Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXVI

( Part XXV , XXVII )

At the bottom of the crater, the two companions inspected the floor. All around them was the angular version of their own meditation pattern from the floor of their chapel back in the afflicted town of Toddlingham. It was eerily familiar. Above them, the heads of the people at the parapet seemed like small lollipops on truncated sticks in the distance, and everything became eerily familiar. It was like the blanket rewoven by their friend the unconscious Oracle.

"The only thing missing is the rocket/lighthouse." Mused the Man.

"And the giant swirly things in the sky." Replied his female companion, half-rhetoically.

"Look down at your feet. There they are, milady!"

"Yes. Blast. You love getting there before me, don't you?"

"It happens so rarely."

The Woman frowned. "Here we are, but what does it mean?" She narrowed her eyes, and began to think analytically. "This is a version of our Pattern, but we haven't been here before. The Patterns are unique, but this is all angular....

"Before you go all crazy, this may not have been generated the way ours is. They may have just made it from an image."

The brain wheels stopped turning for a moment. "An image... Yes, it could be, but then how did they get the image? Is this from a new source, or did that thing make it after visiting us? Why would it do that?"

"Why would we be standing here, talking like this?"

"It helps us think?"

"Well, yes, or it could be to pad out an hour while we wonder what on Earth is going on." The Man abated his flippancy and looked around. "What does this mean? I think it can mean one of three things. Bear with me, while I pretend to be insightful."

"Okay. I'll try to look rapt." She pursed her lips, and looked regally adoring.

"Oh, cut it out!" He scowled. "Look, either the similarity to our own signature is a coincidence, a signal, or it is bait."

The last implication fell from his lips leadenly.

"That would mean that is a trap." The Woman concluded calmly for him.


"Which would also mean we were worth trapping."


They were worth trapping. It was food for thought.

To be continued, but not very many more times...

Sunday, 29 January 2017

A Sudden Burst Of Magic

It is dark, and cold, and January continues its endless tread into obscurity. Across the Atlantic, a right wing lunatic has taken office while here a different brand of similar right wing maniacs prevail. The world continues on, and we hope that somehow the balance will shift back to something nicer. Hatred is not a motivation for good policies of good governing, nor is it an acceptable way of life.

It is dark, and wet, and life continues. Swimming practice continues too, as does cycling to students and walking just for the sheer fun of it all. Only one thing is absent: music. Music, the Achilles Heel of the Quirky Muffin. Then, suddenly, the digital radio is turned on, via the magical impulse of a whim, and something magical happens. I have never heard of Respighi before, but Venice Classic Radio is playing his (?) concerto 'all'antica' and it works magnificently. This happened once before, this sudden perfection of music, with a now lost work by Glinka. If only that title had been noted, it would have played a hundred times since then,

It is dark, and somehow magical. Classical music is back, and all is well. Orchestral music must originate from some other plane of existence, where worldly concerns no longer persist and people can close their eyes and be romantic. Concertos seem to the most beguiling of all, especially for piano or violin; panaceas for nerves long frayed or sensibilities dulled by the tensions of daily life. As long as there is no singing, classical music is the king of them all. (With singing, it becomes a hideous cacophonous racket, but that can be for another day.)

It is dark, but also somehow light. Suddenly, almost an entire post has blown by. It has been a good week, despite many cancellations and bouts of lurgy ravaging the flock of students. An enforced mini-vacation usually ends up being a good idea, in any case. Levels of numeracy seem to be appalling out there at the moment, but the violin is still going, and we can forget about it all for a little longer.

Ah, magic...


Friday, 27 January 2017

Film: 'The Silent World' (1956)

After a two hour bicycle ride to something that didn't end up happening, you can get a bit erratic. This is liable to be a mass of eclectic and disconnected words! Or, it could become even worse, and veer into Trumpland. No, it will never get that bad... No more politics here ever, short of a constitutional disaster.

Actually, it might be a good time to break the alternating rule of Quirky Muffin posts and talk about the film seen today, 'The Silent World' from 1956. This was the breakthrough movie for pioneering oceanic explorer Jacques Cousteau. Cousteau actually co-developed the scuba system that has been used so much since its inception, and pretty much inspired underwater filming, thus making himself indirectly responsible for 'Thunderball'. Ah, 'Thunderball', a topic for another day.

'The Silent World' is equal parts fascinating and terrifying. For every beautiful underwater sequence with the fish or coral reefs, there is something at best disquieting and at worst rather revolting. Also, there is the Continental divide in terms of style and behaviour, but that's to be expected from such a French production. Louis Malle made the film, and that's a familiar name for some reason.

Why is it good? Mostly because it was a one of a kind movie that launched a whole sequence of screen productions for Cousteau (apparently a hero of the French Resistance???), and introduced the very idea of oceanic documentaries and submarine photography. It's also oddly quirky in places, and has a cute roly-poly daschund. Why is it troubling? Because the crew are very uncaring about sea-life and the damage they are inflicting, and display strong streaks of cruelty in the way they do things. Not only do they dynamite a patch of ocean in order to catalogue the (now dead) sea life in the region, but they also torment turtles and tortoises by hitching rides in their respective environments until the creatures become exhausted, and crowd a herd of sperm whales to the point they chop up a baby one with the Calypso's propellor. Then, when sharks turn up for the calf's corpse, they massacre the predators with great violence and malice just for doing what's natural. It's very strange. How frustrating it was to see the turtle struggling to reach the surface and its much needed breath while a great big oik was hanging on behind.

Despite all the downsides, it's still a beautiful film, and it does hold you for the eighty minutes. It's just a shame that it has such a cruel streak at times. They had the underwater scooters! Now, to a cycling inspired long sleep...


Note: Louis Malle was the director of 'My Dinner With Andre'. Connection made!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Book: 'Personal Recollections Of Joan Of Arc' by Mark Twain (1895-1896)

It was Twain's last completed novel, and one of his least known. Having worked through the other two of his historical romances, 'The Prince And The Pauper' and 'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court', I was expecting this to be more of the same despite some anonymous endorsement having sustained itself in my mind over the last few years. Actually, 'Joan' is the best of the three and the least satirical. It's a mini-masterpiece of storytelling, to tell this story with its well known and very unhappy ending, and not have it be a ridiculously overbearing tragedy. Somehow, up until the very end, you do bear some hope, even when said hope is dashed repeatedly and viciously by Joan's enemies in the latter stages. Apparently, the story of Joan of Arc wasn't all that well known outside of France at the time. Fascinating...

In the spirit of full disclosure, it did take several sessions, over more than a year to finish 'Joan Of Arc'. While it is certainly the best of the three romances, I could never quite shake the ominous dread of Joan's fate, despite the excellence of Twain's prose. As a fictional recreation of a historical story, researched while he was in France, it is very entertaining. Is it accurate? Well, we'll never know, but it has the ring of authenticity. The personal recollections of the title refer to the narrator of the story, which is told from his point of view as one of Joan's childhood friends and constant companions in this fictional universe. It's a clever conceit, which allows some distance from the story while providing some emotional context.

It's still difficult to believe that a young lady of seventeen years of age could have risen to command the defeated armies of France and reversed the near total dominion of the English, in the year of 1430 AD. 1430! How on Earth is it possible that it was allowed by the Powers That Be of the time? How? In the long term, it wasn't allowed, of course. Twain makes it credible, as one of the best writers of his age. Imagine Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and even more all being active writers at the same time! It's unimaginable in this day and age! Unimaginable! How marvelous it must have been to read those stories as they were coming out, how fascinating and illuminating. It's still hard to believe that there was such a golden age, such a fountain, of humorous and inventive literature. Do we have anyone writing with such style now? (If so, please make a recommendation below.)

'Joan of Arc' may be be one of the longer Twain works, but it's also one of his most mature and least cynical. I wish he could have used such a light and unbarbed touch on 'The Prince And The Pauper' or 'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court'. Is it recommendable? That's the hard question to answer. It's a high quality work, excellently written, but I did read it in four blocks over more than a year, successfully putting it down in the pile over and over again. Was that the book's fault, my own distractions taking over, or was it beyond all control? Perhaps the final clue is that I am glad to have read it, unlike '1984', 'A Brave New World' and 'The Glass Bead Game', which admitted don't exist in the same category. This is a proper classic, and those are just doom-laden heartbreakers in a different sphere.

Yes, it is recommended.


Monday, 23 January 2017

Bibliographies, New Students, and Mark Twain

It's that time again, time to drag the keyboard out of its academic pursuits and return to the land of the self-aware and those not struggling with bibliographies in LibreOffice. It doesn't seem to work consistently at all... Maybe if I gave the computer a nice hat, and asked it very politely? No, you're probably right, that wouldn't make much difference. I'll keep that strategy in reserve, along with throwing socks at the monitor. There have been studies that -- But, we are digressing! Who really wants to know about fictional studies into the efficacy of sock hurling as a bibliography remedial measure. No-one, of course!

In a spate of activity, the student roster has filled up to a little beyond the safety limit, so there may be some Quirky Muffin interruptions coming, although they will be minimised as much as possible. The accession of new students is infinitely more time-consuming than maintenance of existing ones, as you get up to speed with each person and prepare their lessons and overall plans, often with exams looming on the horizon... Oh, exams...

Finally having finished Mark Twain's 'Joan of Arc', it feels a bit funny to not have that old copy Twain's Historical Romances sitting on the book pile. It had become an old friend, unfortunately water damaged on a trip to Nottingham, serving its time between readings, propping up the other books, and introducing new surprises from time to time. It's not clear what will take its place with such great longevity. Perhaps nothing should. 'Joan Of Arc' should have been finished a long time ago, and not been held up by the fear of the known ending of doom. Is it incredibly difficult to read stories when you know the ending is going to be a death? It certainly is here. 'The Glass Bead Game' (Hermann Hesse) was such a trauma, that nothing similar will be repeated. Someone somewhere has decided that 'great novels' have to cause a nervous breakdown. Let's try to change that. 'Joan Of Arc' is not traumatic, which is a miracle when you consider whose story it is, and so must be a great novel.

Now, back to fighting with the bibliography. It may end up as a manual job, which would be stinky but at least accurate. Something is deeply wrong with the automatic version, and I throw mild curses at the Open University for not allowing LaTeX. References are horrific in everything but LaTeX.


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXV

( Part XXIV , XXVI )

One week later, a funicular railway creaked as its carriage was hauled up its hill. It had just left its base station and the counterweight carriage was far in the distance. Standing at the front, watching the counterweight become imperceptibly larger, stood the two protagonists of our story. It had been a long journey, that car ride across the country, with several stops at various hotels and campsites. Now they stood, ready to make sense of their prophetic tablecloth or move on to yet another set of cliffs.

"Is it supposed to be gurgling like that?" Wondered the man of the odd noises from the funicular.

"You're imagining it, dopey," replied his partner, ever exasperated at her companion's sense of wimsey. "I'm going to change your name to Brother Wimsey if we ever get out of this miss."

"I don't think Sayers would have liked you taking her sleuth's name in vain. You don't see me talking of changing your name to Sister Vane, do you?"

"Oh, hush. I'm sensing."

"Hushing is in progress." He looked absently around as she silenced herself, not too intently for care of disturbing her tranquil state. Then, he looked more interested when she pulled the tablecloth of the seers from her satchel and held it, while the other passengers looked puzzled. He mouthed "psychic" at them and they looked more amused than scornful. Then he looked at her face and worried. He only got to worry when she wasn't paying attention to him, for she would otherwise just laugh and stroke away the frown.

The opposite carriage passed them with a mild clatter and he realised that they would soon reach the cliffside. The Sun didn't look particularly swirly at this early hour, nor were there forests of pinwheels in the surrounding fields. This wasn't encouraging, especially when the appearance of a large crater would have made the news in some way. No doubt they would have to move on again, to a third candidate site.

"Something is here." Said the woman, just before he touched her shoulder to warn her that the ride was coming to an end. She opened her eyes. "Something new." They disembarked from the carriage, once the other passengers had stomped on up the steps, and then moved out on to the cliffside of St Pierre. They didn't get far, as their companions were all stood inexplicably around the exit to the station in a throng, the first people to make the journey that morning.

Pushing through the crowd, the two ninjas of health were astonished to find a massive crater where the camera obscura was supposed to be. The floor of the crater was criss-crossed with very familiar grooves;  It was a triangulated version of their own personal Pattern.

More? Yes, there shall be more...

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Results Day

It is finally here. The results day for my first bunch of GCSE students has been and gone, and they did pretty well. Congratulations, examinees! The only annoying part is that the Maths Numeracy paper scuppered practically every single one, garnering grades one rank lower than the mainline Mathematics paper. It's supposed to be the other way, if there's a difference at all... In any case, it seems highly suspicious, and I'm sure a huge load of re-marking is even now being requested of the exam board, whose name shall not be mentioned. However, we all know who they are...

It was a good results day overall, apart from that institutional snafu, with everyone hitting their targets in Mathematics proper. The tension is over for another few weeks now, before the next exam season kicks in. And then the next. It's a maddening system! Oh, why so many exams, exam board who will not be mentioned? Four exam sessions doesn't seem excessive at all?

Back in the old days, when I had to actually sit the exams instead of prepare other people to sit them, it was never a particularly tense day. At school, you would turn up and get handed a very unattractively shaded piece of paper with some titles and grades on it, and then you would just go back to your usual day. At university, you had to sign in and look at a badly designed web page. It was never very interesting or nervous, from the point of view of a confirmed idiot savant. It is only now that results day actually provokes nerves.

Well, that's not entirely true. There was one results day which was nerve-inducing, one examination process that couldn't be predicted. You have to feel nervous for your doctoral viva voce exam. It's impossible to not be so! That was a nervous day indeed, and not just because I had to go to London and do it there because of freakish scheduling!

In any case, it was results day, everyone made it through. Let's all be happy.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Random Meandering Thoughts

We won't dwell on the passing of Tess the Lunatic Hound for much longer, except to consider the mourning process (yes, she was a beloved pet) for a little bit, and especially guilt. It seems that dealing with guilt is a mandatory part of losing a pet, or a person. The bad part is that handling guilt is a learned ability; it's not something that you acquire naturally without some effort. Guilt itself is an advanced concept which can only be disentangled or even experienced by creatures with intellectual and emotional memory, after all. It's an artefact.

Much like support groups, or so I see in fictional stories, it seems as if there are several stages to dealing with guilt (grief is different). First, there needs to be some acceptance that we're not in control of most of the things that happen around us (a sense of scale), then a bit later there needs to be a sincere apology to the victim of the perceived guilt (even if they don't recognise that there was a problem), and then you need to apologise to and forgive yourself (reach acceptance).

Isn't it strange that one of the things you have to do when you feel guilty about something is to apologise to yourself? Isn't it interesting? Why should it be? As far as I can tell, having worked through this not at all, and now merely grasping my way towards certain truths, it seems that the apology is part of a social contract: A forgiveness must be preceded by an apology, or nothing changes. Does that make sense? Sometimes, you can't apologise to someone involved because they've moved on, and all you have left is to apologise to yourself and pledge to try better in the future. Even if your interlocutor (oooh, unnecessarily fancy word!) is around, their forgiveness is nothing in comparison to your own, although it is a necessary part of the process. Perhaps people need there to be a God-type figure purely for some notional absolution to come from somewhere?

Whatever the truth about life may be, guilt can only be recovered from with forgiveness. If the people of the world forgave themselves a little more, perhaps we wouldn't be living in quite so much irrationality and madness? Of course, the world might also improve if people actually thought about what they were doing instead of just stomping around and behaving habitually... I wonder where the most enlightened society in the world might be at the moment. Would it be very interesting or very boring to live there?

We need self-awareness, and the ability to manage ourselves. Self-awareness will unlock the future of the planet Earth, and of our exploration of the universe, if we only permit it. If we're going to go out there, perhaps we will have to learn to forgive ourselves as a species and go out and make friends withs the stars.

It's time for 'Star Trek'.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Book: 'The Conan Chronicles: Volume 1' by Robert E Howard (originally 1932-1934)

(Due to recent events, writing is not the easiest activity to perform. Please bear with me.)

This is a highly curious reading experience. Robert E Howard effectively invented a whole subgenre of fantasy with the 'Conan the Barbarian' stories, originally published between 1932 and 1934. It was called 'swords and sandals', and was highly pulpy magazine fiction. He wrote magnificently, and made a major success of his creation, over that very short period, and the originality shines through even now in 2017. The only problem is that in the 1930s, sexism was still highly dominant in magazines such as 'Weird Tales', in which most of the Conan stories were published. The result is that this first volume is by turns brilliant and uneasy. The women are all 'supple', and very often end up stripped naked and trapped, in danger of all kinds of terrible depredations. However, and this is where the uneasiness kicks in, the stories are set in an ancient age, a period of time lost to history, where physical might ruled. As a result, wouldn't women constantly be in a far more dangerous position in that reality? However, if you can put all these struggles aside, and embrace the other more positive aspects of the female characters, then you're in for a very good ride! On the other hand, the strongest female characters tend to be evil... Maybe we can make a misogyny charge after all...

In this first volume, presented in internal continuity order, we encounter rogues robbing a wizard's tower, metallic giants bringing long dead cities back to life via the arcane arts, witchy twins usurping their sisters' thrones, gigantic snakes galore, monstrous sorcerors, cannibals and crooks, and more gory battles and steely thews than you would find in any other set of stories in existence. Oh, and a thousand uses of the word 'supple'. Howard may have been obsessed with the word 'supple' or it may have been imposed by editorial policy! Conan is a great character, a noble barbarian who makes the moral choice more often than not, in stark contrast to his 'civilized' contemporaries. That is the real core of these stories, that deliberate spearing of the hypocrisies of what we call civilized society. Never does the barbarian do anything dishonest, not even with ladies who promptly end up relying on him for their safety.

It's a great set of stories, albeit with some of the problems of their period,  and covers the first part of Conan's history. Next time, he will eventually end up as the sovereign of Aquilonia...


Friday, 13 January 2017

Sad Day

This is a difficult one. You see, our dog died yesterday and everyone's just a little bit out of their mind. It's not just that the insane barking fiend died, but also that there is always that glimmer of guilt to keep you up at night wondering. Could we have known that wasn't just indigestion, and stayed with her to the end? Was there something that could have been done? Did she know that she was loved when she died alone in the house? It doesn't seem right that she died alone. We loved Tess the idiot dog, and now she's gone. In the rush of taking the body away to the vet, we didn't even keep her disc. We really should have kept her disc, right? That's a thought that will fester. She was a good dog.

It's a terrible thing, to take your pet's body away. With smaller pets, you can bury them in the garden, but an Old English Sheepdog is far too big to bury, especially on a wet January afternoon. Instead, you have to seal yourself up mentally, carry her out on a blanket with someone else, rearrange her legs so she fits in the boot nicely - the worst part- and take her to the vet. Then, two impassive ladies take her away on their own blanket and you're left crying in the car, as the dog heads off to cremation. It's terrible. It shouldn't be such a crude experience. The dog is an important part of the family, and then suddenly they're gone. Is it the same with people? I hope not to find out for a while, yet.

Oh, Tess the Old English Sheepdog, you were a nut. First, you didn't like to chase balls or sticks, and instead just played tug of war endlessly until you got bored. Secondly, you would only go out for walks if a car ride was involved. Thirdly, you guarded your food maniacally from all men. Fourthly, you had all the canine articulacy of a glove puppet. Fifthly, you liked to roll around on my bed in the morning after sneaking in while I was in the bathroom. Sixthly, you scared the postmen silly. Seventhly, you liked to lie on your back and paddle your feet endlessly for attention. Eightly, you ate everything indiscriminately and ninthly, you added extra life to a strange and lonely existence. Tenthly, you were always lying in the worst possible place, and it will be horrible taking the direct route from point to point. Finally, you always wanted to be in the middle of everything.

Rest in peace, Tess, and if there is a doggie heaven, I hope you're swapping tall tales about the family Bain with the other long gone pets. Good luck.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

On The Book Piles IV - January 2017

Having just completed the first of the two volumes of 'The Conan Chronicles' (review forthcoming), it seems to be an appropriate time to stop thinking about stories being written and instead write a little about what's being read. We can do that or write about 'Turnabout Intruder', the last of the original episodes of 'Star Trek', and I might never be ready to open that controversy. Instead, let's go to the book piles! Here's the choice selection.

'Joan Of Arc' by Mark Twain

It's almost done. Months of procrastination are at an end, as the roaring run through 'Conan' and 'Around The World In Eighty Days' have broken the reading block. 'Joan Of Arc' is a marvelous novel from Twain's distinctive pen, and if he can only get through the martyrdom phase without blowing all the good will earned previously then it will be as close to a masterpiece as is possible to declare without reading his other classics. It's not a parody at all, but a loving historical reconstruction.

'The Illustrated And Complete Brigadier Gerard' by Arthur Conan Doyle

A few stories in, it has become clear that Doyle really knew his stuff. There's something very endearing about the indefatigibly pompous Brigadier Gerard, a character of the same class as Professor Challenger, with the great Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson hovering above them in the Doyle-ian stratosphere. It's going to be a lovely jaunt through Napoleonic times, from the other side of the wartime curtain, and a funny one too.

'Journey To The West' (Volume 2) by Wu Cheng'en

Still not begun, but volume one was so endearing that this is sure to be lovely as well, yes?

'Riders Of The Purple Sage' by Zane Grey

A Western? A Western has made it into the book piles? It's a legendary one, at least. Even from reading the first page, you know it's something special. I'll have to remember to add some Louis L'Amour 'Sackett' novels to the book wish lists...

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

It's fascinating when picked up, and then immediately forgotten when put down again. Certainly, it will be finished one day. After 'Joan of Arc', perhaps? Herodotus awaits in line. The behaviour and thinking of a naturalist in the middle of a fantastic expedition is intriguing and world-expanding, but the historical detail of the mid-nineteenth century is what now makes this a solid middle-grade classic.

'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' by Sigmund Freud

Freud knew how to write. Even in translation, the brilliance shines through. I don't care if it has all been debunked, if it has, for the reasoning and scholarship is unparalleled. Would any normal person think about analysing humour and the making of jokes? It will be interesting to check out his other volumes as times goes on.


Monday, 9 January 2017

Jigsaw Puzzles

One can learn a lot from jigsaw puzzles. They are a microcosm of problem solving, or are they a macrocosm? In fact, since problem solving is immaterial, they are neither! Solving a jigsaw puzzle is as close as we can come to literally building order out of chaos in the real world. Nowhere is there more complete order than in a completed jigsaw puzzle, and nowhere is there more complete chaos than in the jumble of pieces we begin with.

Many people begin with the edges of the jigsaw puzzle, in a bid to establish the context for the rest of the problem. Then they start looking for distinctive features that they can group together, to build islands of sense inside that context, while building in from the edge wherever it seems logical. Such is the way of order, that it builds from a seed. It's an intriguing process. Watching people work on jigsaws is fascinating. Anyone watching me, for example, would see a rather eccentric method. The edges do get built first, but then chunks start building out organically, as the box is shuffled through almost entirely randomly. How it works is not entirely clear, but the puzzle does eventually get solved. It's an accretion process in action, and highly non-linear.

As a fully functional, and only partly delusional, maths tutor you really have to work at your diagnostic techniques and not be afraid to step off the path of traditional teaching. A quick game of 'Forbidden Island' after a session can do wonders to see how someone's mind works and how confident they are, and an idea of how they do puzzles is just as important. Mathematics is fundamentally a puzzle, after all! Diagnostic tests can often be more fun than the teaching but you can deploy them very often.

Away from puzzles and the endless teaching, life continues much as usual here, with studies sharing time evenly with teaching and reading. It's a nice and happy medium, before the great year of visiting people comes fully into force. The visitations will occur...

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle. Don't get lost in the details, but keep your eye on the bigger picture.


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXIV

( Part XXIII , XXV )

A.K.A. 'Thoughts From A Peaceful Interlude'

"It was a material entity. It clearly had an impact on me and on the surroundings. Given that creations tend to always resemble their creator in some way, we can take this as a clear implication that our malefactor is material. This fact must be useful to us, but how? Given our Hippocratic oaths, we can never wilfully injure the creature unless, and only unless, our own lives are naturally jeopardised.

The being is material, and therefore subject to entropy. It must therefore feed itself to maintain its being. Its food source is therefore important, unless it is some ubiquitous substance all around us.

Question: Is the creature following its plans in order to survive, or in order to make merry and impose itself? If survival, then we could try to offer another way to survive, but the latter requires reasoning and perhaps even therapy. My two young friends seem to think it diabolical or irrational, so we will probably have to talk to the being. What, however, could we possibly offer to it in order to make a bargain? What?

However much fun it may have appeared, that umbrella duel was no idle play time. If not for a timely intervention, the consequences might have been severe. Its invisibility is far too terrible an advantage. How can we counter something that we can't see? That we --

We might not be able to see the creature, but that doesn't mean that we can never sense it. It has spoken to us directly. Its minion made its presence felt physically. The Pattern reacted to it, and it has been affecting the population either actively or passively. The entity can be detected; it can be sensed.  There is an experiment that we should try, that we must try before moving on to extreme measures.

My two students will be more invaluable now than ever before. If only we knew what that tablecloth was meant to convey!"

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Spooky January Nights

These January nights are spooky, filled with the dark-shrouded ghosts of Thursdays long gone. Are Thursdays more haunted than other nights? Is it due to a bizarre connection to the pizza chef strikes of three hundred years ago? Was there pizza three hundred years ago?

Contrary to the opinions of many of my students' parents, January seems rather a cheery month to this writer. The daylight begins to stretch out, no major events or plans need to be made, and nothing is looming. It's a very free month, and very liberating. It feels good. It's probably just another effect of the ghosts. They count amongst their number the shade of Bakus Jorgenson, who invented the moustache, and that of his wife Ixa, who invented the divorce. The two events may not have been entirely unrelated...

It's also a very nice month to get your reading done, with all those hours of darkness with nothing more to do. At the moment, after much procrastination, my reading has finally gotten back to Mark Twain's 'Joan Of Arc', and Freud's 'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious'. Even in translation, Freud was a great writer. Did he translate it himself, perhaps? No, I suspect some assistance was invoked, based on no provocation whatsoever. Despite being wonderful texts, I still somehow end up reading other books endlessly. 'Joan of Arc' is a legitimately wonderful novel, but the foreknowledge of her end is quite a deterrent to keeping on with the book, despite how well Twain manages the foreshadowing. We'll get to it eventually here at the QM, if I can just glue myself to the novel and not be distracted by other things... Like 'Conan' or 'Brigadier Gerard', or some mathematical proofs that need to be worked out for tutoring purposes.

The New Year jigsaw puzzle has been completed, which means it's time to... bring out more jigsaw puzzles. They are wonderful things to do, a beautiful evocation of order from chaos.

Jigsaw season continues... Jigsaws are wonderful... Jigsaws are the future...


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Book: 'Around The World In Eighty Days' by Jules Verne (1873)

This is a curious Jules Verne novel, as it eschews many of the examples of formula that would appear later in his canon, has minimal speculative fiction content, and even features a type of romantic subplot. It's a completely wacky early-ish deviation, and yet it works. 'Around The World In Eighty Days' isn't the best Jules Verne novel, for I still prefer 'Journey To The Center Of The Earth', but it did establish his non-genre credentials and become a massive success. It could be even be called his breakout mainstream success perhaps - said the writer with almost no research under his belt on the topic - and it helped establish the adventure novel. I do believe that.

Oh, I really don't know enough about the history of novels to be able to talk about them with any kind of authoritative grasp. Let it suffice us to say that there were novels before Verne's 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth', and novels after, but that his books changed everything in genre terms. 'Around The World In Eighty Days' is fun, in a way that you might not find in anything else from the period, translated or not. When did juvenile fiction or adventures begin to appear in the Victorian age? Here, in the great travel stories of Verne, and they're not even that juvenile. Was Captain Nemo's obsession the kind of thing you would find in children's adventures? I think not.

The concept of going around the world in some time limit wasn't a totally new one, apparently, but Verne coupled the concept with the new travel techniques of the time to great effect. Going around the world in eighty days would have been an amazing feat, no matter at what latitude. Even Michael Palin only scraped in with a day to spare in the 1980s. Perhaps that romance of new travel methods in the great old age of discovery is what allows this story to endure. Yes, it's a great travel story with curious side adventures in India and North America, with a light romance imposed over the great doubts of a chasing detective under the delusion that the adventurer Fogg is a bank robber, but the historical aspect is fascinating now that we now live in a world which is, at its best, a little ka-ka. To go around the world? In less than a year? Preposterous! And romantic!

It's a romance of the original sort, an adventure, a thriller, and a race against time. Adventures, according to John Dickson Carr, were rendered impossible to write by the World Wars, but in 1870 they were not just possible but wonderful. The romantic world of yesteryear probably never existed, but in the world of fiction we get to step back from time to time...

Well, that was an inept attempt at writing about 'Around The World In Eighty Days'! It must be tried again.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Plan For The Worst, But Hope For The Best

Welcome to 2017 at the Quirky Muffin, a grand new era of extemporised gibberish masquerading as sensible and reasoned gobbledygook. We have a whole year to ramble on about inconsequential things, the imponderable questions of the universe, and how both relate to banana peel. I wonder of what they were thinking in the great Celestial Fruit Office when they devised the banana... Do you think it was a multiply layered joke of some kind? A joke that incorporates a gag that incorporates a prank? Or was it intended to be one of nature's most perfectly designed packaging?

What will this year bring? There are no predictions for the upcoming world outside this blog, but within these internal ravings we are due for some sort of resolution to 'The Ninja Of Health', some book reviews, and an ending to at least one more story. There will also be more Phrontistery posts and less political nonsense. The political nonsense is over now, no matter what happens, except in the purest of theoretical senses. Non-partisan blathering is acceptable, yes? No? Okay, then not even that. Thank goodness. It's better to be optimistic and aspire than to carp and criticize.

Oh, we'll probably get through many, many more posts about 'Star Trek', 'MASH', 'Night Court' and even 'The Mentalist' or 'Quantum Leap' before the end of the year. Movies will be examined. Books will be reviewed. Stories will elongate, compress, be built and be knocked down, and we'll go through all kinds of bizarre experiences together. If a cruise is successfully saved for then we'll have an extensive travel log, and if not then an exploration of pre-incarnation as a viable made up supernatural process. If people can talk about REincarnation then why not PREincarnation? Also, in speculative blather, if we supposed that were only a finite number of souls to go around, then wouldn't a booming human population mean that there wouldn't be enough left over for the other animal orders, causing all the extinctions? Of course, that would mean that some kind of prioritising is going on somewhere, but it's a topic for another day. Where do all the souls come from, and are any new ones being made?

Now it's time to roll over back to the world of 'Conan The Barbarian', as told by Robert E Howard, or 'Joan of Arc' by Mark Twain, or even begin book two of 'Journey To The West'. That last one has been on the backburner for a little too long. There's just one more day of official holidays before we kick back into full work mode.

Welcome to 2017, gentle readers. It might be a nice year, despite all our fears. Let's plan for the worst, but truly hope for the best.