Archives For memories

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.

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.


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.

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.