An open letter to my leaving students

As teachers we don’t usually get to mark ‘final’ exams. We only get to see the results of all those years of study as you do, on results day. This year is again different. I know what grades you are getting. But then so do you. We worked it out together, as a team, me and you.

It was unusual marking these, your final exams. You got so many tricky questions completely correct. I don’t mean just the short answer ones, but the explanation ones and the ones with complex calculations. It’s interesting seeing you do so well because I remember teaching you all that stuff but you soon won’t remember learning any of it. But it’ll all be there, in you, it’s become part of you now, your knowledge, cut off from me. The goal of any teacher is that the student surpasses the master. It’s my job to give you what you need to become more and to go on and do bigger and better things. 

Some of you leaving in year 13 I taught in my first year here in when you were tiny scruffy year 8s. Those of you leaving in year 11 were still in the junior school when I started at Fyling Hall. Does it seem like a long time ago to you, or did it all race by in the blink of an eye?

I’m resigned to the fact that you won’t remember much of my lessons, or indeed any lessons, or any part of school life, as the next years go by and it all fades away as you meet new people and have new experiences. You just won’t have cause to remember how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown, human memory doesn’t work like that. On some level perhaps you’ll remember a feeling. All I can hope for now is that it’s a warm and welcome feeling.

Maybe, many decades from now, you’ll hear some music, or some other trigger, that will call up some long forgotten feeling from the distant past. Perhaps you’ll remember the fun we had and raise a glass to your old teacher, back here in the before time, who did try his best to give you what you needed. And I’ll still be here, long, long ago, raising a glass forward to you and all your dreams and futures and hopes and loves and joys.

To all of you and yours,

You were fantastic.

Wishing you Happy Times and Places,


A. Instone

The ultimate joint venture for creativity: collaborate with your former selves

(Learn here the secret method of Experiential Creativity)

There are two types of creativity. One, we all have (but most lose) and that is the one we are all born with and use as children: the ability to experiment.

The second is not talked about, and again few use and yet we all have access to it. It is making new patterns from our experiences to create new ideas and new solutions.

We know we need to use our Experimental Creativity, to try new things without judgement, every creativity guru will tell you that (including me).

But what about this other type: Experiential Creativity. How can we harness that?

If you’ve ever watched the television programme Doctor Who, you’ll know that in its 48 year history a number of different actors have played the role. Each of the 11 official incarnations of the character are of course the same man. When his body wears out or gets injured he ‘regenerates’ into an new, entirely different looking man. It was a brilliant conceit by the writers that they could replace the lead actor with another one whenever they needed to and he didn’t have to look, dress or act the same. (Remember those annoying programmes that swapped the main actor to a look-a-like and expected us not to notice? Remember Joey from Bread?)

Ayd Instone as Doctor Who title sequenceFor the 10th and 20th anniversaries* of the programme the producers thought it would be a good idea for a storyline to have a threat so great that the Doctor couldn’t solve it on his own so he would have to have help – from himself, in the form of his ‘former selves’.

Now of course they could have pulled out of time a version of the Doctor from a couple of weeks earlier or months earlier. But that earlier version would have looked more or less the same, bar a different velvet jacket. It was much more fun to have coincidentally the Timelords pulling a versions of the Doctor from his previous incarnations. It made for a great story, they could argue and call each other names, but being different versions of the same man, eventually work together to solve the problem in the story.

My proposition to you is that we should all do the same.

Ayd Instone 1973

Now, unless you’re a Timelord with a number of regenerations, the chances are you look pretty much the same when you look back at your life. Perhaps you looked a little younger. Perhaps you wore different clothes.

Look back at your life and decide (arbitrarily of course) which eras of your life you can catergorise as separate incarnations.

It could be that the child version of us is one, the teenage version of us is another. When we were a New Romantic or Punk could be one, when we were a student could be another. If there was an era where you thought in a particular way or dressed in a particular way, define that as an incarnation. Perhaps we can divide out lives into 5 or 11 incarnations (depending on how long you’re own adventure series has run so far).

Ayd Instone 1989

You can see 6 of my incarnations on this very page. Don’t worry if you don’t look as odd as I do. You don’t have to be weird for this to work (but it helps).

Then define that key characteristics of each incarnation. What did they like, believe, love, hate? How did they dress and what did they do.

If you think deeply about it you’ll find there are differences. Just like how Doctor Who is the same man, the same essential character throughout, each version has idiosyncrasies that make him look at life in slightly different ways in each incarnation.

The same is true for us.

Ayd Instone 1992

This exercise is important because the greatest Mastermind Group, the greatest Think Tank, the greatest Team we can have working with us and for us is one that comprises of us in each of our incarnations. If we can get our experiences (comprising as they are of memory and emotions) ‘online’, i.e. accessible to us, we will have at our disposal the greatest creativity and problem solving methods there are.

It took three Doctors to defeat the renegade Omega, creator of the black hole, the Eye of Harmony, that made him the architect of time travel. It took five Doctors to defeat his former tutor, Borusa, who sought the immortality of the very first Time Lord, Rassilon.

Ayd Instone 1995

How many ‘yous’ will it take to solve your current or greatest challenge? The good news is that they’ll all available to be pulled out of time and be consulted to gain their unique take, wisdom and experiences to augment our current selves.

Who knows, perhaps our current incarnations will be called upon by a future version of ourselves to solve an even greater challenge. Just like in Doctor Who, we often find that we’ll have the answers within us all along.

(* They very nearly pulled it off again for the 30th anniversary, but for various reasons, didn’t. They did do something, but we don’t talk about that…)

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:


Why do we remember what we remember?

Snow in SherburnSometimes I feel as if every point in my life is all happening right now, all at once and it’s just the bit I chose to focus on that defines the present.

Why do I remember such detail of one ordinary day 30 years ago but can’t recall cleaning my teeth last night? Why do the years pass by, blur and overlap? For some seemingly important events, we struggle to pin them down within a three year margin.

Yet other memories, when we step back into them, we find ourselves right back there, fitting snugly back into our younger skin, our smaller, more agile bones, with perhaps a more inquisitive or sharper mind, living that so-called past it as if it was the here and now, living a life with more time yet to come than time that has passed by.

As I write this it is not January 2012 but January 1982. I’ve woken up to the glaring bright light of the sunshine at the front of the house, through my window, where it is reflected off the blinding snow. There is darkness at the back of the house where the drifts have blown up to cover the downstairs widows. We can’t open the patio doors.

Round at Sean’s house, the drifts are so deep that he wants to jump out of his bedroom window into the snow, just a few feet below. His dad shouts for him not to, “the car’s under there!” he yells. It was true, although there was no sign of their burgundy Vauxhall Cavalier mk1 now. Just the white. For the rest of the day, and the next few weeks, Sean and I explore a new arctic wilderness. Everything has changed. There is no boundary between path and road, field and street. Just pure, untouched white. We build caves and igloos and navigate new uncharted territory until new snowfall and blizzards drive us back.

Sherburn Village, three miles out from Durham in the North East of England, resides on a hill, making it prone to being cut off in the winter by deep snow drifts that blow off the fields around, covering the sleepy village in a snug blanket of pure white. It is a great winter this year. One to remember.

The snow stays until March. Even now there are giant mounds or balls of dirty ice, taller than us, at the end of every road and in the playground for us to climb on.

Winter turns to spring and it’s not until after Easter before my class go on our long anticipated nature trip to look for tadpoles. Although I know it’s far to late to hope to find any. The walk has been delayed for various reasons, the latest being that have to see the school dentist. She’s given us small red sweets that when you chew them your mouth goes all red but it shows up the plaque on your teeth. I don’t see any plaque but we all look like vampires for the day. Then, after this annoying postponement the day has finally come when we can all march off down the country lane to look for our pond life.

The country lane is a black tarmaced road running through open fields and hills. The road is very long and strangely, you always feel warm riding or walking down it.

It starts at the top of our estate and runs a long way leaving our village behind and eventually leads onto the next. The road is lined with bushes. At certain periods there are gaps where you can get into the fields. About a third of the way down, a big steep hill drops down and after another hundred metres past that a smaller hill drops down. It had been impassible with the snow earlier in the year. Then, on a corner to the right is a grass verge, a metre wide by a fence. If you climb over this fence you can get down into a tunnel which goes under the road like a subway. Through the tunnel runs the red stream, the beck after which the village was named. Sherburn means ‘clear stream’. But the water is orange because of some kind of clay so not clear at all. The village should really be called Dirtybrownburn. On the left of the tunnel and steam and a little way above is a path leading to a farm. Another farm is on the right. Beyond is the enormous slag heap from the disused pits which looks like a terrifying mountain in the shape of a giant slug. It has many names like ‘Death Hill’ and ‘Danger Mount’. The hill has very steep sides and no grass grows on its grey shingly sides except at the very top. On the top it’s always very windy and thousands of grasshoppers live there, all different colours. You can try, but you can never catch them. Also on the top is an iron air-raid shelter from the Second World War, full of rubbish, rags and a broken vacuum cleaner. We had had a plan once, to clear it out and turn it into some sort of den, a secret base or an attraction like a cinema or ghost tour. We’re warned not to go there by my next door neighbour who tells us about a similar old air-raid shelter. It also had the same sort of roof made of corrugated iron which had collapsed, cutting in half the bodies of all the children playing in it. We don’t go there again after hearing that.

I love waking down the country lane and now we were off at last on what will be our last nature trip with the school. It isn’t long before we march single file off the road and over a field to where the beck splits and has created loads of tributaries and marsh areas. This is where we will find our exotic animals. We have little jars to catch stuff in. Our teacher, Mrs Begato, has larger containers to carry back the best of what we could find. As expected there are no tadpoles. They’d all have grown legs and leaped off to safety by now. Someone shouts and we rush over to look at the sodden marshy grass at our feet where there is a small but perfectly formed great crested newt. The first and last I’d ever see. I try to catch it but it knows this mud better than us and quickly disappears. We soon return back to school with our prized jars of dirty water, some with a few pondskaters, waterboatmen, mud and algae in them, and keep it all in an aquarium at the back of the classroom.

Then it’s the next day. We’re making plaster casts of Paddington Bear from rubber moulds. When the plaster is dry we pull the moulds off revealing our white bears. Mine looks pretty good, not too many bubbles. As soon as it’s dry I paint his coat blue and his hat black. The paint dries instantly so then I varnish it. Our bears are left to dry over dinner.

At dinner times people were not allowed in doors except to go to the toilet. I come out of the toilet. Sean’s here too. There’s no-one else about. Fueled by the energy of naughtiness, knowing we shouldn’t linger, we dare each other to see how far we can slink down the corridor, perhaps have a look at our Paddingtons. We head off down the narrow dark wooden corridor, towards our class. Then, a door opens and a teacher appears. We dive into our classroom, unseen. There’s our aquarium. The pond skaters happily skating and the water boatmen rowing around the algae. We hear footsteps in the corridor, the click-clack of teacher shoes. We crawl underneath the tables to hide. Under the table was a magazine. We have a flick through this, proud of our victory and then, when the coast is clear, we slink out again.

After dinner, Mrs Begato has some shocking news. During the dinner time somebody had come into the classroom and poured the oil used to lubricate the paster cast moulds into the aquarium and stirred it around. All our animals are dead. I can’t understand how it could have happened. Who would want to kill our pond life?

“I don’t understand how anyone got in, or even dared to” says Mrs Begato. I try not to look at Sean. I wanted to say that we knew the crime must have been committed just before the class had started as we had been here. But of course I couldn’t say that without becoming a prime suspect. It was an odd feeling, knowing that one of our compatriots had done it. One of us. And the perpetrator, the killer, is here, in this room. Mrs Begato knows that too. But since there is no evidence, no witnesses, and no confession, the crime remains unsolved.

MemoryI think about these things now, 30 years later. These events appear to have no consequence, no relevance or reference to today. Since it was the last term of junior school, we were all aged 11, I haven’t seen any of the players since back then. If I did track any of them down, few would remember such details of those particular days. Perhaps if we collected everyone together, they would remember the day before or the day after in incredible detail but they may have no memory of the country lane marsh trip or the Paddington plaster casts just as I have no memory of the following Friday or the proceeding Tuesday. I have, possibly like you, only scant scraps of other stories from 1982 as I have from 1992 and 2002 and all the other years in between and the ones before and since.

This story is important because we are the sum of our memories. We ARE the stories and the experiences. If we remember nothing, we are nothing.

I don’t know why I remember some things but not others. Perhaps I remember the snow because it was unusual and so exciting. We remember things that are outside the routine. Perhaps the puzzle of who killed the pond life is the key to why I remember those other events, the unresolved nature of it all. Does it matter who actually did it? Perhaps there was a conspiracy of silence and everyone but me knew who did the deed so for them the day falls into the deep well of forgetfulness.

Fo me I do keep on pondering. And I wonder: how accurate is my own memory of what really went on? Who WAS in the classroom that dinnertime other than Sean and me?

If you liked this theme of childhood and school memories you may like:

I own the only surviving copy of time

My headmaster still owes me £50

Everyone remembers a good teacher

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?

The Creative Troublemaker

Don’t Talk to Strangers

The End of a Friendship

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:

I own the only surviving copy of time

Sherburn Village Infants and Juniors, Christopher Instone, Sean Murphy, Kevin Tall

School mates, 1980. That’s Sean bottom left, my brother 3rd from right at the back. I’m not there as I was rubbish at football.

No school reunion information ever came. No invite ever came. No word of any kind ever came from anyone. Not to me anyway. It was as if no-one from 1981 wanted to make contact with anyone from 2011. None of the names etched on my memory ever turned up on Facebook. Friends Reunited revealed no clues. Even a Google search produced no results. It was as if they didn’t exist, or rather they only ever existed in the past. And the past only exists in my mind.

Childhood and schooldays seem so very long when it’s all you have. Those formative years loom so large in making us who we are and yet it’s only 12 years. Most of us have a working memory of only around seven of those years, just seven magical Christmases (if we were lucky). Many of us spend the rest of out lives trying to re-enter the Eden of those seven years – or sometimes sadly to try to escape from or forget it.

At this point there’s something you must know. I own the past. I am a custodian of time. I keep it filed away neatly in the catacombs of my mind. Bigger on the inside, I can store whole volumes of reality, all tidily stacked and all in order on wooden bookshelves. The coloured spines haven’t faded in the sun. In that sense I’m a collector.

I didn’t set out with that in mind, rather I became a custodian by default. Each one of us was given a subscription to time. I kept the payments up and kept every single copy. All placed in binders and catalogued contextually. The others didn’t. They cancelled their subscription somewhere along the way. They failed to pick up their copies from the newsagent. The ones they did get were never read and thrown out with the Hubba Bubba wrappers and the Tip Top drinks cartons. Any that did remain that they must have kept by accident, behind the sofa, under the stairs, in the attic, have all yellowed in age and either rotted away into dank indescribable matter or crisped up like brittle dry leaves to crumble upon inspection.

I know that I have the only surviving copy of that time.

So I went back. To find the truth. To find out if the past was real and that it had actually existed. In the centre of Durham, apart from the art deco cinema where I saw all three Star Wars films being boarded up, along with Woolworths, little seemed to have changed since the 1970s. Little seemed to have changed since the 1870s. Sherburn Village lies three miles out of the city. Nothing had changed but everything was different.

Because I didn’t know anyone, there was no-one to call on to talk about old times. I couldn’t really knock on a door and say, “Hello, you may remember me. I used to come round and play with Sean when we were seven. Is he in?” Of course he’s not in. He’s not coming out to play. Not now. I realised that I’d never said goodbye to any of my old playmates. I’d never said goodbye to any of my teachers. Life had simply moved on to the next episode. It feels as though they are all still part of my life and that the past thirty years has just been an extended summer holiday. Any moment now a new term will begin and we’ll all be back again, lining up in the playground with excitement and anticipation about the new year and the fun we’ll have. And then Saturday will come around again and we’ll be free to play out for the whole day up on Sherburn Hill, until tea time and Doctor Who.

I drove past Sean’s house. Perhaps he was in? Perhaps he was waiting for me to call? I’d borrow his sister’s plastic skateboard and he’d have his wooden green one and we’d set off on an adventure to save the world. Perhaps we’d be able to pick up from before things went wrong and be best friends again?

It was hard to turn the car round in the estate as the pavements were straddled on both sides by cheap Japanese and French cars in a cluttered contrast to the wide open streets I owned in the pictures in my mind.

I drove up the main street, up to the school. Being the largest building in the village by far, dwarfing the rows of coal miners cottages that surrounded and paid homage to it, it became the centre of village life. It was one long single-storey building but due to it’s enormously high ceilings, it looked from the outside that it would have at least three floors. A highly polished wooden corridor ran down the centre of the building like a major artery with classrooms off to the right and the main hall down the left. The infants were at the near end with the juniors down the opposite end with the headmaster’s office located at the far end on the left.

Outside the headmasters office was ‘the copier’. It was a magical futuristic machine that copied things. I longed to be able to learn its secrets. Perhaps I could put my Palitoy Talking Dalek in there, press the button and it would copy it and I’d have two. My Talking Dalek was my most treasured possession. It was the silver one with blue spots. When you pressed the button on the top it said a variety of phrases that were etched on a tiny record inside. Simon McKitterick’s dad got him one from Doggarts’ sale and it didn’t have an eye, gun or sucker arm. I made him some from bits of plastic. His older brother swapped the record with that of some girl’s doll. So the Dalek said ‘Mama’ and someone’s pink dolly said ‘Exterminate’ and ‘You will obey’.

There was a playground to the front of the school for the juniors and to the rear for the infants. Behind the rear playground was the dining hall, a stand alone refectory where we all had our dinners in either a first or second sitting. Behind that were allotments. Sean and I crept round there and collected as many snails as we could find and lined them all up on the dining hall’s open windows. By lunchtime the parade of thirty plus snails had slithered into the building like a mysterious Biblical plague that flumuxed the catering staff.

I often thought of us all being there in the late 1970s having followed in the same footprints of children from six previous decades. Some of the children in my class were following in their parents and grandparents footsteps by attending the school in that very same building. I thought about 1913 when it had been built and how it must have been to live in a time when the coal mines gave a steady and honourable way of life that looked like it would last forever. Even here, in a small, irrelevant, working class north eastern village there would have been that feeling of Edwardian tranquility. I thought how that would have been shattered by just the following year. How many children would have lost fathers or brothers in the Great War? How many children who attended the school in its early years would have themselves had to leave village life to go off to the horror of the Second World War two decades later. It made the late 1970s seem like an even more peaceful and perfect golden age. I never thought of the World Wars as being distant events. They were always close. Grandad Pedley had been a mechanic in the Second World War, serving in Egypt. My other Grandad, my Dad’s dad, was in the Durham Light Infantry. He fought at the Somme in 1914 as a Lewis gunner. He had told my Dad a few stories and these were retold to me. One evening he had been given orders to take a message to another trench, a few miles away. He had to cross an area of no-mans-land to get there. He slowly crossed, slithering on his belly through the deep mire of mud in the dark. He returned the following day, in daylight. As he saw the fields he had crawled across the previous night he could now see that it hadn’t been mud at all but the bodies of hundreds and hundreds or horses and men. He was later injured, his helmet took a shot and jammed onto his head, knocking him unconscious. When he awoke he was hundreds of miles away. He survived and eventually came back, fortunately for me. Millions didn’t.

I drove up from the crossroads. It was one hundred metres from the VG grocery shop on the corner. I knew that because I’d measured it with a measuring wheel from school when we were learning about measurements, units and maths. Then I could see the school railings. They comprised of a wall bricked up to about a foot high upon which were yard high gloss black railings each ending in a point.

But beyond the railings there was no school.

I drove past, confused, not able to stop to look properly. I turned the car around and drove past again. No school. No building from 1913. No playgrounds. There was just a higgldy piggldy set of late 1980s flats, all squashed up within the familiar railings upon which my school adventures had begun. It was as if the school building had never been there. It was such an obvious cover-up job. The school had been erased from history, denied, hidden. Surely the foundations would still be there? Perhaps we’d see evidence from aerial photography? There must be records? Photographs? The ugly flats stood firm, blatantly lying that they’d always been there, challenging me to prove otherwise. A mist of amnesia had descended on the village. The people and the architecture had drunk a draft from the well of forgetfulness. New had denied the old.

But I can prove it wrong. I still have the original copy, my records, in my mind. I can think of them and can bring them to life once more and as children we’ll all live and laugh again.

I own the only surviving copy of that time.

When you’ve a moment, search your mind archives and see what unique time recordings you have stored away.


If you liked this theme of childhood and school memories you may like:

My headmaster still owes me £50

Why do we remember what we remember?

Everyone remembers a good teacher

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?

The Creative Troublemaker

Don’t Talk to Strangers

The End of a Friendship

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:

Thanks for the Memory

A paradigm is a model or example that helps us understand something complex. I want you to consider re-thinking your paradigm of what you believe memory to be. The reason is that memory is the playing field where the game of creativity takes place. Without it you can’t be creative and neither can you know what being creative is. Let me explain.

There are two types of memory, long and short. Short term memory holds data for up to 30 seconds and can only retain it after that by constantly re-entering it. This is why you forget a telephone number just after looking it up (unless you keep saying it).

Long term memory is associations. Nothing can exist in your memory unless it’s connected to a multitude of other things: it’s colour, taste, time, sounds, emotions, history, people, places. You can’t have a thing in memory (a memorand) just floating around, it has to have a place with in the network of associations. But that ‘place’ is not a ‘pigeon hole’. This is the first part of the memory paradigm that we need to re-consider. Our memory does not work like a computer which stores lists of data which can be wiped. The memorands in our memory cannot be wiped, but their associations can be reconfigured.

Now, do you feel you have good or bad memory? Most people assume they have a bad memory, but in fact they don’t. That’s like saying you have a bad hope or a bad electricity in your mains. There is no such thing as good or bad memory – only untrained memory.

If you have ‘forgotten’ something you’ve somehow messed up the process of Recording, Retaining or Retrieving the information. Usually it’s the first one, Recording (you didn’t hear the person’s name) or Retaining (you didn’t put the person’s name with associations into your long term memory) or it could be Retrieving is your weak point (you didn’t store the name with relevant associations so can’t recall it easily, although it is ‘in there’.

Can your memory be full? No, since associations can be infinite. Experts on memory suggest that there is no limit to human memory apart from the paradigm that creates limitations. Memory is a process not a ‘thing’. In fact I would go as far as saying you do not even have a memory, you ‘do’ memory, it’s an activity. Experts have also done experiments that have discovered that supposed long-lost memory is actually still there, just temporarily inaccessible.

Where is your memory? This may start to sound a little metaphysical but hang in there – we assume our memory is in our brains, where we also assume our ‘mind’ to be. Think about this – there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. No really, there isn’t! We surmise it is there, we extrapolate that it’s there, we have a theory that it is there. Have a think for a moment where else it could be. (This is easier if you play a musical instrument – it app ears that your fingers know what to do.) Then think about this: if you smashed your tv during the news, would you assume that the newsreader was dead? No, the broadcast would continue but you wouldn’t be able to receive it, that’s all. It’s just a theory, but no better than the one we have. (If you have proof of where memory is or where the mind actually is you deserve the Nobel prize.)

So how about this for a new paradigm: You have an excellent memory, capable of unlimited storage and fantastic feats of recall and free association from your entire human experience. That’s much, much better. Thanks for the memory!

For more see: