frame. Superman began in Action Comics in 1938, leaped into the radio sphere in 1940, then theatrical cartoons in 1941 and movie serials in 1948 and 1950, before George Reeves took over for television in the 1950s. Superman was massive, a wonderful burst of positivity in a depressed world, exploding out of the chaos of the 1930s. He was the first popular superhero.

These Fleischer cartoons are also utterly gorgeous, with the best technicolour and a truly drop dead gorgeous pinup version of Lois Lane. Lois here is a gutsy newshound, always following stories in the most dogged fashion, and getting into a dust up whenever possible! Yes, she may end up in distress, but not without giving a good account of herself. Oh, Lois, you have either the most wonderful or terrible luck... She also gets to kiss the man himself, which would be frowned upon in many a following year. The artwork is amazing in these cartoons, and puts a lot of modern animation in a box of shame from which it would never recover. Colour, full animation, music, sight gags, and some of the most fluid visuals you can find now, and which you wouldn't even have imagined at the time; all combine to make something special.

Oh, and if you're not sold: These cartoons are in the public domain and available at the Internet Archive. Try 'Billion Dollar Limited'. Go on.


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

In Brief

We're homing in on eight hundred posts, gentle readers of the Quirky Muffin, an unimaginable landmark. Eight hundred posts, and all without any kind of underlying agenda. In fact, this blog's agenda is to avoid, as much as possible, having an agenda! The closest we have come here is to perhaps talk about 'Star Trek' and 'Superman' a lot, two properties with deep underlying optimism. Maybe our agenda, if it does exist, is to highlight some of the more positive works of popular entertainment out there.

Maybe that faux positivity agenda has been how the temptation to go into a full political editorial mode has been averted, no matter how barely. The sheer nastiness of the moment will go on, and eventually something will change. There's just no status quo here to cling to, and there it shall be left. Politics is out for the foreseeable future unless something diabolical happens in the presidential election, perhaps. Let's hope that doesn't happen...

The season has definitely shifted and Autumn is upon us. The OU work continues to pile up and things continue to become more fraught, even as my own students grapple with their stress-filled upcoming GCSE students. The symmetry of stress is maintained, in a thoroughly frustrating way, but it will all work out, given a monumental amount of effort. No-one ever said this was going to be an easy academic year. The work load will continue to grow.

Ah, October, the time when Christmas shopping is finalised and purchasing continues. Why wait until the last minute when we have so much time to get it all exactly correct? Followed searches exist on eBay for a reason, and some bargains are sure to be found. Let's hope that Jasper Fforde, 'Schotten Totten' and some other things really work out.

What will the eight hundredth post celebration be? It's time to start thinking. All suggestions happily received.


Monday, 17 October 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XV

( Part XIV , XVI )

The two of them settled down at a small desk to one side of the chapel, with a baby monitor keeping them linked to the sick room, and began to write.

"Dear Peggy, Keeper of the Appendices,

We are faced with a serious problem, here in Toddlingham. The Oracle, and his shop assistant, have been struck down by a mysterious force that apparently hatched from an unexplained item that crash landed in a town allotment. That entity manifested itself here in our Sanctuary, and imprisoned us in invisible tubes directly around our focii in the Pattern. Upon our escape, the being fled, but is still active and perhaps haunting us.

A sketch of the receptacle from which the being emerged is enclosed, as is an interpretation of the imprisonment scene in the chapel. Perhaps you might know something about this which we do not.

We turned to the Oracle for some insight, as a prelude to seeking your assistance and sagacity, but the Oracle was struck into insensibility by forces unknown and remains unconscious, now for the third day. We have relocated him to our Sanctuary, compromised though it may be, and care for him still. A similarly affected shop assistant remains at the hospital at Haagenport, taken before we could reach them.

We have recalled some stories about the supposed ability of the Pattern to offer some recuperative effects via immersion, but lack any more information of the subject. We also seek any insight you might offer on the prophecy-laden tablecloth, a high quality photo of which we send in the SD card with this missive.

We ask a lot, Keeper of the Appendices, mainly because we dare not leave the Oracle unattended or each other for very long, with that entity on the loose. Why it hasn't done more to affect us, we do not know.

Please advise,

C and C."

There shall be more...

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Notes From A Museum Trip

The Earth is amazingly old, roughly four thousand six hundred million years old in fact, a slowly cooling molten mass hanging in space that became our own miraculous habitat. Four thousand six hundred million years old! If that's not amazing, then how about this factoid: The oldest rock found on planet Earth is some gneiss (a metamorphic rock) found in the NW Territories of Canada, which is three thousand nine hundred and sixty two years old... Or it might be in Greenland at a slightly older age; it really depends who you believe. Wikipedia or Cardiff Museum?

Apparently, very old stone is hard to find on planet Earth due to the reformation process wherein volcanic and tectonic processes recycle massive amounts of geology. You only get the oldest rocks away from those danger zones, in the shield regions. Supposedly, the oldest rock in Britain only takes us back into forty-per-cent of the Earth's history, and the oldest one in Wales fifteen-per-cent. Do those percentages make sense? Well, I've not worked them through yet, but they're fascinating even if they're wrong.

Aren't museums wonderful? It was nice to spend the time after an OU tutorial today in wandering around Cardiff Museum and examining it all on a superficial basis. The first few visits to the museum contained a lot more scrutiny, but familiarity allows you just to go around semi-randomly, and make notes of interesting things. For some reason, the ages of rocks, and Wales' shortage of geological history popped out this time, as did the term 'submarine landslide'.

If only art galleries could be more interesting. It seems like most are filled with endless and rather uninteresting portraits, with only a few striking and different pieces that pop out. If I ever go to a gallery, I wander around disinterestedly, becoming attached to just one or two pieces, which are never portraits. Never, ever, portraits! Often they're landscapes or impressionistic, except for today when an Augustus John picture called 'May Earp' popped out. It was the most interesting picture in the gallery, except for predictable exceptions like a Monet or two... Art is probably more interesting than I've claimed in the past.

If you have time to spare, and there's a museum, then don't be afraid. There are fascinating things to be found.


Thursday, 13 October 2016

Television: 'Press Gang: Love And War' (1992) (Episode 4x04)

I've said previously that 'Press Gang' can be considered non-canonical after season two, mainly due to Lynda and Colin being pushed pretty far out into caricature land, Spike and Lynda becoming an unnatural focus, and the whole conceit of the show becoming ridiculous once the Junior Gazette laughably goes commercial. So far in my rewatch, this is the only episode to mock that judgement. This is another episode where Bad Things Happen and Silly Things Happen, but we also briefly get a nicer version of Lynda Day back. How long will she stay? It's hard to say, but it's nice to get her back briefly, even at the cost of a great trauma for Spike. You see, the Bad Thing is finally revealed to be the death of his father, back in the States.

It's not an episode that entirely works. Plainly, there's something seriously wrong with Spike that we're not being told, which is clearly evident within the episode itself, and as a result the Colin subplot of Silly Things falls very badly apart. Not even Colin is so deluded that he can be oblivious to just how distraught and upset Spike is in his grieving, is he? Really? When exactly did he become a subpar moron, anyway? It's not even a dangerous job that he foists onto Spike, once we see it. This iteration of Colin is a very long way removed from the one who saved the young girl in 'Something Terrible'. So, it's non-canonical still, but a step closer than usual to the original timeline.

Dexter Fletcher seems to be one of those actors who fell into the Cataclysmic Temporal Abyss of the 1990s. He was incredibly charming and witty, even with a fake American accent (or maybe because of it) in 'Press Gang', and then vanished. He's a director now, last responsible for the 'Eddie The Eagle' film of last year. This episode gives him the opportunity for a small masterclass in angst, while Julia Sawalha gets to look concerned for at least ten minutes. Yes, that's at least ten minutes of Lynda Day not being a manipulative obsessive tyrant! She's even nice! It's probably because Dexter's giving it everything for the first time since the second year of the show...

It's ultimately all an exercise in the narrative withholding of information, and a standard Moffat puzzle box, but it manages to be a very good episode. That Moffat is such a writer, adept at both linear and non-linear storytelling, that you sometimes forget that he's really just a regular human being, like the rest of us. He is, though, or at least we assume he is. This is more of an actor's episode though, due to the Colin flaw, and it being a 'bottle episode'. It's also an episode that holds out some hope for the last eight episodes of the show that remain. Maybe, just maybe, these remaining characters are coming home from the land of caricature? Just a little? Perhaps? We will have to wait and see.

I miss Kenny.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

They Do It With Ink, Of Course

In a rare fit of old-timey worldliness, this post is being written in the middle of nowhere with the old fashioned and infinitely useful pen and paper. That's right, pigment on processed wood pulp! You can't beat the classics. As always, it's much more meditative out there in the wilds, with nothing but a cylinder of ink and a bicycle to protect you from the beasts and monsters of the wild. It's a nice small interlude of calm in an otherwise frantic few hours.

I wonder how they make ink in the twenty-first century? We have more colours now than they used to have. Are they breeding special squid, I wonder facetiously? Or would they be like those multi-coloured pens, where you pull down a switch for each colour. Hence, tentacle number one for black, number two for red, and so on? It's a thought.

The review of 'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel' will be coming very soon, gentle readers of the Quirky Muffin. It's just a question of working out how to write about a book of radio scripts for a long-lost radio show from the 1930s, which is rendered even more complicated by the voices of Chico and Groucho Marx that permeate every line! They're trapped in the pages, and sometimes you wonder if Harpo isn't in there too, and Zeppo, propping things up and filling in bit parts... However, this should all be saved for the actual post!

It's nice out here, in the middle of the country, writing on a small bridge over the bicycle trail. If it weren't for the occasional cyclist it would be ideal. You get to ponder silly thoughts, examine silly ideas, and wonder how things got to be the way they are. How will it all end up? Who will win the Golden Waffle Iron of fate at the end of the political cycle? Will we stop the world burning up and ending this ice age prematurely? How will the unending Trump debacle end, and what bizarre shenanigans will his own side pull next to stop Corbyn getting anywhere? Why is string pale brown? Do sheep actually act sheepish? Do aliens watch our news like their own version of trashy reality television? Why can't people be silly anymore?

It's a strange place to live, isn't it? I guess it's time to go back to civilization.


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XIV

( Part XIII , XV )

The Oracle lay in the tiny bed, looking small and delicate. He showed no signs of waking, but didn't seem in any danger. The two ninjas of health looked at him concernedly. The shop assistant had been taken to hospital earlier, once they had realised they could do nothing for her. There was no apparent cause for either of the illnesses!

"We can't just leave him here, you know." Said the Man.

"I know. And we can't take care of him ourselves without neglecting all our other wards. Well, not for long anyway."

"The thought of abandoning him to a regular hospital..."

The Woman thought, and thought some more. "What about the shop?"

"It will be taken care of. You make that call, and I'll prepare him for travel."

[Yes, I have completely lost track of this story at this point!]

*    *    *

The chapel, home of our two protagonists, was quieter than they remembered as they put their friend into the bed they used for visitors and difficult cases. He didn't stir at all, and just lay there, insensate.

"We still need to consult the Appendices. I hesitate to leave you alone, here where that Entity has already manifested once." The Man touched his companion's arm gently.

"And I would hesitate to leave you alone here too."

"There is something that we could do, without the Appendices, but I don't know if it's worthwhile."

"What? What do you mean?" The lady was always surprised when her protege pulled a rug out from under her. "You, sir, are keeping secrets!"

"No, but there was something that Ken told me, when I visited him after the novitiate. He mentioned an unexpected recovery after being immersed in the Mosaic." He looked awkward for a moment. "I've got some idea for it, but it's definitely 'blue sky thinking'."

"Ken was ever an experimentalist."

"Maybe it's in the Appendices..."

The two looked down at the Oracle once again.

"Let's write a letter." They said, in harmony once again.

To be continued...

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Green Pen

It was a dangerously exciting day. The worst of the worst. For a few short minutes, something was lost that might never have been found again. Angst rippled across the mind, as a green pen fell and rolled away into oblivion. What would happen without the green pen? Worse, thanks to the mismatched pen top procedure, first instigated by Hannah the Great in the middle of the last decade, a red pen would currently need to be sacrificed to make up the pair. What horror! The worst part of travelling to people's houses to teach is that you can lose things, compensate for the loss, and then unexpectedly get them back again just when you had given up.

You might say, "It's only a pen! It's only a pen!", and you would be right. It is only a pen. However, a pen is mightier than any sword, and the green pen is the most valuable of all. The green pen, the contemporary replacement for the red marking pen of tradition, is the mythical extension to the soul promised long ago by Plato, Archimedes, and the Buddha. There can be no life with a lost green pen, once you have become used to it...

However, the green pen was finally found, and the world saved one more time. The storm in a teacup was poured into the plug hole of infinity, and everything began again. What was more important, the tutoring session with the GCSE student or losing a trivial green pen? (Speaking in jest) Of course the pen! The pen! There can be no life while losing pens! Losing things is terrible. It's a sign of obsessive compulsion, I know, but sometimes whole mornings, afternoons, evenings or even nights can be lost in looking for lost things, while knowing that no rest will be found until the world is back to rights. Pens, watches, gold bullion, pieces of paper, bookmarks... Bookmarks... The rest, when it comes, is all the sweeter...

One day, there will have to be an extremely boring Quirky Muffin about bookmarks. It's down on the list.


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Novel: 'The Woman In White' by Wilkie Collins (1859)

We've already covered 'No Name' and 'Armadale' here at the Quirky Muffin, both first timer reads, and now it's time for the re-reads of 'The Woman In White' and eventually 'The Moonstone'. This can't be a fair comparison, due to Collins' novels suffering a little in subsequent experiences, but we can't be perfect. That lack of sustainability is a definite mark against his status as a classical giant, but the 'Big Four' still have an epic quality that offsets their disadvantages. A 'sensation novel' is bound to lose something after the first reading by its very definition, after all!

'The Woman In White' was the first of Collins' 'Big Four' novels, and helped kick off the sensation novel as a phenomenon. It's a great and epic conspiracy or mystery, novelly told via the written accounts of many of the story's characters, and is at times spooky and suspenseful. It's also my least favourite of the three I've read so far! Is it really due to it being a re-read instead of a first time? Was it just the general mood of the time? It's hard to say. It may be that Wilkie fatigue has set in, and that the constant deprecation of women while simultaneously pioneering complex female protagonists has had a confusing and tiring effect.

'The Woman In White' is probably far better than I'm willing to admit. It's better than 'Armadale', to contradict my earlier statement, thanks to the absence of many of the structural flaws of that later work, but there's far too much exposition in 'The Woman In White'. You could argue that it's all exposition due to it being a compilation of the written narratives of the characters in the story, but there is an awful lot of blatant explanation where a description would have been better...

What was it like to read this for the first time? I honestly can't remember. The first Wilkie Collins novel to fall into my hands was 'The Moonstone', as a result of noticing a BBC mini-series adaptation, and which I liked very much. I don't remember much about the first reading of 'The Woman In White' at all, but the story is ingenious, and the 'eccentric of the week' almost endearing in the form of the devious and corpulent Count Fosco. The Count is really the star of the piece, as was Captain Wragge in 'No Name'. Collins could really write an eccentric like no other, except perhaps Dickens. Not being a Dickensian, no definitive statement can be made at this time.

For form's sake, what it 'The Woman In White' about? Mutter mutter. It's the story of an intrigue and conspiracy via which a dissolute baronet marries a fair but heartbroken heiress and proceeds to try and rob her of her fortune to benefit himself and the equally penniless foreign peer Fosco. However, due to unexpected steel in his wife and her half-sister, he and the Count have to fake her death and substitute her body with that of a mentally imbalanced commoner who happens to be her sickly lookalike. Finally, all is saved by the wife's long-lost sweetheart, who tracks down the conspirators and manages to save the day... No, 'No Name' is definitely a better story.

'The Woman In White' is an awesome groundbreaker for what was to come,  and it's probably not the best of Collins. Every fibre of my being says that will be the last of the Big Four to be written about here. We have only 'The Moonstone' to come...


Monday, 3 October 2016

There Was Life Before Wellingtons

What could this one be about? What will be the distraction this time from the rigours of study and teaching? What will fill up the pages of the Quirky Muffin while I try to balance my time and enjoy the 'Phil Harris and Alice Faye' show, and worry about the coming week? Might it be an obscure word such as 'polypsychism'?

polypsychism - belief that one person may have multiple souls

No, maybe not, although multiple souls could explain how some people shift between radically different mindsets and attitudes. Maybe it's a reshuffling of souls? Do souls even exist? I read a tangential and possibly imaginary reference to quantum scientists examining some evidence that souls do move into other dimensions when we die, which implies that they think souls exist to begin with, but studies really need to be examined in depth before we can draw any conclusions...

This keyboard is going to be a difficult beast to deal with tonight, as the words trickle out, with little clear direction in the writer's mind. It's tough sometimes, as non-blog activities begin to pile up and language practice becomes a priority, and the magnificent world of wandering the countryside in wellies becomes an overwhelming craving. There's something wonderful about wellies when you give in to their advantages (and when your normal shoes suffer a catastrophic failure), and embrace invulnerability to mud and water. Indeed, when no-one is looking, you can jump in puddles. Mwahahahah.

Ah, wellies, those wonderful inventions that allow mud- and water-rich wanderings across the many paths of this fair valley. Where would we be without them? Trapped in the hideous and decadent luxuries of the house, walking strictly on pavements and never enjoying lateral exploration and meanderings from A to B? What horrific eventualities these might be! Half the excitement of travel is in turning to one side and randomly seeing what might be found in those spare few minutes! That impulse is one of the core wonders of the original 'Star Trek', after all. Remembering the non-wellington life now is unbearable.

There was a life before wellies?


Saturday, 1 October 2016

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part VI

( Part V , VII )

The group of unknown words examined Club, surrounding him suspiciously. He returned the scrutiny as calmly as possible.

"You. Who are you, stranger?"

Club whirled to see who had spoken. The strangers stood pointedly on their syllables, looking rather desperate and frayed. He saw no reason to not answer. There were no native enemies in the Wordspace.

"My name is Club."

The strangers scrutinised him some more. Club, now becoming somewhat nervous, rebalanced on his stems and waited to see what fate might bring. Overhead, Breeze joined him an emissary from their friends. The spokesman for the group just looked at him and said nothing.

"Who are you all?" Club finally asked.

"We are from before."

"Before? Before what?" If Club had been Mystery or Wisdom, he might have noticed that the new words had quaint patterns in the way they communicated.

"Before what you know. We have wandered for many eons, seeking a home. Our home. We saw a disturbance in the distance, and came to investigate."

Club still didn't understand. He looked up at Breeze, who shrugged her sparse syllables. "An invader has arrived from outside this Wordspace. We thought that you all were he, but instead you are strangers. Even now, back there, a disaster might be unfolding." Club tried to convey urgency, somewhat clumsily.

"We will go to see." The spokesman looked back at his crowd, and they all silently assented. "My name is First."

Breeze swirled overhead. They had discovered the Ordinals, or had the Ordinals discovered them? There were myths, and then there was the story of these words from prehistory! Their group moved back toward the Zone, to see what might be done.

There shall be more.