The story of a long lost friend, found again


Palitoy Talking Dalek

In the attic…

I’ve become obsessed with an idea, or rather a feeling or memory of an emotion. It’s linked directly to an artifact that you probably don’t have the same interest in, let alone have any connection to. But the object isn’t the point of this, the linkages and thoughts that are connected to it are. So for you there may be a similar effect but with a very different artifact. Let’s see.

Five days before my sixth birthday, on Christmas morning, I awoke to find a box in my stocking, left by Father Christmas. It measured 8” x 6” x 6”. It was still dark when my brother and I climbed excitedly into my parent’s bed to open our presents. I unwrapped the box to discover what would be the most treasure toy of my childhood and my most valuable possession until I owned a computer six years later.

I played with the toy constantly until I was around eleven. Then it became an ornament on my windowsill, on display to see every day. Then, when I eventually left home to go to university, never to return, it was packed in a cupboard in a box which a decade later made its way into my loft.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of Doctor Who. My parents knew I was that Christmas as I opened my presents to reveal The Dr Who Annual 1977 (which I wasn’t capable of reading until a year later) and the joy of joys: a Palitoy Talking Dalek.

Even the box was exciting. It had an illustration of a red Dalek on one side and a silver one on the other side. Mine was silver, with blue spots. There was a little bag in the box that contained the appendages; the eye, gun and sucker-arm. I put it together and put in the two HP7 batteries and pressed the black button on the Dalek’s head. It had four phrases, “Exterminate, Exterminate!”, “What Are Your Orders?”, “You Will Obey!” and “Attack, Attack, Attack!” Later I would discover that these were located on a small vinyl record disc inside the Dalek. David McKiterick took the record out of his bothers Dalek and put one in from a talking doll. So the Dalek said “Mama! Mama!” and some poor unfortunate little girl’s doll said “You Will Obey!”

I made the later, regretful, decision that I didn’t need to keep the Dalek’s box. It got thrown out on Boxing Day. That was the last toy box that I didn’t keep. So with future toys I would be able to keep them in pristine condition, return them to their box and open them up again, re-enacting opening them for the first time. But with my Dalek, the box had gone.

I did see a box, one more time, the following year when we were in Durham’s department store, Doggarts (later to become a branch of Boots). They had Talking Daleks on sale there. I longed to have a red one to compliment mine, but at £5, they were far too expensive. Simon Payne brought his red one to school when we were allowed to bring in a toy one day. I took in some teddy bear. There was no way I was going to risk any damage or loss to my Dalek.

But somehow, even with my due diligence, the sucker-arm was lost. I made a replacement one from a sucker dart from one of those guns that fired suckered darts. I made a replacement arm, gun and eye for Simon Mckiterick’s too. His dad had bought the last Talking Dalek from Doggarts, without the box or appendages. His Dalek didn’t last long, after losing the record, it got totally dismantled. I saw the shoulder section from Sarah Woolfenden’s bedroom window, inexplicably on her garage roof.

The following Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a Doctor Who doll (in the likeness of Tom Baker) and his Tardis, as well as the most prized book of my childhood and beyond; Terry Nation’s Dalek Annual 1978.

It was then that I noticed that something was amiss with my Palitoy Talking Dalek. Namely, it had the wrong number of spots. Looking at the pictures in my Dalek annual it seemed that the number of skirt panels were wrong too. Even though it was, to date, the most accurately reproduced model Dalek, the head was a little too small and squat too. Why did the sucker arm have a central spike and why was it and the eye red? I had suddenly become visual discerning.

The inaccuracy in Doctor Who toys is startling. The Cyberman had a nose. Tom Baker’s face looked exactly like Gareth Hunt from the Avengers (that was because the Tom Baker mould was damaged just before production so they actually did use a Gareth Hunt mould). Later 1980s toys had big errors such as the six-sided Tardis console having five sides, Davros, famous for having just one arm, had two, and the robot dog K9, who everyone could tell you was grey; was green in the toy.

But these things didn’t stop me having fun playing with my Dalek. I painted the eye the correct colours and in 1979 stuck on black stickers on the shoulder slats to match the on-screen look of the Daleks in Destiny of the Daleks.

By 1981 my Dalek would no longer talk. He stood on my windowsill until I went to university  in 1990 and was then packed into a box that sat in a cupboard and then was shipped out to my own house and made it’s way to my loft.

Someone on ebay makes replica arms and boxes. What a crazy and yet genius idea. So now I have the parts to restore my Talking Dalek. But can I get him to talk once again?

I brought him down from the loft, dismantled the mechanism and washed him, taking off the stickers from 1979. His silver grey plastic had a slight golden tinge to it, probably due to exposure to light over the years. The inner mechanism is a tiny record player with a transparent disc that contains the phrases. I cleaned all the parts and removed the dust but nothing happened. I feared the motor had given up the ghost but after attaching the batteries directly to it, it started to spin. It too was probably clogged. I left the battery connected for ten minutes and the motor span faster and faster. Putting the needle back in and assembling the whole thing, I pressed the button.

It was a magic moment as an unearthly voice from the past grated out those famous words. What you need to appreciate is that sound coming from the Talking Dalek is not electronic; we’ve become too familiar with toys that have sampled digital sounds stored on computer chips. This is different. It’s an analogue, organic sound. The whir of the motor and the scratchy, wobbly sound echoing from the tiny disc. The Dalek toy is designed inside as a sound box which echoes and amplifies the sound, reverberating it throughout the inside of the Dalek.

Perhaps that why this was not just my favourite and most treasured toy; it was somehow alive. I wonder how he feels now, working again, being played with again. I wonder how he feels looking up with his red eye into my eyes, to see I’m no longer a five year old boy.

Palitoy Talking Dalek and boxIn February 1977 we sat on my parents bedroom windowsill, looking out into the evening as the snow started to fall. We watched it fall, my Dalek and I. First it covered the black tarmac with a powdery white covering. Within the hour it had hidden all sign of the curb as the pavement and road became a single blanket of white. We watched as the night fell and the street lights came on in the silence that only snow knows. Then it was tea-time. Outside the snow continued to fall and the wind blew drifts over the village.

That’s why there’s a value for me in this adventure. By restoring my Talking Dalek I’ve somehow re-connected, not with a old plastic toy, but with the little boy who used to treasure it. We are the same he and I, separated by a gulf of half a lifetime, of sorrows and joys. I need to remember that we are the same. Whatever trials and tribulations face me today, I owe it to that little boy to not let him down.

I also have children of my own now. There are at the age when they will be forming memories that will define for them their own history of who they are. It’s my job to facilitate and support that process in whatever form it takes. It’s unlikely to be a Talking Dalek that will excite and inspire them. They had fun pushing the button for a while before running off to play some other game.

My Talking Dalek also remind me that we are all unique in our loves, our passions and our journeys. My parents could not have guess the relevance of my Talking Dalek and I may probably never know what memory triggers my own children will find.

So have a think at what connects the dots in your life. Is there an artifact, a sound, a place that connects you to that small child from all those years ago?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

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Why our children need to write Science Fiction


4th Doctor Tom Baker and black Dalek SecThe starting point didn’t ever bother me. The teacher may have told us to write a story about our families, the supermarket, the past, a walk in the woods or to finish a story from his opening paragraph or anything…

Whatever it was, I’d write just two paragraphs before incorporating a brightly lit saucer landing in the woods, a visitor from the future, a portal into the past, people revealed as aliens, or robots, a curse from ancient Egypt, a primordial evil hiding in a dark lake, a creature in a zoo that turns out to be sentient, an alien invasion is really an intergalactic game of tiddlywinks…

Me aged 13: “He strained his eyes to fix on a unusual shape which was slowly lowering. It was a large saucer shaped object with a gleaming metal hull, reflecting the snow and trees.”

Teachers response: “You are a cunning devil! You managed to introduce what is obviously an interest of yours into”

I always turned the premise into Science Fiction.

And I was criticised and marked down for doing so.

I was driven by a ‘search for interesting’ (to me, a definition of creativity) and a desire to twist the mundane by a turn of the screw to see the ordinary afresh, from a different perspective, to explore the unexpected and to find rationale in the unexplained.

But my teachers didn’t agree. They felt it was childish and unsophisticated.

I think this is a shame. More than a shame. A crisis.

To an outsider, Science Fiction as a genre is still misunderstood and the tendency with poor writing (in some books, some television and films) to rely on clichéd concepts such as unimaginative spaceships, mad robots and generic aliens makes many people overlook the main purpose of Science Fiction (also referred to as SF by purists, but never Sci-Fi). This bias and misunderstanding has in the past alienated many, especially young girls from the genre. It’s interesting to note that the new production of Doctor Who set out with re-dressing this balance and have achieved it with the ratio of girls and boys watching the programme almost equal.

Science Fiction has the unique capabilities to allow a child to explore themselves and their world in non-literal ways.

Science Fiction’s alternative title is ‘Speculative Fiction’. It is stories that are driven by a ‘what if?’ question. The answer to this question is answered by the story using real-world science to extrapolate it and to drive the characters and the plot. Science Fiction keeps most things constant and has one or a few variables that can then be explored.

This is the essential difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, although the lines are often blurred.

Star Trek, the television and film series is Science Fiction. It has a number of plot devices that are beyond our current technology including teleportation and faster-than-light travel. But within the story framework these technologies are explained in scientific, believable ways with their own rules and limitations that are kept constant within the story. In fact, those two technologies are plot device conceits and not the driving force for the story, they are story enablers. In reality it would take centuries to travel to the stars, the distance between them is so great and it is a complicated and long-winded process to safely travel from orbit to land on a planet. The ‘Warp Drive’ and ‘Transporter’ fictional technologies remove the mundane to tell a much more interesting story. The story of Star Trek, the speculative ‘what if?’ is: ‘what would it be like to travel to strange new worlds and visit new civilisations?’

Harry Potter is not Science Fiction. It too has unrealistic devices, and they are consistent within the world of the story, but these are not explained in any other way other than ‘magic’ and cannot be extrapolated from our understanding of real-world technology. This makes Harry Potter Fantasy.

When it comes to examining the film series Star Wars as a genre, people tend to make an interesting mistake. They often think it is ‘futuristic’ because it features robots and spaceships and yet the opening phrase that begins the film is ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’. This is the same as the well know start to many a story, ‘once upon a time’ and frames Star Wars, like Cinderella, as a fairy tale and not Science Fiction. No serious attempt is made in Star Wars to rationalise space travel, how light sabres work, how the robots appear to be conscious and what The Force is. Star Wars is fantasy disguised as Science Fiction.

Doctor Who is yet more complicated. The premise is Science Fiction: ‘an alien who looks like a man, travels through time and space in a time machine made by a lost civilisation that resembles a 1960s Police Box that is bigger on the inside.’ But unlike other franchises, Doctor Who changes genre from story to story, some stories are straight Science Fiction, some are fantasy, some thriller or historical drama, comedy, tragedy and even romance. Doctor Who is better described as ‘Science Fantasy’.

When teaching children storytelling, I believe it is important for them to realise which overall genre their story is fitting into if it is to include what appear to be Science Fiction elements: are they creating a whole new world with its own rules and physical laws where literally anything can happen? Is so, that’s fantasy (the most solid example in Literature may well be Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). Or are they keeping most of the rules of the known world and for dramatic effect or as a speculative story driver, choosing to twist, re-invent or magnify one or more real-world rules. If so, they are writing Science Fiction.

This is why Science Fiction is so enthralling, so exciting to read and to write, and so useful to us as a civilisation. It allows us to look at an aspect of ourselves from a different perspective. The stories explored in Star Trek are not really about space travel, aliens and the future, they are all about fragments of ourselves, now. In one story, Captain Kirk and his crew are bemused by a race of people who have one side of their faces black and the other white and yet are fighting each other. When asked why, a man retorts, “Isn’t it obvious! He has the white side on the left and black on the right and we have it the other way round!”. (Let That Be Your Last Battlefield). This Science Fiction allows the story to explore racism.

Children’s relationship to Science Fiction is usually based on the magical attraction of the fantastical otherness of outer space, aliens and the excitement of adventure. But it can also be the appeal of a relationship with a creature such as a robot or alien with whom the child can connect in their own way on their own terms without the trappings of their own weaknesses.

This is why Star Wars worked in the first place: children identified with the cute robots in a way that adults couldn’t and would not. (There’s more on this here). This is why children, especially boys, still love steam engines, cars and other machines which they can easily bestow consciousness into. It also connects to the most primordial of children’s secret fantasies: the imaginary friend. The mobile dustbin-like robot, R2D2, in Star Wars is really a modern variation of the teddy bear.

When children desire to use Science Fiction techniques and motifs they may already be using their writing to explore themselves and their world, without any need for guidance and literally knowledge.

On the surface they may conjure up spaceships and monsters but don’t let these fool us. They may already be using these devices in the same way as the greatest Science Fiction authors, H.G Wells, Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, John Wyndham or Ray Bradbury, did, as cloaked methods of exploring and explaining their own inner worlds in a way that straightforward ‘literal’ fiction cannot.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


A trip to Sava Centre, 1978


We’re going on an adventure. We going to Washington DC where the DC stands for Durham County. It’s a small industrial area just outside Sunderland. Daddy tells me they’ve built a hypermarket there, the first in the North East and we’re going there. We are going to Sava Centre! Sava Centre is a partnership between J. Sainsbury who specialises in food and British Home Stores who sell clothes and hi-fi stuff. This was going to be a shop that had everything under one roof. It’s going to be massive!

Prior to this my only experience of a supermarket is the Co-op in the village. It’s not a supermarket my todays standards, they only have one till and one little old lady to hammer the keys on it. They only stock the little things; little tins of beans, little tins of beans and sausage, small pieces of lamb and tiny bits of ham. You put all your shopping in a little wire basket. I always wondered about those baskets that were never really designed for human use. They looked like they were designed for a creature that had arms that spring horizontally out from its waist, like a child’s drawing.

We park our dark green Austin Princess 1800HL in an enormous car park and walk over to the entrance of ‘The Galleries’, the facility that housed Sava Centre and other outlets. The place is heaving with people so it’s hard to see what’s going on being so close to the ground unlike the tall adults. Looking up I see a massive blue and red logo, a giant ‘S’ for Sava Centre that looks a bit like the Superman logo. I was the only one at school who could draw the Superman logo properly. It’s an ‘S” in a shield but you need to draw the negative space around it to actually draw it. I taught the class how to do it. We approached giant glass doors which slide open with a swoosh just like on Star Trek and we’re in.

The first thing I notice is the lilting music, constantly playing and echoing round the cavernous cathedral-like structure. It’s a short song, played over and over again with a woman singing, “Sava Centre – always the best for you”. Then it stops for a while and there’s a plinky plonky instrumental version of Dr Hook’s ‘When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman’. I know it’s that band as I saw them on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop a few weeks ago. (I was having my breakfast one Saturday when I heard Noel Edmunds say “and next well be having Dr Hook in the studio to take your calls”. I thought he’d said “Doctor Who” and raced into the lounge and memorised the telephone number 01 811 8055 only to find it was a bunch of hairy country rockers and disappointingly not Tom Baker.)

I look up to the ceiling which is miles away. To the left and right are thousands and thousands of checkout tills stretching into infinity with their big thick black rubber conveyor belts and flashing lights on poles. The goods are all neatly packed on shelves, stacked right up into the sky. I ponder that I’d need a pair of binoculars to read the labels of what’s on the top shelf and wonder how you get up there to get at them. There are thousands of isles with everything you could think of.

Wondering off I find the Star Wars figure isle and get lost in absorbing the packaging. It’s a kind of dizziness much more powerful than being in a sweet shop. The black and silver packs, stacked on the wire displays is hypnotic. There are so many to choose from. Daddy said my brother and I could have one each.

I choose R5-D4, the little red droid with a white conical head, a bit like R2-D2 but who was only in the film for two minutes before he blew his motivator and Luke Skywalker chose R2-D2 instead. R5-D4 looked so exciting. He didn’t have a back story or character that the film prescribed. I could invent all that for him and have new adventures with him that I would be able to invent. There’s a girl next to me, looking a the silver plated figure of Death Star Droid with his insectoid head and large black eyes. That would have been my next choice if I could have had two.

There’s also a small boy crawling around on the floor with a 8” radio controlled R2-D2. I don’t look at the larger figures like those, knowing that we can’t afford them. The small boy is rotating the R2-D2 figure and saying, “exterminate, exterminate” as if it’s a Dalek. The girl looks over to me. Her look says “What an idiot”, referring to the small boy’s grave error in mistaking Star Wars’ R2-D2 for a Dalek from Doctor Who. We both laugh.

From time to time the music would stop, often halfway through the jingle, “Sava Centre – always the…” and there would be a ‘ping-pong’ sound and then a woman’s voice. We stop to listen. Sometimes it said “This is a staff announcement.” and we’re able to relax and get back to our shopping. This time it says, “This is a customer announcement. Make sure you visit the Road Safety demonstration and pick up your RoSPA reflector. Thank you.” The girl shows me hers.

“I’ve got one.” she says, “There over there”. I went over to investigate.

There are demonstrations of products including walking three-foot dolls and free tastings of various nibbles. I get my free reflector. I decide to use it as a transmat pad for my Star Wars figures when I get home.

I rejoin my parents in time to queue up and put our stuff on the conveyor belt where the price labels are read by the lady and prices typed into a real computer. All this shopping, it looks like it’ll last us a whole month! It comes to the outrageously high price of £29 (99p of which is for R5-D4 and 99p for my brother’s Snaggletooth). Then we return to the car and get back home quite late, but just in time for Blakes’ 7…

Can you recall when much of the world around you was new? As children with childish minds we had to interpret this strange world, we had to make connections and guess as to the meaning of many things. Oh to be able to think like that again…

The Thinking Cap Experiment(This is an adapted extract from my forthcoming book, ‘The Thinking Cap Experiment’ due out sometime soon. It’s a novel, you know how it is…)

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Inspiration for Innovation at your event. A great way to open your conference!
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

Do you employ drones or a creative strategists?


Dalek new paradigm blue strategist

Dalek Strategist

There are two types of people: creative people and non-creative people. They are not born that way, they decide to be that way. Sometimes they behave in one way in a certain situation, say being a monotonous drone at work and yet a creative genius at the weekend on the sports field or with the children.

The problem in most businesses is that they may say they want creativity and creative people working for them but what they manifest is mindless monotonous drones.

Creative people in business do not sit there doodling or daydreaming (but if they do you can bet they’re onto some big idea). Creative people innovate better ways of doing things. They naturally follow the path of progress. They can’t help making things more interesting. When channeled, these attributes always lead to increased profits.

Dalek new paradigm red drone

Dalek Drone

 

If you have sales people: they need to be creative sales people because they need to create new relationships and create new sales opportunities.

Sales Drones do not create new sales opportunities. neither do they know how to up-sell new offerings to existing customers.

If you have administration people: they need to be creative administration people. They’re job is to make things work smoothly and there are always problems they need to resolve and there are always processes that can be made better.

Admin Drones just do filing.

If you have managers they need to be creative managers: handling people and their relationships is a complex task with many factors constantly changing. Motivating people to do their best is a skill that is bespoke for each individual. Problem solving skills and emotional intelligence are needed more than ever in such a role.

Manager Drones annoy good people who then leave and join your competitors.

If you have staff that deal with customers they need to be creative staff who deal with customers. Creating great customer service is the most underdeveloped method of increasing sales and profits. Knowing how to handle problems or how to create value added extras that turn customers into advocates is a creative skill that’s worth its weight in gold.

Service Drones annoy customers who then post on Twitter how bad your service is.

Don’t employ drones, and even more importantly, don’t turn your employees into drones. Good people who get fed up and leave their jobs usually do it because they weren’t appreciated. A great way of getting good people to stay and excel is to allow them to use more of their skills and talents in their role, to have more responsibility for their role.

Research has been done that the amount of perceived self determination within an organisation is directly proportional to increased profits and success of that organisation. Using or converting people into drones is like running your business with everyone having one arm tied behind their back, or chaining employees to a desk (which is exactly what so many companies actually do if you think about it).

I can show you how to turn your drones into productive, inspired creative strategists who not only do a better job with their current role, but are capable of innovating areas around them. Some businesses (and of course most employees) would be offended to have people described as ‘drones’. That may be the case but when the economic climate is more challenging, the risk of drone conversion is even greater. I can show you how to avoid the dangerous slide into drone manufacture, to help you get even more from the good people you have.

Come and see me on www.aydinstone.com