Things To Make & Do


Last night a friend told me that she watched in amazement as a two year-old operated an iPhone with dexterity. When I was a kid there was, of course, no internet, and I spent an insane amount of time with paper, cardboard, paints, glue, knives, gunpowder-style chemicals, thinners, balsa wood, plasticene, rubber cement, varnish and other lethal bits and bobs that parents would never give to kids now.

I’m not sure I was much of a model-maker, but there were two good side effects of endlessly constructing stuff. One was to bring in the involvement of my dad, with whom I shared little, so that we progressed from aircraft carriers to vast railway layouts together. The other was to raise the bar on my creative imagination.

The art of paper-sculpture seems to have become a big thing after the Festival of Britain. A number of popular movie posters for the Dirk Bogarde ‘Doctor’ films featured sculpted caricatures of the stars – years later I saw the original art thrown away in a skip in Wardour Street – and the backs of Cornflakes packets had wild animal heads you could sculpt.

The problem is that all of these require a sharp knife, so they’re now off the agenda. I’m sure video games are good for developing hand/eye co-ordination but they don’t allow any creative input from the player, which means that even if they’d been around when I was ten I wouldn’t have played them much.

Shows like ‘Blue Peter’ endlessly showed you how to make everything from castles to bike racks, and gave you the instructions for building Tracy Island from Thunderbirds. Meanwhile I had moved onto recreating my favourite scenes from films with cardboard scenery and eight inch high detailed Plasticene models, then photographing them. Hobby shops existed in every high street and offered young builders advice.

I watched a commercial last night that opened with the lines; ‘Does your child love action? Excitement? Comedy? Sing-a-longs? Then use Netflix, the easy way to watch movies.’ I wanted to add; ‘Or a cheaper more fun option would be to buy them some Plasticene.’ But I wonder if they’d sit and stare at it in horror now.

(The art of paper sculpture is alive and well, it seems, judging by the wonderful creations I found online.)

9 comments on “Things To Make & Do”

  1. Steve says:

    I went to the Moon and Mars in spaceships made of cardboard, wood and tinker toys. I nearly killed myself at the age of eight by adding bleach to random chemicals from my chemistry set and unintentionally creating chlorine gas. I made flying saucers and aliens from modeling clay, and built wartime bunkers in the dirt.
    The imagination. Does it come standard these days?

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    “Off the agenda” items were the best; not packaged children’s playthings (except for some board games)made once, and then were really boring). Dry ice? Excellent. Mercury from a broken therometer? Great. (And a fine way to visualize fractions.) Kids’ construction glues and “banana” model paint each of which had strange side effects? Facinating! A wooden box of matched precision knives, with extra blades, and a side order of Band-Aids (Amer. product)for Christmas? Terrific. (Din’t feel the cut for a while, finger turned cold, then bled like the dickens). A really good Gilbert’s Chemistry set (exception to packaged playthings rule)with the extra-interesting shiny chemicals that can be spooned into a volcano of yellow sulfur and set aflame with a wooden match in a dark basement? Educational, let you visualize: creation? atom blast? end of world? whatever, and you are stone blind for a minute or so. Flour-dust explosions set off outdoors using old kitchen counter-storage cans? Priceless. Especially when the lid goes up, up, up, begins to move, takes off sideways fast and hits nothing expensive to replace; and once, just one – a held-breath time, goes BEHIND a slowly moving police car. (Brings a smile of memory even now.) And, finally, the all-time favorite: the empty shoe boxes in which you could construct an intricate scene from a recently read novel. It took two bottles of India ink, additional cardboard, tape, glues, bits of shaped wood, black thread, a flashlight and after well-spent hours? You had a really fine: Tower of London, Spanish torture chamber, French cell, Germany witch’s kitchen, etc. What a way to see Europe. Hand-held rectangle that let’s you play Cut the Rope? Not so much.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Thank you Admin for running your website in for the 2000-post service. Works great again.
    Although I for one wish you’d asked them to install the optional instant-proofing button. But never mind, it’s a fine ride, corners well and take us to many interesting places.

  4. admin says:

    This is only a fix – we’ll be upgrading the site as soon as there’s time…

  5. BangBang!! says:

    Cardboard boxes, brooms, dustbin lids etc were made into time machines for us. That way you could play cowboys and Indians, medieval knights and massacre nazis all in the one self-contained story whilst using bits of the machine for different purposes eg the bin lids and brooms for shields and lances.

    I really feel like playing that again now!

  6. Alan Morgan says:

    My daughters play with plasticine, work whole words out of boxes and bits and anything to hand. The eldest reads. Their friends (bear in mind this is age 5 and 7) have teles in their rooms, mobile phones, DS hand wotsits. Mine have got Christmas (and in one case Birthday) money sat growing dusty as they never really want anything much in the toyshop, and the sweetshop is all in jars, by weight, and a small bag does them. My kids draw a lot because I do, and very good they are too because they copy and so can do noses, lips, and eyes properly for example. It’s just the environment they’re brought up in I’d guess. If parents read, draw, talk, then the kids will too. They do get to watch tele, they have favourite programmes – just that it’s not allowed on all the time and frankly if Daddy’s organising a dinosaur hunt or the like they’ll drop whatever’s on in a moment.

    It was to a degree ever the case. We’re all at this blog because we read, and we probably all read as kids too. I don’t remember many kids (even as a teenager) my own age that read. It’s just easy/lazy for parents to let their kids go invisible with modern contraptions nowadays. I’m not saying either way is right or wrong, but my kids will only be kids for so long, so…

    …one day I’ll get my life back!

  7. Mary Clarke says:

    I used to love making paper theatres, both the Pollock’s ones and my own out of cornflake packets, quality street wrappings and lollipop sticks. They were rubbish but incredibly absorbing. I know in my latter years play video games.


  8. Gretta says:

    “The imagination. Does it come standard these days?”

    There’s probably an app for it.

    In my yoof, we had Spot On, which was a down-market version of Blue Peter. Fairy Liquid bottles and stickyback plastic were definitely off the menu; we had to make do with toilet roll tubes and sticky tape. Lots and lots of sticky tape. And paper clips, ice block sticks, pipe cleaners(do they still make those?), rubber bands and poster paint. Everyone made that paddle-steamer when they were a kid, right?

    If you haven’t seen his work already, you could do worse than have a shufti at Peter Callesen’s paper creations, which are often two sculptures for the price of one, and frequently courtesy of a single sheet of paper. And there’s also a bloke called Dalton Ghetti who sculpts the tips of pencils. I kid ye not.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    There is also the incredible set of sculptures gifted to the Edinburgh artistic community. We provided plasticine and clay activities in the elementary school where I was librarian, there were all sorts of modelling activities including shoe box dioramas, but doing it at school isn’t the same thing, is it? I demonstrated the art of pysanky, those incredibly decorated Easter eggs from the Ukraine, a few times and let them try it, but I don’t know if anyone carried on afterwards. The last time I showed it I had an egg blow up on me. That of course was the high point of the afternoon.

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