Unfashionable Pursuits: Can We revive Childhood Hobbies?
I wasn’t capable of building models without gluing my eyelids.
Like many of my friends, I grew up without a television. My grandmother disapproved of shouting and running on a Sunday, and never bought a TV because she thought it would irradiate the brain and destroy the art of conversation. When she finally succumbed, she hung a cloth over it and put a vase of flowers on the top, as if hoping to disguise her vulgarity from the neighbours.
The television set in my other grandmother’s house had shiny wooden roller doors designed to hide the screen, as if there was something shameful about exposing a naked cathode tube. I was sometimes allowed to watch Torchy the Battery Boy after which she would shut the roller doors with a bang. If books hurt your eyes, the thinking went that TV hurt your brain.
As a consequence, indoor hobbies were more popular among us. My favourites were model kits, mostly warplanes and aircraft carriers that took weeks to build (‘I’ve lost an aerial mast!’). I recall attempting to construct a hovercraft, very sixties, and a galleon (‘I’ve lost a topsail!’) while getting covered in skeins of rock-hard glue and stabbed with razor-sharp knives for cutting balsa wood. I wasn’t capable of building models without getting glue on my eyelids.
That peculiarly light wood proved to be the go-to product for all model-makers, sold in sheets and blocks everywhere, especially for use in gliders, which required brushing thinners over stretched paper, all for that one flight – straight up, straight down and smashed to bits. There was also quick-setting plaster to be poured into moulds, a veritable poisons cabinet of chemistry sets which were capable of detonating reasonable explosions and polystyrene blocks that you could carve with hot wire. It comes as no surprise to find that these are no longer sold to nine year-olds in high street shops.
You can still buy safe versions of chemistry sets (boring) and Airfix are happily still going strong, although they seem squarely aimed at adults. Checking out their website I was particularly drawn to models of:
Bombed Out Polish Bank
Destroyed Italian Town House
Czech Restaurant (remains)
I don’t know any kid of my age who wasn’t addicted to Airfix kits (probably because of the glue), and the neat layout of their parts became iconic. In the big-budget production of the too-clever-to-be-popular stage show ‘Made in Dagenham’, all the sets were made of Airfix parts.
I built every single one of the Aurora monster model kits, and even hung onto one of them. If you click on Guillotine and wait patiently, you’ll see the clip I just shot (let me know if it doesn’t play – new setting on phone). I had hoped this model would be the start of an ‘Implements of Torture’ series from Aurora but they suffered a big enough backlash from this one, so no iron maiden or rack appeared, sadly.
Children love slightly unsavoury stuff, so why does no-one cater to them now? Can we go back to weird old hobbies now? Why would any child still collect stamps or train numbers when without any effort they can get a greater sense of achievement from blowing heads off in Red Dead Redemption?
Under lockdown perhaps hobbies can be reinvented. Some of the more elaborate kinetic Heath Robinson devices YouTubers post must take months to set up – effort, skill and achievement combined – so are there other ways of utilising our extra spare time?
Or shall we just box set Scandi-noir cop thrillers?