Friday, 31 March 2017

Random Notes

March is almost over, and the world continues to spin, despite the prophecies of doom you can find in most opinion outlets. Hasn't it been an odd few months?

April looms, with the full burden of Daylight Savings Time - again, again, again - making itself felt, and tax day peaking through the mists of time in the very near future! Hurrah? Being self-employed and very simple organised, tax return day is almost a complete non-event. I sometimes wonder what machinations are being are being performed to make this a difficult process, but perhaps there are complications which can not be imagined... Maybe some companies need to get refunds because their paperclips are made of radium? It's mystifying.

'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' is playing to one side, a great diffuser of attention at the tailend of a day that has seen far too much concentration, and a lovely stack of books awaits. Ah, if only that could be the activity every day and all day... There's something very restful about a lovely stack of books. Even now, a grand wish list of further volumes is growing ever longer. Oh, such marvelous volumes!

It's nice to relax slightly, for a very short time, after frantically catching up with OU work to submit an assignment. Next, it will be time to catch up with the other module, and knock out all the remaining coursework for the whole year as quickly and well as possible. It will be another few hectic weeks, then the tension of GCSE season for my stress-maddened students, and then a glorious summer of story finishing. Yes, stories! Stories!

How's that for a plan?


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXXI

( Part XXX , Ramblings , XXXII )

It was a quiet journey back home to Toddlingham. The two ninjas of health were very contemplative as the miles flowed away beneath the wheels of their little car, with occasional small talk at picturesque bends in the minor roads. The Man was wondering about the lighthouse, and whatever its meaning might have been, while the Woman drove and tried to approach a working plan. One food break next to a fully grown wheat field saw a mild discussion on crop diversity, but the two's hearts weren't in it. Neither of them seemed to notice the crop circle in the field behind them as they drove up the hill and beyond.

Nearer to Toddlingham, the view became more eccentric, as the people thinned out. It was obvious that there were far too many of the locals around, underneath the picturesque blue sky. The clouds swirled across the sky, occasionally forming pretty shapes and designs. There was one nasty chaotic patch way over to the eastern side of town, which looked like a whirlpool that had had its direction of swirl reversed repeatedly. The Man, now driving, pointed it out.

"Yes. It's almost certainly where You Know Who is." She grimaced.

"And over here, underneath the twisty centre of the rest, is our dear abode." The car crunched to a halt on the gravelly drive. "Are you ready, dear lady?"

"Yes..." The Lady stared up at the clouds, then at the rock garden around their repurposed chapel. "I think I..."


"Not yet. Ken first."

The two headed up to the door, and opened up their base. Within, two people sat on the mosaic floor, that mysterious indicator of their frames of mind. One was Ken, and one was the Oracle. The latter looked incredibly wan but intact, while the former was far paler than he had been when they left. Our protagonists looked on in wonder at their returned comrade, and at the complete absense of the coloured balls that had covered the floor previously.

The Woman turned to her companion, and pointed at their returned friend, a harbinger of hope. "He, good sir, is our lighthouse."

"Yes. Yes, he really is."

"And I have an idea." She got a kiss on the cheek for that comment.

More shall follow...

Monday, 27 March 2017

Oh, Those Nostalgia Goggles Sure Are Foggy

There's a wealth of great radio entertainment out there, if you can find it. Just digging through my rota of archive programmes is like flipping through a rolodex of legends: 'The Navy Lark', 'Sherlock Holmes', 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy', 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective', 'The Jack Benny Show' and 'The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Program'. It's a miniature hall of fame that can only be heard and never seen.

Radio is wonderful, but for a long time I drifted away from it and became engrossed in screens. Books and radio are two sides of the same coin of purity, as they both embody exactly one medium and don't mess around by introducing and mixing several. You can get away with things in text and audio that you could never get away with on screen. They didn't need to show the fantastic things in 'Dimension X' or 'X Minus One', as they knew our imaginations would provide the visuals far more effectively. There was no need to show the dangerous situations in 'Escape!', nor the horrific elements of 'Quiet, Please'. It was all in our minds from start to finish. Eventually, I made it back, losing the horrific rush of podcasts that have been acting as a disposable entertainment, and revisiting Holmes and Phil Harris, It's refreshing to listen to things that will stay.

In the current era, narrative radio is pretty much dead. Yes, Radio 4 is keeping up some drama output but its last golden era of non-'kitchen sink' productions was decades ago. I remember that complete dramatisation of the entire 'Sherlock Holmes' canon, and some 'Gideon Fell' stories with Donald Sinden, but otherwise it's over unless you like a slice of angst with your tea and crumpets. It's all in the past with some occasional mild exceptions. At least a vast pile of material from the original Golden Age Of Radio is freely available on the Internet Archive, which is nice. You used to be able to get the original 'Adventures of Superman' radio series on there...

If you get a moment, and have the capacity to insert yourself into another time period, Old Time Radio is a wonderful place to be. It's a colourful or noir-filled parallel universe, where you are as likely to bump into the Shadow as you are into Sam Spade or Jack Benny and Phil Harris. Or, if you indulge in expensive and rare BBC CDs, you could rub shoulders with the crew of the HMS Troutbridge and Arthur Dent. The world is your oyster, and with guaranteed top-rated visual effects!


Saturday, 25 March 2017

'Star Trek: The Cage' (Episode 0x00) (1965)

'The Cage' is a curious product of the mid-1960s. It is both quintessential 'Star Trek' and its antithesis. 'The Cage' (TC) adheres to the humourless dramatic pattern of the time, while breaking other television rules at every turn. It has also got the iconic Orion slave girl, but that is something best left until later.

Is TC good? Yes. Is it good Trek? It depends on the definition of Trek that you use. The original cast material falls broadly into two categories: A - 'The Cage', the beginning of season one, most of the third season, and 'The Motion Picture'; B - The bulk of the first season, the entirety of the second, and the remainder of the movies. Category A has no character based humour at all, and B is where Trek made its name via intelligent naturalism characterisation on almost all levels. 'The Cage' is classical A material: Solid, durable, intelligent and ever so slightly dull. The lessons imparted by the latter producer Gene Coon had yet to come in and so we deal with the Roddenberry-ness of it all. (Note: There is also category C, which is the epically strange animated series and only the animated series.)

The interesting things about TC are the things that would change, and the iconic aspects that would shine through when it was re-edited into the two-part episode 'The Menagerie'. Yes, it's the Orion slave girl again, but also the unprecedented woman first officer who is only referred to as Number One. She would later be blackballed by skittish/cowardly network people and her characteristics smooshed into those of the already-present but far too shouty Mr Spock. A woman first officer? Unthinkable to the powers that were of the time, but a brave piece of universe building for 'Star Trek'. The third iconic aspect of the show is the starship itself, and the fourth the ubiquitous production budget saving transporter. It's a beautiful ship already, in this earliest incarnation, one of the best to ever be seen in film and television until its even more ludicrously beautiful replacement in 'The Motion Picture'.

Ultimately, even though it reflects poorly on me, the writer of the Quirky Muffin, once I had seen this the first time it was only ever going to be about the Green Girl. It is ironic that the Kirk cliche of romancing 'green alien space babes' only happened once for him, and that this more famous example was for an entirely different captain. A captain with a brown soul of durable cardboard, and who spends more time being angry than he does anything else. I wonder what kind of series would have sprung from this attempt at a pilot?

It's a really expensive show, with stellar production values. The story is smart and well written, although it is more of a B movie style production than a tv show. The cast is solid, everything is solid. It's all structurally sound. What it lacks is the energy that the infamous Shatner brought in massive amounts, from the next episode onwards... All I can say is this: Bring on the double fisted hammer blow and flying leg kick!


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Eight Hundred And Fifty Two?

This is one of those posts where I blather on about nothing in particular, spinning random threads of consciousness and hoping they all come together at the end to make something whole. If that doesn't happen, then of course the Quirky Muffin will be deducted five points by the judges, if they're not on holiday in Istanbul or guzzling chocolates in their secret mountaintop headquarters, that is. You can never really trust judges to be where you want them to be, especially if they take their inspiration from Baron Greenback.

You weren't expecting sense, were you? Really?

It has been a silly few days, with a multiplicity, or even a plenitude, of free days that could be used to catch up on Open University work and recharge the batteries. In fact, it has been a week with four days off, which hasn't happened in a very long time. You might think being a private tutor is an easy job, but those accumulated hours of talking steadily, explaining and breaking down concepts, and maintaining concentration and attention throughout, do wear on you after a while. It's nice to be able to be quiet and introspective, and get beaten by 'Thunderbirds' repeatedly. I must be playing it wrong, or be terrible at logistics, or be terribly unlucky. A review will be forthcoming, once some non-solitaire playthroughs have been done. It may just be that the fun of being able to move around Thunderbird 4 has gone to the head.

A plan has now been hatched for the conclusion of 'The Ninja Of Health', Hurrah! It can take ages to come up with even unimaginative ways to end stories, so it's a relief to have some idea of what to aim for. Yes, you might rightly say that it would be the better idea to know what you're aiming for from the very beginning, but that's never really been the point of the Quirky Muffin. This weblog is, above all, an experiment. It's not meant to be super-readable, or maybe even read at all. If you do read, then thank you kindly. The main objective is to work out if this cranky writer can do anything interesting with the words that clutter up his head. Hmm. Head clutter words fish banana spoon hockey.

It has been a great experiment so far. Yes, a lot of the reviews end up being qualified into almost complete banality, and the stories go through long and awkward stalling patterns sometimes, but it's still fun to write. Sometimes there's a fascinating word of the day, and sometimes a touch of philosophy will creep in. Politics is banned once again, if only because we are now in the decline of civilization as we know it, and the corporate barbarians are now well past the gate and eating our ice cream. More will follow in the same vein as this and the previous eight hundred and fifty one (!) posts, in the coming days. For now, it is time to bed down and read something comforting.

Welcome to the Quirky Muffin, and good night.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Scenes From The Fictitious Genesis Of A Planned Resolution By People Who Don't Write This Stuff To Begin With

A.K.A. Ideas On How To Finish 'The Ninja Of Health'

(Part XXX , XXXI )

<fade in from lime>

Dennis: We've got to do something about this story that is endlessly going on and on, Evelyn.

Evelyn: My, this ravioli is delicious. I've never even had good ravioli, and suddenly we get miraculous ravioli!

Dennis: <sigh>

Evelyn: The story? I know. It's going on forever, and we still have to resolve a ridiculous meditation scene in a crater.

Dennis: This guy seems to be a bringer of bad events, doesn't he? A chaos merchant?

Evelyn: Yes, but at the same time, he has NOT hurt either of our protagonists. <eyes Dennis's fruit salad>

Dennis: Get back, fruit fiend! Here, you shall never get through this frontier of condiments!

Waiter: Sir, madam, would you like anything else to eat or drink.

Dennis: Yes, could you get this diet-monster a fruit salad please. Without melon.

Waiter: Of course. We do not serve -- <shudder> -- melon here.Is that all?

Evelyn: Two of those tiny post-meal coffees please.

Waiter: Thank you, madam, sir.

Dennis: He seemed overly formal, didn't he?

Evelyn: He's just trying to make up for last week, when he accidentally tipped that mushy avocado all over your head.

Dennis: Hmm. Story. At the same time, our villain has been making people sick and rendered a vital deus ex machine comatose. He has been affecting people.

Evelyn: But not lethally. He has only been messing things about, although people would die eventually, or have already, in the margins.

Dennis: A chaos merchant?

Evelyn: Yes, but we do play that awfully often, don't we? We seem to have a chaotic evil counterpoint in every single thing we write!

Dennis: I blame Moriarty.

Evelyn: Well, you would. We'll probably be sued just for using his name.

Dennis: Nope! Definitely in the public domain. Hurrah!

Waiter: Voila.

Dennis: Is that a whole pineapple?

Waiter: With the compliments of the house. <departs>

Evelyn: The wall of condiments stands. Keep your eyes off this pineapple.

Dennis: Well, we could defeat the bad guy, and then have him not be so bad, right?

Evelyn: I suppose so... But how?

Dennis: Well, if it's order versus chaos, then there are some pretty standard things we could pull out. I have this idea about the sky and a hot air balloon teathered to a tower...

Evelyn: Oh. Good grief...

Dennis: You want to hear all about it, don't you? Admit it.

Evelyn: If I give you some pineapple, will you not tell me?

Dennis: Too late! Mwahahahaha!

Evelyn: Hang on! Did you just say 'balloon'?

Dennis: Yes, 'hot air balloon', to be precise.

Evelyn: I have a related idea. We'll compare notes at pillows time. There's just one more thing to talk about now, though.

Dennis: What?

Evelyn: We seriously need to stop writing comedic dialogue scenes in Italian restaurants. It's fast becoming a crutch.

Dennis: Never. Pasta names are funny. You'll just have to live with it.

<fade to purple>

The end of the 'Ninja of Health' is planned...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

No, No, Not The Bagpipes Of Orpheus!

Greetings and salutations from a remarkable buoyant Quirky Muffin headquarters, currently floating out into the middle of the Irish Sea thanks to positive mental energy and a healthy dose of imagination. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Or non-alcoholic rum substitute, at least. It was made within sight of molasses, if nothing else. It's really scary that rum is literally made of fermented sugar things, isn't it? That is a fact that needs to be forgotten.

Ah, 'tis a good day, after time enough to think at last, and catch up on some of the more minor things of existence. Coursework is being picked up and may actually get finished, and a couple of days worth of (involuntary) holiday means that a whole week of preparation can get done too. The serial stories here in Muffin-land might even get pushed along. We will have to see, but some serious recharging is in progress here. Things may happen.

In random news, which has already bored many people in e-mail in the last few days, the 'Thunderbirds' co-operative game (plus 'Tracy Island' expansion) is pretty neat and tight. It may be the only good licenced game in existence for me, mainly because so many others are war games. It seems as if there will never be a good 'Star Trek' board game, which is disappointing but understandable. The strengths of 'Trek' are diverse and difficult to capture, and deeply tied in to the solidity and aspirational nature of the original show. 'YINSH' and 'Africana' remain to be played, but high hopes are being held! YINSH! Gesundheit.

Now, moving along, the good thing about teaching English as well as Mathematics is that you get to dig into magazines for articles to use as comprehension fodder. Personally, I prefer rummaging through 'The Atlantic' and 'The Smithsonian'. Today, in a big hit for promoting literacy, the former furnished this lovely article about practical archaeology and the nature of humanity now as compared to our more 'primitive' forebears. Guess who comes off the worse in the comparison? I will leave you, the imaginary reader of this fine weblog, to draw your own conclusions.

Ah, Orpheus, come forth and blow your dream pipes. Please, please, let your recent bagpipes experiment have come to an end...


Friday, 17 March 2017

On The Book Piles V - March 2017

Since story writing is on hiatus until some energy recovery has been occurred, it's time to have a focus on books. This time, the book piles have a few new entries, and a few that have been there forever and several days...

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

Now, having made it several stories into the Brigadier Gerard collection, it is obvious that these are classically great stories. Conan Doyle seems to have sunk everything into this, including a lot of his passion for historical tales and sly humour. Recommended, and not the satire of France that I was unfairly expecting. Very good, so far.

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

Now also begun, volume two is more of the same, in this grandly epic story of ancient China. The translation is funny, and the pacing good, but the overarching story is thousands of pages long over four volumes. These books may outlast me! However, you really need to know about that irascible Monkey, one of the great characters in stories.

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

This, along with Herodotus, Jung, and the Freud below, are likely to remain on these book piles forever. 'Voyage' is an extremely dry chronicle of the legendary voyage on which Darwin began to take his notes on naturalism and his experiences, and form some of the ideas which would overthrow how we think about the world and Nature. Sadly, I'm struggling to get into it, but whenever I do it is interesting. It's just so dry that you can smell the tumbleweeds when you open the volume.

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

An awesomely well written book, and one that dribbles on in spurts due to my compulsive reading of fiction. The translation is great, and Freud had a once in a generation mind. This has to be dug into or I'll go nutty. Bring in the complexes, it's time to dig in!

'Ishmael' (Star Trek) by Barbara Hambly

A new entry, and it's one of my favourite Star Trek novels, which is ironic as a large portion of it is spent with an amnesiac Spock washed up in historical America, in the continuity of an entirely different television series. I never would have guessed that it was a crossover! Only last year did I realise that the whole setting was that of a sixties show called 'Here Come The Brides', which starred Star Trek actor Mark Lenard. It's very well done, but has been shamefully put on the backburner by...

'Dragon' (Dirk Pitt) by Clive Cussler

It's a Cussler, which is embarrassing. The exposition is painful, and nothing is left unsaid. No cliche is left unturned, and yet it somehow works, which is infuriating. Being read because it's one half of the surrounding bracket for a Cussler I wanted to re-read: 'Sahara'. Please, keep this one under your hat.

'The Complete Father Brown' by GK Chesterton

Finally, from deep in the box of unread, or partially unread, books, comes the complete 'Father Brown' which was halfway read many years ago and then put down due to exhaustion. It's a very thick tome! However, the stories were excellent to date, and the time is right to pick it up again in the off minutes. More to come.

Also malingering on the piles: 'Histories' by Herodotus, and 'Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious' by Jung. The piles are high at the moment. I may disappear behind them...


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

One And One Make What?

Beware the fried brain, the inevitable result of being up too long and spending too many consecutive days trying to finesse arithmetic into primary school students. Even now, the whole world has condensed down to explaining how to find the halfway point between nine and twenty-four, and wondering just why the postman hasn't appeared for two consecutive days. Two whole days without post is worrying and a little suspicious. Not even a junk leaflet? Really? Suspicious. It must all be being stopped at the Bicycle Prevention League's censorship station, currently located in the bunker underneath the telephone exchange. They've had it in for me ever     since the incident with the Alfred Hitchcock gnome and the penny farthing.

What exactly is the halfway number between nine and twenty-four? A red herring? A completely irrelevant piece of information? Sixteen and a half? We may never know for sure. Does it even exist in this plane of existence? Tough questions all. Especially for a deranged maniac.

Why does one plus one make two? It's a philosophical question of staggering depth and stupidity. On the one hand it questions the very basis of empirical fact and demands an answer for something we consider axiomatic, and on the other it points to the fact that one and one make two because that's how we defined 'two' to begin with. We could just have easily have labelled one as 'four' and 'four' as one, and then four plus four would have made two. Oh, the perils of asking simple questions! It would be far easier to think about the mild embarrassment of reading a Clive Cussler novel, but that will be for another day. Oh, the horrific exposition!

Actually, one and one might not make two. After all, what does 'and' mean? Does it have to mean 'plus'? It really depends on the operation you associate with the ring, field, or whatever frame reference you're working in. It might actually make zero, eleven, one, two, or a fried green tomato. Am I even remembering any of this correctly? Answers on a postcard, please.


Monday, 13 March 2017

The Literary Reflection, III

Once again, it's time round up the recent reading with some mini-reviews. Yadda yadda yadda?

'Oliver's Travels' by Alan Plater (1994)

Good, but it doesn't add much if you've already seen its offspring mini-series, except for a moustache and a hotel interlude. It's also much swearier, which is quite frustrating. As a result, it's a mixed experience, both charming and upsetting. Yes, it's still a lovely story, but it's not quite as good. One for the Plater completionist, perhaps. If you don't know the story, then a crossword- and jazz-obsessed lecturer is made redundant and sets out on a quest to meet his favourite puzzle compiler, which also takes in true love, predestination, serious crimes and the Orkneys.

'Riders Of The Purple Sage' by Zane Grey (1912)

I always have to stop and think for a moment when I see the year 1912 as the original publication year of this one. It really doesn't feel like a novel from so long ago, except for the shared content with 'A Study In Scarlet', which also features a lot of villainous Mormons. It's a great Western, with a very interesting central female character and lots of the psychological Western tropes which may have originated here. At the same time, the ending is rather telegraphed, and the novel is packed full of all kinds of subtext that I don't even begin to comprehend. This gets a recommendation, but... what on Earth were the Mormons doing back then to get this much hatred?

`Elementary, My Dear Groucho' by Ron Goulart (1999)

It's not high art, nor is it an excellence in storytelling, but there is something very charming about these Groucho Marx mysteries by Goulart. He did six in total, and this is the third, a lighthearted romp featuring a hacky ham playing Sherlock Holmes who challenges Groucho to solve the murder on his set before he does. Of course, there are wisecracks aplenty, and nothing quite goes to plan, but we get some sense of true Groucho-ness throughout, and his sidekick character and narrator continues to be relateable. Yes, it's only light comfort reading, but sometimes that's necessary!

'The Club Of Queer Trades' by GK Chesterton (1905)

It doesn't jump up the charts in the same way that my other experiences with Chesterton have, but it's still a solid set of stories, or a slight set of stories, or something in between. Six mystery stories which have non-criminal answers revealed at the end make up an unusual set, but the ending is just a little underwhelming. Still, Chesterton is Chesterton, and even a slight set of his stories is better than a bulky set of those from most other authors. I quite like the one about the Lieutenant that lives in The Elms, and will say no more.


Sunday, 12 March 2017


History is a fickle thing. We of Britain know all about Germany's war atrocities in the second World War, but what do we know of the events across on the other side of the world. From what little I've gleaned from the scandalous sources of scurrilous bestsellers and movies, the Japanese empire were even worse, but we're none the wise. History is taught geographically and not morally, alas. With a whole world to choose from, and thousands of years of British history, what do we choose? Hitler's Germany and Henry VIII.

What could we teach in history, if we but had the courage? What about the discovery of the Americas? What about the Crusades, or the changing status of Parliament and the Crown? What about the short-lived samurai era of Japan, or the pressures that caused that brief bubble that was the Old West. There is so much to think about that you wonder how it could even be taught at all. What about the Moon Landings, or the Cuban Missile Crisis? What about the Korean War and the cold war between the USA and China? What about our Cold War in the early 1900s?

Looking back, the only things I remember from History class are Hitler's Germany, one variety of castle, and maybe something to with the aforementioned portly monarch with dubious marital protocols. It's pretty telling that almost all I know about the late Queen Mother is from the movie 'The King's Speech'! What will be the things that are taught from this era of history, if anything. Will Trump be a talking point in fifty years time - hopefully not, as that would imply some kind of impending disaster - or the EU exit? Since history curricula are always written from either a trivially obsessed neutral point of view or in a highly biased political frame, who will be deciding it anyway?

Sometime in the future, someone will be sifting through current events, and most of the things happening now will have led to nothing of any particular import. The EU Exit will have become inconsequential, President Trump will have been the nail in the coffin of the old corrupt system but will have done very little in office (we hope), and things will have continued much as before. It might all be about climate change, the vacuousness of society in the early twenty-first century, or the Reign of the Artificial Intelligences. Humanity will have to wait to find out.

Who does decide what received history should be? Almost always the people you wouldn't choose?


Friday, 10 March 2017

Television: 'Quantum Leap: M.I.A.' (Episode 2x22) (1990)

This was always a series that was about it's secondary character, the irredeemably scurrilous Al, or Admiral Albert Calavicci in full, as played by Dean Stockwell. Yes, it's supposed to be the story of Scott Bakula's Sam Beckett, but we know the truth. Every time Dean Stockwell stepped up to the plate, the show became that much more fleshed out and nuanced, and this is arguably the best example of that.

'M.I.A.' is the definitely the episode of QL that you know will tear you up before the end. It's the one that explains just why Al is as irrepressible as he seems to be throughout the series, and it also exemplifies just how decent Sam is at his core. He couldn't do a wrong thing even if he wanted to (see also, episode 2x10, 'Catch A Falling Star'). If you didn't love these two guys before, especially Al, then you would after. It's a very rough watch, as will become clear, but it explains so much while setting up character growth in the future.

Donald P Bellisario, creator and showrunner, deployed military characters in all his series, as he was a Marine himself and famously wanted to have positive portrayals of the military and veterans in his series, and presumably liked to use his own experiences to make his characters and shows stronger. This is one of the classiest examples, as Al - the exemplar wisecracker - attempts to trick Sam into changing the past so his wife doesn't take him for dead during his long time missing as an MIA in Vietnam, trapped in a tiny cage in an eternal torture, and so that he won't spend the rest of his life heartbroken. Sadly, it can't be done, as Sam's real mission is elsewhere, and we get one of the most heartrending leaps out in the whole series. Never again will 'Georgia On Your Mind' go by without a moment's thought.

This is why 'Quantum Leap' is excellent: Dean Stockwell is in almost every other appearance a journeyman actor and a solid guy, but in'Quantum Leap' he meets every expectation and doubles it. He is the ideal casting, the only casting, and goes from comical, to touching, to dramatic in seamless fashion. He is the ultimate human counterpart to Scott Bakula's too perfect Sam, and I still wish the series had had a better finale, to bid him adieu in better fashion. Stockwell's humanity added the special ingredient.

'M.I.A.' is one of the best of 'Quantum Leap', and definitely up there on my list of things that will make me cry. That's a sign of purity and excellence indeed.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Brown Paper Of The Soul

The 'Doctor Who' DVDs have been sold, and I don't mind at all. 'Doctor Who' has always been such a marginally acceptable series here in Quirky Muffin world that it's amazing that so many discs accrued over time. However, reclaiming a massive amount of space is not the primary topic here so much as the horrors of wrapping up the parcels. Good grief. How on Earth has parcel wrapping never somehow been made easier? It's almost an exercise in endurance hyperdimensional geometry!

In the aftermath, it seems as if most of the sellotape in the Western Hemisphere has been used, along with a kilometer or two of brown paper and bubble wrap, and now we're just left with some very weighty packages. It's unsatisfying. More fussing can not be imagined, after so much one-handed fumbling of tape, springy cardboard and five dozen flaps all coming loose at the most inopportune times. Thankfully, it is now done. Thankfully. Except for Parcel Force.

Oh, for goodness sake, Parcel Force's website is still to come. The most miserable rigged website in the world, perhaps, that requires you be using all three of Windows, Firefox and Adobe PDF reader in order to allow you to do anything. Why not force us to write on the screen in chalk as part of the procedure too? It's incredibly frustrating, especially as there are cashback options for paying online, and cashback is to be hoarded, or completely ignored.

Selling things really is difficult. How on Earth do businesses keep with all these things? How does it happen? At least in this case, a whole crate has been cleared for games and DVDs, which will be nice. Now, the temptation is to fill up the box with yet more marginal things, and it must be resisted! It must! Actually, it's very likely that 'JAG' will up the space, as will the remainders of 'Quincy, ME' and 'The Rockford Files'. That seems nice, and of course there is still a little 'Doctor Who' left, with Smith, McCoy and a smidgen of Hartnell still in the mix. Oh, and 'The Flintstones' or 'Night Court'. These decisions remain for the days to come.

That's a wrap!


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Story: The Frozen Valley

Twelve years and sixty-two days ago, something happened in the Valley of the Antelope. To put it simply, everything stopped. Birds that had been flying across the sky hung motionless, caught in a split second of motion. Bees, reindeer, mice, even the plants and the river itself, all were frozen in place completely. Only clouds seemed immune to the effect, passing over the the valley with the new nickname of the Frozen Valley.

Scientists were completely confused by this phenomenon, sending in probe after probe which were completely unaffected by whatever might have happened. The sensor measurements were unexplainable, revealing nothing new and nothing to support any theories. Frozen Valley resisted all explanation.

The next step was to send in devices that could interact with the environment. The first one carefully bumped into a static badger, and couldn't budge it. Then, a blade of glass was selected as a sample, and a snipper-bot sent in to cut it and bag it. The scissors didn't even make a mild scratch. The limits of automated devices were rapidly becoming apparent. Progress could only be slow and miserable if they couldn't send in people to investigate. However, what would happen if living matter went into the valley? Would it freeze into a static frame of reference inevitable?

The quandary was clear, and no clear way presented itself, all volunteers being asked to think again due to the danger involved. How could it be resolved?

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Go Get 'Em, TS Eliot!

It's difficult, very difficult, to balance a horde of students, an Open University course, a proofreading job, an eccentric blog of miscellaneous nonsense, and a thousand other smaller things. In fact, it is almost impossible! However... there are ways and means... it will all get easier in time...

As an English tutor, part of the time anyway, you start looking for articles to throw at your students for comprehension exercises, and find all kinds of things. For example, the Silfra Fissure, in which divers can actually touch two continental plates at once, of the Zimmerman telegram, which pushed the USA into the First World War against Woodrow Wilson's wishes. There's a much nicer world of Internet content out there, if you can but find it. The Smithsonian online magazine pages seem particularly nice for this purpose, as do some sections of The Atlantic. Yes, magazines are still alive and well in some parts of the world!

Wow. Magazines. A substantial magazine hasn't been spotted in these parts for more than ten years, and then it was promptly cancelled! I think it was BBC MindGames, actually, and even that was more of a puzzle book. We don't seem to have the likes of 'The New Yorker', 'National Geographic', 'The Atlantic' or even 'The Smithsonian' here in the United Kingdom. Are we just a population of illiterate goons, believing everything pushed out in pulpy newspapers of utmost bias? Some magazines would be nice. And some people actually reading books. At the moment my most well read acquaintance is a GCSE student, which is lovely, but worrying at the same time.

It's odd to think that we've slid so far from the pinnacles of education, that great enabler. We are supposed to be taught to teach ourselves and become fully independent people, but somehow we've ended up being forced into systems that don't work any more, and enslaved to screens of information we don't actually need. As TS Eliot wrote - in 'The Rock' - and was repeated in 'Oliver's Travels':

"Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

We have masses of information, but is it useful or is it part of a much larger dungeon of which we only ever spot the edges from the corners of our eyes.


Friday, 3 March 2017

Television: 'The Mentalist' (2008-2015)

It's tantamount to a confession, and one that has been made previously, but I really like 'The Mentalist'. It was one of the most likeable shows on television and very high up there on my list of most watched series. It's simply a great show in my mind, but one which was almost never talked about except in the negative sense. It did have the bad fortune to be made at the same time as the similar show 'Psyche', and get labelled as 'the copy' and unimaginative, but it went beyond that by tapping into some things that were generally out of fashion and by doing everything it tried with ease.

'The Mentalist' falls into the sweet gap between episodic and serialised television, with runs of 'cases of the week' that served to space out and add time between events in the overarching narrative of the eponymous Mentalist, the curiously named Patrick Jane and his friends. Serialisation is not something I like, but this mixed approach has always worked nicely. The key to the early success of the show is that rogueish central character, as played by Simon Baker, who is really a leading man of the old school, someone who could have stood up to the company of the Shatner, Robert Vaughn from 'The Man From UNCLE', or James Garner in anything. Such a charismatic throwback could only come from Australia! He takes the sometimes tortured central character, and his vengeful quest, and makes it palatable. In second place was Robin Tunney as his liaison at the California Bureau of Investigation, Teresa Lisbon, a grand infatuation fueller, and then her team.

It really shouldn't work. It should fall into the 'too many beautiful people' trap and stink, but that was averted. Somehow, they managed to cast a bunch of people who really did grow into their roles until you stopped noticing how glamorous they were, especially Tim Kang as Agent Kimball Cho. Cho was such a great and wonderful breakout as the incredible stoic that he was carried over into the epilogue of the series. In some ways it's the reverse of Star Trek spinoff syndrome, where they put together the too large extended cast, which never matures and becomes a millstone about the neck. Why does it work? After all that gushing above, which neglected the occasionally great writing, it probably does all have to come down to Simon Baker, who manages to pull off the double trick of being an old school charming lead and bringing out the best in his ensemble cast. He makes it work.

The central arc, the story of ex-fraud Patrick Jane attempting to catch the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter by working with the police, goes up and down, and for probably a little too long. For five and a bit seasons, the killer Red John was set up as a semi-mystical entity, who might be the real psychic that Jane always claimed to not exist, but then turned out to be an utterly normal person person with connections. It didn't work at all, after so long setting up a thematic mystery that ran as a counterpoint to Jane himself, but the epilogue was some compensation. Again, the epilogue should really have been a mess, an unwelcome tying up of loose ends and putting together of Jane and Lisbon, and tying up of loose strings. It shouldn't work, but does. It was lovely to see the two happy.

I'll never really understand why 'The Mentalist' is so high on my favourites list, but it is. It never seems to fail, has a solid cast which struggled a little at the beginning, but succeeds with a charm all its own, as if it had emerged from a much earlier time in television history. It might even be the last television series I will have collected, chronologically, but this will remain to be seen.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

It Doesn't Have To Be Dull, Surely?

While writing numeracy questions for my GCSE students, which is often an onerous chore, I sometimes get to thinking about how to make things more interesting. Or funny. Or both. It shouldn't be impossible to make practice questions interesting, should it? For that matter, why do exams and examples have to be so humourless in general? Students might do a little better if they weren't locked into quite so grim an examination mindset. Ah, for the good old days which never happened! I don't remember that time when the whole exam wasn't themed on raising dragons in Hyborea...

How can numeracy questions be made more interesting? It's a tough question. The standard and most substantial numeracy question is often about a business and its dry income and outflow, and how it all adds up to a net result. How on Earth could that not be dull as ditchwater? (Note: Must find out why ditchwater is the epitome of dullness. With that much life in it, the results of consumption would be anything but dull!) Well, what if we changed from a business to a person, some kind of unusual person? Or a spacegoing cruise line? Or the president of the United States? What if we looked at the bizarre budget of Count Dracula, Baron Frankenstein, or Sherlock Holmes? What if we had to go through the oddities of conversions in barter cultures, or societies that trade via pigments, odd rocks or the sculptures they make in the backs of their caves?

We can literally do anything while making up practice questions. They don't have to be super-conventional and super-dull, they only need to cover the material that will be presented in the exams. It's early days, but progress is being made, and the beginnings of a portfolio are being put together. It's amazing how even the brightest of students have been stunned by new numeracy papers, and presumably were similarly stunned by their previous analogues. We'll get there in the end, with some examples that lead and some that challenge.

In other affairs, if anyone runs into a camel marked 'Abu Dhabi Or Bust', please contact the Quirky Muffin. The story is long, involved, and connected to the mysterious disappearance of said camel from the audience during a recent performance of 'Ooh, That's Not My Fish', a satirical comedy on the connections between frozen strawberries, maniacs moving into the White House, idiots running Downing Street, and the reasons why triangles are under-represented in nature. The camel is a material witness.