Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XXI

(Part O , XX , XXII)

The beach was just as they remembered it. The message they had missed, now scrawled into sand, was the sole difference. In a world that was supposed to be constantly changing, that was an anomaly that made no sense. Stanley and Helen looked at each other. The last time they had been here, Helen had slapped the mysterious Tweedy Lady and woken them both from their slumber. Now, there was no antagonist and the island remained.

"Do you feel funny?" Stanley asked suddenly.

Helen thought for a moment, considering. "Yes, a little. It's rather like swimming in bubbles, although I've never done that. How odd."

"For me, it's more of an itchy sensation. I wonder if it's something happening back with the Professor?"

"We'll find out when we get back. If we get back. For now, something is maintaining this island, if it's not one of us." She looked at her companion, who had now been with her for so long that she couldn't remember life back at the Blue Monkey without him. "Want to explore, crazy teacher person?"

Stanley sighed, all hopes of happily waking up after no further incidents dispelled. "It may be a trap, and it may not. It may be a solution, and it may not. It may be nothing at all, and it might give us the secret to the Universe. I may be a coward, but a cry for help is a cry for help and we have to go look." Screwing up his courage, he made a sally into humour. "When this is all over, let's run away to Bangor."

"No deal. I've been to Bangor."

"Curses! All hopes dashed! Shall we proceed, milady?"

"Don't get fresh, mister, we still have to get out of this mess. School teachers!" Helen pointed into the tree-covered murk inland. "Coming?"

"Yes, miss."

"Now, cut that out!"

They began their exploration into the interior of the island.

There shall be more.

Sunday, 3 May 2015


It's a frequently repeated theme here at the Quirky Muffin to talk about communication. For some the written word is far easier than the spoken, and for others vice-versa. To be good in both is rare. For my part, after a two day TEFL course, a lifelong accumulation of terrible interviews, and many more examples, it is clear that my verbal skills are far more limited than the written, and that everything spoken will be a challenge both to say and understand for a long time more. There seems to be a small barrier between me and understanding even the simplest things told to me, and it just doesn't go away! Does that disqualify me as a teacher candidate? Maybe, but we've already introspected too much, so let's move on to some other things. This transparent barrier separating each of us from the world is a different topic entirely.

While going through the PGCE interview process, and the TEFL course, there has been plenty of opportunity to think about language and communication, and just what it is we teach people. Ultimately, when we teach language we are in the first place connecting abstract concepts of language to the concrete aspects of reality, and in the second place developing definitions and meanings for more abstract concepts of life, and therefore directly introducing those concepts to the students in question. In short, when you teach language, you are in fact forming that link between abstraction and realism and it is vital. Surely that means that the absolute best people should be helping to establish that link, and without the imbecilic political shenanigans that are imposed upon them now? That's politics for you, and neglected politics in the dying days of an election campaign. If you want to see something scary then check out the decline in the national reading age, and the horrors of the current system used to teach children to read in primary schools to the exclusion of all else. Madness!

Moving on, what a funny week it will be, with both a bank holiday and a general election to come, TEFL online content to complete, final revisions to be made to an accepted academic paper, and a myriad of other things. Indeed, in addition to all the activities already listed there will be jobs to apply for, translation projects to bid on, Quirky Muffins to write, a Film Bin commentary for 'Night Shift' to edit down and de-noise, and if there's still time left over then Greek and Spanish need some learning still. That's what will happen this week, and if it sounds too busy then you have made the right assessment. It will be hectic and only a fraction of it all will get done, as exhaustion sets in. A fraction! All that, and from Thursday I will be house- and dog-sitting alone with Tess the daft Old English Sheepdog, who will mope unceasingly for five days.

What's that you say? 'Bank holiday'? Humbug! There's no such thing as a bank holiday! Would you like to swap your week with mine? All considered, unless snakes or spiders are involved.


Friday, 1 May 2015


It seems like I'm always saying things are scary. It reveals a lot about the character, doesn't it? Apparently all this anxiety was inherited at a very young age, and now will plague until eternity. Imagine all the conscious effort required to get anything done at all! Yes, this is the diary of a rampant coward, so fear will be ever present but hopefully often overcome.

Returning to the theme, I haven't been to class in a while, so any kind of course is scary. Will it go alright, or will it end up in a stark repetition of all my recent interviews and end in disaster, with the rusty tongue clucking away in total gibberish and undermining any attempt to look intelligent? Should a paid class even inspire such worries, when the onus is on the teacher and organisation to make it worthwhile for the money? Why even sign up for a TEFL course to begin with? Why?

There are many mild reasons for a TEFL course. For one, it could be nice to teach English overseas, and break up this pattern of endless failure. It could be good to try out new places, and make some money while making an arguable difference to people's lives. It could even be good to continue the quest to find a place whose food is as good as it is here. Every country I've been to so far has had a decidedly lopsided supply of food as compared to the crazy diversity of the United Kingdom. Are these good reasons? Perhaps. It would also be nice to successfully teach something, and have an insurance job in the deal, and try to beat off the essential loneliness of recent times.

Enough of that, for my recent DVD experiences have led to 'The Wild Wild West', which is proving astonishingly entertaining and watchable. It's a gorgeous show, even in its monochrome first season. Along with 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr' it may prove to be a minor renaissance in my archive television search. How lovely it is to find new things, from whatever age, and things anyone can watch. Now, in anticipation of a busy weekend and twenty hours of TEFL in two days, it's time to get back to Conan Doyle and some of his fine short stories. Rest, fine world, rest!


Thursday, 30 April 2015

Television: 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr: Pilot' (1993) (Episode 1x00)

It was a gamble, but when it comes to the super-serious art of television watching, a gamble is sometimes necessary. Now, in retrospect, it wasn't a gamble at all. 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr' is definitely good. Yes, that's a generalisation, and one made after watching only the pilot episode, but it is in all likelihood an accurate one. The writing has that absurdist touch that some of the best cross-genre shows reach for, Bruce Campbell is wonderful in his own bashful way, and there's a horse called Comet! Yes, this show can go places, and doesn't care about stealing names from Superman comics. (See: Comet the Super Horse.)

How many movie serial inspired comedic westerns with science fiction overtones are there? Is there anything else to get close to 'Brisco County'? It may be that only 'Back to the Future III' is in the same ballpark, if we can lump movies and television shows in together. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if it matches up to the potential of the pilot, which led off the show's single season in 1993-1994.

That was a crazy season for television, that year of 1993-1994: 'Lois and Clark' began, and was subsequently re-tooled into supreme blandness in succeeding years; 'Moon Over Miami' debuted and died in ten episodes flat with three left unaired; 'Brisco County jr' debuted and died of minute ratings; 'Frasier' had its first and debateable best year, and 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' had its final year. That is a momentous sequence of events for me, personally, and marks the biggest set of coincident misjudgements to land in television land that I can remember. What would have occurred a year earlier or a year later? We'll never know.

The pilot for 'Brisco County jr' revolves around Bruce Campbell's titular turn as the bounty hunter who is hired to track down the outlaw John Bly and his gang, who escaped from his father's custody and killed him in retribution. It's not about revenge, though. It's far far lighter. It's about getting the job done, and utilizing and subverting every Western trope you can find in the process, as well as incorporating science fiction elements via a mysterious orb found in a mine. Oh, and there are jokes. Lots and lots of jokes.

To be honest, there was a secret secondary motivation reason for buying 'Brisco County jr', in addition to the positive ravings you can find all over the Internet, and that is the recurring presence of John Astin - Gomez Addams himself - as eccentric inventor Professor Albert Wickwire. You can't ignore the Astin when he appears in curiously unknown television shows, you just can't, especially when his character directly inspires the first rocket railway car to be seen in the longest time. Has there been one since 'The Great Race' or Wile E Coyote?

Great pilot, now let's see what happens. This is no longer a gamble.


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Long Coach Journeys

Long coach journeys are both wonderful and vexing. They provide both the opportunity for a magnificent amount of reading, and the curse of immobility in a vehicle that could be caught in a traffic jam at any moment. Generally, the opportunity outweighs the curse, as my recent twinned seven hour coach journeys to Nottingham and back can attest. With one whole anthology and three newspapers read, an epic letter written, and much thinking done it was quite the experience. Sadly, none of it was work-related thinking as there's still no work, but it was still worthwhile. Constructive thought is always useful, and reading can soothe a savage torment.

Long journeys can make people so bizarrely stressed, those people who have yet to acquire the skill of Zen travel anyway. Even if you're late, even if the journey is delayed and you will certainly miss your connection, there is nothing you can do to change it. The world is your stage, and the best thing is just to sit back and enjoy the ride through the scenery of your world. No amount of looking at your watch, cursing the driver for accidents outside of his control, and bowing your head in frustration will let you catch your connection in time, half-demented man who was across the aisle. Raving is not the solution.

There is a limit to the opportunity of long coach journeys, of course, as anyone who's spent more than twenty four hours travelling to Budapest, Bratislava or Warsaw would confirm. Once a travelling sleepover enters into the equation, paired with an inability to sleep in strange places, any journey becomes an insomniac nightmare of waiting for each service station while becoming progressively more and more tired and incapable of even reading to assuage the boredom. Finally, you emerge from the coach at your destination, blinking into the light as if you've never seen it before, and wondering how the world works without wheels underneath you. On the positive side, however, the reality of having travelled a long distance is something not to be missed. Travelling is real by coach or train. Real. Never fly, if you can avoid it.

As I write this, the supremely daft Rutger Hauer film 'Blind Fury' is playing, and being rather entertaining. Never would I like to see it again, but for a one-time foray into silly action it's unsurpassed, if a little gory. Also coming in for a verdict is the anthology 'A Study In Sherlock', which was problematic. With the exception of 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution', in my experience there never has been a Sherlock Holmes pastiche to live up to the writing in the original stories, and perhaps there never will be another. 'A Study In Sherlock' is an interesting idea, a collection of stories inspired by and orbitting the Holmes canon, spinning off into a multitude of directions, but ultimately the whole just seems to have writing style no better than a bestseller pulp so it fails. Also, some of the stories are barely even tangentially related to the canon so it feels like quite a ragtag collection. Maybe next time will be better. Maybe I missed the point.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Story: 'Pig Story'

(Note: Quirky Muffin now suspended until middle of next week, due to being in a different place entirely!)

I looked at the pig, but the pig wouldn't look at me. I couldn't blame him. Only a few days ago I had been a concert pianist, and now this pig had a better position in the house than I did. Such reverses are typical when a fake medium turns up and declares your pet farm animal to be a reincarnated Egyptian king. If this pig, Horace by name, had once been a Pharaoh then my name wasn't Phileas Clancy Jones, and this wasn't Hartford. An Egyptian pharaoh! Ha! Did that mean that Percy the Rooster had once been Alexander the Great? Was that why he always looked at me funny?

Oh, it had just been a chance mistake. After practicing some Chopin, I quite casually mentioned to the tea lady in the concert hall cantina the alleged former status of my pig, and she went berzerk! Raving about her parrot Ferdinand, and his prodigious feats of memory and love of pyramids, she drove me out onto the street without a clue as to whether she was the insane one or myself. I didn't believe the pig was a Pharaoh, after all, although my cat often seemed suspiciously regal. Cats often do, in a lazy sort of way.

Walking down the street from the concert hall, and not at all inclined to go back and face Doris's wrath, I reached the Square and realised that things were ever so subtly wrong. There hadn't always been a pyramid in one corner, for one thing, and the Sphinx at the former location of Oscar's Fine Olde Cinema certainly looked out of place. Good grief, would my house still be in once piece?! I ran for home, an old farmstead on the outskirts of town, and was delighted to find it still in one piece. 'What about the blasted pig?', I wondered, and went to check. Horace was still in his pen, munching placidly, but was that a sly look in his eye? Some malice? Surely not!

The next day, the conductor came to see me, and politely asked that I cancel my performances that week. Apparently, Doris had begun a stealth campaign against me, smeared my name in the worst possible manner and called down divine vengeance from Osiris at the Sphinx. The Sphinx? I had forgotten the Sphinx in the strange events. Now, my position was untenable, and his best advice was to keep a low profile and tend the farm in the meantime, while the bizarre mysteries surrounding me seemed to multiply endlessly.

Hence, here I am now, tending my farm. This pig, who maybe is the reincarnation of Amenemhat I, who himself was maybe a divine presence here on Earth, keeps on munching and the populace is beginning to turn up and worship him as word has spread. The pig! What does it all mean? Why is the town suddenly Egyptian themed, and why do I get the feeling that rooster knows more than he's letting on? This is what happens when you let psychics meet your livestock. Never again!


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Five Hundred And One

A bold new beginning. No more of those wonky attempts at badly written prose, but grand shining examples of wit and intellect! On the other hand, that does sound rather hard, now that I think about it. Perhaps the old attempts weren't all that bad after all. Perhaps an aimless and self-indulgent mess with no clear throughline is the way to go. After all, it has worked so far while recruiting minimal readership. What a way to go! Okay, an uninspired retread of a beginning, with a complete lack of expectations for anything different. Excellent, that's how mental stability exercises should be sometimes.

With my new business cards beside me - artfully managing to have no mention of location on them anywhere, sigh - it would be easy to get all lazy and bob up and down on the waves of fate like human flotsam, but no, they must be distributed to the masses. How on Earth do people get rid of business cards anyway? Is there some secret skill to it? One hundred sounds like a lot, bus is it really? The lack of tutoring has been very strange, almost a void where nothing has happened at all. Will business cards make a difference, or would effort be better off invested in brushing up foreign language skills?

Actually, if there were one thing I would love to do, it would be to really relearn and refresh my French and Spanish skills, and add Greek into the mix. There's something about the intellectual challenge of learning a language that is very appealing, especially one in which you need to learn a new symbology too. A new alphabet is fascinating. Japanese is very interesting too, but goes too far in having two native alphabets and employing Chinese kanji too. It's less of a challenge and more of an ideal, especially with the artistic elements of writing the three different sets of symbols. Yes, languages are great things to learn, and also allow you access to new ways of thinking. The Open University has a Language Studies degree too, if only money were in abundance.

Different cultures are defined far more than you might think by their languages, and their underlying mechanisms. They are a large part of the reason why different societies think so differently to each other, as well as genetic differences and different histories of course. Not every language is based on a subject hitting an object with a verb, in a problem-based tool-oriented way. Hungarian, for example, is very construction based, building from stem-words out in a very structured manner, while French is irregular and contrary and German is indescribable as it it hasn't crossed this author's radar yet. Every language has its own quirks. Spanish is lovely and regular, but hard to be imaginative in somehow.

How was that for post five hundred and one? We can get back to proper post titles again now? Excellent...