Lynda Hal­li­nan:

Let your chil­dren’s imag­i­na­tion run wild in a mag­i­cal play­house – but per­haps not as wild as Lynda Hal­li­nan’s own child­hood mis­de­meanours!


play­hut shenani­gans and se­crets

It was the scene of my first crime – un­der­age drink­ing – fol­lowed by, no sur­prises, my first han­gover. It was where I re­ceived my first truly atro­cious hair­cut, ad­min­is­tered sur­rep­ti­tiously by my big sis­ter us­ing my mother’s dress­mak­ing scis­sors. (A few years later, I dealt a sim­i­lar fate to my Sindy dolls.) In the same place, I learned how to look my par­ents in the eye and tell big fat porkies with­out flinch­ing.

When my sis­ter Brenda and I were tod­dlers, our fa­ther built us a play­house on the front lawn. It had a ver­nac­u­lar aes­thetic: a re­cy­cled cor­ru­gated iron roof, ply­wood walls and a front door painted the same clay-brown as our farm­house ve­ran­dah rail­ings. It was small, even by mod­ern apart­ment stan­dards, and sparsely fur­nished, but we were pretty chuffed when Dad plumbed in a sec­ond-hand sink with taps at­tached to a toi­let cis­tern water tank.

Ev­ery af­ter­noon, while our par­ents were pre­oc­cu­pied milk­ing our cows, Brenda and I made our own fun in the play­house. We dubbed this sib­ling sub­terfuge “mak­ing mis­chief”. One time, we mashed peanuts with but­ter in a bid to make our own peanut but­ter. On an­other oc­ca­sion, we were caught con­coct­ing witches’ po­tions from pills and lo­tions filched from the medicine cabi­net. And then there was the time we hosted a leg­endary (for all the wrong rea­sons) preschool­ers’ tea party.

Hav­ing bor­rowed Dad’s bot­tle of sherry, we tipped its con­tents into our plas­tic teapot and got thor­oughly sloshed. “I’ve got a tummy headache,” I slurred to my par­ents as I stag­gered, soz­zled, across the lawn while Brenda wan­dered about wonkily.

With the ben­e­fit of 40 years of hind­sight, I hit up Mum about her par­ent­ing prac­tices. “Weren’t you be­side your­self with worry?” I asked. “Of course I was,” she said, though not enough to bother driv­ing us to the doc­tor for a check-up.

When, left unat­tended once again, Brenda butchered my blonde tresses, Mum didn’t think to take me to the hair­dresser for a ti­dier trim. She sim­ply sat me on a chair in front of the play­house, wrapped a towel around my shoul­ders and gave me a marginally bet­ter bowl cut.

As the kids tested the swing, flung open the shut­ters and helped me pot the gera­ni­ums, Lu­cas of­fered a grand de­sign sug­ges­tion…

Lynda used a paint tin as the tem­plate for the cir­cu­lar roof tiles and threaded wooden beads onto the swing’s ropes.

The next time we nicked Mum’s scis­sors and snuck off to our play­house, we were busted play­ing doc­tors and nurses. Our pa­tient? A green felt pen­guin with a yel­low beak and a white breast that be­longed to my mother. It took her six weeks to stitch and stuff it in Hamil­ton’s ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tal, where, hav­ing lost her first child, Mum was pre­scribed com­plete bedrest in a bid to save her sec­ond. All that heart­break and hope meant noth­ing to Brenda and me: we gave Mum’s lit­tle pen­guin a lo­bot­omy, then dis­em­bow­elled it for good mea­sure.

Forty years on, she’s still smart­ing, be­cause de­spite be­ing caught in the act, we nat­u­rally de­nied all knowl­edge of the pen­guin’s un­timely pass­ing. And, to be fair, surely that’s the point of a chil­dren’s play­hut? It’s a place to get up to no good… and fib about it to your folks.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Psychological As­so­ci­a­tion’s jour­nal, Law and

Hu­man Be­hav­iour, chil­dren be­gin to tell lies – usu­ally to ab­solve them­selves of guilt for mis­de­meanours – from the age of two, although it’s not un­til the age of three or four that they learn to tai­lor their un­truths to ap­pease their in­quisi­tor, and seven or eight be­fore they are wily enough to man­u­fac­ture ev­i­dence in sup­port of those lies.

My sons, Lu­cas, five, and Lach­lan, three, can still be re­lied on to con­fess the truth un­der pres­sure. Af­ter be­ing at their grand­par­ents for the week­end while my hus­band and I painted and pimped up their new play­house – a two-storeyed tower tucked be­tween the rhodo­den­drons, pin oaks and mag­no­lias on the side of our drive­way – we ex­pected an hon­est ap­praisal.

“Do you like it?” I asked the boys. Lachie was joy­ous: “I don’t like it. I love it!” he said, thun­der­ing up the steps. Lu­cas, how­ever, was con­fused. “Dad,” he bel­lowed from the sec­ond­storey, “isn’t a tree­house sup­posed to be built up a tree, not be­side it?”

As the kids tested the swing, flung open the shut­ters and helped me pot up drought-tol­er­ant Re­ally Red gera­ni­ums for their front deck, Lu­cas chan­nelled Kevin McCloud to of­fer a grand de­sign sug­ges­tion. “You know what would make this re­ally awe­some,” he said. “What?” I asked. “A plug so we can charge our iPads.”

“I’m sure Dad can sort that out for you,” I lied.

The red shut­ters came from Egypt via my lo­cal vin­tage shop.

Po­ten­tial mis­chief­mak­ers Lach­lan and Lu­cas check out their new play hut. The ply­wood and tim­ber struc­ture was pimped up with posh join­ery, bright red gera­ni­ums and a match­ing swing.

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