Tag Archives: baking

The Polymath Problem

Image

Hello and happy Tuesday, lovely reader!

This morning I met up with an old friend from university.  We don’t get to see each other often enough, so inevitably our coffee mornings consist of work updates, living situation discussions, frank bemusement at the behaviour of men and excessive giggling.

Sometimes (not always), we get around to discussing our mutual passion: the arts.  This friend of mine has a lifelong passion for the arts in all its forms: she is a wonderful baker of lovely cakes, she dances, makes amazing craft stuff and is, of course, a fellow Drama graduate.  She co-runs a charity called Ingeenium which does beautiful and inspiring work with vulnerable people, she is a nanny and she currently works for the government in a top-secret, slightly scary capacity.  Oh, and she’s also studying for her PhD.  Superwoman?  I think so, but I’ve never seen her wear a cape, so it’s hard to tell.  The posh term for this friend of mine is a polymath, which sounds like something out of Red Dwarf, but is actually a real thing.  I like that word, don’t you?

This morning she and I were discussing the problem with being a polymath, although the terms we actually couched it in were more along the lines of “What are we actually DOING with our lives?”  The answer is, currently at least, loads of stuff: we are both trying to pursue careers which support as financially as well as challenge and inspire us, we feel very strongly about a lot of things but are not sure what exactly to do about them, and on top of everything the spectre of George Osborne looms menacingly, reminding us that whatever we choose to do, we will still never be able to afford a mortgage.  Do shut up, George, there’s a dear.

My friend was saying that she wishes she could just have one job and pursue one goal, but I had two concerns about this:

1) Sure, it would be amazing to know from an early age exactly what you want to do with your life, but what happens if that dream fails?  What if your one ambition in life is to become a footballer, and you contract Motor Neurone Disease?  What happens if an aspiring doctor fails their exams?  How does a person recover from the abolition of a life-long dream?

2) Pursuing more than one ambition is not only practical in terms of personal investment; it’s a really, really good idea.  Being good at lots of things is something to be proud of, and caring about lots of things makes you a more rounded human being.  Working in several domains can actually improve your skills in certain areas: having acted (a bit), I consider myself to be a more empathetic director.  Besides, there are many awesome people who can be referred to as polymaths.

Here are a few examples:

1) Mark Watson

An excellent stand-up comedian, Mark Watson has also written some brilliant books.  His writing style is engaging, unbelievably touching in some places and (predictably) very funny.  The stories are completely unique, but the characters are very true to life (terrible phrase, that, but it’s the best I can think of).  His books are novels with little or no relation to his comedy career, so much so that it took me quite a while to twig that the author of some of my favourite books was the same person I’d seen on Mock the Week.

2) Kenneth Branagh

The man can act and direct simultaneously.  I have no idea how he does it (especially given that I can barely walk and talk at the same time), but his adaptations of Shakespearean plays into films are intelligent, moving and spectacularly performed.  Since acting and directing technically fall under the same sector I suppose he’s not technically a polymath, but I think he should get bonus points for being able to realise his artistic vision (ANOTHER terrible phrase – sorry, I’ve no idea what’s happened to my cliché filter today!) within two separate roles.

3) Laura Lexx

Another friend of mine from uni, Laura is excellent at pretty much everything she puts her mind to.  It’s mildly sickening.  A formidable academic success, Laura is also an excellent writer (of blogs, plays and more), an hysterically funny stand-up comedian, a queen bee of baking and “one of those” actors.  By “one of those”, I mean those people that you see on stage and wonder how on earth other performers can bear to compete.  She’s also a very lovely person with an excellent impersonation of a dinosaur in her repertoire.

4) Hannah Barnett

Yet another superwoman that I am lucky enough to be friends with, Hannah is *deep breath* a producer, actress, stage manager, unbelievably talented guitarist and singer with the voice of a particularly well-behaved angel.  Hannah is simultaneously the most organised and most easily distracted person I know.  That takes a lot of skill.  Why do I surround myself with these sickeningly talented people?  Oh, yeah – because they’re awesome.

5) Josh Widdicombe

Putting aside the fact that I love Josh Widdicombe quite a lot anyway, he is a brilliant example of why it’s good to have many talents.  Well-known as a stand-up comedian, he is also a talented DJ who hosts a weekly show on Xfm, which he uses as a platform to promote his friends and colleagues in the comedy world.  I am a massive fan of “paying it forward”, i.e. using your experience and opportunities to help others in similar situations.  (One of my favourite things about my university year group is that even now, we still tell each other when we see jobs or opportunities on IdeasTap that we think others in the group would be interested in.)  Josh Widdicombe is substantially more successful than any of my lot are right now, but he still uses his multiple roles to help out his mates.  I think that’s brilliant.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other examples of polymaths around, including national treasures like Stephen Fry and Michael Palin, and they are all to be congratulated on their ability to pursue many dreams.  It’s wonderful to have a passion in life, but I think that being good at and enjoying several activities is a more realistic and open-minded way to live.

By the way, actors turned models and anyone turned reality television “star” (please read enormous sarcasm into the speech marks around the word star, there), do not count.  Being pretty, greedy for money or desperate for attention cannot in any way be classed as a skill.  That’s just sad, and those people need a hug/slap/stern talking to.

Have a glorious afternoon!

Stuff I’m Definitely Going to Teach My Kids

Hello, reader!  I hope you know that by getting this far on a Monday you are a champion.  Mondays are rubbish, and you are clearly owning this one already.  Good for you.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about stuff we the mid-twenties team are too old to do now, and my house mate Ash wrote a brilliant response about stuff she knows she shouldn’t do, but still does: take a look at it here.  Ash and I both have birthdays around the corner, which could explain why we have ageing and childhood on our minds.  As Ash points out in her blog post, when you’re younger your birthdays are milestones of opportunity – you can drive now, you can drink now, you can drink in America now – but as the milestones go by you start to look back and see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do anymore.

It might seem a bit rich for two girls in their mid-twenties to make grand, tragic statements about the perils of ageing, so my apologies to anyone who thinks that we’re drama queens.  I can only defend us by saying that a) we are so recently past the last “good” milestone that we are still adjusting to the idea of birthdays being bad, and b) we are drama queens.  We have our own tiaras and everything.

Today I have decided to take a more positive approach about this loss-of-childhood thing: I have thought about what kind of childhood I will want my kids to have, and what kind of lessons I most want them to learn.

1) How to Bake
My mum is wonderful for many reasons, but I think one of my favourite things about her is that she taught us all how to bake.  I can whip up a sponge cake in half an hour (including cooking time.  That’s right.  Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me) because many years ago my mum took the time to show me, and to have fun with her daughter as well as teach her a great life skill.  Baking is one of the few loopholes that allows grown-ups to behave like kids: you can make a mess, you can make incredibly unhealthy but yummy food, and you can decorate the crap out of said food with glitter and icing.
Baking also results in being able to feed people nice things.  It’s probably the Irish genes coming through, but I love making people birthday cakes, biscuits and what have you.  Ash (who is, if anything, even more obsessed with baking than I am) would agree with me that one of the greatest joys in life is giving people cake.  Such a simple activity results in so much joy.  I want my children to have fun learning to bake, and to spend the rest of their lives using that skill to make themselves and other people happy.

2) Creativity is a Super Power
Speaking of my mum and baking, I have to take this opportunity to say that the woman makes INCREDIBLE cakes.  Kids’ cakes, wedding cakes, beautiful cupcakes arranged in a weird tower thingy: you name it, she can do it.  Look at these:600133_10151800790980083_1127455735_n photo (5)646_112469255082_353_n

The woman made a DINOSAUR CAKE, for crying out loud.  That is the closest thing to a super power that anyone could have, in my opinion.  She passed her amazing artistic abilities down to us in varying degrees, but the most active artist among us is my brother, who paints stuff like this:

tumblr_mls5ov6evs1sp3c9ko3_1280 tumblr_mls5ov6evs1sp3c9ko1_1280get-attachment

 

It makes me sick that he can paint so well, and I can’t even draw stick people.  These are just two examples of the kind of creativity that makes my jaw drop, but my life is full of people who excel at singing, acting, writing, dancing and all manner of other things.  I want my children to understand that having a creative outlet is a wonderful thing that allows you to process all kinds of thoughts, emotions and impulses, and that creativity in others is something to love and respect.  Which leads me neatly onto my next lesson…

3) Respect
This is a big one, and it covers all sorts of things.  If I ever have a daughter, I want her to respect herself.  I want her to ignore global media’s insistence that women are supposed to be as thin, tall and beautiful as possible.  If I have a son, I want him to respect himself too.  I want him to shun masculine stereotypes and just be himself, not what society tells him to be.  I want my kids to respect their family, their friends and their colleagues.  I hope that my children will understand from an early age that it is not acceptable to take their stress out on other people, and that every person they meet deserves to be spoken to politely and listened to attentively.  They will say “please” and “thank you”, they will not judge others based on race, religion, sexual preference or appearance, and I’ll be damned if they ever do the unthinkable and jump a queue.

4) Learning is for Life, not just for Christmas
My family is full of people who learn like it’s going out of fashion.  As far as I’m concerned, my maternal grandfather knew everything there was to know, and he instilled a passion in me for knowledge and understanding.  Similarly, I have absolutely no idea how my dad’s head can contain all of the information that it does, or how he has had the time to acquire so much knowledge.  My eldest sister is passionate about travel, and she loves exploring far-away places and learning about their cultures.  This also ties in with my genetic predisposition to read everything I can, which I sincerely hope my children inherit.  Life is a long and fascinating process of discovery, and I want my kids to love learning.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but wanting to understand the world we live in is a wonderful trait, and I prefer dogs to cats anyway.

5) Passion
If my genes are anything to go by, my children will be stubborn, impulsive and in all likelihood addicted to coffee by the time they’re sixteen.  They will probably be very sociable and prone to excessive sarcasm.  That’s all fine.  They will also, I hope, have dreams and ambitions.  I want them to have the commitment and energy to pursue their passions, and to encourage others to do the same.  I also want them to love people whole-heartedly, and to avoid the commitment-phobic, “we don’t want to put a label on it”, casual relationships that dominate my generation.  I don’t know how things will have changed in the dating world by the time my kids are of age to fancy people, but if they have the self-respect and ability to love that I want them to, then they will know better than to accept sub-standard relationships and undefined entanglements.  If that fails, then hopefully the future father of my children will have a shovel at the ready to discourage would-be unsuitable suitors.

There are loads of other little bits and pieces that I want to teach my children, such as how to ride a bicycle and where babies come from, but these five lessons represent my future parenting priorities.  I also realise that this blog has essentially been a vehicle for me to extol the virtues of my lovely family, but I don’t think that’s surprising given that they are the people who shaped my childhood.  I owe them a lot, and I can’t wait for my future children to meet them.

Have a cracking Monday!

Anti-Bucket List

Hello lovely readers. Hope you’re all enjoying your Thursday so far.

As those of you who’ve read yesterday’s entry will know, fear has been on my mind recently.  Today I’ve been thinking more specifically about fear as an obstruction: what (if anything) are you too afraid to do?  What are the things that you could be persuaded to do under the right circumstances, and the things that you will never ever do, really, stop asking, seriously, it’s not going to happen?

There are all sorts of reasons not to do something; fear is just one example.  There are things that we know we’ll never do because the right time has passed, or because it won’t ever come.  Money, geography, domestic commitments, embarrassment, sheer disdain and laziness are a few other examples of reasons not to do something.  With those in mind, here are my Top 5 Things I Will Never Do:

1) Go skydiving

I’m a wuss, I know.  The silly thing is that I’m sure once I was falling from the sky (aaaaaaaah) the experience would be incredible, but it’s the build up to the jump that I know I wouldn’t be able to handle.  The same thing applies to bungee-jumping, white water rafting, etc.  A friend of mine went to a university where they had a skydiving society (yes, really.  It makes the winter sports society from my university look like a chess club), and he absolutely loved going skydiving on a regular basis.  I have very clear memories of standing open-mouthed and horrified, phone glued to my ear as he gleefully described his most recent jump.  He also spent a lot of time explaining in great detail how safe the whole thing was, but I remain to this day mildly terrified that he did it and utterly convinced that I never will.

2) Learn how to boil an egg

This isn’t a fear issue; this is basic incompetence on my part.  There will be friends and family members of mine reading this one thinking, “But I’m SURE I’ve taught Vicki how to boil an egg at LEAST once!” You are all absolutely correct.  I have been patiently and kindly taught by all of you how to boil an egg.  Thank you for your efforts; you have all failed.  I have a bizarre mental block about boiling eggs.  I can make Sunday roasts for a dozen people, or whip up luxury chocolate puddings at a moment’s notice; I can make a birthday cake with my eyes closed and my cheesy leek bake is second to none, but for some strange reason, the mystical art of egg-boiling eludes me.  It’s a good thing I prefer omelettes.

3) Compete in the Olympics

This one will not come as a surprise to anyone, but unless “Speed Coffee Consumption” or “Most Accurate Gavin and Stacey Quotation” becomes a recognised sport, I will never be involved in this most glorious competitive tradition.  Ah well.

4) Understand physics

OH MY GOD IT’S SO BORING AND I DON’T CARE.  I have a mild interest in the more complex workings of chemistry, biology, astronomy and other branches of science, but physics to me is just the most monotonous aspects of existence made difficult to understand. Boring AND difficult?  Ain’t nobody, as a wise woman once said, got time for that.

5) Play drinking games

At the grand old age of nearly 25, I am definitely too old to play Spin the Bottle, Ring of Fire or Never Ever Have I Ever.  (Let’s not even think about this neknomination nonsense; it’s not worth commenting on.)  During my first year at university, my house mates and I unanimously decided to ban sambuca from our house after a particularly gruelling session of Gas Chambers; if you don’t know what that game is, I’m not telling you.  It’s a hangover in a glass, and the world just doesn’t need it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a pint and a natter.  On several occasions I have been known to enjoy several pints and an increasingly nonsensical natter; but drinking games are the playing field of younger, brighter-eyed and less inhibited people than I.  That ship has, thank heavens, definitely sailed.

In a way, it’s encouraging to think that of the five things I am most adamant about never doing, only one of them is down to fear.  True, ignorance and stubbornness are among the other reasons, but still.  It feels good to look at my anti-bucket list and see that I’m more stupid than I am afraid.  I think.