There’s a great service I subscribe to called Quarterly. It’s a simple idea: a number of contributors put together packages that are posted to you once every quarter for the princely sum of $25 (plus shipping depending on where you happen to want the package delivered). In the past I’ve subscribed to Tina Roth Eisenberg (and got a brilliant pen), Jason Kottke (who sent Sea Monkeys!) and the Standford D. School (who inspired this post).
Sometime in January I received package #DSC03 from Standford. For reasons I can’t even recall today is the first time I’ve managed to find time to clear a space, sit down and examine the contents of the box. I’m glad I did. It was awesome.
Inside package #DSC03 was an exercise. A mini project of sorts to test creative skills and get you doing something, rather than thinking about it. They call it 5 chairs. The aim? To build 5 different chairs out of different materials in a tight time frame of just 30 minutes.
Step 1. Draw the chair
Step 2. Make the chair from cardboard and scissors
Step 3. Make the chair from pipe-cleaners
Step 4. Make the chair from Play Doh
Step 5. Make the chair from tooth-picks and chewing gum. Seriously.
Then reflect. What did you enjoy? What was tricky? What was frustrating? What are you happiest with?
Here’s my effort:
Everything was provided in the box. It’s amazing what you can receive through the post. Never thought I’d receive five chairs I didn’t know existed. And didn’t exist. Until I opened the box and sat down to think about it. That’s kind of fun.
Check out Quarterly, there’s a whole range of contributors so you’ll probably find something that takes your fancy. Sign up today and it’ll be a surprise when the next package comes (we all love a nice surprise, right?)
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to put together a presentation for an event called Not at SXSW. I duly obliged (I’d been asked nicely and promised good quality crisps) and put together the presentation below. Scroll past the frankly confusing slides for an outline of the juicy bits (i.e. what I actually said alongside)…
There’s a lot of negativity in the world. From growling at late running trains to a failure to embrace jobs because they’re ‘boring’, and much more besides. This negativity makes me sad. Which is the funny thing about emotions, the more we embrace one, the more it seems to crop up. Approach a job expecting it to be crap? it will be.
But you know this, it is not new new. Instead, this is my attempt to help you break from knowing this to embracing it. This is a collection of quick ideas, suggestions and stories that might just stick in your brain and remind you that no matter how dull, daft, pointless or boring something appears, you can make it brilliant by changing the way you think about.
Let’s start with the village of Dull in Scotland. It’s called Dull, and it would be easy therefore to imagine it as a place of grey, limp mediocrity. But if I tell you that the name (probably) derives from a Gaelic word meaning ‘meadow’ you’re suddenly thrust into an entirely different mindset.
As an aside, the local wood is also called Dull Wood. And in a world of omnipresent adverts for erectile dysfunction, this can’t fail to bring a smile to your face.
Moving on, let’s explore film, the movies, the talkies. Sometimes we have to sit through rubbish films. Hours of our time lost into the ether when we could have been building Kinder Egg toys or washing our delicates. But fear not, because any Hollywood movie has a hidden kicker at the end: American’s names. Wade through any film, in this case 1997′s all conquering maritime disaster epic Titanic, and whatever your feeling you can always look forward to the credits rolling and small gems such as ‘Conrad Buff IV’, ‘Kathleen ‘Bo’ Bobak’ or, my personal favourite, ‘Doreen Austria’ sparkling at you from the already silver screen.
On a more practical note, brands/businesses/organisations can embrace a positive way of looking at the things that drive us all mental every day. Take the plastic packaging used to seal products. You know the stuff, tougher to get into than a secret society that doesn’t even exist, and more wasteful than Emile Heskey. But shift your mindset slightly and behold a magical fact: these packets are easy to open with your common tin opener found in any friendly kitchen drawer. When you discover this you’re almost seeking out such packaging to show off to friends about your new super skill.
Amazon took this one step further and worked with partners to create ‘Frustration Free Packaging’, an innovation in an area that generally raises no more than a ‘meh’ that has made life easier, made the product easier to recycle and in turn generated positive word of mouth. Bingo.
Finally, I leave you with a story. In the 19th C a man by the name of Almon B. Strowger was an undertaker. He enjoyed a fruitful business until one day an invention called the telephone came along. Like most business owners, Almon figured this would open up new avenues for custom. But it did the opposite. Why? Because the wife of the other undertaker in the area also happened to be the operator for the switch board. A call came in form someone recently bereaved, and it would be channelled straight to her husband. Almon was missing out. Far from get grumpy / punch someone / change careers however, Almon thought about the problem and realised that the power of communication should be in the hand of the dialler. So he invented the Strowger Switch, which was basically the thing that let people dial a number in order to reach their intended automatically.
If you embrace the positive charms of something, rather than the negative, you’ll find there’s always something.
Now go forth and smile.
‘Coming soon…’, chimes the chirpy voice of Carol Vorderman (or someone who sounds enough like her to get away with utilising her telephone banking details), ‘…a new show that looks to find Britain’s favourite home cooked dish’.
The obsession with categorising every element of our world knows no bounds it seems.
What is the best sock colour? Who is the sexiest architect? What would win out of sex and kumquats?
And in searching for that one thing that bests all else there becomes an implication that nothing else matters. By picking a premier, focussing on a favourite and choosing something that checkmates all else, we’re implicitly accepting that to settle for any other option is failure.
Why bother to wear purple socks, when yellow are clearly the best?
Why visit an Inigo Jones, when Hawksmoor was clearly the more smouldering and delightful?
What the fuck do I do with all these kumquats?
The missed opportunity? In a word, context.
In some more words: The various, mercurial, wonderful situations that life throws at us allows us to find favourites in the least likely filth.
And without that, there’s no drama. No joy. No surprises.
Without that there’s no experience.
And when all you’re left with are the things you’ve already earmarked, what’s the point in trying something new?
Nominated for an Oscar. Worthy of it.
Music, comedy, theatre and the rest.
When an act you love sells out their gig in minutes, and then tickets appear on eBay et al at grossly inflated prices, why not do this…
Warning: do not attempt unless rich, lovely and willing to deal with an angry arsehole.
Step 1. Find all tickets on sale at inflated tickets
Step 2. Buy them at the cost demanded by the tout
Step 3. Sell those tickets back to fans at face value
Step 4. Take out an advert in the press listing the following details: the name of the tout, their contact details, the charity you would like them to donate their ill-gotten gains to
Step 5. Encourage people to make a stand against arseholes
Step 6. Enjoy the gig
It’s not a cast iron solution. But it’s a plan.
If you’re looking for somewhere that raises the bar for signage, then I’d also recommend it.
Of all the wonders of the island, the signage was not something I expected to be charmed by. But I was.
Capri is lucky, maybe, because they produce pottery and other earthenware on the island. It’s very nice stuff, but nothing hugely special. What is does mean however, is that this aesthetic is embedded in island life. It’s as much part of the Caprese way as lemons and azure seas and celebrities stopping by for lunch. And this is rather wonderful, because this has led to all the signs – and I mean all of them (OK, except the odd rogue) – being stunningly, charmingly, oozingly beautiful.
This is a sign in the garden of the Villa San Michele, the former home of Axel Munthe.
It’s pointing the route round the property as one enjoys and idle stroll in the sun. It’s an arrow. Elsewhere, it would be maybe painted on wood. But it would probably be laminated foolscap. In Capri it’s hand-painted, sunny-coloured gem. And this is one of dozens in that location alone, including this one that tells you not to eat picnics.
Then there’s this.
It’s an electricity point denoted with a hand-painted sign of wonder. Sure, there’s a bit of grub on the side but stop. Look. That’s a sign for the use of nobody but the man who fiddles with the leccy wires. And it’s shitting lovely.
Or what about this map.
Or this marvellous little scrabble of information.
And that’s without looking at the signage that some of the more creative hotel, home and business owners apply to their signs.
Or this sign stating that the shop it’s located in ships all over the world.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You can see the other images I snapped in this collection, but you have to visit the island for the full experience.
The world doesn’t have to be peppered by mediocrity.
It’s an awesome place of wonder and magic and the things we put into it should reflect that, not fight it.
Lazy signs may not seem to matter, but they make everybody sad.
Beautiful signs work with the late afternoon sun and shine brighter for those who see them.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make this green world a better place to be.
What details have made you smile recently?
Because sometimes inspiring things can come in the form of drawings…
Thanks to the respective artists (click the images for the source).
I love August. It’s the time I get to go to Edinburgh and fall in love with live comedy all over again. So, just as I have for 28 years, I spent the last few days of August in converted University Buildings, damp queues and overspill areas of cafes in search of something that would remind me of how good it can get. And I wasn’t disappointed…
I managed to catch sets or shows from 25 or so acts in our flying visit ranging from Jim Jeffries to Otto Kuhnle and a whole host in between. Some of it was painfully dull (I can’t even be bothered to give them the coverage), some of it was genius. My top 5 are below ina no particular order. Except the last one. Which was exceptional.
If you can catch any of the shows below on tour then do…
Claudia O’Doherty: The Telescope @ Underbelly
An incredibly ambitious show from a charming performer. It didn’t matter at all to me that it could have been so much better – the scale of the show far outweighed the lack of obvious laughs. If her next outing can follow this trajectory, it’ll be something very special indeed and she might just go one better than her Foster’s Comedy Award nomination.
Bad Musical @ Gilded Balloon
A simple premise – a very badly realised musical. Bad plot, bad acting, dodgy props, forgotten lines, missed cues. The works. And all expertly done. It’s the kind of idea that could have been very poor in the wrong hands but The Trap, who put this together, do it brilliantly. Surprise of the Fringe for me.
Peacock & Gamble @ Pleasance Dome
I saw Peacock and Gamble last year after deciding it was the sort of thing me and my sister would find amusing. We did. Very much so. This year was the same . Pure, daft hilarity from a duo in the classical vein. Love it.
Max & Ivan Are… Con Artists @ Pleasance Courtyard
I’ve never seen a show before that had nothing wrong with. Not one thing. Good jokes, great performances, good (enough) narrative, great chemistry. There wasn’t one thing dropped. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it quite inspired enough to climb above 4 star territory, but a fantastic show nonetheless.
Pappy’s: Last Show Ever @ Pleasance Dome
I’ve seen a lot of comedy in my time. Around 800 full length shows of one sort of another by my reckoning and countless stand-ups and sketches in between. The only other show I can compare that matched the feeling of pure quality I felt when seeing Pappy’s was seeing one of the first performances of Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure. So that’s pretty good company. Funny, clever, silly and even a little bit touching this is what every sketch team should aspire to. They’re touring the show for the next few months, see it. And take friends, they’ll love you for it.