Dear Dave

Wednesday 10 December 2008

They're getting craftier than me

Dear Dave,

Marie loves to make things. She can spend hours painting, arranging Hama beads, gluing shiny stars to paper or making a necklace by stringing baubles onto a length of elastic. Leave her alone with some art supplies for a few minutes and she'll have them all stuck together and painted pink before you know it.

She's not hugely worried about quality, however - a roughly-oval, orange spludge with a line coming off it is a mouse, for instance. Quantity is really what she's after. She can produce an entire colony of rainbow-coloured rodents in half an hour and then move onto pictures of computer peripherals and their accompanying mats. (Luckily, her computer mice are wireless so it's easy to tell them apart from the other kind - they're the roughly-oval, orange spludges without lines coming off.) At one mouse per sheet, she can race through a stack of blank paper and happily rack up more creative masterpieces in an afternoon than the boys managed in entire years of their preschool life.

There are only so many portraits of mice (furry or otherwise) we need, though. There's also a limit to our requirements for bead designs, glitter pictures and tacky jewellery. Marie hasn't yet questioned what happens to the surplus but I doubt she'd be too thrilled to hear 'they've gone to live on a farm'. It would be nice if she branched out to other things soon. Unfortunately, we've tried some of the 'makes' on TV and in books, and they're totally beyond her. She can't cut stuff out with any degree of accuracy or safety, glue goes everywhere and sticky-tape ends up stuck to her hair, itself and my socks. I have to make the thing, whatever it is, and then she paints the finished product pink. It's all a little pointless.

It's not like we usually have the materials to do most of the ideas anyway.

I remember when I was young, I watched one of the presenters on Blue Peter make a space rocket from an empty washing-up liquid bottle. It looked fantastic and I raced through to the kitchen to see how much Fairy our squeezy bottle had left. Disappointingly, it was almost full. Undeterred, I kept an eye on the bottle and bided my time until I could stick a couple of pieces of card to it, paint it silver and launch it into the galaxy.

Three weeks later, the bottle was still almost full.

In fact, it actually had more washing-up liquid in it than when I'd first checked. That wasn't right... I knew it was the same bottle, though, since the writing was worn off the side in the same places and there were some recognisable bits of gunge still stuck to it. But how...?

I checked with my mum. It turned out she bought washing-up liquid in bulk and topped up her supply from an industrial-sized vat in the shed. She'd been using the same squeezy bottle since 1962.

The flipping thing lasted out my entire childhood and I never got to make my space rocket.

Bah, humbug.

These days the concept wouldn't work because washing-up liquid bottles aren't even cylindrical anymore but that's nothing compared with a make for a toy car I saw on TV last week. It involved four large cotton-reels and a disposable plastic cup. Four cotton-reels! How many homes have that number lying around? Not many, I bet.

The results weren't even worth it. Sticking four cotton-reels, a disposable cup and a small spoiler to a cardboard box doesn't make a very convincing car. It might have been OK in the old days, when cheap plastic toys weren't quite so cheap, but the way things are at the moment, we could probably nip to a charity shop and get something better for not much more than the price of the disposable cup.

We've only had a few successes with homemade toys over the years. When Fraser was crawling, I cut a slot in the bottom of a cardboard box and turned it upside down. He spent quite a bit of time posting little toys in the hole, wondering where they'd gone and then being delighted when he discovered them under the box. He was also very impressed one train journey when he was four - I'd brought a dice with me and I simply drew a Snakes & Ladders board on a piece of paper. (Sarah spiced it up even further by adding mushrooms and stars to give the game a Mario theme and some interesting extra rules.) On other occasions, all three of the children have enjoyed making crowns to wear.

That's been fairly much our limit, though. In general, ideas for homemade stuff I've seen either require expensive materials or look naff. Sometimes both. Marie got a book recently with instructions for a princess jewellery box:
  1. Get a small cardboard box and paint it purple.
  2. Cover the top with glue and stick some shiny jewels in the middle.
  3. Surround the jewels with rice.
In summary, the proposed object would need fake gems, be hideous and make passing pigeons explode if they ate it. I don't think we'll be making that.

So what can I get Marie to make?

Some of the boxed kits of craft items in the shops look tempting. There are all kinds of fluffy animals to create and key rings to design. Sadly, I know the reality would be nothing like the pictures on the box. If you don't believe me, go look at a packet of plasticine and examine the photos of smiling children standing behind 'their' model village, complete with accurately modelled people and mock-Tudor housing. Compare this image with your memories of playing with plasticine as a child. You'll probably notice that your recollections have rather more wonky snakes and considerably fewer hanging flower baskets.

Maybe I should stick to thinking up things to make from stuff we have lying around. Hang on a minute while I take a quick inventory.



Ah... Erm... Well...


OK, I've taken a look, and the readily available junk at my disposal consists of: margarine tubs, dead batteries, carrot peelings, plastic milk bottles, beer cans and some lard.

Now I'm sure MacGyver could produce something pretty spectacular with that lot but it's beyond me.

Never mind. Perhaps I should just leave Marie to it. She insisted on painting a two-foot cardboard tube pink and gold a couple of weeks ago and she's been using it as a telescope ever since. She and Lewis keep piling cushions in the middle of the lounge carpet to make a pirate boat.

Creativity and teamwork at the same time. I'm not certain I could have organised that if I'd tried...

Yours in a woman's world,


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