Those Crafty Pixies

So, I’ve just opened my wallet and bought some random items I liked, among them coloured paper, ribbon, a wee frame and my favourite item of all, Cosmic Shimmer Pixie Powder. No, I have no idea what it does, either, but it sounds brilliant! I am hoping it can actually conjure up pixies. Oh, I’ve just noticed something about seeking medical advice on the back of the bottle. Oops.

This report comes to you from a first-time visitor to the Ally Pally Crafting Fair.

The splendid Alexandra Palace was built in 1873 as a place of entertainment for the masses – that would be you and me, friends. Handily, this member of that happy band lives but a fifteen minute walk to the palace door and, so this Sunday found me there, eager to get to grips with crafting.

I had no idea what to expect, and was there more in the capacity of Squatting Toad’s chief researcher, than as an active participant, but I am keen to try out something crafty, and to learn whether I really am as devoid of skill or talent as was assumed at school. I was really quite bad at art and sewing and the like, but I suspect that I hammed it up a bit. Better to be really terrible and joke about it, than merely a bit less than mediocre. Just a theory, from more than thirty years’ distance, anyway.

In the Great Hall of Ally Pally, I felt as out of my depth as I have done at the Vintage Car Show that used to be an annual pilgrimage (don’t ask). Since I couldn’t identify many of the items on sale, I didn’t really come away with a sense of what I’d like to do. I mean, I could just draw on some paper with glue and scatter some glitter on it, especially with pick and mix glitter going for £1 a bag.

How I wished my chum, Emma of emmalucymakes, had been with me. I’m hoping she can advise soon on what to do with my random haul and I may even post up the results at some stage. Watch out for the pixies.

Yes, I was out of my comfort zone and no, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but the whole thing made me smile (especially the battle at the ‘everything for one pound’ stall), and, yes, I am going to get creative and crafty. If the result is pretty rubbish, I guess I’ll just laugh about like I did when I was thirteen.

I hope you’re all having a creative weekend. More on this crafting lark in a future podcast.





Do you have a Secret Self?

Turns out I have five, although Emma only has three. I hope she doesn’t mind you knowing that. One of mine would like a table at the Ivy without booking. How is that creative?

Look, once you set your imagination rolling with an exercise like ‘What’s your secret self?’, of course you’re creating. Telling lies is creative, you know.

And so it was, that on a very cold Monday evening, a group of us sat down at the first Squatting Toad Creative Networking Evening to a) talk about our creative endeavours and b) get our creative juices flowing in exercises lead by the wonderful Tania Hummel of Thrive.

If you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ll recognise Tania’s name. We interviewed her a while ago for thoughts on creativity and on balancing your life. Catch it again here. She was the perfect leader for what I wanted us to achieve that night. It was all about removing barriers. Some of the questions she threw at us, we had to answer really quickly, without thinking. As she said, once you let your logical brain take over, it’s likely to find a reason why you can’t.

Some of the more personal questions were difficult. Who wants to remember why their parents thought their creative ambitions were pointless? But the answers reveal a lot about our own anxieties.

Don’t worry, the evening wasn’t too heavy. We ate a lot of chips and put the world to rights in our own way, and we made new friends too. Creating can be a lonely endeavour, and, although my online friends and followers are really important, it’s joyous to spend time with like-minded folk in the upstairs room of a London pub.

So, come join us next time. I guarantee it will be fun and enlightening.

Oh, and those secret selves? Well, we all had to come up with five, and it’s then that you realise how many personae you don for different situations. So, if fear and anxiety are holding you back, maybe don the most confident one when you create. Tania didn’t say we couldn’t mix them up.

On a personal and ‘isn’t it a small world?’ note, one of our number, Cynthia, is a performance poet. As soon as she said this, a lightbulb came on. Battersea Arts Centre, Christmas 2006. I can see her on the stage now. ‘Were you there?’, she asked. ‘I was the MC’. Seems I made less of an impression than she did! We both came away from the evening with a desire to perform again, so watch this space!

Until then, keep creating and watch out for your secret selves. Why not give them names and a full wardrobe of clothes.







Networking, but Socially

Disclaimer alert, friends. This isn’t, I promise, an extended advert for the event mentioned at the end of this post. (But, if you’re in London on March 7th, do come and join us.) What I wanted to do was merely reveal some of my thought processes. Creativity unmasked, if you will.

I came to the idea of doing a podcast by asking myself two questions. What am I good at? What would I like to be doing? The answer to the first is ‘talking’, so question two more or less answered itself. In truth, I think I missed my calling to be a radio presenter, but the great thing about our digital age is that I can make that happen for myself. Of course, ‘What am I good at?’ didn’t encompass technical skills, such as editing, but I was open to learning and am still working to improve on what I have learnt in a relatively short space of time.

So, now that I’m up and running, and have written some blogs and made some episodes, I need to reach people. The obvious method is through the array of social media that abound these days. I’ve been posting on Facebook and have become a complete Twitter convert. I think it’s the shortness of it; 140 characters and no punctuation, what’s not to like? But, fun as it is, there’s something missing. So, I asked myself again, what am I good at? What is the best way I can promote myself? Well, duh, face to face, that’s how.

It can’t be just me that thinks all this ‘social’ networking can be anything but. Meeting people, talking and, crucially, listening, has still got to be the best way to promote what you do, especially if what you do best is – YOU! I find once I take myself out of the equation, and stare at a screen, aching for just one extra Twitter follower, I am in danger of ploughing a lonely furrow. I love the immediacy of the online connections, but, when someone gives me a ‘like’, I want to hear about them. It’s a bit like starting an interesting conversation at a bus stop, just as the other person’s bus arrives….and they’re gone.

So, I’m trying to get out and about. I’ve already written about Spark London’s Storytelling evening last month, and I’ll go to one of those again soon. I was at a music open mic night on Sunday, and there might well be an upcoming podcast on that. Who can say? I’m off to a huge craft fair in April. I’m hoping to take EmmaLucyMakes with me. Someone to talk to, and someone who knows what the heck we’re looking at. Crochet, anyone.

As creators, of course, we need time alone to create, but we also need to get out and talk to people. Anyone who’s sold their crafts at local fairs will tell you that. Maybe what you’ll hear from your customers, or potential customers (we are all customers, in the same way as we all have something to sell), is not what you expected, or even wanted to hear, but it’s best that you hear it. Online connections are great, and I truly value mine, but I need to be out in the world.

My next step was obvious. A networking evening. I can’t wait. I can talk about what I’ve been doing and hope people are interested, as well as hear about what they’re up to. We’ll all learn something and, I hope, have some fun. That what’s I call truly social networking. Come and join us. It’s Monday March 7th in a historic pub in London, W1. More below.


Let’s show the world we can really network, and be truly social.



Creative Commuting.

Hello again.

If you’ve listened to the second episode of the podcast, you’ll have heard crafter, Emma McArthur, talk about how she used her morning bus ride to work to think about her creative work. Well, I have a bus ride to work. I have stuff I want to create. I could do that. So, I thought I’d try it this week, just for a week. See how it goes.

In truth, the daily commute is a bit of a chore for me, because I can’t read or write on a bus without feeling sick and dizzy. I can’t wear headphones, as they give me a splitting headache. So, the journey is often spent getting forensic over the working day, or fretting about things that really don’t matter that much but which grow to epic proportions when stuck on the top deck of a London bus. There’s nothing like a long bus journey for some unhealthy introspection, except maybe a long walk.

Here’s my first (and only) piece of advice to today’s readers. If you set yourself a time-based goal, with the hope of achieving something concrete by the end of it, don’t forget to start it. Yes, seriously, I blinking well forgot this morning, didn’t I? Monday mornings don’t often start with a bang, but forgetting was pretty unforgiveable.

I’d had it all planned out so neatly. Next to the stop where I end my journey is a bench. I would sit on that bench and quickly jot down all the creative ideas that were forming in my head before a short walk to the office. Given that I can’t write whilst travelling, due to the aforementioned nausea, a speedy recording of any gems seemed to be called for.

But I clean forgot. So I did have to question my commitment, but I really am going to try. Tomorrow I fly to Portugal for work, and I think that counts as a commute. The one vehicle I can happily read and write on is a plane, unless it’s very turbulent. If it is, creative gems won’t be high on my list anyway. Fear will nudge them aside. Assuming a smooth passage, I shall try to focus.

Let’s catch up here again soon. And I will fill you in on my progress. I can’t promise to share all my ideas, just in case they get stolen by the unscrupulous. That’s not you, my friends, but the online world is a devilish place.

Happy commuting yourselves until next time.

All best



Episode Two of Squatting Toad – Emma McArthur

Here it is, Episode Two. So now, Squatting Toad is officially a series.I really hope you enjoy this interview with Emma McArthur of emmalucymakes.

As I’ve said before, I love what Emma does and wish I had the patience and staying power to create like that. If you’ve previous posts, you will know I do love a  good displacement activity (or even a bad one!).

I was really struck, though, by Emma’s description of the creative colleagues she’s met in her life in publishing and bookselling. Bookshops and publishers are natural homes for people who do interesting, creative things in their free time. Last year, I met a lovely bookseller in Switzerland who was passionate about her sideline as a make-up artist. One day, she hoped for it not to be a sideline, but, in the meantime, was enjoying her days surrounded by books and her spare time brining joy to people on their wedding days or other special occasions. Her passion was infectious and meeting people like her made me want to start this project.

I hope we’ll hear more from Emma as we progress. And, Emma, some Squatting Toad bunting perhaps?

In the meantime, if all this creativity and mindfulness is too much for you, there’s always displacement. Showjumping Swedish rabbits anyone??

The ‘Lament’ of the Stressed Out Worker

‘If only I wasn’t so stressed, I could be so happy.’ Sound familiar? Even when you count your blessings, there’s always a ‘but..’.

I try a lot of things to de-stress, but there’s little that has the power of music. As I settled down to write this, my background listening was the old Scottish folk song ‘MacCrimmon’s Lament’. Truly beautiful. A little mournful, perhaps, as MacCrimmon died in the Jacobite uprising. If I have one regret in life, it’s that I can’t play a musical instrument. I have a gut feeling I’d be quite good, but play more with my heart than my head. Technical prowess would be forgotten in the moment, a bit like when I was ballroom dancing as a child. All pouting features and wavy arms but no footwork. So I listen, I consume.

For the podcast, I interviewed a friend of mine last week. She holds down a full-time job, but spends hours of each day crafting and making. She was very clear that it relieved stress and made her happy. No mere consumer, Emma. You can see and even buy some of her work here:

How do we create the virtuous circle that makes us happy enough not to be stressed, so we can do the things that make us happy?  We’ve just got to push through and make those changes. Right now, apart from being busy getting the podcast ready, I am really working on making life changes. And that in itself can be stressful, but with the potential for great rewards.

Do read fellow blogger, Patti Clark’s, latest post:

Of course we know that being happy is good for you, but the research quoted here shows just how detrimental unhappiness can be.  Now I’m stressed thinking about that! No, seriously, it’s really inspiring.

So, what can we do? Consuming culture is a good place to start. Music lifts the soul. Art can do that too. Even a good bit of telly. But Squatting Toad is about being creative, so let’s create. You’ll hear more from Emma in a podcast soon. But let me know what you’re up to, what’s taking the stress away, and what’s making you happy.

In the meantime, a couple of tunes for you. The aforementioned MacCrimmon’s Lament

And one that really does lift my spirit

Enjoy and stay happy and creative.