It’s all lies; TV isn’t bad for you…

We’re exposed to a plethora of subscription streaming services, here in 2017. Not only has this content wave brought the entertainment world a little closer (and more conveniently) to our fingertips; but it’s forced the new age media monoliths to really up their game and start making better TV.

Gone is the waiting all week to catch some ‘decent’ TV – which was normally on a Saturday night (think Gladiators and Blind Date back-to-back); when shows started at a specific sit-down time and messing around/faffing during the ads was a sin, as there wasn’t a pause or rewind button in sight.

I think this shift is also a healthy kick up the arse for broadcasting in general – public service in particular (despite what the staunch Strictly fans might argue…) Bodies like the BBC have really had to pull their creative socks up over the past five or six years and this has actually resulted in some pretty sweet product from them too.

Digital storytelling

The digital entertainment age is truly producing gems. Once you choose your favoured arsenal from the now astounding number of service providers, and sort yourself out with a decent VPN to experience global broadcast – you’re ready to rock.

And by rock, I mean, finally, truly get your money’s worth. Not just your entertainment fix. And not only your choice of what to watch and when. But, an opportunity to enrich the soul. After all, that’s what TV should be doing…

In my eyes, looking at the medium in its most basic form – whether being absorbed on 55 inches or 5.5 inches – TV is a magical story-telling box.

Yes, it tries to sell us stuff. Yes, it can have its bad content days. But, in essence, and at its best (which I believe it hasn’t been until now), it’s a shaman-like domestic friend that entertains AND educates; throwing us wisdom and morals in 25, 55 or sometimes 79-minute (cheeky GOT finale) segments.

So, how doth the box enrich? Well, here’s a most recent, personal example, that has genuinely improved my life through its clever characters, socio-cultural messaging and sheer elegance.

Sucker-punched

Gosh, this one didn’t half sneak up on me. Don’t judge a book by its cover, my Granny always told me. Well, nowadays, we shouldn’t judge a TV show by its promo shot or name. After seeing Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Nicole Kidman (none of whom are my favourite on-screens stars) lined up next to each other under the title of ‘Big Little Lies’, I thought, “A new take on the Gilmore Girls; probably a light-hearted comedy romp – not unlike Modern Family, but sadly without Phil.”

[CUE FAMILY FORTUNES INCORRECT BUZZER SOUND…]

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Admittedly, even after the first episode, I wasn’t convinced. It was the lovely, smart and culturally-enriched (I’m calling this sentence my begrudging apology) Kirsty who said to me, “Jeez Greg, give it a chance; everyone who’s watched it, LOVED it.”

And she couldn’t have been more right. Here’s what the show absolutely owned, what I think it teaches us, and why it ended up meaning so much to me:

Big little life-lessons

  • Getting the slightly less important, but still very cool ‘style over substance’ segment of this piece out the way; wow – what a cool/beautiful show. With Lynch-esq creepy flashbacks and cut scenes aplenty, opening credits that tell their own mysterious little story and a masterfully picked soundtrack, Big Little Lies pulls no creative punches. And this is enough to whet any TV appetite (“It looks damn good, so it’s probably going to be pretty damn good” – I convinced myself).
  • Slightly meatier stuff now. I really like a good tale of Trouble in Suburbia. Why? Because, it erodes social barriers, challenges our understanding of the norm and reminds us that we’re all vulnerable/flesh and blood; that’s why. I love that the money, houses and high powered jobs of the majority in Big Little Lies, can’t mask their misery, nor solve their problems (actually, it makes them worse and drives unhealthy competition that distracts from resolution). This is all rather akin to some of my all-time favourite horrors (sorry to bang that drum again); where middle/upper-class suburbia is violently disrupted by the menace of an unseen/evil presence. There’s nowhere to hide. And white picket fences don’t mean shit when there’s trouble to fight.
  • Auteur-wank out the way, what really got and taught me, were the frightening everyday social issues and their depiction by a collection of, IMHO, the most inspiring, influential and genuine characters I’ve seen on the screen. Our suburban heroines find power in sharing and connecting their individual struggles. A great ‘love thy neighbour’/problem-shared-problem-halved analogy and lesson in today’s fast-moving and sometimes lonely world. The characters’ journey through adversity, is ultimately rewarded with real friendship, respect and trust (the power I mention). I think we’ve got a lot to take from this and learn, as a society – particularly my fellow dudes, who are synonymous with bottling up/non-sharing which can result in seriously messed up and damaged mental health to name but one of the many unwanted by-products. More often than not, it’s really positive and healthy to share, unload, discuss and support, when it comes to social taboo. Fuck being British about it. Fuck being ‘brave’ about it. Just talk/share a random connection, even if it’s with someone you don’t know, or even like (your ex-husband’s sexy new partner, or your daughter’s friend’s mum who thinks she’s better than everyone else because of her amazing job).
  • To loop back, I also think this show (and other TV diamonds) go beyond a portrayal of simple honesty and opening up. They transform into something more quintessentially human than we realise. A deeper level of emotional intelligence that’s probably helped us get to where we are today. Let’s look back at the wonder (medium) of TV itself, for a moment: our magical storytelling box. Well, these are the stories being told – and we’re witnessing the true art of sharing, teaching, etc. Telling our own stories, in a thousand different ways. They don’t have to be a happy or funny. Quite often, the best aren’t – they’re simply ranked as ‘the best’ because they’re the ones that help us teach each other about the important things in life. It’s a true gift of humankind. And we’ve found the optimum stage (and constant flow of rich content) to finally use and spread it.

Thanks, Reese, Nicole and Shailene. And thanks, Netflix; you’re helping me become a better person. Or at the very least, recognise what it takes to become a better person. And all for £7.99 a month.

My mum always says, “Too much TV isn’t good for you; most of what you watch is absolute rubbish.” I think she’s partly right. Staring at a screen for hours isn’t good for anyone. But I must stress the ‘partly’… Nowadays, thanks to real investment back into what seemed like a dying medium, I reckon more and more of what we consume is absolute gold.

Image courtesy of HBO.

Fear no evil…

As adults, I think we forget how to be afraid (be very afraid), therefore losing the invaluable benefit experiencing fear provides.

I much preferred encountering fear as a kid. It seemed bloody awful at the time – and Little Me would scorn Big Me for making such an arrogant statement. But, I genuinely believe that the fear you experience as a child is so much more productive and life defining than any of the rational (or likely, irrational) worries you amass as an adult.

Little Me, definitely aligned with The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition of fear:

“An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.”

As a child, it was a visceral sensation; truly unpleasant, and very much fuelled by the imagination. In my case, a wildly overactive one at that.

Growing up, I’d managed to bury and repress most, if not all, of my childhood fears. And I actually forgot what either caused them, or what they felt like. That was, until Kirsty and I made an unplanned trip to the pictures…

We went to see Andrés Muschietti’s new spin on one of my childhood favourites, and Stephen King’s 1986 masterpiece, IT. In terms of movie making and for entertainment value, it’s a solid 7/10, perhaps a 7.5. Big Me is super-nostalgic when it comes to things from Little Me’s past – so, if I wasn’t such a pragmatic critic, I’d probably give it 9.5. It’s an 80s pastiche masterpiece (Stranger Things really lead the way here recently) in terms of look, feel, score and character narrative. HOWEVER, that’s not what got me…

IT reminded Big Me of the things Little Me really feared – I’ll come back to what these ‘things’ really boil down to. What’s strange now, is that these ‘fears’ (well-deserving of their inverted commas), seem rather less menacing – and carry a far deeper meaning. Watching Bill Skarsgård nail his portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (says a big Tim Curry fan) took me back to witness my childhood fears again, firsthand*. This time though, from the outside looking in. Not only did everything appear rather retrospectively rational (despite what my parents told me) – but the fear seemed warranted and relevant, and it made me long for that feeling again. So I set about trying to understand why I miss it and why it (only now) made so much sense… Bear with me here.

Big Me’s take on IT, and my longing for its childhood fear qualities, aligns far better with Oxford’s fourth definition of the word:

“A mixed feeling of dread and reverence.”

So – if that was Big Me’s contemporary understanding of Little Me’s fears, then what did I fear today? How have my fears developed into 2017, and produced this weird yearning for my childhood worries and anxieties?

Sadly, it’s not nearly as exciting as fear of the Bogeyman (or evil incarnate – which I’m coming to). The things that I dread and fear these days – that wake me up in a cold sweat and have me scrambling for the comforting glow of my iPhone screen – seem altogether pathetic and pointless. Yet, I’m still paralysed, sometimes crushed emotionally and physically, by their terrifying power. So, how do they manifest themselves?

Well, most often in the form of receiving emails, thinking about work-life balance and worrying about Brexit…

…Cue a face-palm and giggle from Little Me at this very thought, as he pedals off to Morningside park to start fires and kiss girls.

Fears nowadays suck. I can’t think of a better way to put it. They’re actually really tough to recognise and should be really easily managed – yet they’re entirely all-consuming and insurmountable at the same time.

SO – it looks like Oxford’s second and third definitions of fear are now what Big Me wrestles with daily:

“A feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something.”

“The likelihood of something unwelcome happening.”

This is where I think the Little Me fears, and my desire to experience them once again, really stand up against Big Me’s distinct lack of understanding as to what’s causing my anguish. I’ve asked myself what the fundamental difference between the two is… And here’s my half-baked theory:

Big Me lacks the primordial fear of evil. Please bear with me!

What New Line’s baddies do so very well, is personify a malevolence (evil) that represents the unknown. As humans, we tend to demonise/turn from that which we do not know, recognise or trust. More often than not, we end up labelling the unfamiliar with a subconscious sense of potentially ‘wicked, harmful and unpleasant’. As a kid, this is ultimately what I feared the most – the unseen and unknown. Pennywise and Freddy capitalise on this beautifully – taking fear of the unknown (growing up, rites of passage, becoming an adult) and giving them a very recognisable face and presence.

Which begs the question, how do the heroes in these silver-screen sensations triumph?

Pretty simple really; they face their fears. They confront evil. They, essentially, get to grips with the unknown and accept their rites of passage.

The recognise that their fear generates and feeds the evil within – so, once they understand and confront it, there’s very little left to fear, apart from fear itself!

So, my Big Question of The Day, is:

What would Little Me say to Big Me about the fear I experience today?

I think he’d be surprised at the things I’m scared of (electronic messages and post-Brexit Europe). Big Me would agree with this – and be quick to admit to Little Me, that based on the above theory, the above examples are actually great illustrations of the unknown. Which is inherently what drives Little Me’s fear, and manifests as evil. Big Me would also point out that, as you grow up, your intuition changes and tries to convince you that:

  • There are less unknowns (you’re a grown up, act like one)
  • You’re in control (erm – you’re a grown up, please act like one)
  • You’re weak/nuts to think otherwise (you’re a bloody grown up, act like one!)

Therefore, what could Big Me learn from Little Me, in dealing with evil (the fear generated from the unknown)? Simple – recognise it, admit it and confront it. Don’t hide from it. Don’t become a slave to it. Otherwise, you’ll end up being consumed by it. I must admit, this is the skill I’ve totally lost/forgotten about as an adult. My fears seem very different, and not inherently evil – so I ignore/quash them. But, that’s because I’ve forgotten how to fight them. I’ve forgotten what it takes to crush the unknown. Let’s be honest – email is genuinely evil and Brexit is an actual nightmare.

Here’s a terrible graphic explanation of what I’m getting at:

Slide1.jpg

WOW. Thanks Little Me – I’ll genuinely apply that thinking. Too often, I get lost in a world of work and stress, never actually confronting or dealing with my own evils and subsequent fear. I’m going to step back, and see how I can confront these unknowns. It’s not always easy, when every email message that comes into my inbox sends my heart racing at the prospect of what it contains. But I reckon there are far smarter ways of dealing with this specific model. Perhaps I could concentrate on not becoming a slave to the motion/machine, and having a better understanding of what it is the people who are contacting me are looking for? A face-to-face follow-up normally always helps untangle the mysteries of an email’s tone and/or content. Little ME could be on to something here.

To finish, Big Me has one last point to argue internally, with glib Little Me – what about the evil that exists in the world today, that’s not an extraterrestrial or supernatural manifestation of the unknown? What about the evil of humankind – the evil of people? Big Me asks this specifically just after another bona fide nut-bar has tried to blow-up innocent people on the London Underground, thankfully, failing to take any lives this time but nonetheless further spreading the panic/hatred for the evil of terrorism.

Little Me would respectfully remind Big Me, without pretending for a second to truly understand the mentality of terrorists, or the complex political/religious drivers, that more often than not, it’s still a fear of the unknown at play. A lack of understanding stemming from something, that’s become so twisted and misconstrued over the decades (and centuries) that we’re unable to see the root for what it is.

Thanks Little Me. I’ll take some of that wisdom. Breaking down fear/evil and trying to understand more about (and confront) the unknown, ain’t a bad way to approach things in life.

FOOTNOTES:

*It’s worth pointing out, that 2017’s IT was masterfully crafted by the same production house, New Line Cinema, who gave birth to the ultimate (and my favourite) Bad Guy – Freddy Krueger. Not dissimilar in traits and evil impersonation, to Pennywise.

[Headline image credit to New Line Cinema]

Malaysia – Part 1

Kirsty and I recently returned from what turned out to be one of the most exciting, action-packed and mentally enriching breaks we’ve ever been on.

I must admit, Malaysia wasn’t somewhere we were particularly familiar with – for example, I had no clue Borneo was part of the country, split into states shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei?!?)

Our lovely pals, Carla and Alessio, moved to Kuala Lumpur at the end of last year and asked us to come visit. So, we jumped at the chance; there’s no way better to explore a new city/country with good friends, who already have the lay of the land.

Alongside a scheduled few days in KL staying with Carla and Alessio, we were keen to experience other parts of this tropical kingdom. So, with the help of Carla/Alessio, and another friend who’d lived in Malaysia (thanks Stu!) we put together an itinerary that would take us across to costal Borneo, then into the world’s most ancient rainforest, and finally back to the northeast tip of mainland Malaysia to stay on the Perhentian Island(s).

Here’s a chaptered breakdown of what we got up to in each place – I’ll try and keep the ramblings short, so the photos/videos can do the talking 😉

Kuala Lumpur –

FullSizeRender
The night-time view atop a helipad bar in the city centre.
Carla and Alessio kindly put us up in their incredible, city-centre apartment – a couple of blocks from the Petronas Towers. From the dizzying heights of the 39th floor, we could see out across the city and into the hills surrounding KL. We were well and truly spoiled by our hosts, experiencing an exciting ex-pat life in this buzzing metropolis.

KL really is the perfect mixture (and balance) of old and new – sporting enough skyscrapers and architectural wonders to rival any other South-East Asian city, or global city, for that matter. Every structure is built/inspired by this awesome melting pot of cultures and people – notably Chinese, Indian, British and of course, Malay.

Funnily enough, KL shouldn’t really be a city – by conventional standards. It’s not particularly near the coast (so no port), nor on a single, major river. And it’s hardly protected like a fort atop some great hill or mountain. From my hazy 37-degree memory of our open-top bus tour, KL came about as a meeting place for tin-producing traders at the converging point of two small rivers – and from there, expanded exponentially. And so a city was born when the trader’s first roads met at this ‘muddy confluence’ – which is exactly what Kuala Lumpur means in Malaysian. Nice fact Greg. Probably not entirely accurate, but hopefully close enough.

The KL-ites are fiercely proud of their cultures and city’s history – I’ve never seen so many museums in one place! There was even an entire (rather large) museum dedicated to the Malaysian police! Respect.

There are a ton of beautiful green spaces in KL – which add to the ‘city balance’ that I mentioned earlier. Although it’s a metropolis – it doesn’t feel like your typical concrete jungle, as Mother Nature well and truly has her presence felt on almost every block with parks, gardens and general greenery.

The smell of food across and throughout the city streets at all times of the day is amazing – again, all the more magical thanks to the epic mix of cultural (culinary) knowledge and skill. And the smells are intensified by the incredible heat and humidity – partnered with the distinct feeling that the sky’s going to open up and piss puppies and kittens any second.

Despite the fact there’s massive amounts of construction happening everywhere in this vast 21st century city (a la Dubai), there’s a humbling reminder of the country’s religious past and present each evening as the beautiful, lingering echo of the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) rings out from the mosques across the packed 8-lane highway and past the glitzy shopping malls.

KL, you’re quite some city!

It makes scents

I believe smell is our most interesting, and probably the most commercially untapped, sense. After working for 10 years in creative communications and marketing, I also think it’s an unsung hero when it comes to building brand awareness and loyalty. I’m not talking about those prehistoric, peel-back perfume panels you found in copies of GQ, that 14 year-old you ripped open and rubbed enthusiastically on your wrists/neck at WH Smiths, in the vein hope it would send the local females stampeding to your location (a la Lynx). No, definitely not. I’m talking about powerful and memorable, actual, real life experiences with products or services.

PANIC NOT – this isn’t a poor excuse for creation of some Mickey Mouse business content, to boost my career ego (although…) Like the last few pieces I’ve thrown together, there’s a sprinkling of nostalgia in this one*, for very good reason.

Incredibly, 75 percent of our bodily reactions and emotions are triggered by smell. When it comes to memory in particular, smell kicks the butt of its sibling, sight. Visual recall is about 50% accurate after three months, whereas people can remember, recall and describe smells with approximately 65% accuracy after an entire year. This probably has something to do with the fact that our sight relies on four kinds of light sensors within the eye, while we boast over 1,000 different smell receptors. And they constantly regenerate and evolve.

For me, smell is a very visceral sense – especially when it comes to memory. ‘So is hearing, and so is taste’, I hear you cry. Don’t get me wrong, our other senses are remarkable – and command individual respect. We know taste and smell are very closely linked – smell accounts for 75-95% of our taste experience. But smell is actually our very first sense to develop, before we’re even born. It’s fully functional and perfectly formed the very second we escape the warm clutches of the womb. Smell also stimulates the brain’s limbic system; regarded as the primitive bit of our head-coral because similar structures were present in the brains of planet earth’s first mammals.

Here are four smells that evoke something pretty raw and magical in my memories. Some are relatively new, and others have been with me for three decades:

1) Suncream. Specifically the Nivea brand, in those big blue bottles with the yellow tops. It instantly transports me to family holidays: Spain, The French Alps, America, Australia and even the tropical north of Scotland! We were very lucky as kids; one thing mum and dad truly believed was the broadening of our little horizons, with annual trips to some pretty impressive places. My positive holiday associations with the sweet smell of suncream are endless – beaches, my siblings, sunshine, heat (maybe not in Scotland), ice cream, Fanta, salted skinny chips, the sea, villas, boats, bays, mountain walks, etc. For me, suncream = warmth and happiness.

2) Tom Ford fragrances. Specifically Oud Wood and London. For anyone who claims their preferred perfume or Eau de Whatever doesn’t last throughout the day – try some Tom. His fragrance line is incredible, super-pricey, but incredible. I actually can’t put my finger on the exact things they evoke – to be honest, I think it’s some really primordial stuff. Oud Wood literally carries you to the Middle East (I promise I’m not on commission). And the rather commanding London has a hint of what I can only describe as ‘musk on steroids’**. The smells completely alter when worn by different people, and sometimes catch your breath – his Tuscan Leather offering is too much for me, but genuinely whiffs like old Chesterfield, if that’s your thing. In short, Mr Ford’s potent potions take me to places I’ve never visited before, and stir in me, some of life’s more primitive thoughts/emotions. Now that’s pretty cool.

3) Freshly cut grass. I spent a lot of time outside as a kid. Either in our back garden or local park. From April thru September/October, the grass was always long and soft enough to chase each other on, play football on, or just roll around on. It was also regularly cut, thanks to its impressive growth rate, stimulated by our rather wet summer climate. Those cuttings are the smell of friendship, reminding me of summers with pals, siblings and very few cares (and fewer cars). Walking past cut grass gardens or parks nowadays makes me smile from ear to ear, and remember pals I thought I’d forgotten about.

4) Hot metal & oil. Ok, this is probably the weirdest one – or at least, that which is most unique to me. It’s closely linked to the holiday thing again, and does evoke happiness. But beyond that, it reminds me why I love TV and movies as much as I do. Florida is warm pretty much all year round, especially for a Scot. In fact, it’s hot – really hot. It also plays host to some of the best theme parks in the world. Universal Studios is a particular favourite of mine – and has been since the first time I visited, aged seven, right through until my fifth or sixth trip last year. When you mix theme parks and heat, you get some very interesting smells. Yep – candy floss, hot dogs, cookies, popcorn and all the other food-goodies a park has to offer. But next time you visit, and step inside/outside one of the attractions – see what you can smell. I finally cracked it last year, when Kirsty and I were in Harry Potter World. It’s the scent of the very hot metal/oil and moving parts that power the rides and machinery that I’m talking about. It gives off a really pleasing mechanical smell (almost in the same vein as petrol) and reminds me of thrills, excitement and movies. Told you it was weird.

If smell can be this powerful, when it comes to memory recall and stimulation of emotion – then I reckon there’s some serious spare legroom when it comes to commercial, creative development of brands and products.

I like to think I’m a wee bit savvy, after working in marketing for around a decade, and am proud to recognise (and circumvent) most of the visual tricks and design practices brands use for ‘engaging the customer’. In the same vein, I like to think my ears are even better trained when it comes to the use of things like NLP sales techniques and ambient in-store music to ease consumers into purchase.

But good old advertising smell-tactics get me every time.

I reckon they tap into the mantra of my above examples, in the same kind of way. But when they’re specifically linked to buying things and positive experience of a brand, I’m shafted; hook, line and sphincter. Some great global executions of this technique include:

  • Singapore Airlines – aim to reduce passenger anxiety and the stench of stale cabin air, by spraying their own scent into the aircraft fuselage and on to hot towels.
  • Abercrombie & Fitch – like to hammer your senses with their Fierce cologne, sprayed in-store and on all merchandise, to create a permanent scented memory of your purchase, their products and the experience.
  • JW Marriott – blast their own unique scent, ‘Subtle Sophistication’, around their lobbies and hotel rooms. Described as ‘soft and fresh, with a hint of citrus’, it appeals to both business travellers and holidaymakers alike – and can even be bought as candle.

Sensory brand expert, Carlos Jose Hinolan, describes how and why this works for us:

“With scent-diffusing technology, you can create a distinct aroma for your brand that will not only add to recall, but also trigger specific feelings with your consumers… Scent marketing can “amplify consumer spending, attract customers, and create memorable brands.”

I’d like to see more brands explore these techniques. However, I think this can be somewhat limited to those brands that offer tangible products or physical experiences. It’s nice to believe a bank could have a recognisable scent. Something that you smell when you walk into a branch, or, when you receive your new Visa card in the post? Perhaps a bold, but calming and welcoming scent – something that instils trust and reassurance could go a long way in building bank brand loyalty? Yet, reality suggests this would be a waste of time when physical finance paraphernalia is becoming increasingly redundant in our post-digital world, and more and more branches are shutting every day***.

So maybe this is a bit of a cry for sensory help, from an already too jaded (and still relatively young) marketing and communications professional. In the digital age, a centillion 1s and 0s have revolutionised our brand experiences; albeit, through a succession of screens and swipes. Should we, therefore, invest a little more in promoting an experience when it comes to product interactions in the ‘real world’?

As our physical contact with things becomes less and less necessary, I for one, would like to make sure when I do get exposed to brand tangibles, that it’s a wholly splendid encounter – and one that I remember for years to come. I want it to be etched in my olfactory memory forever, like Singapore Airlines and JW Marriott, or suncream and cut grass 😉

FOOTNOTES:

*I promise this isn’t my writing MO… yet.

** It smells like sex. In a good way. It’s very hard to describe. And now I sound very weird for liking/wearing it. Don’t laugh or nay-say until you’ve sniffed it.

*** Incredibly, this has been trialled on a micro-scale. At Ocean Bank in Florida, Senior Management agreed on creation of a brand scent called ‘Ocean Blue’, which fills the air in their 21 branches. Last I heard, they were even looking at scented pens and cheque-book covers!!

[Headline image credit to Universal Studios, Florida]

My killer creativity – five things I believed as a kid

Big thanks to a recent FB article and Channel Four’s ever entertaining, ‘The Secret World of Four/Five/Six Year-olds’ for inspiration with this piece.
When you’re small, you see the world in a very different way. That’s not purely down to your physical size (always staring upwards). It’s because you think in a fundamentally different way.

As a wean*, you’re in a pretty unique position – you don’t know a great deal.

This is a bit of a blessing for two reasons:

  • Firstly – you’re likely protected from, or vaguely unaware of, the bad in this world (though sadly, not all children are quite so lucky). You’re hopefully oblivious to the horrors of war, the tragedy of insidious substance abuse and the ridiculousness of Donald Trump being leader of the free world.
  • Secondly – you get to make your own mind up. And you get to make your own connections. The rules aren’t all written in your head. It’s time to get creative.

Sure, your parents, family, friends, school-chums et al can help guide your understanding of Planet Earth, and all its things, great and small. You’ve also got the information super-highway** – where you can search for all of life’s answers and consume ‘content’ til your heart’s content. But despite these epic knowledge support tools and sources, there will be the odd occasion, where you have to make up your own mind.

I asked a lot of questions as a kid. A lot. Almost drove my parents insane. And they (quite rightly) sometimes took the piss, just to shut me up, by providing answers that were, to say the least, light on the truth. Filling my head with, plausible, yet incorrect facts about our lives, the world and the way things are.

To amplify this – I indeed made my own assumptions about certain things. I was a fairly confident little chap – and when there were gaps in my knowledge or blanks on the page, I’d make shit up. I’d connect what I had in my head, with whatever seemed most likely (to a five year-old). And I’d accept it as truth.

The funny thing is, looking back, I truly believe these were some of the most neurologically interesting and cognitively creative thoughts I’ve ever had.

Here are five of the many things that I thought were true, as a kid:

ONE:

Remember VHS? Man, video was awesome. All that tracking adjustment and rewinding. Good times. At the Smith household, we recorded a lot of TV to video. I guess that’s just what you did in those days – for rainy days, before Netflix and VOD. In my tiny, creative mind, I believed that when you recorded something from TV, it could only be played back once. After it had been watched from the recording, that was it. Gone. Up in a puff of smoke and lost forever. This almost broke my heart circa 1989, when we captured Jim Henson’s magical Labyrinth on tape – and I thought I’d only get to see it again once. I got to work; planning how/when would be the best time to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to see Magic Dance once again (and Bowie’s crotch)… Then mum told me I was being stupid, and it was ours to keep/watch as many times as we wanted. Mind. Blown.

TWO:

Here’s another and one I can thank my dad for. “How do I get hairs on my body, like you, Dad”, four-year-old me asks… “Well son, you’ve got to rub a lot of salt on yourself. Then you pour a big glass of water – and put it next to you. Very slowly, all the wee hairs will start to come out, because they’ll be so thirsty, and desperate for a drink. When they do, you’ve got to CATCH THEM – QUICKLY! And tie each one in a knot – so they can’t escape back in again. And that’s how you get lots of hairs on your body.” Once again, mind blown. Though, I never got round to actually trying this (before I found out the truth), because it seemed like a right hassle. “Who needs hairs!?!”, I thought.

THREE:

Seeing black and white photos of my parents when they were wee, or my grandparents and their families really, really threw me. I thought to myself, “Our world and photos are in colour. But looking back, the old world and photos and movies are in black and white… So, there it is. The world must have been in black and white back then. Of course!” I truly believed that one day someone simply worked out how to ‘turn on the colour’, and hey presto! Realising years later that it was technology (and not our physical existence) that was unable to process colour in the olden days blew my mind once again.

FOUR:

In the late 80s there was a monster living in my house. Genuinely. A big, black one – like a mixture between The Wolfman and a Minotaur. And he was absolutely terrifying. I’ve got my parents to thank for this one too – as they planted the seed, and good lord, watered it daily and let it grow. Every kid has his or her monster story – sometimes they live under the bed, or in the closet. Ours dwelled in the attic, and was known affectionately as ‘The Hairy Monster’. What didn’t help things was dad owning a horrible black/hairy Halloween mask – which he took to wearing on the odd occasion and scaring the absolute piss out of us. I also vaguely remember him having a full-blown ‘fight’ in the loft one night, after he convinced us he could go up there and ‘sort the monster out’. This fucking thing literally haunted my dreams. I can still picture him now (exactly what he looked like in my head). Rather than blowing my mind, growing up to realise he didn’t actually exist, let along live in our house, actually gave me the greatest sensation of relief I’ve ever experienced.

FIVE:

As short-lived as this last belief was, the mind-battle I went through wrestling with the truth on this one still lives with me today. At the end of our garden is a big tenement block (flats). One breezy day, as child, I looked up to the top of the building, only to be horrified to see the building moving. Literally, moving. It looked like it was slowly falling towards me. Panicked, I swiftly retired to the house. Only to return later, and experience the same dizzying (and terrifying) sensation. HOW HAD I NOT NOTICED THIS BUILDING FALLING INTO OUR GARDEN BEFORE!?! After a few anxious days, I eventually quizzed my lovely mother about this horrifying situation – to which she replied, “It’s just the clouds blowing in the sky. It’s called an optical illusion.” Tiny little mind, like the clouds in the sky, blown…

I think these are all examples of creativity at its best.

If you boil it down, ‘being creative’ (which everyone on this planet is absolutely capable of, before someone says “but I’m not creative,”) is about making connections between things***. These connections can be obvious, they can be interesting, and they can be complex, or cathartic, thought provoking, or Machiavellian, you name it. As long as you’re connecting one thing to another, you’re effectively ‘being creative’. Mankind is obsessed with connections. Physical or psychological. It’s scientifically proven that they’re one of the ways we make sense of our broad, and somewhat complex, spectrum of human emotion. We look for them in almost everything we do, day in, day out – probably without ever realising that’s what we’re actually doing****.

And so, my mission (and I urge others to try the same) is to regress a little. When you’re facing a challenge (in work, personal life, or with family/friends) – try a little five-year-old YOU logic. Throw away a bit of what you already know, and make some connections – like you might have done as a kid. Before the world got you all wrapped up in its ways, rules and beliefs.

You might just come up with something pretty cool – like a black and white world, a hairy attic monster or buildings that move by their own accord.

🙂

FOOTNOTES:

*One of my favourite Scots words – meaning ‘children or babies’.

**As it was called on News Round in 1994, before people realised that was a shite name.

***I’ve formed this opinion after working in the creative industry for the last 10 years or so. It’s not new, nor mine – Steve Jobs is at least one dude I admire, who talked about creativity in this sense. Some of the most creative peeps I’ve worked and work with, are those that make these connections with ease. Quite often, the obvious ones, that no-body else is quick enough to get. Old-fashioned lateral thinking, dad would say.

****One of the most fascinating ways we do this is actually with people’s faces. Upon meeting someone new, whose face we’ve not seen before, we’ll immediately start flicking through our mind’s eye records of memorised faces to see who’s they’re most like/most closely connected to (whether the logged entry is someone we know personally, or not). That’s just how we’re wired.

[Headline image credit to the awesome Scott Murphy. Check out his incredible work – http://murphyillustration.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/new-magic-minotaur-younghorn.html?m=1%5D

[Growing, growing]… Grown

It’s really funny how little things can inspire you to get off your arse and do something. Not ‘ha ha funny’, rather, the scary but deeply motivational kind of funny that makes feel like all the planets have aligned for a microsecond.

I don’t think I understood or appreciated the true value of art until now. Wait a minute; I’m not talking about paintings and ballet and opera and antiques – that’s still above my head (for now – one can aspire). I’m talking about something unique and beautifully crafted, that’s unleashed on our hypercritical world to be totally absorbed and cherished.

Or massively pied and forgotten about.

In this case, it was a story. Well, a continuation of a story – and a visually compelling/cherish-able one at that, to say the very least. Nae pies here.

I saw Trainspotting 2 the other night. And it made me want to write. Any rhyming there was entirely unintentional, but hopefully adds some kind of melodic significance to the point.

HOLD ON. Before you switch off, at the prospect of reading another rambling (and slightly late to the box office table) ‘home-schooled critic review*’, hear me out:

The movie works magnificently on a number of levels. Bullet-points are probably the best way to articulate this, so I don’t miss anything (and because attention spans are seriously waning** these days):

  • Trainspotting 2 is a sequel. Bear with me. Nine times out of ten, they’re shite. They normally stumble around a nostalgia that reeks of the desperate little brother/sister*** who couldn’t quite match their shining older sibling’s storytelling ability, but tries nonetheless to re-tell the same fable, lacking any of the originality, excitement and poise. Not T2. Wow. Boyle, Welsh, McGregor et al collectively nailed it. In fact, I was more engaged with this one than the first. Trainspotting, the original, shocked and excited me as an awkward 13 year-old lad. But Trainspotting 2 well and truly perma-scorched itself into the back of my retinas in a way that only a scattering of movies have done in my lifetime. YES, they came close to crossing the ‘don’t try it again just for the sake of it’ line with Renton’s rebooted Choose Life monologue – but, surprisingly, rocked the absolute hell out of it second time around. Better and more brutal than the first – and a very perfect dystopian commentary on our ‘connected’ society (whatever the fuck that means).
  • The soundtrack, IMHO, rocked beyond that of the first movie. It cleverly remixes some of the original movie’s tracks (with enough rosy hue to get you excited), but also introduces a number of other, classic and modern pieces that complement the on-screen savagery, beautifully. I hummed and tapped the choons when I got home that night, and bought the soundtrack on iTunes the very next day – mostly so I could dance round the kitchen during my LSB-w/c cook-off (Lorne Sausage Bagel with cheese – seriously, try it). The album purchase wasn’t part of my Apple Music package and set me back a whopping £10.99, but, I didn’t care. I wanted to re-live it all, again and again. My 18-year-old self would be cringing, not just at the dancing, but the fact I’d PAID for music. Who does that!?! I’ll tell you who, 32-year-old me, with a quiet fear for the now way more powerful, yet strangely invisible internet music police, but also out of sheer admiration and gratitude for this awesome aural amalgamation of beats.
  • It’s entirely an Edinburgh story and film. There’s nowt better than seeing your hometown on the big screen. It fills you with pride. Particularly when you’re reminded of its humble grandeur and volcanic beauty (the Arthur’s Seat scene made me beam).
  • It’s a mental rollercoaster; hurling the full spectrum of emotions at you (some I had never before experienced, like ‘angrow’ – a confusing mixture of anger and sorrow – only made-up words can accurately describe Boyle’s drug-taking scenes). I also haven’t laughed out loud in the cinema for years and the Loyalist pub bit made me guffaw. Ironically brilliant, on a number of levels.
  • The visual effects are ace. Particularly in a day and age where CGI is the norm, and quite often done to death. The first film used some nice yet properly horrifying animated pieces (remember the dead baby on the ceiling?) Well, number two does it just as well for me, with the likes of some lovely wee stop-start camera masterpieces that enhance the banging soundtrack and brilliant narrative.

But I guess this could all be considered insignificant, even trivial when you think about how subjective film can (and always should) be. Movies probably move us in profound ways and move us all in profoundly different ways) because they connect with us, and our lives, on a much more personal and subconscious level.

For me the best takeaway wasn’t actually the music, or the effects, or the ‘ride’. Likewise the most message wasn’t really one of drug abuse, friendship, revenge or extortion. It was growing up. Mic drop. It was kinda rites of passage-type stuff. A nostalgic reflection of what was, and what could be. And how they’re deeply intertwined (whether we like it or not).

My childhood movie memories have been constructed with the solid pillars of 80s coming-of-age classics, and their associated anthropologies. Think The Goonies, Stand by Me, and The Lost Boys.

But there’s one big difference – watching those films as you’re growing up isn’t the same as seeing them when you’re grown up. Cue penny-dropping moment.

Seeing Renton, Sick-boy, Spud and Begbie reminisce about the good times and the bad, forced me to do the same. And despite their inevitable, downward-spiralling and melancholy outcomes, it made me feel really good.

Take a pinch of forgotten pride for your city, some nostalgic warmth and mix with a stark, but strangely reassuring reminder that you’ve ‘grown up’ – and you get a great feeling. So great, that I wanted to share this experience.

I think that’s what makes good art. Something that affects you (and alters your perception of things) on a deeper level. Something that makes you do something. Evidently this works both positively and negatively. I wouldn’t shy away from the fact that on occasion, video nasties (as they were called when I was growing up) can encourage those who’ve lost their way on the path to explore, and act on, the much darker and more dangerous sides of our psyche.

But for me, and hopefully others of the same age & breed, this trip down memory lane (mega pun intended) was surely nothing but a good thing.

Thank you, Trainspotting 2. You’ve woken up something inside me. You’ve helped me realise that I’ve grown up, some things have inexorably changed, but that’s totally cool and life’s kinda what you make of it.

🙂

FOOTNOTES:

*One of those incoherent, and mostly self-righteous social media posts, that vaguely critiques some form of art/content, with the writer’s primary agenda being one of ‘I saw this/tried this/did this before you, so check me out’. All hail the trend-setting fountains of knowledge, who ironically (and annoyingly) struggle between your and you’re. Wankers. And this proves that I’m now totally one too. Fuck.

** Apparently, human attention spans (how long something actually locks our true focus for) are now a whole second behind that of the goldfish – our woeful seven seconds plays deputy to their solid eight. For actual real. I blame banner ads. What were we talking about?

***For the record, my brother and sister aren’t desperate. They’re both rather lovely. And can both tell a jolly good story. But I’m still way better… at everything. Including life.

[Headline image credit to Film4]