Invention and creativity

The humble barb wire fence has come a long way since its inception. On the face of it, there is nothing unusual about its design. The basic premise is two sets of wire rolled together and intertwined, leaving sharp bits exposed. There are obviously inventions that are more complex than that, but perhaps the barb wire fence has an advantage in this because it achieves what it does using very little. And what exactly does it achieve? Well, it keeps out intruders and more importantly demarcates an area of property which is private.

The fence was invented in 1876 by John Gates, who soon earned the nickname “Bet A Million” Gates. He was known not because he was fond of playing the EuroMillions, but because he used to accept wagers on the strength of his fence. He would rustle up Texan longhorns and round them up in the fragile looking fence, and take wagers on whether the animals would be able to break out of the enclosure. The fence went on to breathtaking success. In 1880, a factory in America turned out 32 miles of barbed wire. Six years later, the figure had risen astronomically to 263,000 miles of wire!

John Gates’ moments of inspiration, he would claim, often came when he was not focussed on hard data and clinical tasks, but when his mind was operating at an optimal “hum” – engaged but relaxed at the same time, but beneath the level of consciousness. It is the same as musicians such as piano players – they must manage the scientific data of reading music and deciding what to play, while managing the emotional fine tuning through what they hear. The Piano Teachers N4 website claims that learning the piano will develop the multi-tasking skills and sometimes frees your mind for creative solutions to things you might not have though of. Why not give it a try?

Resolution and Motivation

How do you motivate yourself to do something? For some, it may be the threat of physical punishment. For example, if you don’t do something, you get punished. This form of punishment is very common in schools, where teachers use the threat of detention to coerce students into behaving properly. “If you don’t keep quiet, you are going to spend all the time you have wasted in this lesson staying in during the break time. If you waste twenty minutes of this lesson, I will make you waste twenty minutes of your lunch hour!” Outside of school, of course, adults are withheld pay or privileges if performance falls. Many working adults face being fired if they do not meet targets set by their employers, but that is another story for another day.

What if you wanted to make yourself do something you would normally not? This activity may be something like going for a run, living more healthily, or making some changes for the better. Usually the reward in itself may be enough to justify finding the willpower to do so, such as being more healthy if you could only just kick yourself out the front door to go running. But if that is difficult, giving yourself a reward may also be an option. For example, if you dislike running very much – or any form of sustained physical exercise – going out for a run and then telling yourself you’ve earned the chocolate bar for tomorrow because you’ve burned off the calories may be one way of doing so.

So it is a new year and the time to live positively.

The classical composer Camille Saint-Saens is known as a serious composer, but he seized the opportunity to try something new by writing Carnival of the Animals, a light-hearted piece, on a whimsical new year’s resolution. (Read more about it here from the Piano Lessons Crouch End website.) It turned out to be one of his more famous works!

Let that be your new year motivation!

Hot or Cold? And a musical example

Are you a hot or cold person? Now, if you were posed this question by an associate you might be a little flabbergasted. Perhaps it is the abruptness of the question. It may be interpreted as a slightly personal question, probing into your character, which you may not appreciate because you might not want to be analysed. Perhaps the intent behind the questioning is not certain, and you might be puzzled by what kind of information is being requested from you. After all, the word hot has different connotations. If you were to mention to someone that a third party was hot, you would have to make clear whether you meant you found the person attractive or whether he was having a fiery moment.

Even more possible is the fact that you could simply be asked about your preferences with regards to food or weather. Do you prefer hot or cold food? Do you prefer warmer or colder weather? In both cases, the exact intent was not clear from the onset and hence that was the reason for the confusion.

When we communicate a question or a request, we have to make ourselves concise and clear. Being too brief runs the risk of being misunderstood, while trying to explain ourselves clearly using more words may run the risk of being too waffly and hard to understand. But finding the balance between the two is something that is difficult for most of us, but with experience we learn how to communicate our intent clearly and briefly. Being brief means that there are fewer words for the listener to process, and they can get on with the task of interpreting the meaning.

The classical music composer William Walton was often lauded for his brevity and directness, even if his music was often the opposite of this, seeking to convey emotional meaning through non-verbal means. Perhaps we can all be hot and cold in various senses and different situations, and it is the skill of emotional intelligence to know which to revert to and when!

Seeking control? Try a musical instrument

As human beings, one of our basic personality traits must be certain to be control. How is this so? It can be observed on many levels. We try to control our physical circumstances. We decorate our homes in a way we like and to project a certain image. For example, if you want your home to reflect glamour, you fill it with objects that are perceived to be exclusive and expensive. If you wish for your home to reflect your minimalist lifestyle, then you would reflect this in the design of your physical surroundings as well. The control also extends to other fields such as social relationships. We surround ourselves with people who have similar interests and with whom we can talk to, otherwise it would be hard work to find common ground.

But we can only control a finite number of this around us. It is impossible to regulate everything to suit our liking. What if you are applying for a job? You don’t have control over the work circumstances. You cannot choose who you work with. You may have control over the hours you work (or not) but if you are starting out on a junior level you may find many things you can’t control!

We can deflect from the lack of control in various parts of our life by seeking to establish control in others. For example, if you are dismayed by how the lack of control you experience in your work environment, establish one outside where you are in control. Start by learning the piano or a similar instrument. Balance the lack of control you have at work with the mastery of your instrument. Many people already do this – it is no wonder that people who have routine jobs go home where they are Lionel Messi on the Xbox and PlayStation, or masters of their own social media pages.

Digital jobs and skills

Can you actually make a living from playing video games? This is the question that many people will be trying to answer in the search for digital jobs. People keep telling us generalisms such as “the jobs of the future have not yet been created”, as if it is a magical world yet to be untapped. Yes, technology has opened up some avenues for jobs which did not exist years ago. For example bloggers and video loggers and other similar jobs could not have existed had the technology and the demand for leisure pursuits had not both been met. But it is also important to remember that as with any occupation, those at the top of the pyramid will be the top earners, by virtue of having a head start. They are the ones looked up to by those at the bottom of the pyramid, who will be keen to copy their methods in the hope of replicating their success. But this is only hope and aspiration, because they cannot recreate the market.

Digital jobs were premised as a way of doing what you love as a career, and perhaps attract people who want to go to work in their pyjamas, to the office in the kitchen. But there is so much competition for the purely digital jobs, that those that are largely digital, such as search engine optimisation, website marketing and similar jobs, do not pay well, and many are just subsistence only jobs that offer little remuneration.

It would be a good idea to teach core knowledge alongside life skills. One of the life skills that seem important is awareness of the hype in life (Work from home! Only two hours a week allows you to retire at thirty-five!) and how not to be skewed by these beliefs. We live in a world that is heavily hyped and a lot of false beliefs are marketed, such as those we have encountered earlier. Also it would be a good idea to teach children to have a wide variety of skills, such as core content knowledge, life skills (how to repair household items) and also aesthetic skills such as playing the piano so that they turn out to have more rounded experience. And certainly the idea that we can all make a living playing video games is hype by manufacturers!


Music lessons and single-parenting

What does your society think of single parenting? One can only assume it is largely linked to how your society views things such as divorce and marriage. Less permissive societies may frown on single parents because they do not approve of divorce and hold on to beliefs of marriage being for life. Or they may also frown upon such family structures if they believe that a child has been born out of wedlock as a result of extramarital relations. But single parenting, which seen as taboo, can be good in cases. We would all agree that it would be better for a child to be raised in a stable environment than in a household where there are petty disagreements which degenerate into shouting matches and abuse. But before we happily go for single parenting, let us remind ourselves of the negative points too. Children may have to commute for long periods so that the parents enjoy access. They have to spend different days of the week in different places, and that is not stable. They may have to bear the remarks of those around them, and also wonder why their parents can’t work things out between themselves.

In Japan, a mother noted how being a single parent had an effect on her daughter. Her husband had left since the girl was young and had made no attempt at reconciliation, and the lack of a father figure at home was causing the girls anxiety among her peers and making her withdrawn. Perhaps she felt isolated when she was in the company of peers, because they would have both parents around, talk about their parents, as girls tend to do. The mother decided on taking the unusual step of hiring an actor to pretend to be the long-lost father who had suddenly reappeared on the scene and wanted to make a reconciliation. She noted that the girl’s confidence returned and she became more outgoing, so perhaps it was gamble worth taking.

Single parents may struggle to occupy their children and engage them in activities so it is often good for them to develop interests such as music. Learning the piano is a good idea because not only does it teach skills like co-operation, practise, repetition and drive, but practising at home – you may think this selfish – gives you time away from your child, which may be important for you, and important for them not to have you in their face all the time. The Piano Teacher N15 website suggests fifteen or twenty minutes practice three times a week, more if they are able to cope, so that’s a fair bit of time for your child to learn to become an independent learner!

Doctor, doctor – and why you need a life mentor

Katherine Hough suffered from mysterious pains when she was in her teens and these continued on when she was at University. They ranged from ailments such as stomach pains, but then progressed on to more serious issues like chronic fatigue, joint pain, and even hair falling out before she visited the GP. The diagnosis of the GP was that she had an iron excess in her body, which is due to a faulty gene, and affects around 250,000 in the United Kingdom.

Should she have gone to the GP sooner? This is one of the questions that most of us will debate on a regular basis. When we suffer from ill health, should we go to the doctor immediately, or wait and see if it goes away? No doubt we will have heard of stories of individuals whose health took a marked turn after they were diagnosed late for serious health issues, but put off the initial warning signs as part of life’s niggles. For example, if you suffer from aching pains in joints, and lack of energy, you might just put it down to stresses at work or events in your life, and you might have to tough it out for a little while and hope it goes away. After all, who wants to go to the GP just for a cold, something that you yourself know is best dealt with by rest and paracetamol if necessary? It is a difficult balance to know when exactly one should hold off going to the doctor’s and when to go immediately. Most of us err on the side of caution, and perhaps while it might be seen as being overly precautionary, it might be a good thing to do if you feel unwell, instead of toughing it out and letting a symptom develop into a bigger one.

Perhaps what is needed is someone who you can speak to and who can offer advice. Perhaps someone who has gone through the same anxieties as you have can show you the balance – when to see a doctor, and when it is nothing serious: it is better than you reading a book and trying to diagnose yourself from the symptoms described. It is the same with learning a skill such as playing the piano. Someone who has been there can show you how to navigate the uncertainties, when to persist, when to give up, and counsel you on how you are feeling and if it is normal, and offer inspiration when you are down. As a Piano Teacher in N8 describes, the multiplicity of skills can be disheartening at times. A mentor in life may be the best medicine!

Anchors as useful reference points

If you were asked this off-hand: how many people are there on the planet? What would your estimate be? Seven billion? Eight billion? Chances are that this would have been a piece of general knowledge you are well accustomed with, so the answer would be on the tip of your tongue. But what if you were asked a question you did not know the answer to? Would you fib a response, meaning that you would fudge an answer and try to pass it off as a truth?

I suppose it would really depend on the situation. If your boss asked you if a particular report or piece of work had been finished – and usually the case would have been “no”, or else the boss would have got it already and need not have asked – then would you say “Yes, let me just print it off and bring it to you”, or would you admit, “No, I have still have another bit that I have not finished because last night I preferred to watch Netflix instead of taking my work home with me and working for free for this corporate company”?

We often fudge answers as a form of cover up. Do we really need to cover up? In a work situation, where our image is fairly important – you must be seen to be doing the work and not just be coasting by doing the bare minimum for the most pay, which is what most of us would probably prefer to do – then it is likely these forms of cover up and fudging exist in the work place. It is very much a case of “ready, fire and aim” rather than in a logical sequence. And sometimes the acknowledgement of the cover up is conveniently sidestepped by a half truth, such as “I’m dealing with it.” But the problem with these sorts of explanations is that the half truths catch up with you eventually.

What can we teach our children? We should show them how sometimes the acknowledgement of imperfection is a stage in the growing process. Learning to speak the truth instead of fudging a negative response is better in the long term. It also reflects that the child is doing some mental evaluation of his or her own abilities and strengths. Acknowledging this provides a useful starting point of reference, that forms the basis of future experiences – what is commonly called an anchor. (For more other child related posts particularly with reference to music education, see the Piano Teachers N8 website.)

Having a anchor that is well-defined sets a child off on the correct path in life. Of course, we have to set examples and drop anchors all our life!

Changes in social practices

Do you enjoy shopping? Most of us would probably say that we spend money online and the feeling of purchasing and control gives us an immediate buzz. To the hunter gatherer instincts, it sounds like we have successful ambushed a kill when we use our credit cards to get what we wanted. But online shopping is one thing. What about high street shopping? You know, the one where you actually have to get active and move around, looking for the things you want? It is effortful and perhaps less enjoyable. The amount of time and effort spent trudging along makes it a disagreeable process.

And one of the forms of shopping that many of us are likely to find uninteresting is grocery shopping. Is it because of the repetitive nature of food shopping, that we have to do it so often? After all, familiarity breeds contempt, and our dislike from it may stem from doing it again and again. Or perhaps it is because we find it somewhat soul destroying to decide which multipack of toilet rolls work out cheapest?

And what if supermarkets asked you to pay first before you bought any item, and then refunded you any unused credit? You may think this is a crazy idea, but it is what some fuel service stations at ASDA supermarkets trialled. The rationale was that it would avoid theft, drivers leaving without paying, but the scheme was soon stopped.

Drivers were charged an initial fee to use the pumps, then paid for their purchases, and had to ensure that their initial fee was refunded to them. The reason for this unusual three-step purchase was to make it difficult for fuel theft, where drivers drive onto forecourts, fill up and then disappear without having paid for their fuel.

Fuel theft is on the rise, and investigating these cases takes up a lot of police time, which detracts from the real work of policing.

On the face of it, what it amounts to is paying in advance as a form of guarantee or security. While we may balk at the idea of an advancce payment at a service station, we already do it in other areas. We pay for school activities a term in advance. Most schools such as piano schools charge you a term in fees (although if you were looking for piano lessons in Hornsey N8, this visiting teacher doesn’t). The downpayment ensures they can do the payment for overheads they are likely to purchase in the course of providing these services.

Social media and the public use of phones have become ubiquitous from non-existent two decades ago. Perhaps putting downpayments in advance may be a social practice of the future.


Have you heard of the latest term to take the social world by storm? The most trending word in the Twittersphere is “manspreading”, referring to the commonly seen action of a man sat down and opening his legs wide open, as well as opening up the upper half of his body by pushing the elbows out and resting on the armrests on both sides. Now it is pretty clear from public transport that armrests are not actually for the purpose of putting your arms on; otherwise there would be two side by side. They are actually there simply to mark out the space between commuters, so a person who puts his elbows out on one is actually already crossing an unmentioned social line.

Manspreading is a common occurrence on many daily commutes but it begs the reason why people do it? It probably stems from insecurity. A person who worries about being encroached upon decides to take up more space so that there is some left when another person comes to claw back the remaining fifty percent of the armrest. Some also speculate that it is a sign of cocky confidence, to sit like a slouched king. Some people point to supposed medical reasons – it prevents the male testes from overheating and lowering sperm count. Whatever the reason, it appears that people just simply want more of what they need.

What can you do if you are a victim of manspreading? When someone sits in the seat next to you and opens out wide? Most of us are too polite to make a remark, which is why people go out and do it in the first place. And commenting on a person’s body, especially if the person is fat, seems like bullying. If you are victim, you can do this – as you get up at your stop to leave, deliberately swing your bag into what is really your entitled social space. Give the offender a whack. And don’t apologise for it. After all, he’s in your space.

Sometimes people go out of their way to be deliberately rude. The Classical composer Johannes Brahms seemed to make it a point of being rude and curt to others in his later years (you can read more about this in the N8 Piano Teachers website, and he was even said to be a cat-slayer!

What is the useful lesson we can take from these and impart to our children? It may well be to show consideration to others in a world that is increasingly so(cial) me(dia).