Category Archives: Lateral thinking

A four-year-old boy’s latest dreams and Mensa’s latest questions ask “What If?”

The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

“Did you have any dreams last night?” I asked the four-year-old boy yesterday.

“The purple guy saw me,” said the four-year-old boy, “and I fighted the purple guy and then we fighted and I kicked him into the swimming pool and he couldn’t swim.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Did he drown?”

“Yeah!!” shouted the four-year-old boy triumphantly. “And then someone was talking about getting germs and then a monkey came and he dropped something that he was holding on someone’s head, so that would spread a germ, wouldn’t it?”

“Would it?” I asked.

“Yes,” the four-year-old boy told me.

“So the monkey scratched his head?” I asked.

“No,” said the four-year-old boy. “He dropped something onto someone’s head and that would spread a germ. And then he snatched something off someone, so now he got a germ. And then he passed it to me and I didn’t want it, but he just maked me hold it and then I got a germ.”

“What sort of germ was it?” I asked. “Did you see it?”

The four-year-old boy shook his head.

“Because it was a small germ?” I asked.

“I did not want it,” the four-year-old boy told me. “It was smaller than me.”

Also yesterday – slightly related by the idea of letting your mind think whatever it wants to think – I saw a copy of the latest What If?

British Mensa has a SIG – a ‘Special Interest Group’ – called What If? which issues a regular newsletter suggesting questions which members might want to answer. The latest issue has these New Questions to Ponder:

– What if rain was alcoholic?

– What if skis and toboggans were the only legal form of transport when it snows?

– What if we were limited to saying 200 words a day?

– What if we had a maximum wage (including bonuses) as well as the minimum one?

– What if all retail outlets, garages, factories et cetera were by law required to be controlled and run  by only one nuclear family and share selling became illegal?

– What if all serious questions could only be replied to with a silly answer, and vice versa?

– What if it were possible to create a Jurassic Park?

– What if you really were what you eat?

– What if humans shed their skin like snakes as they grew?

It would be interesting to ask the four-year-old boy what his answers to some of those questions might be. Particularly the last two.

I must ask him.

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Filed under Dreams, Lateral thinking

Mad inventor John Ward, creator of comedy awards + friend of hungry birds

John Ward’s sonic attack bottle

On my way back down from Scotland to London, I stopped off in Lincolnshire to see mad inventor John Ward, who designed and made the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards for me. We went into his back garden and there were two long bamboo canes sticking out of the grass, with large, upside-down plastic bottles on them.

“What on earth are the bottles for?” I asked.

“Moles,” he said starkly. “We had three moles digging up our lawn earlier this week. If you put a stick or a cane with an empty plastic pop bottle in the grass where the mole’s dug, then the wind rattles the bottle. Moles are blind, but their hearing is phenomenally sensitive, so it buggers up their ears. We had three moles earlier this week. I put those two bottles up the other night and we haven’t seen them again.

“You can buy expensive, sophisticated sonic devices to deter moles, but an empty plastic Coca Cola bottle stuck upside down on a garden cane is cheaper and just the same.”

We were really in John’s back garden, though, to see his new bird table, a large metal structure with holes in it.

“What’s it made from?” I asked.

John Ward’s bird table has radar and a Dalek sink plunger

“It’s the interior of a central heating oil tank,” John told me. “We couldn’t put oil in it any more because it had cracks and splits. It was going to be dumped, but I was in my re-cycling mode, so I looked at it and thought it would make a bird table.

“We’ve had schoolkids come along and sketch it for their art class because – well – it’s something different, I suppose. Drawing farmhouses, rivers and trees must pale after a while. And we had a couple come through on a tandem: I say, the man said, do you mind if we come through and take a photograph of your bird table? Then the Daily Mail came along to take a picture of it and then there was Rory, the man from the Discovery Channel.

“The first version I built was smaller scale and when the wind hit it, over it went. So this one has large holes in and instead of acting as a wind break it becomes, in effect, a sieve. The wind zaps through the holes and stabilises it.”

John used to call himself a “junkist” – because he makes things from junk.

“When people talk about re-cycling,” he explains, “they usually think of something ornamental – something you re-paint and stick in an art exhibition. I like to think of more practical things.”

Bird table with cat-scaring holes and interior restaurant area

“Do the birds like your bird table?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “we’ve had 18 birds in it pecking away at same time and, when that happened, there were about 7 or 8 others on top waiting to get inside.”

“And your cat?” I asked. “What does your cat think of the bird table?”

“Can’t get up to it,” he said. “It has smooth legs.”

“The cat?”

“The bird table. Nothing to grip on to. Our cat leaps up in the air but can’t get in. And, normally, in a rural area like this, rats would go up and in and help themselves to the food too. But, with this thing, underneath, it’s perfectly smooth and flat, so they have nothing to grip on to.”

“Why doesn’t the cat just leap in the air and jump onto the platform?” I asked.

“The holes put it off,” John told me. “The cat jumps up, its paw stretches out, but the birds fly off or just sit and look, laughing at the cat. It’s like Sylvester and Tweety. And the cat’s getting a bit old plus it’s heavier than what it was. It jumps up and plops down with a frustrated, slightly angry look on its face. You’ve not seen my World War Two landing strip, have you?”

John Ward’s World War Two bird landing strip (with bath)

“Not that I remember,” I said, “and I would probably have remembered if I had.”

“I’ll get the key and show you,” he said. “It’s in the shed.”

“I like cats,” I said.

“The cat’s not in the shed,” John said.


Filed under Birds, Creativity, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Inventions, Lateral thinking