History is memory with perspective.

Nostalgia is memory without.

Probably the most valuable lesson I ever learned about the process of ideas was many years ago while at drama school. I was working with Dave Warburton on our final assignment and the project was to devise a piece of theatre around the subject of men and achievement. We had spend a few weeks researching the topic and had narrowed it down to men and their achievements in science. We had spend hours in the library, interviewed a number of scientists and discussed at great length our own thoughts and feelings around the topic. It was time to start devising the piece. But we were stuck. We were so stuck that we couldn’t even come up with a basic idea for the piece.

So we went to see our course tutor, Colin Hicks. We sat down and explained our findings and our predicament. Colin suggested we should take some time off. To take a few days and forget about the project and just have fun for a bit. It sounded like a slightly odd suggestion, but never to pass on an opportunity to take time off, we did.

The drama school was located in a lovely park and it was early summer. We went and played in the park for a few days. It was fun. In fact, the games we were playing were getting more and more elaborate and complex. People were watching us and became curious. We became curious. The games we were playing turned into the show we ended up performing. A very elaborate, improvised science experiment. We performed it in parks around London that summer and the reactions we got from people who watched it were really interesting. We clearly achieved our objectives of making a play which addressed the subject.

The key lesson coming from the experience though was that you don’t make ideas, you allow them to form. Do your research, fill your head with the information that should inform the idea and then forget about it. Trust your brain to play and let the idea come out. It will be informed by the knowledge you fed into it.

To this day I still follow the same process. I research and then take some time off. Sit on the bowling green or by the river or in the garden and let the ideas come. It still works. And every now and then I remember the complex structure we built as part of our final show. It’s a potent symbol of how ideas come about.

Backstage nobody should hear you scream.

Mirror off the wall

May 15, 2013

When we did a corporate event in Mauritius, the set was delayed. It was stuck in customs in Paris. Don’t ask. That in itself is a long story. Suffice to say we found ourselves stuck in Mauritius, in a really nice conference venue, with the local suppliers ready to set up lights, sound and projection and a client really keen to rehearse.

A chat with the local crew turned into a full scale effort to at least get a screen up. Friendly scaffolders were drafted in and before long we had a very creative structure holding up a back projection screen. The next challenge was to work out how to flip the projector output so it would look right on the screen. Projecting from behind the screen is not something they were used to doing here as it turned out. Projecting from the front was not an option. A quick phone call to an old friend, Stevie Warne, to figure out a solution was in order. Stevie is one of two people I have come across over the years who are proper technical geniuses. Stevie inspired me to find out more about modems and connecting to other computers over a telephone line. He effectively got me online in about 1989. Just around the time Tim Berners-Lee invented the web… Anyway, all that is a whole other story.

As it happened, Stevie was driving home from a job in Leicester, so we could chat. I described the projectors to him and we came to the conclusion quite quickly that neither of the two projectors on offer had the option to properly rear project.

While we were chatting through our options, Stevie mentioned the possibility of using a mirror. “Of course, a mirror, that could do it” I said. I noticed that the local crew, who had been standing around listening to the conversation, had suddenly gone. I thanked Stevie for his help and went off to find where the crew had gone. I found them in the toilet unscrewing a mirror from the wall.

Once the mirror was screwed to a table and rigged up with the projector, we had a perfectly mirrored projected image on our screen. Rehearsal could commence.

This show turned into one of the best experiences I have ever had working abroad and it convinced me for ever that working with local crew and suppliers can be one of the most enriching experiences in our work.

The set turned up in the end. Just in time for the show.

MIA to LGW

April 25, 2013

Route 3: Flying from Miami International Airport to London Gatwick.

first kiss?

April 25, 2013

Forget my first kiss, my first drink or my first cigarette. Let’s talk about my very first e-commerce experience.

This must have been in about 1992 and I had been playing around with Compuserve for a while. Used it a lot to do background searches on companies for some reason. No idea why, but you could so I did…

Anyway. I had heard about this thing called EasySabre. Apparently it was a way to book flight tickets using the computer. You could get into it using Compuserve, so one night I decided it was a good time to try it out. I needed a flight to Amsterdam to visit the family. I logged on and went through the entirely text based process of finding and booking the flight I wanted. I even managed to pay for it using my credit card. At the end of the process I had a very cryptic print-out with all the details. It looked very official, but soon I had doubts. I wasn’t sure this was actually happening and as the flight was for the next day, I had to make sure. So at about 9 in the evening I got in the car and drove to Heathrow. When I got there I found the BA desk and offered them my print-out. Low and behold, my booking was all confirmed and on the system. I collected my ticket and went home in a mild state of ecstasy. I had just booked a ticket online and it worked!

Little did I realise then, that for the next 10 years we would have a front row seat while massive changes were taking place in the travel industry as a result of the growth of the internet. Our work with Amadeus and later with PhoCusWright gave us a fascinating insight in the transitions that took place during that time.

A piece of string is

<                   this                   >

long.

watching radio

April 12, 2013

Some of the most compelling television I have watched in recent years has been radio… And if that’s not scenic enough for you, I don’t know what is.

Stay with me.

Radio visualisation is everywhere now. From Radio 1 to Five Live to the Today programme, cameras in radio studios now mean that we can regularly drop in online and see the faces that go with the voices.

What makes it so compelling to me is that radio is a fantastic communication medium. It is all about storytelling, conversations and music. It’s always acutely aware of it’s audience. Radio talks to you. The cameras merely offer us a glimpse behind the scenes, while radio carries on doing what it does.

Unlike television, radio talks to us while we can get on with other things. Television and video demand our full attention. We can have news or music TV on in the background for the sound, but we have to stop what we are doing to watch it. With radio you can engage in the story or the conversation while driving the car, doing the washing up or browsing the web.

Can this be a pointer towards more effective virtual or digital events?

We replicated some simple, but key elements of radio and used them as an experiment during a virtual event and guess what? It transformed the experience. It was immediately more engaging and focussed. It started speaking to the audience. Watching video on a computer is often a very different experience than sitting down to watch television. There are a lot of distractions. To make virtual events really work we need to look at them differently. Radio may well give us a clue or two.

foggy Friesland

April 12, 2013

Route 2: the A6 from Joure to Lemmer through the Tjeukemeer in Friesland, The Netherlands. In fog.

my dad’s road

April 12, 2013

Not really “my Dad’s road” of course, but he was project manager on the construction of the section of the A6 through the lake called Tjeukemeer. It was the biggest project he was involved with and he was very proud of it. Looking at it now, it is a surprise it was ever built. A motorway section that runs through the biggest lake in Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands. It cuts the lake in half, even though halfway across, the road crosses a bridge to allow boats through. It is both a thing of beauty and an extreme example of the Dutch tendency to control the land and the water and also of their pragmatism. The most direct route for the road was through the lake, so through the lake it went.

I remember as a child visiting my dad at work. A day on site involved a trip in a boat to cross over to what is now the bridge and was then two small islands in the middle of the lake. Sand was hoovered up from the middle of the lake, mixed with water and pumped through a pipeline to be sprayed where the road was going to be. The sand settles and very slowly builds up the bridge ends and later the whole road. Careful management of the settling sand and the addition of stones keeps it all in place and once the sand and earth base has settled properly, the road can be built on top. In the early days we used to play on the quicksand and had hours of fun with walky-talkies.

My dad was acutely aware of the environmental impact of the project even though I don’t recall that being a big issue at the time. He introduced a number of innovations that helped blend the finished road into it’s setting. Traditionally Dutch motorway construction involved very clean and stark finishing. In some key places, they ended up leaving nature to create it’s own transition from constructed reality to its surrounding, by leaving areas alone to heal naturally. He was particularly proud of this and the resulting soft edges.

To this day, every time I drive this section of motorway, I think of my dad.

Een brug is een stukje weg waar de weg weg is.

(Dutch saying, popular with engineers. Translation: “A bridge is a stretch of road where the road is gone”. It loses a bit on the way…)

spring walk

March 27, 2013

The first Sunday in March was a nice day. The sun was out and it was pleasant to say the least. Time to get out of town and get some mud and grass under our feet. We do this occasionally. Not often enough, but every time we do we say we should do it more often.

After some discussion we went to Godstone, parked up and walked through the village and the surrounding area.

I highly recommend the Fancy Free Walks website, not only to get really clear direction for some lovely walks, but also for the sometimes very random historical background information. Without our route last Sunday we would never have known about the history of Godstone and the surrounding area.

It made us look up saltpeter and gunpowder when we got home and it told a lovely story about a local pirate and his untimely end.

Adding a story to the experience made it even more enjoyable. What started as a Sunday walk in very early spring weather, turned into a fun afternoon looking for clues in the landscape. We located the site where the gunpowder factory had stood and looked up the gravestone with the skull and cross bone where the local pirate was finally laid to rest.

Never underestimate the power of a good story. Never dismiss the person who goes through the trouble of looking it all up and sharing it with you.

And Mrs Stiksma got to chat to some ponies and that’s always a good thing.

After lots of research, I’ve found a look for the scenic routes pages that I like. So here is the rather plainly named ‘standard’ theme. What I really like about it is that it’s clean, crisp and simple and scales smoothly across all formats. Bit sad I know, but there you go.

Still haven’t found a better description than ‘blog’, so maybe that will just have to do for now.

new website

March 21, 2013

Today, the new website of The Scenic Route went live online at thescenicroute.co.uk. The new look had been up for a while, but was missing some of the more elegant navigation functions, which are now all there and working. Nothing fancy, but it’s nice to have it look decent again.

Now it’s time to concentrate on getting these pages up to date. And decide on a theme for this section of the site.

I can’t bring myself to calling it a blog. Never really liked the word. A newsletter maybe? Or a magazine? We’ll have to work on that.

to the I75

March 21, 2013

Route 1: Driving from Billy’s Swamp Safari to the I75, Everglades, Florida, USA.