Saturday, 31 December 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXIII

( Part XXII , XXIV )

The sensei moved backward, and forward, waving his umbrella around as if he were Zorro or Robin Hood in an old movie. Rocks and stones crunched and wobbled as his unseen adversary played its part in the game. Sometimes, with a screech, Ken would score a hit, proving at least that the thing they were facing was material. It was also proving that Ken wasn't above mild combat to save his life. The sacred order of the ninjas of health were allowed to fight in self-defence, but it was always a very dangerous ethical balancing act.

"A ha!" Shouted Ken in triumph, and the with a sudden smash of sound, an invisible mass fell to the ground, utterly destroying their rock garden tribute to the druids of Tumbledown Moor. The sensei scrambled over in an instant, looking to  immobilise the invisible prisoner.

"We've got to help him!" Gasped the Woman and she dashed outside and jumped on the invisible beast at the second attempt.

"Ropes? We need restraints... We need something..." The Man dashed around the chapel, looking for something useful to secure their guest, finally emerging with some gurney belts. He rushed outside, to see Ken and his companion bucking up and down in the air wildly, on the back of the mysterious creature. Unhesitatingly, the Man rushed forward, seeking to trip the Whatever It Was with the belts, but a manic heave sent Ken and the Lady flying through the air and onto the chapel roof. They hung there limply, and for several moments the Man's mind turned to utter despair.

The gravel behind him crunched, and a moment later he was sprawled all over the chapel roof too, between his partner and their teacher. Her eyes fluttered, and looked at him blankly. Then, muttering softly, "We are getting knocked out far too often...", she crawled over and checked his pulse. It was fine. Then, she checked on Ken, who was a bit thready but otherwise functioning as far as she could tell.

Was the creature still in the grounds, she wondered, or had it wandered off? Was it THE creature, or some new entity? Were there problems going to get even worse. Looking back to Ken again, she was slightly stunned when he winked at her and slid over to the drainpipe. "Chin up, big tall Grasshopper, we've got a chance now!"

More, more, more...

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Global Peace Plan: Haircuts

After a weary day of changing plans, and being thoroughly annoyed, it could be difficult to write something possible here, but we don't care about reality! Nyahahahaha! Oh, okay, we do care about reality a little. At the moment, reality is proving most persistent in the area of the one compulsory module forced upon me by the Open University. It is going very slowly... Never have I had to think for so long about multiculturalism versus uniculturalism (a new -ism!), and monoculturalism as a concept, and try to make judgements. What does any of it mean? I don't know. Uniculturism seems more practical than multiculturalism though, so presumably I'll have to think about it some more.

'Mission Impossible' is playing to one side, with a strange tale about a pseudo South African republic, and a Colonel artificially made black in order to forward a hunt for some stolen gold. It's really a very strange one. I forgot that things like this happened. They did it on 'M*A*S*H' once too, to a lesser degree, this changing of skin colour. However, I don't think it's that bad a thing to do in pursuit of making a point. At least they were trying, however clumsily. Maybe a darkly coloured person would be more offended than an exceedingly pale caucasian weakling.

December is almost at an end, and 2016 has almost expired with it. Thankfully, the return of lengthening days is helping a marked improvement in concentration and ability, which is only hindered by needing a haircut. Yes, the biblical stories about Samson are true, but in reverse. My mental acuity becomes weaker as my hair grows. It's probably an overheating problem. Sometimes, a suspicion crosses the mind that many of the world's political problems might be averted with some judiciously prescribed haircuts, but that would be too simplistic, right?

Having finished both the Jules Verne adventure, and the Michael Palin travelogue mini-series, the idea of a post about 'Around The World In Eighty Days' has been kicking around in my mind, but it's not quite right yet. The concept of a race around the world in a certain time pre-dates the novel, so it feels wrong to write about it without getting more information. Maybe in the future it will surface. Until then, viva 'The Ninja Of Health'!

More shall follow in the coming days.


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Television: 'Supergirl: Pilot' (Episode 1x01) (2015)

I don't know what to make of the pilot episode for 'Supergirl'. Somehow, it combines immense potential with many of the problems of superficiality in the modern DC superhero series. Nothing goes unsaid, everything is stated, and everyone is very, very beautiful. It's very feminist but at the expense of running almost all the male characters into idiotic stooge status and having a pretty awful first episode supervillain. Well, feminism isn't exactly 'equal rights and equal treatment' anyway, is it? Or is it? It's a very murky question, and one addressed very clumsily in the pilot. Finally, there's far too much a feeling of 'inside pool', of everything originating and circling around from one pool of causes back to the same pool with effects, of there not being any outside stories being told. Everything is just too neat.

It's very unusual for me to be writing without an overview of the whole series, season or even the next few episodes. If this turns into an ongoing feature it could become very interesting... For now, it's like reaching around blindly, searching for a torch in the darkness.

Having covered the most negative aspects of the 'Supergirl' pilot, let's elaborate much more on the positives. The traditional airplane rescue sequence is fantastic and sells the idea of being super as being fun - which is then squandered with a brutal closing fight, but let's gloss over that. Flying should be a wonderful experience! Melissa Benoist pulls off a difficult job as Superman's cousin Kara, jumping over the very odd characterisation of someone who has renounced using their superpowers (and thus passively allowing every accident that ever happened around her?), but then finally gives in to her noble impulses, all the while pulling off a very nerdy vibe in her 'real life' personality as a browbeaten personal assistant. I'm just not sure it makes any sense, unless her contradictions are the result of her very troubling adopted family's insistence that she just be 'normal'. Hang on, we've shifted back into mixed to negative things! The plane sequence is very good indeed. It's a good tradition to keep, the inaugural plance rescue. I think that only George Reeves and Kirk Alyn were too early to get ones of their own.

Other positive things include the great use of Jimmy Olsen as a potentially very useful character, Kara revealing her new super-identity to two friends immediately, former-Super alumni Helen Slater and Dean Cain as her adopted parents (yet to speak a word so a question mark hangs over that), and the notion of a female superhero taking centre stage is a strong one. Ultimately, it will all hang on whether they manage to make any of the supporting cast interesting, and whether they can get away from the slightly disturbing reverence to 'Him', the ever-absent Superman in their universe. Also, can male characters also not just be wimps? Will they be able to get away with all those things? After one episode, the supporting cast are extremely bland with the notable exception of  Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen; Brooks is probably the most charismatic person in the whole pilot! Hopefully, it will pick up. The potential is amazing, but is the team behind the show super enough to make it work? Will there be enough depth to compensate for the superficiality brought in with the computer generated imagery? (Having said that, the heat vision was extremely well done for once, as was the plane sequence.)

Time will tell. We will see...


Monday, 26 December 2016

The Benefit Of Sleeping Well

It's that time again, the time to start pounding out silly words and hope they all make sense in a row. At least it will be easier this time, as for the first time in more than a month, tiredness is away and sleep has been predominant. The Quirky Muffin, as an extension of its writer, is finally well rested again. It's a wonderful and rare feeling. Maybe it's partly connected to being in the nicer half of the year too...

What could we write about in this new and exciting era? What new realms of imagination or scholarly endeavour remain to be plumbed? The nature of Christmas itself? A new plan for personalised bank holidays? The wonders of Dr McCoy's boom boom machine? What to write about? What? It's fortunate that we have a mandate for being determinedly undetermined, specifically unspecific, and fixedly unfixed in focus, or the Muffin might be in trouble! Tomorrow, a post on the pilot episode for the new-ish 'Supergirl' series will go up, but right now what shall it be?

There is a theory, a prominent one here at QM headquarters, that in your life you are usually either giving of yourself or giving to yourself. You are taking in or giving out. If you do too much of one of the other, you become out of balance and erratic. Teaching is a highly giving exercise. If you don't take time to do the opposite, you will run yourself ragged, as I nearly have. Holidays are a great time for calming down, relaxing and taking in peace and energy for a while. You get to read, watch television, think calm thoughts and be  at ease with the world. Good grief, this year has not been one conducive to the meditative and absorptive half of life! However, it's almost over now and we can relax. There is 'Around The World In Eighty Days' almost finished on the book pile, the Conan stories are a quarter read, 'Gilligan's Island', 'Batman', 'The Mentalist' and 'JAG' are all going swimmingly in the DVD rotations, and there's even time for a little bit of music.

Also, in a sign of definite holiday fever, a jigsaw puzzle has been embarked upon. Nothing shrieks of contemplation quite as much as a well patterned and highly irregular jigsaw of a beautiful illustration or painting. You take a chaotic pile of fragments, slowly sift them for the edges, establish the frame or context of the puzzle, and then build order from the madness. Well, for the most part my father will do the work compulsively, but it's still quite the project.

We're old school here at this weblog. Rathbone and Bruce all the way.


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXII

( Part XXI , XXIII )

"The rules behind prophecy have always been fuzzy. The act of divining a vision of the future, or the past, presupposes that the vision will be useful to someone eventually. If not, then why divine it in the first place? This tablecloth means something to someone, or will in the near future. That's simple logic. Also, we must assume that people have been knocked out for a reason, implying that one of the unconscious might have the clue we need. You have both been revived, so perhaps you aren't the ones with the knowledge. Does it sound good so far?" Ken paused for reassurance.

"Yes, that seems reasonable, although it could just be a meaningless or unconnected scheme that saw us knocked out." The Woman was not convinced.

"I won't argue that's a likely proposition, but then we have no clue whatsoever to follow. We must assume that the creature is keeping some people unconscious because they can explain what the tablecloth means, or could do so in the future. That includes especially our friend the Oracle, whose position is now beginning to seem desperate."

The Man looked thoughtfully at the corner of the room. "If that's so, then if we were detectives we could find some common factor behind the most stubbornly unconscious -- assuming that we're not fed misinformation -- and get ahead in this all."

"Yes... I should tell you once again, remind you, that this place is safe now. I can't exactly explain it, but ball pools seem to be excellent media for certain Pattern arrangements that are remarkably stable, and won't permit chaotic influences from the stars. At least, I hope so. As long as it's said here, it won't hear. For example, if I twirl and sing some standards from old musicals, it won't have the faintest idea that it ever happened." Ken stood up, twirled and did some Gene Kelly songs, distracting his two protégés from something he had seen outside the window in the process. Then he made an excuse and left the room, the tiny sitting room that had been the vestry.

"We're not detectives. How can we possibly work out a commonality between all these people, apart from obvious things such as when or where they collapsed?" The Woman demanded.

"Hush, milady, there might be ways."

"Huzzah!" The two looked at each other confusedly, and then toward the window. The noise had come from outside. When they looked, they saw Ken mock fencing with an umbrella in the small garden. Or was he mock fencing, after all?

Rocks tumbled and rolled, but nowhere near the sensei's steps. Something else was in the garden.

There can and will be more...

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Take Two

There was already one attempt at writing this post, but it fell foul of the Great Cosmic Jinx (GCJ) that occasionally takes the place of Thursdays. The GCJ/Christmas conjunction is quite rare, though. The doubling can cause all kinds of bizarre pressures! Even now, I shudder at it all. Actually, I shudder more at the sheer madness of ASDA in Llanelli earlier today. It wasn't a full on Christmas panic - they don't happen in Llanelli - but it was verging on ridiculous. What is it that happens to people at Christmas, exactly? It's only two bank holidays in a row, after all. You don't have to buy several trollies of extra food for just two days, do you? My incomprehension is probably linked to a secular upbringing. Maybe the extra food is for Father Christmas or his reindeer, or needs to be there in case of a spontaneous papal visit.

Oh, Christmas, that tricky time of year. What should be done with the free time? Sadly, this year it will be all study, as there are weeks of lagging behind the OU schedule to rectify. Who would have thought it would be that hard to stay on schedule? At least there's scope here for a New Year's resolution. Oh, that's a good idea. New Year's resolutions! There's a good one planned for 2017, and it involves a boat. Somehow, the resolution is that enough money will be saved to pay off a long cruise sometime in late 2017. Yes, a cruise... If it happens, expect a mass of ship-related in about a year's time. Oh, the joys of restful sea travel... How unlikely it is.

Argh, this is quite a difficult one to write. It's late at night in mid-December after a very strange day of endless self-interruptions. Even now, mental discipline is wavering endlessly. It's probably the accumulated effect of all the 'Conan' stories that I've been reading by Robert E Howard. Soon, very soon, there will be a Quirky Muffin on those stories. The writing is excellent, although in the current patch there have been a few too many dark bat-like demon monsters in a short space of time! I suspect it will become more diverse in time, and it's just a consequence of the collected editions printing the texts in internal continuity order instead of the publication sequence. The scope of the 'Conan' stories is cast, but we'll get to it all in good time.

'The Ninja Of Health' rolls on and is tentatively scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2017. Even now, ideas are failing to percolate, but there is an extremely vague outline rolling around in the brain space.  How do we get mutant carrots from Mars into this narrative, anyway?


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXI

( Part XX , XXII )

The Man's first thoughts upon awakening from his unconsciousness were mainly about cheese and acupuncture, This wasn't unprecedented, as there had been several odd related episodes in his training and orientation periods, but it had been a long long time since that particular mental conjunction had come to pass. Then, he opened his weary eyes and looked up at the ceiling, wondering after a few moments why his bed was so uncomfortable.

"Oh, finally, he awakes!" He definitely knew that voice.

"Hush, my friend. Do you not remember your headache?"

*    *    *

Two hours later, our two protagonists were reunited, and looking down at the Oracle with their sage mentor Ken. The prognosticator was not responding to the ball pool therapy. Ken shuffled around uncertainly in the mess, and took his old friend's pulse. "It's a little better," he mused, before peeling up an eyelid, and then touching his forehead in a very precise way. "Did he hurt himself when he fell unconscious?"

"No, he was seated where he had been when warping the cloth." The Woman was just as puzzled.

"I will stay here and observe." Ken waved vaguely toward the kitchen area. "You two had best go out and get some fresh air, AND some groceries. I, for one, have not sausages in far too long a time. Off you go."

"Yes, teacher."

"Yes, sir."

*    *    *

The  trip to the supermarket became a re-orientation and lesson of its own sort. Toddlingham was for the most part deserted, with only a few hollow-eyed people wandering around. They shied away from the two Ninjas when they approached, looking to upset to make contact. The supermarket was slightly better, but still barren. It was inexplicable. In the car park, the duo held hands and wondered what to do.

Returning to the chapel, they found Ken in conversation with someone who wasn't there. He hung up the phone after a quick goodbye, and looked worriedly at their faces. "It's getting worse?" He asked.

"Yes, while we were asleep, the situation has deteriorated badly." The Man replied.

"Right, then we will have to follow the only clue we have." He waved the tablecloth in the air like an flag. "We will have to find out what this means."

To be continued...

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The December Darkness

It's mid-December, and darkness rules over more than two thirds of the day here in South Wales. The hours of daylight are weak in number but you can still hold on to that sunny feeling with lunchtime walks and dreams of things to come after the Winter Solstice. The Winter gloominess isn't completely unbeatable, after all...

'Solstice' is a pretty interesting word, passing down to us from Latin, via Old French and Middle English. It literally means 'the stopping of the Sun', as that celestial body ceases its long trudge to the horizons or zeniths of our own personal worlds and begins to retrace its steps. Yes, the good old tilted Earth will have gone from one side of the Sun to the other, and passed once more on to the other half of its journey. Even now, in the Southern hemisphere, the daylight hours are reaching their greatest duration. Never forget the flip side.

Astronomy is wonderful, isn't it? The great study of the universe, and our own moving place within it! If there were more hours in the week, it would be top of my list of things to study ardently, and without cessation! However, the real world does like to get in the way, with a grand diversity of students, studies and fascinating books to read. And lots of sleeping, of course, befitting the the darkest time of the year. If you're not sleeping hours more, then you're plainly not doing it right. Consider investing in extra beds for hot bunking, personal valets to rotate you for optimal hygiene, and anti-insomnia pillows. We'll get to full employment via twelve hour sleep nights, people.

Also in recent news, a new commentary is up, a Tysto/Quirky Muffin co-production for 'Batman: The Movie'! Ah, for those grand days when a pre-atomic Penguin Sub made sense and labelling was a universal antidote to seriousness...

More will follow, following the brief interruption to normal service yesterday which was prompted by a bizarre confluence of dogsitting, podcast recording, tutoring and covering my mother's stall at the local produce market. Days like those happen at most once per year...


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Film: 'Batman' (1966)

This is not the Tim Burton film. This is not any of the Christopher Nolan movies. No, this is 'Batman', the real movie. The first live-action theatrical superhero film, excepting the serials, although corrections will be welcomed with style. It's daft, lunatic and far too long. Adam West and Burt Ward light it up and Lee Meriwether leads the gang of all star supervillains with panache.

Making a movie of a television series while the series is still in production is a pretty rare activity. The only other examples I can think of are 'The Muppet Movie' and 'The Great Muppet Caper', although the extremely mediocre 'Star Trek: Generations' might also fit in this category. 'Batman' is probably the most faithful theatrical conversion of any television series to date ('Star Trek II' is a slightly different category, I think), maintaining the spirit of the series while adding enough scope and scale to be a big screen endeavour. Does it work? Well, that's the fiddly question. The answer is not certain in this writer's mind. It played constantly over the decades on television, home video and DVD, and has achieved a level of saturation that precludes rational thought. It has a war-surplus pre-nuclear submarine with gigantic penguin flippers for propulsion, for goodness sake, and Lee Meriwether at her most sophisticated!

Objectively, is it good? Let's take a stance and stop prevaricating. Yes, it probably is. It's a good film. It's a funny caper that's a little too long. The colours are amazing, the gags are ridiculous, the visuals are spectacular, and the toys are amazing. The problem is that the villains don't quite work for one hundred and five minutes, except for Catwoman and possibly the Riddler. Something strange happens, and the paradigm of the series flips, making Batman and Robin the most interesting characters. Could it be Adam West and Burt Ward were just naturals for the big screen, more so than the caricatures that are the the series versions of Penguin and the Joker? Could that be the secret of the movie? It's a curious part of the end product.

Ultimately, it's a very important film. Even as a comedy, this version of Batman still encapsulates his status as a detective more than any other live-action version, and the principle if not the reasoning behind a mysterious crimefighter and his vast array of gadgets. (Reasoning: Mortal man begins fighting crime, and realises he is only ever one fight away from ending it all in crippling disability or death, and therefore designs a thousand devices to avoid fisticuffs.) It also has so many classic moments that it can't be anything but great, right? The highlights from 'Batman' (1966) include: "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!", the penguin submarine, the polaris riddles, Bruce Wayne warming milk in a brandy snifter, the villains dehydrating the United World security council, Alfred's mask disguise, jetpack umbrellas, THAT SHARK, and the great and singular 'kapow' fight on the deck of the submarine. It's a bizarre and ingenious endeavour, all in all and utterly unrepeatable now. There's not the writing or production talent to make something like this, 'Get Smart' or 'Star Trek' in this era. 'Batman', on my recent reviewing of the show, has been revived most faithfully in my mind.

'Batman' is a daft and well-polished movie from the 1960s. Considering the quality of comedies in that decade, this may actually be in the top echelon from that time period. The sixties were not a great time for comedies, excepting other minor gems like 'Cat Ballou' or 'Support Your Local Sheriff'. Oh, if only this one had had another set of 'kapows'...


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Eight Hundred

The river at the bottom of the valley is very close to flooding. Ignoring the possible effects for a moment, it's amazing to see a small-ish river swollen to several times its normal size, full of muddy brown water, and flowing swiftly from its unknown regions upstream to its ultimate destiny in meeting the sea. It's so close to flooding that it might soon splosh all over the tiny footpath commonly used to make a shortcut over to the Pontyates Post Office. This means nothing to the non-locals out there, but it is definitely an uncommon occurrence. Water is the most overwhelming manifestation of nature, the only one which is always obviously dynamic and in motion. The earth beneath us is apparently quiescent for most of our lives, and wind or air pressure only imposes itself upon us at certain times, but rivers and seas are always in motion and working away.

Just as that swollen river has flowed down from upstream regions, and is heading to the sea, the Quirky Muffin is now flowing under its eight hundredth bridge. Eight hundred posts will be in the bag at the close of this text, and we will have reached another landmark. What have these past eight hundredth posts meant? Almost nothing! However, there have been maybe two Very Important Posts, a daft assortment of serial stories, and piles and piles of book, television, film, and even radio reviews. Yes, Old Time Radio has found itself once again, and it's nice to have it back from time to time. It's a shame it was ever shunted aside by the then-new phenomenon of television and growing cynicism in the world, but the thing they call progress never can be denied. It seems that the price of every advance is a loss of cultural innocence... That can't be true, can it? Can it? Is it even true of tin openers or door stops?

Eight hundred posts of extemporisation, attempts to redress infamies dumped unfairly on underrated (but not necessarily great) attempts at entertainment, and made up on the spot serial stories. At the moment, the spine of the Quirky Muffin is a story entitled 'The Ninja Of Health', which has now taken over as the prime serial. Once 'The Ninja Of Health' concludes, the problematic story 'The Glove' will have to vie with 'Wordspace: Phase II' and 'Diary Of A Laundry Robot' for the status of Predominant Story Serial. Good grief, all of those three will need a decent amount of work to go any further, and there is still 'Triangles: Phase II' waiting to be started too! There will be lots of story work before we ever get to anything new! All this, and we still have Groucho season to come. Yes, all four of the prime Paramount Marx Brothers films, at least two of the Goulart private eye novels, and his comeback audience performance in the 1970s. You have to have mini-seasons to keep blogs going for this long. Perhaps after Groucho season, we'll break into some other run of posts, maybe about the 'Peanuts' films?

Eight hundred posts in the bag, and now we only have two hundred to go to reach one thousand. Everyone, please close your eyes and whistle. It will make it all go far more easily...


Sunday, 11 December 2016

Before The Invention Of Breakfast Cereal

A long time ago, before the invention of breakfast cereal, primitive mankind used to spend its nights in primitive holes and caves, bereft of culture and diversion apart from hunting and procreation. Back in those pre-sophisticated times, there was little conversation due to a lack of language, but eventually something must have happened. Maybe it was music, or play acting, but the entertainment we know about is cave painting. At some point back in the distant past, someone found some pigments and started scraping pictures on a cave wall, starting mankind off on the first steps to abstraction. Yes, sticks had been used to make pictures in the ground, but they tended to go away.

Think about it a little, and let the awesomeness sink in. A cave dweller, who had barely discovered fire and the rudiments of food scavenging, suddenly dipped his finger in some soot, blood or other tint and started scraping it across a wall to make a picture. It's pretty amazing. Pictures, the foundations of the first writing systems, being stuck on a wall or scraped in the ground with a stick. Now, here in the twenty-first century, we use brushes, pencils, computers, pens, sprays and even mosaic tiles, but we're ultimately doing the same thing. Those ancient people invented a wonderful thing, but did they ever know it? Did the first composer realise what they had done either?

What would you, the imagined reader of this blog post, daub onto a cave wall if you had the chance? Would it be an old red London bus, or the Starship Enterprise? Would it be a rough painted sketch of your sweetheart or your favourite sports team's crest? It could be anything! I think I would start with the Superman shield, or an attempt at the famous Groucho face, before giving up and doodling lighthouses, which are my default and solitary competent drawings. Everything else is difficult, but a lighthouse on a rocky outcrop can always be done. It may actually be time to start breaking out the sketchpads and experimenting again. Christmas is coming, after all, with its endless expanses of free time. Already, the tutoring is dwindling to holiday levels, and OU revision taking over.

Hmmm... reverting to cave painting for a moment... how do children start to illustrate usually? It's remarkable similar, isn't it?


Friday, 9 December 2016

Seven Hundred And Ninety Eight

We're only two steps away from the Quirky Muffin's eight hundredth post, and there are absolutely no plans whatsoever for that momentous landmark. Nothing. We will just have to make do with the standard summary and plan for the next hundred posts, unless some miracle progress occurs in the next few days. It would have been nice to get that joined-up version of 'Oneiromancy' sorted out, but it will come soon enough. Maybe Christmas will be the time to get it done, with the slackening in teaching that ensues.

It's December, and it seems like the whole world is going Christmas crazy. Songs are blaring out of the shops, trees are up in students' houses, and the world --

No, it's just not working. The writing power isn't on tap, replaced instead by a big ball of majestic galactic knitting wool. Seeing and helping so many people in a week can be very draining, and three hours in one day is almost crippling. It's amazing that any words are making it into this text coherently at all. It might as well as be in badly translated Greek. An episode of 'The Mentalist' is playing to one side, rather brilliantly, and thoughts are scattered everywhere, like socks from a young child's drawer thrown in anger.

It is possible to write in a state of disarray, though, if you lean into the curve. For example, you could start whittering on about the perils of too much sleep, or the things you're currently reading. Oooh, there's something! Robert E Howard's Conan stories are rather amazing. Delving into 'The Conan Chronicles', you clearly detect something entirely original, both then and now. These are prototypal tales, and you can tell. It's a sensation that you get when you read the 'Sherlock Holmes' stories, or Dashiell Hammett, or even Jules Verne and the short prose of Woody Allen. More on this later.

Now, the work is done. Seven hundred and ninety eight posts... What a bizarre occurrence...


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XX

( Part XIX , XXI )

The Woman's first sight when she regained consciousness was a blurry blue ball. Recovering further she saw red, yellow and green balls too stretching into the near distance. Was she in some play school version of the afterlife? No, that was the roof of their chapel above them.

"Well done, milady. I was wondering how long it would take!" A wise and familiar voice said to her from above her line of sight.

"Ken! Oh, blast..."

"Oh, don't move too much yet please. You're pretty bruised, stiff and dehydrated. I've been giving you water for a day, but you might still be groggy." The face behind the voice could be seen now. That wise old face from the training school.

"How long? What about..."

"He is doing well. I brought you up first because you were showing signs of distress. We will be safe here now. The visitor will not return." Ken seemed very tired, but jubilation could be detected.

The Woman looked around a bit more vigorously. The whole chapel was knee deep in plastic balls, arranged in spirals, bubbles and sparkles of colour, radiating around her to the walls. "Good grief! You still have to use ball pools?!"

"We never did manage to succeed with anything else. There's something about the airlock in each ball that augments permittivity in the Pattern Field, which--"

"Not now, Ken. Help me up, please." Wincing, our lady protagonist struggled with the balls. "They even go into the corridor..."

"Yes, I filled the whole chapel. It was the only way. Hopefully, it should be easier to revive your partner and the Oracle with two of us to focus." Ken led her into the side rooms, where the Man and the Oracle lay in cradles of plastic balls.

"They're very pale." She commented tensely.

"You were asleep for five days. You were very pale too."

"Five days!"

"Yes, I was very concerned. However, it will be well now, and the sanctity of this place is now assured once again."

"All with ball pools?" Incredulity coloured the Lady's voice.

"Yes, all with ball pools. Let's get to work. We need to wake these two before the next shipment arrives."

They got to work.

To be continued...

Monday, 5 December 2016

Well, It's An Idea...

Buying gifts for people is nice. Yes, Christmas is really a religious holiday but why not throw gifts at people throughout December anyway, even if you're not of the required faith? Why not? The buying is nice, the note and letter writing are pretty good, and the wrapping and packaging is pretty tedious. The worst part by far is the trip to the Post Office and paying the postage. That's the killer, especially when you end up spending more on the postage than the gifts! (If that's not evidence of a tightly budgeted Christmas, then what is?! Or of miserliness, of course...)

The tradition here in Quirky Muffin land is to distribute books wildly to people at Christmas, whether they want them or not, with the scope depending on the budget available. Yes, given enough money, books would fly out to every inhabitant of the Earth. Books are brilliant. If everyone read a book a month, the world would improve dramatically, even if some of the books were scandalous and diabolical! Can there be any doubt about that? It's a serious question. Is it true?

The argument against the proposition would be that people would just read books they agreed with and never challenge their ideas or grow, and it's a potent one. However, arguments that revolve around the mythical 'people' can be exploded by considering the individuals. Some individuals would automatically try out new things and become just that bit more learned, and maybe pass on the habit to others. There would be generation advances. We're not talking about a global population of geniuses here, just a greater tendency toward absorbing knowledge. It's a good thought problem, if only people could be coaxed into reading things not on tiny screens, and picking up some tomes instead. Yes, I'm talking about you, lovers of pictures of cats in fezzes. You know who you are... (Only kidding, folks!)

It's good to be choosy about the words to use: 'learned' instead of 'intelligent', 'individuals' instead of 'people', 'knowledge' instead of 'information'. The words used here mean different things. 'Information' is an essentially meaningless term, but 'knowledge' implies an appreciation and understanding of what has been learned. 'Learned' reflects acquired skills and knowledge, but 'intelligent' indicates a base skill. 'People' have no defining characteristics, only averages, while individuals have sets of all kinds of qualities. We need to think more about the words we use.

Is that enough patronising and pontificating for today? Sometimes the words just flow this way.


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Film: 'Paper Planes' (2015)

This was a quietly awesome little movie, a gem in the rough. It falls into the category of 'things I cry to' pretty easily, but also into that of 'movies that don't quite do what you expect'. As soon as you see that the main character's father is grieving, you get a set idea of how it's all going to work out in your head, but in reality it runs just a little differently. After all, this is a film about paper planes...

Who would have known that there was a World Junior Paper Plane Championship? Who would ever have thought that happened? Apparently, it does, and in the movie the finals were in the most obvious country of Japan, home of papercraft. There's even a little sequence where the contestants, including our main character Dylan, twelve year old plane prodigy from a little dustbowl town in Australia, get the traditional process shown to them in a Japanese garden.

This post is definitely rolling out in a non-linear fashion, isn't it? 'Paper Planes' is about Dylan, who is recovering from his mother's death and simultaneously worrying about his father's extended grieving. A chance encounter with a student teacher leads him into completing in a regional paper plane championship, which then cascades finally into the World Championship in Tokyo. Yes, there's a bad boy competitor, and the dad does finally begin to emerge from his cocoon, but there's also a crazy grandpa who breaks all kinds of rules, his oddball school friend, and the girl Japanese national champion who becomes Dylan's friend through it all. None of it quite goes as expected, and when it does it does so efficiently and simply.

The child acting is decent, and improves over the course of the movie, but the real strength is in the simplicity and composition of the two layers of narrative. Why do some films work, and others don't? It's hard to say. Is this success related to the elegantly simple Australian style at work? Maybe. Ultimately, for me, it's more to do with telling a story uncynically and viewing the world in an honestly charming way. No-one flies over the top, not even the roguish war veteran grandfather. Well, maybe he does fly out into ham land a little, but it fits. His most telling interlude is handled very nicely indeed.

This could have been a gooey and sentimental mess, but it works well. It could have taken the grieving storyline and made us squirm awkwardly at times, but it doesn't. The paper plane aspects lifts the movie into being something slightly new, and that's always welcome. It's a good film, and an instant DVD purchase. It's also at times rather funny, and has some pretty good music.

Paper planes? Who would have thought it?


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Brainstorming 'The Ninja Of Health'

Okay, let's brainstorm a little. There are a couple of stealth medics in the town of Toddlingham, operating out of a little disused (deconsecrated?) chapel. They were trained by a bloke called Ken (origins unknown but he has visited Scandinavia at the very least), and are in tune with some kind of underlying Pattern (capital P intentional) of the Universe. The two health ninjas are in all likelihood a couple, breaking several narrative rules or tropes in the process. An invisible force has landed, emerging from an egg Mork-style, and is spreading illness injury around while carrying out its unknown plans. It even knocked out the local Oracle of the health ninjas, who had warped a tablecloth into a helpful vision!

What next? What could be next? What act of blue sky thinking could save this bizarre cavalcade of events? What will happen when the two ninjas wake from their imposed hibernation? Was it even a good idea to put them to sleep? When will the Oracle ever wake up? What's it all about, darn it?! Is the warped prophetic tablecloth, which idea seems better every time I write it, the clue to some treasure hunt that will save the day? Is the Entity being bad just for the sake of being bad or is it out there with ulterior motives? If the latter, then what might they be? World domination? Is it looking for the secret of French doilies? Could it be stranded, or an infant, a la Trelane from'The Squire Of Gothos'? Is a benign assessment taking place, or a semi-benign one, given that nothing lethal or even very serious has happened yet, apart from the crash into the allotment. Hmm, there's a dangling threat, the allotment. It had flown clear out of mind. Yes, there could be repercussions at the allotments... And witnesses...

It feels like there's something there, and it's something good. No, it's probably not related to macaroni, but very few things are. Logically, since our protagonists are largely reactive instead of proactive due to a lack of information, that status quo must be resolved one way or another in order to progress the story. There must another inciting incident, a further twang to the string, for something to happen. The problem is in making it happen without invoking 'deus ex machina' in a most blatant way. Maybe the newly arrived Ken is the key to it all.

On the other hand, there is still that tablecloth to consider. What of the cloth? A map? A recipe? A photo? A psychological visualisation? It is true that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as Freud might have said, so maybe it's just a screwy tablecloth? Maybe it's a promo for an interplanetary charitable foundation seeking funds? Aha! Perhaps that alien is a fundraiser run amok? How's that for lateral (or an absence of) thinking? Interplanetary fundraisers running amuck! You know, that's not too bad, but maybe it's an entirely different story.

A lot hinges on the motivation of the antagonist, that mysterious thing from Out There. Is it like the Tweedy Lady from 'Oneiromancy'? Was it in exile in that space egg, in retreat, or journeying to the Earth on purpose? Is the tablecloth linked directly to it's nature, or just to something in its future? What on Earth can our health ninjas do without developing a supernatural ability? Oh, Ken, you had better have some new information in that backpack or yours, as you enter the grand scheme of things!

We will have to resume with Ken, but to what end? When next we rejoin 'The Ninja of Health', someone will have to wake up... Will it be one or both of our heroes, or will it be the Creature? Maybe it's asleep and having a nightmare?

Once again, more questions than answers.