W80pxtreee think we know how something works. And then we find we don’t. Probably when it breaks down.

A (lovely) team I know was pretty sure about why things worked. And then they weren’t.

They kept telling themselves that it was something to do with poor communication. While mysteriously all being able to communicate this thought quite clearly to each other.

The best lesson I could find to help explain the why, the what, and the how, was offered by a current exhibition at the British Museum called ‘Drawing with silver and gold’.

Hendrik Goltzius: Self-portrait, c.1589   (British Museum: 1895,0915.1020)

This beautiful exhibition explores the art of metalpoint from across 6 centuries and includes some heart stopping drawing work.

What has metalpoint silverpoint got to do with a team; a group of committed people who work closely together?

The process is a very helpful analogy. And amazing.

Coated paper was drawn on with a fine soft-metal stylus. The paper coating was traditionally finely ground bone, pigment, and a binding agent. Several coats might be applied, resulting in a finely abrasive surface on which the metal would leave a delicate trace.

So think on this for a moment.

A very soft material is leaving a fine, permanent, distinctive trace on…a rough material.

As the team talked, something emerged.

One team member had just been seconded elsewhere. He is gentle, softly spoken, and self-effacing. His loudest colleague might even have admitted under pressure that it was sometimes possible to forget he was there.

Now he wasn’t. And they had, without recognizing the feeling for what it was, noticed.

It would appear that he left an indelible – and now much missed – mark on his more up front colleagues.

So then they knew how they worked: the rough with the smooth


Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageA contrarian café today. The corners are light and bright. The window seats are dark. The espresso sparkles. The latte droops. Nothing is as it should be. Or is it?

A dark thought, then a laugh. A really dark thought. Addiction.

To the jolly, convivial, comforting familiar, enabling, ritual of coffee and its amazing power to shrug off the guilt and remorse that cling to other lovely consumables.

As substance abuse side effects go, insomnia is an interesting cookie to crumble.

Insomnia image - Penny Hunt's blog on the surprising benefits of loosing sleep

Let me convert you. Let me suggest that taking
an opposite view, just for fun, will yield something of value. Let me suggest that what seems bad may be good.

In the spirit of things not being as they seem: is a night’s sleep of an uninterrupted 8 hours absolutely the best and only sleep pattern for us? The World Service reported a while back on the loss (I heard the programme during the night of course) of a ‘two sleeps’ pattern that had been common until the late 17th century. Imagine. No panic. Permission not to agonise. Just wake up after 3 or 4 hours, have a potter about, write a bit of a diary, chat to the family and then back for another little sleep.


Or in today’s world, send those texts that were bothering you, find that address you were looking for, watch that bit of The Bridge you missed and then just shimmy back to bed. It’s all here for you:

So many possibilities when a familiar truth is reframed: just by embracing an opposite viewpoint, just by letting a dark thing be a light thing.

An undreamed of benefit of staying awake in the middle of the night- this between sleeps time- is the changed quality of experience. It is not just the pleasure of the radio, but its heightened weirdness as the brain chunters A 1950s radio - Penny Hunt and the pleasure of late night listeningalong on over-drive. Insomnia delivers a Through the Looking Glass vividness to sound in the middle of the night.

I’ll share an example of an unexpected gift. This nighttime joke changed the following day beautifully. It encouraged me do the precise opposite of what was expected, to swap goods and bads, to zig not zag, and be in a generally contrarian place the whole jolly day. It was wonderful, productive and a great creativity boost.

Radio 4 Extra was whispering that night: Lord Peter Wimsy, Wilkie Collins, Mark Gatiss all danced through the small hours.

And then – a familiar voice.

Eric Morecombe?

Was it a trailer? What was happening? An unfamiliar sketch was rumbling along. Eric was apparently pretending, as he impressed another character, to belong to a local church.

The lie got bigger. Perhaps he was actually … the Vicar?

Then a challenge:

“But I don’t recall seeing you there on Sundays”

And our lovely Eric made the heroically contrarian response-

“ Oh, I tend to go on Saturdays: fewer people”.

And if that isn’t a little light coming out of some darkness and worth a sleepless night or two, I don’t know what is.

Light from Dark -  Penny hunt's blog