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

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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 would YOU do with a billion pounds? I dunno.


 

 

Speaking at schools recently I came upon scenarios and attitudes that I didn’t expect and that, although subtle, are more damning to the future of the children (and therefore our society) than at first they appear. I started off the talk with a simple warm up question: What would you do if you have a billion pounds? I make sure I tell them what a billion is as it’s so out of our ordinary experience. A billion is a thousand million. It’s a lot of money. That large Euro Lottery rollover win recently was only £30 million. So a billion pounds will buy a lot of stuff.

The question is really one of aspiration, imagination and to a certain extent goal setting. The answers I hope to see are big, bold, creative thinking ideas, hopefully as far-fetched as the question. What actually happens is underwhelming. There are a always a few good ones, ‘buy a football team’ or ‘buy a mountain and run my own skiing centre’. There a a few obvious and vague ‘give some of it to charity’ – with rarely a specified charity or amount. But from a group of sixty children, the vast majority fail to think of anything beyond the dull, ‘go shopping’. For what? They don’t know. Bare in mind the task is done in small groups, privately, written down with no onus to share publicly. It is not fear of being seen to be foolish that stops them (which does stifle imagination and creativity dramatically).

What appeared to be the cause of the astonishing lack of, well, anything, was perhaps a roadblock in being able to answer the question at all. After talking to some teachers I came to the conclusion that the children couldn’t answer the question because they were unable to guess what answer I required. They were using their brain power to try to figure out what I wanted from them, to pass the test, to be give correct answer. They had been trained at school to absorb information and then regurgitate it in a particular fashion to please the system. Their whole being was geared up to pleasing or satisfying the system. They were trained in the didactic of right and wrong, true or false. They had to give the truthful, correct, winning answer. Imagination, creativity and interestingly, personal opinion, desire and future thinking didn’t come into it.

This, in my mind is dreadful and a sad indictment. Is it true that our children are having their imaginations undeveloped as we condition them to give the required answers that are easier to mark and to filter for statistics and charting? Have we created sausage factories, churning out conditioned little parrots with no thoughts of their own and no ability to think of them? Without nurturing hopes and dreams, without encouraging imagination and opinions we are setting up children to lives of mediocrity at best and years of misery through low self confidence and worthlessness at worst.

I asked the question, “Who here thinks they are capable of being a creative genius?”. As you’d expect, out of 60 only four hands went up (as two of those were teachers). So I asked a control question, “Who here thinks they are a complete dullard who wouldn’t recognise a good idea if it bit them on the nose?” An astonishing 60% put their hands up.

I asked the teachers a question we should ask ourselves, “What are we teaching these kids?”

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