Our parents would often demand it, but soon as they got it, they became suspicious. Worried, maybe.
And so it would be. I’d be playing quietly and thoughtfully in my bedroom on a wet and miserable day, and Mum would poke her around the door:
“You’re awful quiet,” she’d say, the distrust in her tone strikingly obvious even to a ten year old. “What are you doing?”
“Building a fort,” I’d reply in all innocence, draping a bedsheet over the two stools I’d earlier hauled up from the kitchen. Another blanket would be hanging over a couple of empty boxes, retrieved from the garage. “So’s I can repel the hordes of marauding raiders who are trying to steal my pots of gold.”
My vocabulary and imagination were infinitely better than my construction skills.
“That sounds like fun, dear.”
And it was.
For that’s how we rolled in the late Sixties and Seventies. It was the era of making our own fun.
It was the era for making everything.
From a very early age, my sister and I were encouraged by our parents to become involved with tending the garden.’ Modern day slavery,’ is how I think it’s now referred to.
We’d each be allocated a little plot to tend. We’d have to plant seeds, grow flowers and vegetables and learn the ethos and rewards of hard work.
I hated it! Rona’s plot always looked way tidier than mine. ‘Outside’ was for playing in, not working, was how I looked at it. I was rubbish.
Our garden wasn’t all that big, but my dad had it organised to maximise the space, and so we had a few rows of redcurrant bushes. These produced loads of fruit every year and of course my sister and I would be roped into the ‘harvest.’
With the berries collected, mum would then boil them and add ‘stuff’ then pour the mix into what looked like an old sock hung from the washing pulley in the kitchen. The smell was so sickly sweet, I wanted to barf for days on end. Gradually though, over the next day or so, the liquid would drip into a bowl, then scooped into jars onto which a handwritten sticker was adhered.
‘Redcurrent jelly’ it said – as if we needed reminding.
To get away from the smell, I’d try to spend as much time as possible in the living room. But that wasn’t easy either. I’d have to tip toe through acres of tracing paper spread over the floor. And listening to the television was well nigh impossible. The volume controls back then barely went to ‘five’ never mind ‘eleven’ and so offered no competition to the constant ‘takka takka takka’ of the Singer sewing machine as mum rattled out another bloody home-made trouser suit for wearing to the neighbour’s Pot Luck / fondue party that coming weekend.
Crimplene was the favoured material, I believe.
I think I’m right in saying that girls at my school were offered sewing, if not dress making as part of their Home Economics course. Us blokes weren’t given the option – just as at that time, girls were not thought to be interested in woodwork and metalwork.
My four year old cousin, Karen, certainly wasn’t interested in my woodwork, that’s for sure. I made her a boat, all lovingly painted and everything. It sank in her bath. Sank! It was made of balsa wood for goodness sake!
It takes a special type of cretin to make a balsa wood boat that sinks.
And metalwork! Whose whizz-bang idea was it to have several classes of fourteen year old boys make metal hammers to take home at the end of term? The playground crowds quickly scattered that afternoon, I can tell you.
My effort was dismal.
“Thanks very much,” said my dad, in a voice just a little too condescending for my liking as I presented it to him. But that was okay. We both knew I was total pants at making things.
Having evidenced my cack-handed attempts at simply gluing together several pieces of labelled and numbered bits of plastic to form the shape of a Lancaster Bomber, his expectations were naturally low.
I know – how hard can it be to assemble an Airfix model? To be honest, while I enjoyed looking at those my dad made on my behalf, I had more fun from letting the glue harden on my fingers and then spend ages peeling it back off to examine my fingerprints.
Yup – THAT’S how much I enjoyed making things.
It came as no surprise then, that Santa never brought me a Meccano set. By the age of ten, it had become obvious spanners and me would never get along – no need for me to screw the nut.
For a while, I did consider there was something wrong with me. Every other kid I knew was into making stuff. It was The Seventies – it’s what children did; it’s what they (I’d say ‘we’ but I’d be lying) were actively encouraged to do.
The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.
I tried that once. A Christmas decoration it was. A decoration to hang over the Christmas table; made from coat-hangers; and candles. And you’d light the candles. It would be joyous.
“Hark!” The herald angels would sing.
“FIRE!” The herald angels actually screamed.
I know NOW I should have used fire-proof tinsel. I’m almost sixty-three. I’m not stupid. But then I was ten. And impatient. Ten year old boys cut corners. And anyway, how was I supposed to make a surprise for the family if I was to give the game away by asking my folks if they had / could get some fire retardant tinsel?
At least they still got a surprise of sorts.
Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves had a lot to answer for.
Other than pyrotechnic Christmas decorations, they encouraged us to make models with Lego; less structured and more wobbly ones with plasticine; scrap books; hammocks for dolls; cakes for birds; puppets from old socks; pencil cases from washing up liquid bottles and even cat beds from washing-up bowls.
I did try, truly I did. But I was hopeless. A lost cause. Never has anyone said to me,
“Wow! That’s awesome!” when I’ve showcased my handiwork.
Just the other day, I prepared a meal. I threw some leftover corned beef, potatoes and onions into a pan and fried them through. I didn’t think it was burnt as such, but my wife screwed up her face and stared at it rather disapprovingly.
Without even the merest hint of irony she looked up and said …. well, I think you probably know what she said!