GETTING TO THE ART OF CRAFT
My dad’s meddling resulted in primary-school hard labour for me, says Will Hanafin, so put that glue down, now
There weren’t many outlets for artistic expression if you grew up in the Seventies and Eighties. Creative diversions were limited to doing unspeakable things with pipe cleaners and toilet-roll cylinders on the urgings of Mary FitzGerald, or maniacally colouring in the backs of Cadbury’s selection boxes.
In primary school, kiddies’ paints were rationed with the same zeal as oil reserves were by OPEC petroleum sheiks in those winters of discontent.
I’ve just read the book Watching
War Films with My Dad, by comedian Al Murray, about his English childhood during the same period. There were shocking revelations, like the fact that on kids’ TV show, Blue Peter, they taught British children how to make knock-off Action Man costumes using ping-pong balls as helmets. How cool was that?
Cut to Ireland at the same time. My oldest surviving artwork is a crayon-coloured paper lantern, encasing a St Martin de Porres statue, made when I was in junior infants. It was also one of the few occasions where I was allowed access to the safety scissors. I have memories of teachers running for cover and screaming every time I picked up scissors as a kid because I was — dun, dun, dun — left-handed and myopic.
So telly was a dead zone, school wasn’t much better and, as a shortsighted citog, I was never trusted with the arts-and-crafts materials anyway.
Museums were also pretty forbidding places for kids back then. When it came to safeguarding the pictures, the Crawford Gallery officials in Cork put kids in the same threat-level category as severe sunlight or mould spores.
But, if you go to any gallery or museum nowadays, they’ve become cultural child-catchers, putting nappied bums on seats and allowing kids to do more chopping and colouring than at a hairdressers’ convention.
The only problem is that the children never get a look-in. This is because their parents, who were denied artsand-crafts time as children, are using their own kids as pawns to make sure they finally get creative. I’m sure you’ve seen these bitter, craft-obsessed parents at kiddies’ events, staring longingly at the googly eyes, pompoms, glue and non-toxic paints. At a recent children's art event in an art gallery, I witnessed a little girl sitting glumly while her demented parents put the finishing touches to a giant dinosaur, fashioned from cardboard boxes. When she demurely asked could she bring it to school on Monday, her mother said: “No way! It'll only get broken if kids start playing with it.”
It's not just arts-and-crafts that brings out parents who are reliving their unspent childhood. The sidelines at kids’ weekend football nurseries are a dangerous place to be. I have fond memories of a recently inflicted blow to the back of the head from a big, ugly O’Neill's football — well, I remember it up to the point that I blacked out. Flat-footed fathers who were the last to be picked at school sports as kids are doing no better as grown-ups with their miscued ball retrievals.
Now, helicopter parents, listen up! Let me tell you a cautionary tale about arts-and-crafts interference. When I was 10, I was asked to build an Egyptian boat for a class project. My dad had a workshop at the factory he worked in, and decided to make it himself from wood offcuts. It was so good, I got picked to represent the school in an art competition in my town. It was a fancy event for Youghal, and was opened by the famous English journalist, Claud Cockburn, who lived locally. He’s the man who uttered the immortal line: “Never believe anything until it is officially denied.”
My teacher really should have been aware of this quote when I denied my dad had made the Egyptian boat, which came complete with miniature sails, hieroglyphics and a steering wheel.
For the competition, I produced a piece of artwork that still makes me blush. It was like one of those French cave paintings — I mean the ones that early humans drew in complete darkness after their torches went out.
So, for years afterwards, I was confined to the Catholic primary school version of hard labour. I was forced to cut out those cardboard circles that were placed around candles to catch dripping wax at religious events . . . while the others had fun.
So, step away from the safety scissors. It will end in bitter tears.