Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Collections 11 - Yowies

This collection has recently come down from the loft.

A few years ago, Cadbury's produced a line of chocolate eggs, each containing a collectable plastic animal. They were called Yowie - the name of the Australian Yeti who, according to folklore, is a protector of the environment. This would fit, as the collectable animals - 100 in total - were all endangered species.

I can't remember how we started collecting Yowies. Quite possibly, Jane thought there wasn't much chocolate in the eggs so bought them as an occasional treat for the boys. Or perhaps my parents in law started buying them; or maybe it was me. Whatever, we soon had a dozen or so little plastic animals; a while later we had a few more, then a few more... Kid's collectables tend to start casually, then before you know it you've craze on your hands

Except there never was a craze for Yowies.

Despite Cadbury's best efforts, endangered animals were never going to be as cool as Pokemon. They were expensive too, and few retailers stocked them - of those that did, the chocolate often had that too old taste, so after a while, the boys only wanted the figures. Making matters worse, none of their friends were interested, so there wasn't an opportunity for swaps.

But the nagging continued, in the way that only small children can muster - in the sure and certain hope that the next egg would reveal a rare possum or some other endangered creature I'd have to look up.

Faced with this mismatch between supply and demand I realised there were only two options. I could buy all the stock in our neighbourhood and hope it was enough to complete the collection. Or alternatively, I could look on the internet for other collectors.

It turned out there were many. Indeed, Yowies were only a small part of a wider genre of ephemera, including Kinder Eggs, McDonald's toys and Smartie tops. There were websites devoted to these things - as well as collector's clubs, swap lists and even learned articles on their history.

At first, it struck me as odd that people could be so passionate about plastic toys. But I quickly realised that in the world of ephemera Yowies are very much at top of the food chain. There were forums for collectors of bus tickets, money-off coupons, dry cleaning vouchers, shopping lists... I suppose, why not? It's no dafter than stamp collecting, or wine collecting for that matter. You might argue that it creates a social record. But I digress.

In the event, the Yowie collectors were almost competing to help me. In less than two weeks I had a full set - though not including the Australian editions, or the first series, or the one off Christmas special... Having spent way too much on my first twenty animals I acquired the remaining eighty figures for a packet of stamps.

In one sense, it was a pointless exercise, because within weeks the boys had moved onto another craze and the animal figures lay untouched in a box. I ought to have known; it was the excitement of opening the eggs which mattered most. On the other hand, acquiring this little collection did have a more lasting and positive legacy.

Collecting Yowies was my first experience of internet forums. And despite the shock headlines of stalkers and spammers it was abundantly clear that the vast majority of people on these websites (including anorak wearing Yowie collectors) were normal, genuine people. And this experience has coloured my attitude to the internet ever since - sure there are some nutters out there, but they are rare and most times (with a little common sense) they are not truly threatening.

Our collection of Yowies was recently rediscovered by Dylan. I was pleased, because his interest in the animal kingdom to date has not been extensive. So I brought them downstairs, made a cardboard zoo, carefully arranged the various endangered animals...

'Which do you like best?' I asked.

'All of them,' he grinned... 'Because now my trains have something to bash into!'

Never mind - they were always endangered species.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Something brewing

Goodwick / Fishguard Harbour

A few years ago I attended a course tutored by the poet David Constantine. Describing the way he writes, he said his poems emerged in short episodes - what he called 'periods of ability.' He had perhaps two or three of these creative phases each year.

I work in a similar way. And a sure sign that ideas are coming to a head is when I start making lists, finishing half read books, eliminating all the little tasks that might distract me. Jane knows the symptoms; she describes it as 'having my job head on.'

I used to think this was something I did out of diligence, but more recently I've realised it's integral to the way I create. For all the while I'm tidying and sorting the physical stuff, I'm doing something similar in my subconscious - clearing a space and positioning my thoughts within it.

This is not a space to think up ideas; those will have been forming for months, sometimes years. The painter Terry Frost said that some of his paintings took twenty five years from the time of 'seeing' to making an image. I can relate to that. Perhaps this metaphorical space I've been talking about is my way of shortening the process - helping me take what I've 'noticed' and bring it into being more quickly.

The odd thing is that until I start I have no idea what form my writing will take. I begin, at a conscious level at least, with no more than a vague notion. And yet as the work emerges I have a sense that I knew it was going to be like that all along. None of this troubles me; my only problem is choosing the right time to start. Often that seems to emerge as well.

Earlier this week I noticed Google had launched a version of its Chrome browser for the Apple Mac. I immediately downloaded the file and transferred my settings - and as I did so I was washed over by a feeling of , aghhh, that's better. The reason? Chrome reduces all the buttons and toolbars to the minimum, giving you space to see and do. It is lightening fast too.

Then yesterday I sorted my diary, blocking out whole swathes with the instruction 'no appointments - keep free'. Home life got a similar treatment over the New Year - I've already decided what I'm focusing on for the next few months.

It's no coincidence that after I'd downloaded Chrome I removed the feed-reader and other gadgets from my home page. Then I rattled off some emails, sorted out the bank account, and began clearing the drawers of my desk...

I'm about to start writing more seriously. You'll see and hear less of me for a while. But in return I'll post some of what I produce on the blog. My starting point is 'starlings' - that's all I know for now.

But I have it all in my head - I just need the space to get it down

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year - Same Old Me

If you didn't know already - this is me.

I learned today that I'm a highly creative thruster organiser! Or at least that's what the latest psychometric tests say, as explained by the workplace psychologist who spent two hours dissecting my results.

He said I have a highly unusual set of preferences - a creative thinker with a passion to get things done; an influencer who prefers working alone, a strategist who is happy to be grounded by what is practical. And evidently this is a very different profile to my colleagues and the organisation in general; so much so that I'm considered a maverick.

But I'm not to worry, because it is my 'split personality' which explains how I hold down such an eclectic mix of responsibilities! I am both Company Secretary with Head of PR - not a typical combination I'd admit. And my difference is appreciated and valued - so it seems that somebody loves me after all.

I'm not negative about psychometric testing - it's a useful tool and the intellectual side of me is intrigued. Nor would I question the results; when the psychiatrist asked me to guess my profile I was just about spot on. And frankly, I like being a bit of an oddball - seeing the world differently is part of my personality: if I tried to conform, I'd surely fail.

But actually, I knew most of this already. Throughout my career I've done similar tests with comparable results, and I suppose as we get older we know ourselves better. In my case, as the years pass I'm increasingly comfortable about who I am and what I'd like to be. This seems to me to be one of the joys of getting older - and I'm lucky to have a job that fits.

None of this should be taken as complacency. Every January I set myself goals; pleasures to look forward to, rather than vices to give up. I used to write them on a beermat, now I use the computer but the list is as long as ever. If past experience is a guide I'll tick about two thirds, fail spectacularly on the remainder and compensate with some unexpected alternatives.

So if writing down goals confirms my thrusting/organising side, what of the creative and thinking bit?

You judge for yourself - here is this year's list.

Learn to play the banjo (an unexpected Christmas present)
Read at least 20 good books
Complete my creative writing degree
Go walking in Austria or France (preferably both)
Go camping with family and friends at least 6 times in the summer
Complete the Pembroke Coast Path and walk some more of the Pennine Way
Go to the theatre - something I've not done for years
Visit one place in the UK that is entirely 'new' to me - Tintagel perhaps?
Write at least 52 blog posts - one a week
Complete the renovation of my house in Wales
Travel on the Swansea / Shrewsbury railway with Dylan
Be a little more sociable - only a little mind you!

What do you think? Did they get my profile right?

Looking at the list I'm reminded of something my mum said to me when I was a child. 'There are three things I'd love to master: to type, to speak a foreign language and to play an instrument.'

So why don't you? I thought.

Forty years later, I feel much the same.