Sunday, 26 June 2022

Creativity by John Cleese: A Review

Hi everyone.

I have to start this review with a confession. I was never a big fan of the comedy juggernaut that was Monty Python and I'm afraid that Fawlty Towers did nothing for me either. However, I am a big fan of the notion of "creativity", whatever it is, and I had no problem at all, when I heard about this book, in accepting that John Cleese would know a thing or two about it.

To be honest, I was also attracted to the book because it says on the cover that it is ‘A Short and Cheerful Guide’ and as someone who now finds reading a whole book to be quite a challenge (Netflix has a lot to answer for), I decided to give it a go and much to my relief, War and Peace it is most definitely not.

Although Creativity seems mainly aimed at writers, which makes sense given the background which Cleese is coming from, as someone who works with "creativity" on a daily basis not just in writing but in art, design and crafting too, I’m pleased to say that it still made sense.

That’s not to say that the book will “teach” you to be creative though and neither does it waste any of its 103 pages going into depth about what creativity actually is, if indeed it can be defined. I would recommend the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert if that is more your thing.

Instead, it seems to me, that the book is actually about how to be more creative and in particular how to be better tuned in to the circumstances, over which you have some control, which will allow you to do this on a comparatively consistent basis.

The section that starts with the highlighted sentence “The greatest killer of creativity is interruption” is a good example of this. As someone who has worked from home for over twenty-five years, I was interested to hear how all the people who suddenly had to come out of their workplace and into their homes during the pandemic would fair. “Not very well” was what I heard a lot of the time and it appears that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nemesis, “the person from Porlock” who was apparently to blame for Coleridge failing to finish his famous poem Kubla Khan, is still active today in the form of the Amazon delivery driver.

I also found Cleese’s analogy of the ‘Tortoise Mind’ and the ‘Hare Brain’ particularly useful. As I’m writing this, I realise that I've been continually switching between my Tortoise Mind and my Hare Brain. The former has already been slowly ruminating and pondering this piece for several days now, gently pulling up ideas and phrases that I might use in it, but my Hare Brain is now hard at work reminding me that this is a book review and not my own version of War and Peace, so requires at least some keywords, taut phrases and SEO friendly links if anyone is ever actually going to read it.

Then we have the concept of ‘play’ which is clearly something the author feels strongly about as being an essential part of being creative. This is something I continually struggle with. Although I can grasp the concept of just being creative for the sake of being creative and getting “enjoyably absorbed” in something without worrying about where I’m headed, making a mistake or whether I’m going to earn any money, I find it really difficult to do. Maybe it’s my entrepreneurial background or that Protestant Work Ethic thing but even after reading this book, I still don’t know how to give myself “permission” to play.

So Creativity doesn’t provide all the answers but maybe that’s the point. Cleese has provided some useful creative tools and now it’s up to the reader to work with them to be more creative. And even if that doesn’t happen for you after you’ve read the book, I can guarantee that you will have spent considerably less time and been considerably more amused than if you’d chosen to read War and Peace instead.

Title: Creativity

Author: John Cleese

Publisher: Hutchinson 2020

ISBN 978-1786332257



Sunday, 17 April 2022

Why Do We Have Chocolate At Easter?


Hi everyone.

Happy Easter!

I hope you’re enjoying this special time of year although rather like Christmas, it does seem to have become less about celebrating a significant Christian festival and more about how much money the retailers can make.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like a cross between Scrooge and the Easter Bunny, it did get me thinking about why Easter has become so synonymous with chocolate. After all, I don’t think Jesus ever tucked into a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (other chocolate bars are available) when he was on the road with his disciples, so why do we feel the need to consume our weight in chocolate every time Easter comes around?

Back in the day, there was no chocolate at Easter. (Can you imagine it?) In fact there was no chocolate at all. (Yes, I know. A world without chocolate. How did they survive?) Although the cocoa bean which forms the basis of chocolate was first cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans over 5000 years ago, sweetened chocolate didn’t appear until after Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas in 1492.

By the start of the 17th Century, drinking (but not eating) chocolate had become popular all over Europe although it was largely affordable only to the wealthy. Then, following the discovery in 1828 of a process by which powdered chocolate could be made into solid chocolate, a British Quaker called Joseph Fry went one step further and in 1866, the first chocolate bar was invented. (Hoorah!)

But back to why we have to eat so much chocolate at Easter. Well, the canny chocolate manufactures and retailers quickly cashed in on the fact that eggs are traditionally associated with Easter and let’s face it, who wants to eat a boring boiled egg when you could have a lovely, scrumptious chocolate one? Once a way of hollowing out a solid chocolate egg was discovered so that it could be filled with even more chocolate or a sweet paste, it was Easter Egg City.

Actually to be fair, it was more the Church’s fault, really. Eating eggs of any description, not just chocolate ones, was originally banned during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) so any unused eggs were decorated and given to children as Easter gifts. The Victorians, bless them, took it one step further and gave satin-covered cardboard eggs filled with Easter gifts which has since been adapted into the frenzy of giving and eating chocolate Easter eggs that we see today.

So when you get on the scales on Easter Tuesday and nearly fall off in horror, at least you'll now know why!


Sunday, 13 February 2022

The Single's Survival Guide To Valentine's Day

Hi everyone.

So I've somehow managed to get straight from a Christmas post to a Valentine's Day post without passing New Year or National Sticker Day (yes, that honestly is a thing) and here we are again. 

Is it just me or does Valentine's Day get more OTT every year? Once upon a time it was just cards, roses and the occasional fluffy pink "teddy" (in every sense of the word) but now it's personalised star maps, digital radios, spa days, scratch off posters, heart shaped egg boards and hand-casting moulding kits. Check those last three out on Amazon if you don't believe me!

Of course if you are single at this time of the Great Love In, whether by choice or necessity, it can feel even worse than Christmas. At least then you can probably find the odd relative or friend (odd often being the word) to help get you through the day and make you feel less of a Social Pariah, but who can you call on February 14th without it costing a month's wages and/or risking the chance of an embarrassing visit to your GP? 

As it happens, I try to treat Valentine's Day in exactly the same way as I do Christmas Day which is basically to ignore it and actually it's a lot easier to manage. For a start, you can listen to the radio or watch telly without knowing that it's Valentine's Day at all. Try doing that on Christmas Day when you can't find a space in the ether that is not taken up with a Pan Pipes version of Last Christmas, the Uncut Version of Santa Claus The Movie or cute kids talking about playing the Christmas version of Minecraft on their PlayStation. (I might have got my tech muddled up there. I'm a bit Old School when it comes to these things.)

I don't eat anything special at Christmas so I certainly don't feel the need to eat anything special on Valentine's Day and although I may feel like I'm the object of scorn for not consuming vast quantities of frozen pigs in blankets, no one gives a hoot if my table is not laden with chocolate-dipped strawberries, red velvet cookies and seared duck with ginger mash. (Check out the recipes here if you really want to!)

But most of all, I don't have to worry about keeping anyone else happy. The pressure from all these Special Days seems to me to be exacerbated by trying to deal with Other People or (hopefully anyway) in the case of Valentine's Day, Other Person. It's no wonder that so many relationships seem to run into trouble around this time of year. "I don't need this pressure on" as the Spandex once sang. At least Easter (or even National Sticker Day) doesn't seem to clobber the divorce rate anything like as much.

Of course, I do realise that I'm beginning to sound like a TOSS (titter ye not) aka Tired Old Sad Spinster. Who is to say that if I finally found "lurve", I wouldn't be knee-deep in chocolate-dipped strawberries while cooking up seared duck on my heart-shaped egg board and listening to Unchained Melody (I told you I was Old School) on my new digital radio? 

But until then I will continue to convince myself that February 14th is just the day that falls between February 13th and February 15th and look forward to Boxing Day!

Saturday, 18 December 2021

So This Is Christmas

Hi everyone.

So this is Christmas, as someone once sang. Well, almost anyway. This time next week you will probably be knee-deep in non-recyclable wrapping paper, planning that detox diet for January after one Brussel sprout too many and wondering if you can possibly face watching The Sound of Music with your Auntie Pat for the 27th Christmas in a row.

Of course, you might not be doing any of these things if a)You don’t celebrate Christmas b)You try to ignore Christmas c)Christmas has been cancelled or at least severely curtailed (yet again) following the worrying impact of the omnipotent omicron variant rearing its ugly head. Do viruses have heads? I should have paid more attention in Biology at school.

Anyway, whether Christmas in your household is a chore, a bore or a wonderful furore, I hope you have a Happy One. Stay safe, stay at home (for as much as you can manage) and stay away from those pesky roast parsnips. They must be the most disappointing vegetable in the world.

Melissa x

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Never Give Up

Hi everyone.

Sorry it's been a while since I last posted. Where has this year gone? I know that September is often referred to as the new January but I didn't mean to miss out on half the year! 

I won't deny that it has been a frustrating few months and I guess I'm not alone in feeling that. Since the start of the pandemic, everything seems to be taking far longer to achieve and no one seems to be really on top of things any more. Add to that the anxiety and uncertainty about the future and it does feel at times like it would be a lot easier to just curl up on the sofa and watch Netflix until about 2027.

But when it is something you really feel you just have to keep going with, the amount of strength and energy you need to galvanise yourself can be really exhausting and debilitating. Self-care tends to go out of the window but actually, as I know only too well, that is when you really need it the most.

And when things do take a turn for the better, it is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. On the day that my energy company finally decided that after a seven month battle with them, I didn't owe them over £1800 but instead they owed me over £1100, it felt like I'd won the lottery. 

Then, when after a six month wait, I was finally given the go-ahead to contact the potential copyright holders whose permission I need to be able to publish the book of letters to my grandmother by her close friend Ethel North, it was another momentous moment. 

So right now, if you are feeling like giving up on something that deep down you really don't want to, then my advice would be to just hang on a little bit longer. You never know just how close you might be to finally succeeding in your goal. After all, as someone much wiser than me once said, "Success is on the other side of failure." 

Take care,

Melissa x   


Friday, 18 June 2021

Scan N Cut Success

Hi everyone.

I hope you are well and if you are in the UK, enjoyed the warm weather which finally arrived and the greater freedoms we are having. Make the most of them while they last!

A couple of years ago, as a present to myself for a rather Big Birthday, I bought a Brother ScanNCut CM900 cutting machine. If you are not familiar with electronic cutting machines, they are a desk-top sized machine that allows the crafter to cut out virtually any 2D shape in a wide variety of materials including paper, felt, vinyl, fabric and even wood or leather.

The Brother ScanNCut may well be the “daddy” of them all as it has a built-in scanner and so many other functions including giving you the option to draw your own images with the machine and you can even foil and stamp with it. Although the machines are primarily aimed at crafters, they are great for artists, designers, sewists and model makers too.

My Brother ScanNCut CM900 Cutting Machine

I had never owned an electronic cutting machine before so although I did get the machine out of the box within 20 minutes of it being delivered and started cutting basics shapes and then slightly more complicated ones pretty quickly, I really struggled to get to grips with the machine. Although it’s not really all that complicated to use, I somehow never quite felt I could master it and was very envious of all the amazing projects that I saw other people creating.

To be honest, after about 18 months, I felt that I had made a mistake and was even considering selling it on Ebay. But that well-known proverb "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" kept going through my mind and I decided to keep at it. 

I set myself the goal of working my way through cutting out most of the built-in patterns that come with the machine by just doing a few each week. Then, earlier this year, I treated myself to a commercial USB that had more intricate designs on it in the form of SVG cutting files.

Creatures I Created From Built-In Patterns

Once I was able to see what amazing projects the machine was capable of producing when using SVGs, I turned to sourcing free SVGs from the internet and even designing my own. This opened up a whole new world to me as there are so many SVGs available and I even discovered I already had some on my old crafting CD-Roms.

Card I Created Using A Tattered Lace USB Design

Finally, I plucked up courage to enter the exciting world of BrotherScanNCut CanvasWorkspace. This is a free, cloud-based application that allows you to design or enhance your own designs on the computer and then transfer them to the machine to cut out, as well as giving you dozens of free projects to create.This was the real game-changer for me as being able to design or create on the computer screen and then see my projects come to life by cutting them out on the Brother ScanNCut made me feel happier than I had done in ages!

Wall Plaque I Created In Canvas Workspace

I've kept a portfolio of many of the things I've produced and I'd highly recommend doing this as it's been a great way of seeing how far I've progressed from cutting those initial basic shapes.

Of course, I still have lots to learn and I know there are many more things that the machine can do which I’ve not even started on yet but I’m so, so pleased that I kept trying and didn’t give up. Proverbs can be useful!   

Please Note: Since purchasing my machine in 2019, the Brother ScanNCut CM900 machine model appears to have been discontinued in the UK and some other countries too. When I last looked on ebay, there are still some used models available but to buy new, you will probably need to go for the more recently launched SDX1200 model.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation

Hi everyone.

What motivates you?

One thing I've discovered through the long, weary months of lockdown is what doesn't motivate me. 

For example, looking like the Wild Woman of Borneo because I haven't had my hair cut for over 12 months isn't going to motivate me to make a hair appointment any time soon, even though (thanks to the government's "road map") hairdressers are allowed to open in England from tomorrow.

Following the Government's Road Map

And being able to trace not just my name but my entire family history in the dust on top of the piano is not going to persuade me to switch off Netflix and get jiggy with a J-cloth and a bowl of warm water.

But if I analyse those examples, I know immediately what it is that is standing in the way of me accomplishing two things which actually I'd really like to get done. 

Anxiety about catching Covid, despite being vaccinated, is definitely one of them and a perceived lack of energy as in "What's the point? No one but me is going to see it anyway." is another.

Still Anxious About Covid

Maybe it's a lockdown thing, maybe it's a menopause thing (don't get me started on the "M" word) or maybe it's just a getting older thing but wanting and even needing to do something doesn't seem to work for me as a motivator any more.

So it will be interesting to see, when two out of those three things hopefully come to an end, whether or not I'm motivated to do things again even if I'm not motivated, if you know what I mean.

But for the time being, I'm going to try not to be too hard on myself and accept that these are strange and not very wonderful times. I really hope you are motivated to do the same.