The end of a friendship


Sherburn Village Infants and Juniors 1977

If there ever was a golden age, it was here, 1977, Sherburn Village Infants. That’s me, seated front row in the middle in an orange polo neck. That’s Sean, front row far right on the mat.

He was my best friend from that time when you actually named your best friend as number one, as if friendship was the pop charts with various friends jostling for that coveted top position.

We’d met when we were both five at the very first day of school. We’d had some great adventures. We’d discovered Star Wars and Superman and The Incredible Hulk together. We’d discovered the secrets of Sherburn Hill together, explored the country lane, the slag heaps and the rubbish dumps together. We’d learnt to read, write, draw and collect Action Jacks together. We’d created magic potions, travelled back in time, been bounty hunters, saved the world from a Dalek invasion (many times) together. We’d learnt how to burn our shoelaces with a magnifying glass, sing the Beatles songs from Help!, programme our Commodore VIC20 computers (and reach level ten in Arcadia.) We’d made recordings on a tape recorder that were so funny we laughed until tears streamed from our eyes and we lay on the floor holding our aching sides.

We’d always sit together in class until Mr Hall banned it and said we had to sit at opposite sides of the room. We were also told that boys weren’t allowed to put their arms around each other in the playground (but girls were). The dinner ladies had reported it to the teachers who’d sent letters home and we were told that the only physical contact boys could make with each other was to punch each other, otherwise you were a ‘puff’, whatever that was. (Turns out, neither of us were).

How is it that you can get really close, so tight in a friendship and then… something happens? This is what happened.

It was a hot afternoon, early summer. I got my bike out of the hut in my back garden and wheeled it down the grass and out of the gate. I rode up to the end of the cul-de-sac and up the curb to ride past Sean’s house and looked in the window to see if there was any sign of life. There wasn’t so I rode up the hill to the tarmaced area called ‘Play Area One’. Everything on the estate had a name. Behind my house was a hidden pavement that was secret until the houses behind were lived in. We called it ‘the secret passage’ ever since.

On the play area was Sean and Sid with their bikes. Sid was a year older than Sean and I who were 12. Sean used to live next door to him when he lived further up the estate, before he moved opposite me. Sean and I had Commodore VIC20s and Sid had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. We had a software writing corporation called MISARM-SOFT. The initials were the first letters of our names; Michael, Instone, Sean, Adrian, Robert, Murphy. The A and S also stood for Andrew (Sid) Smith.

Sean and Sid had collected a few bricks and a wide plank. They’d made a ramp and were jumping off it with their bikes. I watched for a while then had a few goes too, it was too hot to just stand around. Someone decided to change the arrangement of the bricks to make a higher ramp. I picked up a brick to help with an idea of how I could make it higher but more stable. I was about to put it in place when I dropped it. It broke.

I tried to conceal the broken brick by hiding it under another and I look around to see if there was another brick to replace it. There wasn’t. Sean noticed.

“What have you done that for man?” he said.

“You’d better get another brick.” snapped Sid.

“All right, all right, I’ll get one.” I wondered where I could get another brick from.

“He’s got loads of bricks in his back garden” Sean said to Sid. He turned to me, “haven’t you?”

“But my dad needs them for a wall” I said.

“Go home and get one” said Sid. I got on my bike to ride off when Sean said, “Hey, he can get away. We’ll go with him!”. Sid grabbed my back wheel.

“I said I’ll get one” I said.

Sid dropped my back wheel. I raced off, not looking back. When I got home I thought about it all and came to the conclusion they didn’t deserve a new brick. I sat down and watched The Dukes of Hazard with my brother. I looked out of the window and saw faces peering through the fence at the back from the secret passage.

A year earlier, during the last few weeks of junior school I had been very ill with some sort of fever. Before the illness it had been just an ordinary June, just like all those that had gone before, stretching back into our pre-history. There had been no sense of endings then. If there had been a feeling of occasion in those final weeks of school, I’d had missed out on it. Mr Jackson the headmaster retired that summer and there’d been event to commemorate. I’d missed that too. I’d never said goodbye to any of my classmates who I’d grown up with since that September day six years ago when we were all five. And except for the few that lived on my estate I’d never saw any of them ever again. Barry said that Mr Jackson had died not long after.

So after that summer had passed we’d all moved up to a bigger school. But I’d gone to a different comprehensive school to my infants and junior compatriots. They all went, I assume, to Gilesgate, the rough, tough inner city ‘Grange Hill’ type school. I went to Belmont, which seemed more refined, almost like grammar school. When the new term began at our separate schools I’d slowly started to lose that regular contact with Sean, even though he lived opposite. Presumably he’d made new acquaintances, new alliances, new friends and a whole year of new school had passed.

That first year had ended and it was the start of another summer holiday and I was feeling I needed to keep clear of Sean because of the brick incident that week. Barry lived at the other side of the village. I told him about Sean and the brick. He and Sean had never got on. At school, when I’d played with Barry, Sean would always resent it. Barry mentioned that he’d seen Sean riding around the village with a small gang. I’d been reading The Lord of the Rings and jokingly referred to Sean as ‘Sauron’ and his gang as ‘the Nazgul’, ‘the black riders’.

Barry and I were round at Graham Stead’s house, drawing maps of fictional islands and continents we’d made up on rolls of anaglypta wallpaper. We saw Sean’s gang coming round the corner on their bikes. Barry and I leapt on our bikes and rode off. Graham went back inside his house.

There’s an adrenaline that comes from being chased. Especially if you know you’ll always get away. We seemed to have shaken them off and got to Play Area One and found my brother there. He joined our gang and so did his friend Neil. So there are now four of us. I was in the middle of explaining the situation to my troops when some retard called Nigel came up.

“I’m going to tell them where you are.” he said.

“You thick head.” I said “You think we’re going to stay here?” Nigel shut up and started throwing a tennis ball off someone’s house.

It was getting late so we all headed home. I was pleased that I had at least got four members recruited to my own entourage. I looked out of my brother’s window and saw something disturbing in the street beyond the back garden, between the garages. In the dim light, Barry was stood near Sean. Then Neil went up to him. I opened the window so I could hear. Neil had said, “Can I join your gang?”.

The next day I rode around the village on my own. I turned into a narrow path only to see it blocked by Sean and his black riders. I knew I couldn’t get away this time. They stopped me and Talley grabbed my front wheel.

“Why don’t you give Sean a brick?” he said. Before I could answer, Renny came up from behind and crashed into my back wheel.

“Sorry, my brakes don’t work.” Renny said grinning.

I was frustrated, worried and wanted to get away. I hit at Talley, trying to get him to release his grip on my bike.

“Right, you asked for it.” he said and jumped on me and I fell off my bike. I lashed out at him again which gave me the chance to jump back on my bike and get away. My bike made a grinding noise, the mudguard on the back was buckled and scraped against the tyre.

A day or two later, Barry and I had been up the moors. On the way back we headed to ‘the Bash’, a huge and thrillingly dangerous slag heap, a remnant of the village’s coal mining past. After collecting a few fossils, we walked back to the village and there, just in front of the entrance to the secret passage behind my house was Sean and his riders. They cut us off. They used their bikes to block up the entrance to the passage and crowded around us. But Barry had slithered out towards the back and when I looked around he was standing well behind them all.

I looked around for a means of escape but there wasn’t any. To the left of me was the barricaded passage entrance. Behind me to the right and left were rows of garages for the flats and behind me was a fence. Stood around were Sean, Sid, Cheeky, Daz and Renny. This lot had all been my mates, for years, just less than a year ago. Sid had with him his tiny brother Steven with dirt around his face. He must have been just two years old.

“Why did you call me Spud?” said Sean from the back.

“I didn’t” I said.

“Yes you did” said Barry.

“No I didn’t” I repeated.

“Yes, you said you’d used names out of the book you were reading” said Barry.

“I don’t recall ‘Spud’ being in Lord of the Rings” I replied.

Daz picked up little Steven.

“Steven, kick him, go on, kick him!” he said. The little toddler did just that. Perhaps they wanted me to go for the poor kid but I just moved out of the way.

“Ha! Look, he’s scared!” said Daz.

I was getting anxious. I wanted to go in for my tea. Then everything seemed like slow motion. I ran and leaped over the barricade of bikes, giving them a kick behind with my right foot, knocking them all over. Then Renny rushed at me and jumped on my back. He was a small potato-like shirtless lump. I threw him off and heard him go splat on the ground. Cheeky came next. He ran at me and I grabbed the scruff of his neck and picked him up. Oddly, he laughed out in surprise. I threw him to the floor. Then Daz tried it and I knocked him to the floor too.

Then it happened. The others had retreated and Sean moved towards me with fire in his eyes. I lashed out. He hit me in the stomach. But with the next blow, our fists collided, like some sort of stalemate. Our knuckles cracked. Everyone else just looked on.

Further down the passage our gate opened and my brother came out. He shouted back through the gate to the house and my Mum came out and I backed off. Sean’s face was red and I was shaking.

Later I told my Mum the whole story and after tea she took a brick over to Sean’s house. We didn’t see each other again after that, and at the end of the year my family moved far, far away from the village where we all grew up.

Three years later my Dad had some business in the North East and because it was in the holidays I went up with him. It was early evening when he dropped me off in the village and I walked round to Sean’s house as the light faded. We were now both fifteen. His mum answered the door and I went in and up to his room. Sean was there with two boys I didn’t know, playing computer games on a Sinclair Spectrum. I wondered what had happened to Sean’s VIC20 and we talked about nothing as if nothing had ever happened ever. It was as if he could only just remember who I was. The only thing he mentioned related to the past was that there was another boy now living in my old house. After a while I said, ‘see you later’ and left them to it and walked out into the night to the spot where my Dad was due to pick me up.

Even that is now 26 years ago. This isn’t even a story to be proud of. But somehow I knew it was important as I wrote it down at the time. I’ve developed longer and deeper friendships since. But there something different about those early years, the foundation for who we are and what we’ll become.

The threads of our life’s tapestry is laid down in those times, and although so short, sometimes they do feel like the most important threads of all.

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

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

Ayd 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

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?


Snow on Sherburn Hill

Sherburn Hill

I suppose she was the first authority figure we knew, outside our family. Mrs Hailes was headmistress of Sherburn Village Infants. A warm jovial older lady, and although she never took us in class, she taught me the difference between ‘a’ and ‘an’, just while we were waiting to do something else. I would now always know it was ‘an elephant’.

Perhaps ‘being good’ or ‘being naughty’ have little to do with right and wrong or good and evil. I was ‘good’ because I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs Hailes.

My friend Martin ‘lifted’ a Matchbox car from the hall where a jumble sale was being set up. He showed me it in the playground. It was a little second-hand, bashed, paint scratched combine harvester. He held it under the soapy foam that came out of a waste pipe from the sinks in the dinner hall, which was a separate building from the school. The flow of foam made the little combine spin round. It was brilliant, but wrong. I couldn’t believe he’d done it. I knew he shouldn’t have it. I knew we couldn’t put it back. I told him so. Then I dropped it into the drain. I don’t know how Mrs Hailes found out, but she did. We explained everything. She listened. We left. She knew that we knew and that was enough punishment: the shame of letting her down.

We only knew Mrs Hailes for those three first years of school. In 1978, we moved up to the junior side, and Mr Jackson was our headmaster. She retired and went to live on Sherburn Hill. We had a celebration in the hall and she got presents, given by Mrs Reed who would now take her place. She looked happy. But I felt it was sad. I often wanted to go up Sherburn Hill and thank her for the elephants.

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

Why do we remember what we remember?

Everyone remembers a good teacher

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: www.aydinstone.com


Everyone remembers a good teacher


One of my model spaceships. A bit battered now.

When you’re 9 the summer holidays are about two years in length. They are so long that by the end you almost can’t remember the beginning. As it draws to a close there’s that feeling of rejuvenation and excitement as the weather changes from sunny and hot, to sunny and cold, to dark and cold in just a few days. But 1980 was different. I had an overwhelming feeling of dread that I couldn’t shake off.

They say everyone remembers a good teacher. Perhaps you remember the bad ones too.

We’d left behind the most magical year with Mrs Edwards, before the summer. It had been a great year that had started that previous 1st of September with the Daleks back on TV in Doctor Who. The last time that had happened was 1975, half my life ago. The excitement was unparalleled. From Doctor Who Weekly I’d become aware that the programme had started in 1963. I worked out in my head that that meant it was now 17 years old and in three years time it would be 20 years old. Something to look forward to.

Then we had the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, out in the summer. We’d waited three long years for that. Our heads were filled with the concepts of strange worlds, powerful starships, bounty hunters, the mysterious Force and good verses evil. Mrs Edwards said the entire class could build a space station. We all collected bottles and boxes from home and brought them in. We all worked together, boys and girls, gluing them together to fill the entire classroom floor with our space base.

But most of all, what caught my imagination that year was the concept of stories. Everything I was interested in was a story. Stories of adventure, of self-sacrifice, of traitors and heroes, of greed and of hope.

I thought we should re-enact The Empire Strikes Back in the bike shed. It was a large covered area that would serve perfectly as the cloud city of Bespin. I needed more players so recruited friends, then more joined. A group of younger children wanted to be stormtroopers (headed up by my brother). Another batch were bounty hunters, guards and Ugnaughts. We had the Princess and Han. Sean was Chewie. We had a Luke (I think that honour fell to Alex Chakrabarti) and I played Darth Vader and Boba Fett (which was tricky as they were required in the same scene). We did it and it worked, with twenty or so 8 and 9 years olds, during a damp breaktime, with no planning or explanation necessary. We just acted it out. Then the bell rang and we all went back to our separate classes.

When you have enough data, on any topic, your creativity starts to play with it. If you listen constructively to enough songs, you want to write your own and if you play out enough stories, you want to create you own. In 1979, that’s what Barry and I started to do.

We set it in the near future. Earth was at peace and was exploring the stars. It was about two brothers who had been assigned to an exploratory mission. They had fallen through a time vortex portal just outside our solar system and crashed their ship on a strange hostile world populated by robotic people who lived in a giant dome. They had been captured, but eventually escaped with the help of their clever but annoying small robot and managed to be rescued, but not before the leader of the robot people learned of Earth and planned an invasion to fly through the portal and attack all that we held dear. We acted the story out in the yard at playtime and developed the characters. But there was more to it than that. Everything in the story had original names and designs. We designed the uniforms and insignia. We designed and built spaceships and robots. Perhaps the actual story may not sound that original to you now, we’d thrown in elements from all that we’d known, but for two 8 year olds in 1979 I think it stills sounds pretty good. (This was 20 years before things like Deep Space Nine and the like that later made use of similar plot devices.)

Barry’s family were in the military so he added his knowledge of that into the detail. We’d seen the creepy Sapphire and Steel on television and added in psychological twists and depth that we picked up from that. We drew plans of the battle Armada, the bases on Mars and created the family trees of all the characters. We explored the political system of the robot creatures who lived like worker bees under their cyborg leader whose mind was now pure computer. We worked out how the impending invasion caused Earth governments to have to declare martial law and create a coalition, headed up by a right-wing leader from Britain called Eliot Joseph Livingston who had seized the opportunity. We were aware of the dangers of such emergency politics and built that into the story. There were threats from within as well as from outer space.

Mrs Edwards said we could stay in at lunchtime to work on the story more. She suggested we use larger bits of paper and stick them on the classroom wall to have more space to work out the detail.

But by September 1980 all that was a distant memory. The sun had gone out. Now we were lined up to have a new teacher, the dreaded Mr H. It was like heading for the gallows. Sean and I knew we didn’t like him and we knew he didn’t care for us. Sean said it would be alright though, things always turned out ok. But I couldn’t shake the foreboding. Doctor Who Weekly turned into Doctor Who Monthly so at least I had a good magazine to read and take my mind off it.

Mr H employed the ‘dark sarcasm in the classroom’ that had been highlighted by Pink Floyd’s number one single the previous year. He drove a bottle green Ford Cortina mark III. He didn’t let me and Sean sit together. He put Barry by the sink by the window so he could “dry his hands on his long hair”, or so he said.

We had to do a role play. We had to pretend to take a broken toy back to a shop. Darren was bringing it back and I was the shopkeeper. Darren explained that it had exploded and was a dangerous toy and demanded his money back.

“So what are you going to do?” asked Mr H.

“Give him his money back?” I said.

“No you idiot” said Mr H.

“He should have asked to see the receipt” said Darren.

“That’s right” said Mr H, “useless. Sit down”.

That’s how Mr H worked. He taught by humiliation. I didn’t think about asking for a receipt. Why would I? Darren’s family ran the VG shop. He’d worked there. Of course he’d know what to say. It all seemed terribly unfair.

I got depressed, although I didn’t have that word in my vocabulary then. I started thinking about death and felt as though I was going to die, that I didn’t have much time left. I dreamt that I’d asked my parents they could cancel Christmas, anything, to let me not go back to school. But in my waking life I said nothing.

Then it was Maths. Mr H explained about the budget and how prices go up. I wondered if the price of Star Wars figures would be going up. They did, from 99p to £1.49 putting them outside my purchasing power so I had to rely on the single beacon Christmas and my birthday (which are only 5 days apart) to get new toys.

Then Mr H had us all standing up. He asked us various quick-fire maths questions. If you got it right you sat down. Joanne Killian sat down straight away. I got it wrong and had to stay standing. Sean sats down. I got another one wrong again and had to stand on my chair. Kevin Tall sat down. Alison Ball sat down. I got it wrong and had to stand on my desk. Barry was standing on his chair but he too soon sat down. Then it was just me and John Moody left. Everyone else was sitting down.

“7 and 6” said Mr H.

“13” said John earning him his seat. Mr H starts having fun now. Multiplication, division, subtraction, the questions kept coming at me while the others laughed. I though I was going to die, or that I wanted to die, I didn’t know which. Mr Hall toyed with making me sit on the wardrobe but settled for having me sit at the front of the class, facing the blackboard for the rest of the session with a pointed card hat with a large ‘D’ on it.

My confidence had gone. There was a hole where it had been. From then on I struggled with maths. I had to stay behind at breaktime to watch David Shed do long division on the backboard just for fun, just to rub it in how useless I was at it.

Mr Jackson, the headmaster heard me talking to some kids one lunchtime about the Space Shuttle which was about to launch for the first time. He called me over and asked me to explain it to him. I told him all about it, how the boosters worked, how it would take off like a rocket, the duration of the mission, how it would land like an aeroplane, protected by the heat-resistance tiles and how it opened a new age in space exploration. He thanked me and went back to his office. I felt different, excited. There was no hole. When I got home I drew pictures of the Shuttle and compared the scale to the shuttles Barry and I had invented for our story. We were back on.

Barry and I continued our story for decades afterwards. They turned into comic strips and then into short stories and finally novels, adding more and more to the mythos we’d started back in Mrs Edwards’ class.

Mr H went on to be headmaster two years later after both Mr Jackson and I had moved on.  He would never know that I would go on to get a degree in Physics and to study maths to a far higher level than he ever did. But I don’t do mental arithmetic.

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

Why do we remember what we remember?

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?

The Creative Troublemaker

Don’t Talk to Strangers

The End of a Friendship

The Thinking Cap Experiment(This is an adapted extract from my forthcoming book, ‘The Thinking Cap Experiment’)

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

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:

www.aydinstone.com

The Creative Troublemaker


Adrian Instone Sherburn Village 1980 Durham

The culprit, me aged 10, in late December 1980. Yes, it was a white Christmas that year in Durham.

I was always getting into trouble at school. I didn’t mean to, it wasn’t deliberate. I wasn’t always aware I was doing it. I just wanted to try things out and always got punished for doing so.

Here’s an example. It’s January 1981 and we’re all in assembly at Sherburn Village Infants and Juniors School near Durham in the North-East of England. If it’s your birthday you’re allowed to choose a hymn in assembly. Since my birthday is during the Christmas holidays I never get a chance to choose. If I had I might have chosen one of our favourites, To Be a Pilgrim because it has the line, ‘follow the master’ in it. Since the Master was an evil time lord in Doctor Who me and my friends belt out the amended lyric ‘Follow the Doctor’.

But for some some reason, just after my 9th birthday, they’ve given me a chance to choose a hymn.

“Adrian Instone will chose the next hymn.” says Mrs Lamb.

We’d already done To Be A Pilgrim and Lord of the Dance which would have been my second choice as it has the great bit about it being hard to dance with the devil on your back. A great image that. So I quickly come up with another idea.

“Number seventy-three miss.” I say loud and clear from the centre of the throng.

“Right children, number seventy-three says Mrs Lamb, deputy head.

Fat Mrs Middlemas on the piano flicks through the book. There was a rustling of hymn books. Mrs Middlemas indicated for Mrs Lamb to come over, then with a cross expression on her face, Mrs Lamb walks back to the centre of the front of the hall and looks me in the eyes.

“There are only seventy-two hymns in the book.” she says.

“I know miss” I say.

“You mean to say that you deliberately deceived us?” she barks.

The assembly of kids starts to snigger. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

“Yes miss” I say, without irony or facetiousness.

“How-dare-you. This-is-a-serious-religious-service” she says, staccato, like a Dalek. “Why would you do such a thing?”

“Thought it would be a laff miss” I say.

The next thing I know is that I’m being dragged by the scruff of my shoulder from the crowd, out of the hall and locked in a cupboard room for the rest of the day. I sat there, thinking, mainly about Blake’s 7 that was due to be on that night, wondering if Blake was going to come back and re-join the crew of the Liberator…

So, was I being naughty? Possibly. But wasn’t it just harmless fun? Wasn’t I just testing the boundaries a little bit? Would it have really hurt for the teachers to say, “Nice one, very funny, you had us there, now let’s have Onward Christian Soldiers

How do you react when a maverick in your organisation or team bends the rules or tests the boundaries? How do you react when your child behaves in unexpected ways? Here’s another example.

It’s late autumn 1981. The playground is covered in leaves. The three large oaks are stripped down to their bare branches as if to brace themselves against the forthcoming winter, rolling up their sleeves, ready to sit and fight it out. Some younger kids are laughing and running and kicking the unwanted leaves up. It gives me an idea. I quickly organise a bunch of younger kids to collect all the leaves together into piles. If the trees don’t want them, we don’t want them. I get my troupe to grab handfuls and throw them over the school railings onto the pavement beyond. There’s a flurry of leaves as the wind catches our autumnal plumes and whisks them into the air. In about five minutes we have the area clear. A teacher spots us and shouts from across the playground. It’s clear I’m the foreman of the operation. Instead of the praise for my enterprise that I expected, I’m grabbed by the arm and marched inside and positioned outside Mr Jackson’s office. The headmaster. I’m told that the cane was a certainty for such grave a crime as throwing stones at cars. My protest as the misunderstanding is ignored and I’m left there in at one end of the silent corridor waiting for the inevitable judgement.

As I stand there I notice the bell buzzer on the wall. It’s the button the teachers press to sound the bell ringing that calls us all from work to play and from play to work. As I look at it I wonder how much pressure would be needed for it to make contact, complete the circuit and sound the bell. A voice in my head says ‘press it and see’. There’s about fifteen minutes of lunchtime left to run. I lean back on the wall and accidentally on purpose lean onto the school bell button. Continuous loud bells ring out. People start rushing around like bees, spurred automatically into action as lunchtime is brought to a premature end. Mr Jackson comes out of his office. A get a warm whiff of decades old slate tobacco air.

“What are you doing here?” he looks at his watch and then the bell push. Pushing the button again, the ringing stops, “Well?”

“Mrs Lamb said I was throwing stones at cars but I wasn’t, I was just clearing the leaves from the playground.” I say. I get the feeling that he’d laugh at this and the bell incident if he didn’t have something else more important on his mind. He ushers me into the empty classroom opposite without bothering to turn the lights on.

“You mustn’t throw stones at cars.” he says almost absent mindedly, “Write that out ten thousand times, ‘I must not throw stones at cars’”. With that, he returns to his office. I pick up a pencil and some paper and write out ten thousand times, ‘I did not throw stones at cars’.

At this point in my life I hadn’t yet learned to ‘play it safe’ when it came to experimentation within the structure of school. A few more incidents like this (there were plenty more) and I started to keep my head down and do things to please just like everyone else.

In business (and in family life) we’re often too busy to spend time to figure out why people do what they do and reward or punish on the result. We applaud success (even if success was arrived at with no skill or effort) and we despise failure (even when failure is often a brave step in a new direction). This is an arbitrary way to behave that reduces experimentation and creativity that can lead to better ways of doing things. It’s an especially mean way to behave towards children who only learn that ‘failure is bad’ from us and then stop trying.

Keep an open mind with mavericks. They could be experimenting in ways others never could. With a child, disruptive behavior is the tip of an unknown iceberg that could be a bigger problem potential talent trying to get through. In business, the green light for innovation and the chance to try and fail could be just what you need to open your organisation to new opportunities you couldn’t have guess existed.

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

Why do we remember what we remember?

Everyone remembers a good teacher

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?

Don’t Talk to Strangers

The End of a Friendship

The Thinking Cap Experiment(This is an adapted extract from my forthcoming book, ‘The Thinking Cap Experiment’)

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

Why I hate tests and why you should too


Multiple choice test formThe teacher explains everything to us and hands out the forms and pencils.

“You’ve got about thirty minutes to complete the test” she says. “Study the question and then choose your answer from the given choices, A, B, C, D or E. When you’ve chosen your answer, take you pencil and colour in the square on the answer grid.”

It’s 1984 and the dawn of multiple choice exams. We’re in the future now. We’re going to be tested by a computer to see if we’re thick.

“What if you change your mind, miss?” says some smart alec.

“Good question. Don’t rub out your answers, just put a large cross through it and make another choice.” she says, “We can then feed the sheets into our computer and it will record you answers instantly.”

It all sounds like a great idea. The computer will read the carbon from our pencil leads I presumed. But what a great test, just look at it, they were actually giving us the answers! How hard can this be?

It’s announced that the test has begun and we all start reading the questions. The fact that they’ve given us the answers was no consolation at all as the four alternative answers are so believable that they might as well be the answer too. How could I tell which was the right one to put? I’m used to giving a considered answer to a question and justifying how I arrived at it. here I can only guess. There are questions like, ‘which is the next shape in the sequence’, ‘if it takes so much time for so many men to dig a hole, how long will it take half a man to dig half a hole.’ that sort of thing. This isn’t as easy as I’d imagined. What are they trying to find out about us? I start to sweat and second guess my own answers. I try to get inside the head of the examiners, knowing they’re trying to trick me.

I look up and around the hall at my compatriots. They all have their heads down. Except one scruff who has his hand up. His pencil is broken. I look down at the answer grid again. Forty questions are listed down the sheet. Five boxes, A to E across. I look at the first twelve answers I’ve put. On the grid they don’t look quite random. There’s a pattern forming. It reminds me of the reel of paper computer tape my Dad had given me that contained a programme, punched in dots, for one of his machine tools. Perhaps the answer grid works like that here? Perhaps the dots of my answers create a pattern of their own, an answer to a much bigger question? A light comes on in my mind. That’s what they’re looking for! The questions are just on the surface, leading the brightest minds to ponder their meaning to solve a greater, more meaningful riddle!

The pattern formed seems to look like a double-helix, like a strand of DNA, spiraling down the answer grid. I’ve found it! I re-arrange my answers to better suit the DNA pattern and complete the answer grid based on my startling new hypothesis. Then it’s all over, time’s up. Papers and pencils collected. Breaktime, we all go outside.

They say that a monkey can get at least 28% in a multiple test. A monkey. If you filled it in randomly you’d get 28%. If you just put all As you’d get 28%.

I got 16%. Less than a monkey, and got put on the stupid list.

In the end, what did it actually prove? Was I in effect extremely clever for imagining that there was so much more to the test? Or was I really extremely stupid for imagining there was more to the test?

We don’t know. That’s why I hate tests and that’s why you should too.

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

What I did when I was 7 – it’s what I do now



The Adventures of Boba Fett Star Wars

The Adventures of Boba Fett comic book

It’s obvious to me now. Obvious that in the work you do you should build into it what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. Today I spend my days creating brands and books for experts, giving talks on creativity and branding as well as writing and performing my songs.

But it wasn’t always that way. Or was it? Actually it was. It just took me a long time to realise it.

If you look on my website you’ll see a few of the books I’ve written for sale. But they weren’t my first books. Not by a long way. My first was called ‘Daleks in Vain’ written in 1978 when I was 7. It was bound like a book and had a cover which my teacher showed me how to laminate. I produced my own monthly magazines and created countless comic strips (about Doctor Who or Star Wars, the most extensive saga being the Adventures of Boba Fett). They too were produced as actual books with quizzes, facts, subscription information and dates and prices. I was doing back then what I do now.

English exercise book

My English exercise book with 12/10

I loved writing stories, whether I was tasked by a teacher to write them or not. Two of my English exercise book stories when I was in class 1M were given “12/10 Excellent!” By the teacher. This means just one of two things: either I was a literary genius, or my English teacher wasn’t very good at maths.

By age 12 I’d devoured The Lord of the Rings and was writing my own fantasy stories. Some took the form of those Fighting Fantasy ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books (“do you want to use the potion, turn to page 44” etc). Again, they were produced as complete illustrated books. My industrious work prompted the teacher to write a letter to my parents. It said, “We need to stamp out this indulgence of his with fantasy”.

How many of us have had a (sometimes a well meaning) slight or damning report on our creativity? How many of us have had our creativity and excitement snuffed out, our passion extinguished? I had no further support with my writing and drawing. It was slowly put to one side, deemed by everyone to be an unimportant diversion and a distraction from proper things like Chemistry, Physics and Maths. (Even though I was best at Technical Drawing and Art).

For good or ill I pursued an education in science and by some miracle got a degree in physics and physical science. But just as the degree came to an end, something happened that would change everything as I unwittingly made a decision that would bring my expertise full circle.

I ran for office for the Students’ Union to run the student magazine. Then, it was an 8 page newsletter that 8 people wrote and just about 8 people read. I turned it into a 48 page magazine that had the highest number of student contributors to a student journal before or since. We had 60 student contributing to it in some way each month. I was an editor, a designer, a writer and a performer (I hosted shows, did stand up comedy and performed my songs at events). But the job was about something else. It was really a question of motivation (and I suppose, leadership). I managed to inspire people who would never have got involved in such things to come to my office. “What are you good at?” I’d ask them. “What do you like doing?” One fellow replied that he liked writing poetry. “Great” I said, “You’re the poetry editor” (He went onto become a good friend, my deputy and later on, took the editorship himself.)

TLE the last edition Oasis Definately Maybe Oxford Brookes Students' Union magazine

TLE issue 305, October 1994

A girl came to the office. She said she was interested in bands and music. I knocked up a badge with the magazine logo on it (TLE – The Last Edition) and told her to take it to the Venue and they’ll let her in to review the bands. Take it to the record shops and they’ll give her singles to review. She came back a week later to report that it had worked. She’d done an interview with one of the bands and got some photos. It looked great, although I’d never heard of the band. She said they were going to be huge so we put them on the front cover. The band was Oasis and we had published an exclusive just before they hit the big time.

With that job, which lasted two years, I’d created an Eden, the perfect job where I was using all my skills. When it ended and I had to get a real job, it was a real jolt to the system that I was put in a corner and told to use such a small part of my skills and experience. I counted the days (which amounted to six years) until I had enough nerve to set up on my own and recreate that Eden again.

So here I am, doing the same things I was doing when I was 7. Sometimes we think our dreams are somehow ‘out there’ and distant from us. I’ve realised that mine we here all the time. It just took me such a long time to realise that my hopes, dreams and passions were with me all along.

Are you victim to the voices of decent that have manipulated you into thinking what you should be doing, not what you could be doing? has your creativity been dulled and dumbed down, your passions diverted? Or are you building into your working day who and what you are, what you’re good at, what you enjoy? I hope so.

Drop me a comment with your experience of self re-discovery.

Read more on www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk

What do you want to be when you grow up?


In my presentations to both school and business audiences, I ask who is an artist and who is a scientist.

The idea of course is that my proposal is that to be creative we have to be both scientist and artist. We need to be able to embrace both logic and chaos, both critical and possibility thinking.

At a school recently I spoke to an audience of 14 year olds. I asked the question,’who here is a scientist’. Note this is after I have explained what a scientist is in simple terms – someone able to question, to make judgements, to experiment to search for the truth. Out of a group of sixty, five hands went up (two of those were teachers). I’d already warmed them up so I knew they were capable and confident in raising their arms to earlier questions.

Does that surprise you? Perhaps not. But the name of that school had as it’s suffix “school of science”. Science was its specialism and yet know one who attended it was a scientist? Why? My theory is that none of the pupils considered themselves ‘a scientist’ or ‘an artist’ or anything else because those are labels applied only to worthy adults. They hadn’t noticed that if you do science, you’re a scientist. If you do art, you’re an artist. Their version of the situation was that they are pupils. Boring, unimportant, useless and irrelevant pupils. Their job, their identity was to be a pupil. You might well say, what’s wrong with that? I feel it’s so limited and constraining that it’s dangerous.

Children adopt this label of nondescript ‘pupil’ as their identity. Then they reach 14 or 15 and are told to choose a route to a job. They used to call it ‘Which Way Now’ with a poster of some inane Radio1 DJ with his headphones on, as if he was some expert in career development. We ask them to choose another label. Do you want to be a doctor or a tv presenter? There probably were a few other rubbish choices. To be a doctor the pathway is fairly clear: you have to be good at everything and then go to medical school. Almost every other profession is less clear. How do I become an archeologist? How do I become a philosopher? Those ‘options’ weren’t on the poster. How do I become head of marketing for a major international corporation? No-one knows. The options are so limited. The reason they are even more limited is that the ‘chooser’ has to make such a leap from generic pupil to sophisticated label. There’s such an obvious chance hat the pupil says ‘forensic science sounds interesting, but I’m not that type of person. I don’t know anything about it.’ Of course they don’t have technical knowledge, but the attitude or ideals probably was there, at one point but was suppressed out by genericness.

I went to a large mechanical engineering exhibition when I was seven with my Dad whose company was exhibiting large machine tools. It was called MACH’78. On arrival you were given a name badge which had your name, occupation and company embossed it just like a credit card. How exciting to get my name on such a object! They asked me for my name and typed it into a computer. I was about to give my occupation and company name when they printed the card. Under my name it read: ‘Schoolboy’. I was incensed that my identity had been reduced to something so trivial, and short-lived (I saw my attendance at school as a temporary condition). Perhaps I hadn’t really got it clear in my head exactly what I would have put had they asked me but that’s not the point.

I was lucky. My imagination wasn’t dulled by such things. Perhaps a large group of children do still flourish in the same way. But from what I’ve seen at schools I’ve visited, we’re doing a big disservice to so many.

What do you want to be when you grow up? What an annoying patronising question.

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk