Mastering The Art of Art With Children

I have many ideals when it comes to parenting; a sort of fantasy blueprint for how my two sons and I go about our joint business. One of these involves art-time. In my head the three of us sit around the kitchen table, pencils and crayons lovingly laid out in rainbow order, each of us beavering away at a potential masterwork. And perhaps one day when the pair become globally renowned artists, they’ll show some of the pieces created during this early period as part of a retrospective at the Tate.

The reality is that after about five minutes my sons will have become bored and dashed off to some other room probably to graffiti the walls. They will have left me still labouring away at a biro portrait of Kung Fu Panda, essaying careful pen strokes to make sure I’ve got his eyes just right. Once I’ve finished the boys will return to the table to deface whatever I’ve managed with their crude squiggles.

In the time that the two are at work a surprising amount has been achieved. Invariably the manageable pencils and crayons are ignored in favour of what I consider the Four Horseman of the Art Apocalypse: felt-tip pens, stickers, Play-doh and paint. Weapons of mess destruction.

My youngest son has an unusual approach to using felt-tip pens, preferring a sort of jackhammer method of repeatedly smashing the pen down onto the paper. This has two results, a cluster of colourful bullet-holes and an obliterated tip. If I can persuade him to actually draw something, it’s normally a face. On his socks.

The stickers in our house live a nomadic existence, scattering from the kitchen to the darkest corners of the home. There’s a fungal quality to them, a relentless spread, like Dutch elm disease. I swear that they creep about when we are sleeping, dancing around the door frames and gathering in the cupboards. The bravest ones will attach themselves to your person, and seal themselves on the soles of your feet. And eventually, inevitably, you’ll look down and find Chase from Paw Patrol plastered to your bum-cheek.

I have so many issues with Play-doh that it requires an entire post. The tragedy of a tub of Play-doh is that it is never better than when it is opened. Fresh and clean and moist to begin with, it quickly degenerates. Within seconds, my sons will have sourced an alternative shade of Play-doh and jammed the two together. This will first produce an agreeable marbling effect. But this rapidly subsides into a brown lumpy mass soon to be discarded.

Paint has the most potential for catastrophe: even a gloop of children’s water-based paint has the power to ruin soft furnishings. I once allowed my older son to quench his thirst with a slurp of bright red paint. It was from a tester pot of outdoor wood paint, which led to a panicky call to the NHS emergency line. They advised to keep an eye on him to see if there were any after-effects. Gladly there were none, although he did look like Ronald McDonald for a while.

And when I think again of that retrospective, perhaps it would just be a series of Tracy Emin-style installations: a bin full of decapitated felt-tip pens and a hospital bed with a poisoned toddler in it.

Any good?

A Guide To Hitting North Mallorca With Kids – Part 2

Any cave fans that find themselves in Mallorca should go directly to Porto Cristo. There are two cave complexes here, both at Cuevas del Drach and Cuevas del Hams. I presume this is just because of the natural geography of the place and not a response to an unusual demand for cave systems.

We did not know that del Hams existed until we accidentally pitched up in its suspiciously sparse car park. At that point our sat-nav threatened to walk off unless we started listening to it and we made our way to del Drach.

If you really love stalagmites and stalactites then del Drach is the ultimate destination. If they make you weirdly uncomfortable then probably steer clear because there are millions of the dangly bastards there. It is a bit like walking under a massive canopy of stony daggers. At least my sons had great fun comparing them all to gigantic bogeys.

At the base of the Drach complex is a large auditorium carved out of the rock in front of an underground river. As we filed in I was expecting some kind of rudimentary lightshow but in actual fact a solemn-looking chamber quartet came floating past in a barge. They were straining out an awful dirge and it came across like a funeral, but for someone who really liked caves. Or as if band on the Titanic managed to find a lifeboat. Needless to say it filled my little boys with the sudden urge to return above ground.

Above ground in Mallorca there are other things to do and see with small children. Such as the Zoologica Parc Natura which lies in the centre of the island. I am ambivalent about zoos. I normally find that the animals seem depressed, either mooching around or asleep. But my kids love them.

The Parc Natura is a really bad zoo. It’s poky and slummy, and everything seems to be coated in a fine film of shit. The enclosures aren’t really fit for purpose, there was a confused-looking zebra plonked in the same pen as a confused-looking ostrich for instance. The redeeming quality of the Parc Natura is that it’s a rescue centre so technically its inhabitants have been saved from an even shitter existence.

A prime example is an elderly lioness who was rescued from a circus where she’d had her claws removed and been generally brutalised. She is described as being cross-eyed and having learning difficulties. I know that she is in a slightly better home but even a minute in her company proved to be a dismal experience. We didn’t dare enter the gift shop but we later found a tick which had embedded itself in my youngest one’s arm so we did at least take away one souvenir.

The aquarium in Palma is altogether a more wholesome venue. I feel less guilty about aquariums than zoos, mainly because it’s more difficult for a fish to look sad. This one has a solid variety of tanks but an also a section resembling the Amazonian jungle and an impressive and unlikely selection of bouncy castles. It should be noted that in the blazing Balearic sun the bouncy castles become hot enough to fry an egg or a small child on.

Perhaps the most memorable trip was a spontaneous nose with my eldest around the church in Pollença. There was a service in progress when we visited so we took our seats in the most reverential way possible. My son gazed with widening eyes at the spreading stain-glass windows to his left, ornate figurines to his right and a gleaming gilded altarpiece in front of him. As I looked at him and wondered if right there he was being filled with the fear of God.

A deep and involved theological discussion followed later, during which the little boy seemed confused. Probably wondering how what God was thinking about when he created a bullied, cross-eyed lion with learning difficulties.

In case you’re wondering, Part 1 is here.

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A Guide to Hitting North Mallorca With Kids – Part 1

I didn’t know too much about Mallorca before I went. I knew that Magaluf was there and I had my concerns that the whole island would be riddled with pissed-up school-leavers on banana boats. My fears were unfounded. We stayed on the northern tip of the island where life is less frenetic. And largely inaccessible to banana boats.

If you are in this area and inflatable fruit is your floatable boat then my advice is to head to Port de Pollença where ranks of ginormous pineapples and watermelons dangle from the shopfronts on the promenade. There was a pleasant low thrum of activity here and for some reason it reminded me of Eastbourne, probably because of the many veteran-class English holidaymakers. It seems they’ve been coming here a while. Agatha Christie returned here on several occasions and set one of her short stories in the bay. Presumably the victim was battered to death with a large inflatable cucumber.

We ate at the Hotel Capri on the front. Like many of the restaurants in the port, the Capri stretches over the road and out into the ocean via a small pier. The waiting staff scurry back and forward to serve diners sitting at the end. There are no barriers in the space so if you have toddlers it may not be conducive to a relaxing meal. There’s little way of getting face down in a paella if your child is taking a nosedive into the Med.

Further down from the Capri, is the largest, most ornate sandcastle I’ve seen. There are two burly men stationed at its gates, presumably to ward off any vandals. Judging by the twitching feet and naughty twinkle in my sons’ eyes the precaution is probably very sensible.

If you want to destroy your own sandcastles, the best beach we found was around the bay on the Cap de Formentor. The beach is only around twenty yards deep or so your children can indulge in some light paddling or castle-construction within a skip of a sun lounger. The downside is that the beach is so compact that it is very congested. To ensure ourselves a space we booked a bed through the Hotel Formentor, which has a private section of beach. It wasn’t cheap it has to be said. The beds also come with those Balinese beach shelters which sort of feels like relaxing under the end of a broom.

The drive to the beach is worth the trip alone. The road snakes around the peninsula like a varicose vein and gives splendid views of the plunging coastline. You can pretend you’re James Bond pratting about in an Aston Martin, except there are confused goats and puffing portly cyclists in the way. We had great fun encouraging the struggling bikers up to the summit, some of whom appeared to be going backwards. For some reason Mallorca attracts bike-fanatics. Probably more to do with the strikingly wide cycle lanes rather than the searing heat.

We stayed in a villa slightly inland where the mosquitoes seemed to have gathered for some kind of mosquito conference. I apparently seem to be attractive to mosquitoes, more so than women for instance. I got bitten all over. I have to admire the spirit of adventure that led one little chap up into the darkness of my bum crack. I read afterwards that mosquitoes bite you using six needles, each with various functions like a drill-bit set. And while they suck your blood they piss on you at the same time.

So my suggestion would be take some repellent.

The rest of my north Mallorca thoughts are coming over next week. They got lost on Ryanair.

Any good?