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!