Friday, 9 December 2016

Seven Hundred And Ninety Eight

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

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

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

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

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

O.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XX

( Part XIX , XXI )

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

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

"Ken! Oh, blast..."

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

"How long? What about..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Five days!"

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

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

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

They got to work.

To be continued...

Monday, 5 December 2016

Well, It's An Idea...

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

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

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

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

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

O.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Film: 'Paper Planes' (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

Paper planes? Who would have thought it?

O.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Brainstorming 'The Ninja Of Health'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, more questions than answers.

O.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XIX

( Part XVIII , XX )

The Man and the Woman looked down at their friend, the Oracle, and took his vital signs. He remained, as ever, stable. The power remained loose in the world, and the two Ninjas of Health were too busy to do anything about it. At that thought, the Woman stopped and considered.

"Do you think we're being kept busy for a reason?" She wondered out loud.

"Who? Us?" Her weary companion replied from their bunk. "I could sleep for a week."

"This begins to look like an endless odyssey of procrastination on that thing's part, if it's not doing something else somewhere. What is this? A giant stalling exercise?"

"It may well be, or it's just as confused as we are."

"I am not confused," commented the Voice of the Entity.

The Health Ninjas became very still, and edged toward the door. Where was It?

"Oh pish-tosh. You won't get out unless I let you," the voice continued, "and that won't happen for a long time. Go to sleep for now."

The two agents of health slept, again, for quite a long time. Longer than they had ever slept before, in fact.

*    *    *

The little chapel stood untouched for exactly two days, until a strange little man approached it, carrying a backpack and an umbrella. He went up to the door and knocked. When there was no answer, he knocked a second time, and seemed to become very still for a few seconds, in a little world of his own. Then, he went around to the back and reached into a small recess in a hidden part of the wall. Fearlessly, he took the recovered key and entered the chapel by the side door.

To be continued? Where will the great idea come from?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Groucho Season?

The last week was eventful: a dark night-time walk between villages, upgrading of the computers up to Fedora 25, an online dating scam, the car hiding away at the garage, the first successful breading of something (chicken and mushrooms), a new undergraduate student, and of course the obligatory cancellations that come with the season. That night time walk stands out, though, as previously noted a few days ago, in 'Scary And Beautiful'. The low water mark was installing Fedora 25, which is shipping with a really rotten version of VLC and some shocking sluggishness. It seems 23 may be the last great version for a while... Compiling a decent version of VLC from scratch seems to bring so much dependency baggage that it's almost not worth it. However, let us not dwell on these petty things, gentle readers.

To bread something, for those not initiated into the mystery, you need some crumbs, some beaten egg, and some flour. You then dip the item to be breaded into the bowls in this order: flour, egg, crumb. Then, having prepared a tray, with the breaded items placed upon it, you stick it in the oven and hope for the best. For best results, you add seasoning and herbs to the flour, or is it to the crumb? I'm not sure at this point, it having been an excessively long weekend of tedium. Installing computers can be tiresome work indeed.

In other activities, 'The Music Man' retained its reputation as one of the great screen musicals on its latest showing here, 'Groucho Marx, Private Eye' is living up to the standard of the first book in the series. They probably deserve their own posts here at the Quirky Muffin, actually, being just different enough to be interesting in comparison to more conventional mysteries. Ron Goulart certainly seems to have caught the knack of writing Groucho for most of the time. Speaking of Groucho Marx, his 1972 revival performance is available at www.archive.org, and is pretty good. It's called 'An Evening With Groucho'. Any excuse to hear him sing 'Lydia, The Tattooed Lady' again is enough.

Perhaps Christmas 2016 will be Groucho season here on the blog, if I really know enough about the man. However, there are those four classic Paramount movies to write about, the Goulart detective novels, 'An Evening With Groucho' and the accumulated other content, already touched on with 'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel'. Maybe that's not such a bad idea?

O.