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Learning to improvise

I was asked recently to sum up being a student here in three words. I doubt I’d be the first to admit that this wasn’t necessarily an easy task, but after much deliberation the words I came up with were “Learning to improvise.” Somewhat appropriate, I think, given the circumstances I was in at the time.

I realise that this can probably be taken multiple ways, not all of them good, and so with that in mind I promised that I’d also (eventually) provide some context, so here we are…

Basically, becoming a uni student teaches you a lot about yourself, particularly if you’re living away from home for the first time, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find that you end up doing things that would normally be considered a little odd in the name of efficiency. The classic example here is if you’re learning to cook for yourself but you realise you’re missing a key implement or ingredient, it’s completely acceptable as a student to use a saucepan as a mixing bowl, or to add ketchup to things to make them not taste so bad. It also makes you realise just how little you actually know about cooking, and how just how far you are actually prepared to go to read instructions (or in the case of many, not). I have on many occasions been guilty of throwing away a packet, only to realise on said packet are instructions to cook whatever it originally contained and then having to fish it out of the bin (I don’t reccomend it). There comes a point, after about the 463rd time this has happened when eventually you just kind of give up, and accept that you really don’t care any more what the exact instructions were. All you want is food, and food you will get.

In that instant, you transcend the world of the sane, logical person, and become something more. You become an improviser.

No longer are you chained down by the typical bounds of instructions. No more must you spend hours upon hours planning, and ensuring you have the right equipment to do the job. Instead you make do with what you have, and learn the ways of the “about right” and “that’ll do”. At the end of the day, it’s a learning experience, and everyone you meet is going through the same thing, so while what you are doing might be considered weird, nobody is likely to question it because in all likelihood everybody has had similar experiences at some point.

I realise I’ve probably scared about half of my readers off with that last paragraph, but seriously it’s nowhere near as bad as I might make it sound. To throw some light on things, here are a few examples of recent events where I’ve had to improvise, because hey, if you can’t have a laugh about it then really what’s the point?!

 

- Pancakes in a saucepan (with chocolate and marshmallow)

Yep, you read that right, I made pancakes in a saucepan. Actually, technically I only made pancake batter in a saucepan, since I didn’t have a mixing bowl, and a large saucepan seemed the most appropriate alternative. Technically, even making them in the first place was improvising, as I’d never made pancakes before (with the one exception of when I had a friend of mine over who basically did it for me). I had no idea what quantities to use of each ingredient, and so I just sort of threw what I thought was about right together and hoped. The result was surprisingly good, although I would caution anyone against trying to make pancake smores. It might seem obvious to you, but I didn’t realise at the time that if I put toppings on a pancake while it was still in the frying pan and then tried to pour more mixture over the top, the mixture over the top wouldn’t cook, and I’d have to flip it. The result was a near miss with the fire alarm, along with a very nearly destroyed frying pan and some very burnt and inedible pancakes, I don’t recommend it.

Oh, and I also made a huge mess in the kitchen, right after the cleaner left… (The following pictures are after a significant amount of cleaning up, so don’t really show the full scale of the destruction)

So yeah, that was fun. I don’t know if my flat mates still read this, or even if they ever did, but if you are, I’m sorry, I tried OK? :c

 

- Easter puppets

OK, so if you’ve read my bio or my first blog post “Welcome to my world” you’ll probably already know that one of my hobbies is puppetry. This isn’t exactly what most people would call a “normal” hobby, and so before I get into the main bit of what I’m trying to say here I should probably give some context.

Essentially, for the past 8 years or so I have been involved with a youth group called “Extreme” as part of my church back home (if wasn’t always called that, but that’s a story for another day). Basically, we met up on sunday morning, ate food, played games and talked about stuff. at some point a new youth leader – Chris – took over the group, and with him he brought the first puppets. At first we were not quite sure what to expect, but before long various members of the group were getting roped in to help him out with various comedy sketches. Eventually, in 2013, we went to the summer camp “New Wine” and on that summer camp we met One Way UK – the puppet people

It was at this point we realised we were going to get serious about this thing. By the time the week was over, we had already decided to enter an international competition. The European Festival of Puppetry and Creative Ministry 2013

To us though, it was the chance to perform on a big stage, and we weren’t going to pass that up. We didn’t win, but both over the weekend of the competition and in preparing for it we learned a huge amount about ourselves, and our limits and how to keep raising the bar. The most significant thing though, was that we all realised that it was something we really had a passion for, and at that point, the puppet team was born. Extreme Puppets

We mostly do songs,  usually for Christmas and Easter (though far from all of what we do has been videoed), and pretty much wherever there is an opening for it, and on that note I shall get back on track with the improvising thing.

Coming home for Easter break has honestly been weird, I’ll go into it a bit more in my next blog but in short I always expected to be really busy and to have loads to do, and that sort of just hasn’t happened. Typically, the first week of my Easter break has been spent pretty much entirely doing puppet rehearsal, but for various reasons pretty much the entire team were unable to make it, and so the team for our Easter day performance consisted of exactly two people. Myself and my brother Nick.

This left us with two problems:

1. How the heck were we going to find motivation to actually rehearse?

2. Assuming 1 isn’t an issue, how do you make a puppet show with only two people look good? (our team is usually 6-8)

Solution:

We improvise.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in that situation very little rehearsal actually happened, but in the very little time we spent on it, we managed to somehow produce something that actually looked fairly reasonable. Nine puppets, two people and a lot of very fast changes. Unfortunately we didn’t record it or I’d have linked the video here, but every single person I spoke to afterward was convinced that we had had more people performing, and it was a pretty good feeling knowing that something put together with such limited resources had been so well appreciated, especially after all the stress associated with trying to organise it and then finding out nobody was even going to be there.

 

- Thames path

OK so this is potentially quite an embarrassing story, but I’m going to tell it anyway because what’s the point if you can’t laugh at it right?

To most people, I probably fall under the category of a “nerd”. I spend a disproportionate amount of my time inside on my computer, and generally avoiding the outside world like the plague (OK that’s a lie, but you get the general idea…)

When my friend suggested we met up for a 10 mile walk along the Thames path over Easter break then, you’d have probably thought I’d have been completely against it. Unfortunately for me, this particular friend was leaving a few days later, and this walk was probably going to be one of my only chances to see her before she left, so I went along with it.

It started off well, we made a plan, start in Abingdon, finish in Oxford, stopping at the half way point for lunch, all was going fine.

Until about 45 minutes into the walk, the path suddenly ended…

Of course at this point, we had no choice but to retrace our steps, and end up right back where we started.

It turned out we had somehow ended up along the wrong side of the river. Not only that, we had ignored a very obvious sign that would have pointed us in the right direction. Instead of giving up on the trip however, we decided to improvise, had lunch in Abingdon and then got the bus. It was far from what we had planned, but the afternoon still proved to be just as positive, if not more so, since we actually got the opportunity to explore the city for a bit before coming home again.

On that note then, I leave you with a quote, along with my fairly typical blog doodle of the week (or whatever sort of timeframe it takes to get a post out)

 

Never be afraid to improvise, you have no idea what good might come of it.

 

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet lately, I’ve been trying to write this for about a week now and I’ve had a lot of things happening in a very short space of time, though I’ll try and include more of those in my next post. I’m going to try and get another post out in the next few days or so, so be on the look out for that.

 

Until next time then…

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