Everyone has a story they tell when they dine out or meet new people. Mine is about the time I found myself in the lift with all of the members of U2 and was greeted by Elton John.
But that’s for another time.
My brother-in-law Dermot has a story that he used to tell a lot, but these days he will only bring out if you insist. So I tell it here instead, with his kind permission, mainly because it illustrates a reasonable point about creativity but it’s also a pretty good tale in itself.
It happened back when Mullets ruled the hairdressers and band names sounded like the ramblings of an eight month old baby (Kajagoogoo? no? oh please yourselves) and the internet was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-lee’s eye.
Our story starts on a fine spring day in a ski resort somewhere in the Alps when Dermot and two friends, Henric and Mike went off for an afternoon’s skiing. Such a fine day in fact that he decided, as people often do, that a jacket was surplus to requirements.
It was one of those afternoons where the sun reflects off the slopes and turns the whole mountain in to a giant reflector, the sky was a pastel blue and the snow was powdery and perfect. Bliss.
The other two cursed him as they sweated in their jackets and the three friends, all pretty good skiers, decided to take a detour and go ‘off piste’.
It must have been an hour or so later when they realised they had taken a wrong turn, missed a marker or sign and now were completely lost.
It was getting darker, but they carried on down the mountain anyway, thinking they were sure to find a route somewhere.
They chopped through the trees, weaving their way down when they abruptly came to a cliff and all three narrowly avoided going over the edge. That was close, they thought, but things were about to get a lot worse.
By now it was now almost totally dark and now it was getting freezing. They were properly in the shit.
And Dermot only had a sweater on.
They couldn’t risk walking in the dark and going over another ledge, so they reasoned they would have to make a camp there and spend the night on the mountain.
This was before mobile phones, and they hadn’t thought to tell anyone of their plans. Nobody would miss three guys in their twenties who didn’t come home all night.
They tried to make a fire. They had a cigarette lighter, no cigarettes of course, but nothing would burn.
They destroyed their skiis trying to use them as axes on the pine tree branches but no luck.
They would have to survive with no fire and no food.
If only they had some paper!
They dug a hole out of the snow with what was left of their skiis and cuddled up.
Stupidly they tried to sleep, which you shouldn’t do if you are in sub zero temperatures as you can quickly sink in to a coma.
Nevertheless Henric and Mike sandwiched Dermot between them to share body heat.
Dermot usually says at this point ‘I told them that if one of them needed to pee to just do it on me’ because the cold was so intense.
It was a long night, during which they all genuinely thought that they were done for.
As the first light appeared around 4am they were relieved to discover that they were still alive, if a little urine sodden. Slowly they made their way back up the mountain, (in 1980’s ski boots) trying to find a route down.
By 3pm that afternoon they eventually made it back to some kind of civilisation. A town that wasn’t where they were staying but had a taxi that would take them back to their village.
Exhausted, hungry and grateful for their lives they arrived back at their hotel.
Now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with finding a simple obvious answer.
The story would have ended there, a lucky escape and cautionary tale about the perils of mountain conditions. But as they entered the chalet, Henric, nonchalantly produced some money to pay the cab.
He has been sitting on a thick wedge of cash.
Paper that they could have burned to start a fire.
But it never crossed his mind. Money wasn’t paper to him. It was money.
Sometimes the best ideas aren’t that hard to find, you just need to know where to look. You just need to think a bit differently about the familiar. What good creatives are able to do, rather like good comedians, is take the ordinary and twist it in to new shapes and present it back to you in new ways.
So it’s not always about new media, or new techniques.
Sometimes it’s just about looking afresh at something you’ve seen a million times before.
And setting light to it.