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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FIRST PERSON / TOP FIVE -

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.

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