Scissors, Glue Guns and Sexy Underwear: That’s Crafting

There is a notice currently outside my son’s classroom inviting families to make their own robots for display at the school. The most appealing word on this notice is ‘family’. This says to me that this project is not aimed solely at the child but also at the parent. That the parent shouldn’t be just hovering in the background like a butler, just to help with scissors. Perhaps it’s the child who just helps with scissors.

Or perhaps the child should just entertain themselves for a bit while daddy gets on with the important business: developing moodboards, creating concept art, procuring materials. Truly, it’s this type of endeavour that excites me these days.

Crafting is like D.I.Y. in safety mode. The potential for causing lasting structural damage is minimal. And that is comforting for someone like me who can’t plug in a power drill without inadvertently smashing down a supporting wall. It’s also a chance for me to prove my value to my children; Christ knows I won’t be building any climbing frames for them.

I should clarify that I only properly enjoy craft time without my children. With them, it’s like being slathered with glue and left out in a sandstorm of googly eyes. Today my son celebrated his fifth birthday with a jungle-themed party. Which was an excuse for my wife and me to get round the table and bang out a selection of suitable animals. This is special ‘mummy-and-daddy’ time now. My wife will produce some of her sexiest hosiery. And we’ll stuff them with newspaper to make reticulated pythons.

The most exciting innovation of our craft-time is the glue gun. What a way to feel alive. The greatest appeal of the gun is that the glue is so strong. I don’t mean in the way the scent curls up your nostrils and distorts the mind, although that’s probably why I like to take my top off, daub my face in water-based paints, point the gun in the air and yell “it’s craft time, bitches!”

What I mean that its adhesive power is so impressive. I can fire off a couple of rounds into the back of a pom-pom and it will stick to a papier-mâché tarantula for eternity. A glue stick is frail and ineffective in comparison and leads to a chaos of gummy pom-poms and naked spiders.

The other essential tool for the discerning crafter is some high-end scissors. There is nothing like the feeling of a paper gliding gracefully through paper without a single snip. I hope that soon my son will experience this. We’ve had a note from his teacher that he hasn’t quite mastered handling scissors and that he needs to practise. Perhaps he should step forward from the background and take the lead on the robot project. It’s craft time, bitches.

Any good?

Things To Know About Buying A Fish For Your Kids

We decided to get my son a pet for his birthday. My wife despises animals and I have a lot of quite specific criteria. Nothing with a visible bumhole for instance. Or anything that might look at me with a sad, neglected face. Or anything that needs washing or combing. Which doesn’t leave much. But my son loves animals, so we plumped for a fish. We figured it would create a big impression, but at little cost.

I did no research before we purchased the fish. I had no real experience of fish-keeping. The only goldfish I’ve ever owned was won at a funfair, throwing a ping-pong ball into a jam jar. It lived for a few probably quite unhappy weeks in a glorified bucket, before leaning over and floating to the top. I did not want that existence for my son’s fish.

So today we went to the local garden centre which contains a concession selling tropical fish. I took my son along so he could choose for himself. But we were soon advised that we’d have to prepare the aquarium for at least week before we could move the fish in. The water needs to be treated and filtered first. My son’s birthday is on Monday and essentially we’re getting him an empty fish tank.

The man in the shop really liked fish. I felt like if I’d proceeded with anything other than the welfare of the fish as a priority, cost for instance, he would have thought less of me. I figured the same from my son. There was silent judgement from all sides. So when I was told the fish would need a little heater I bought one. Special healthy water powder? Yes please. Nu-rave pink gravel? Go on then. I’d promised my son a little ornament to entertain his new friends in their home. He opted for a pagoda. Because it reminded him of the local Chinese supermarket. Which will obviously make them feel comfortable.

Suddenly this cost-effective gift wasn’t very effective any more. And my regret swelled when I got it home and began to assemble it. The instructions were testing. A bit like that middle bit in the Bake-Off when the contestants are asked to construct a croquembouche with a recipe that just says “put together some bits of something or other and then bake it”. Once I’d finally assembled the filter, the heater and the aquarium light I connected them all to the mains and lobbed them into the water. I feel as if I should have been fatally electrocuted there and then. It may still happen.

And now it’s in the corner of my son’s bedroom. He fell asleep looking at it. But the light is bouncing off the lumo-pink gravel giving the room a weird seedy glow like a brothel. I’m still regretting it and we haven’t bought the fish yet.

Any good?

It’s Not Just The Kids Who Are Learning At School

We felt a lot of trepidation before my son started school. He had no idea what was coming, but his mum and I contemplated all sorts of challenges that he might face: the difficulty of making friends, the stress of homework, the phenomenal adjustment required to step on to the five-day-a-week treadmill. But so far he has adapted very well. This is probably a lot to do with his teacher, who I am beginning to suspect is the most brilliant person in the world.

We expected the extreme fatigue. The overwhelming newness of everything whacks him out. And with the overtiredness naturally comes the rage. His anger is not directed at school but at his parents and our tiresome insistence on bathing and sleeping. And feeding him watermelon. And the usual paradox is at work: the more sleep a child needs they less they want it. But this is all to be anticipated.

There are elements of his school experience that have surprised us all however. He managed to get lost within the confines of a single climbing frame for instance. He was retrieved by a kindly classmate who was rewarded with a sticker for his efforts. He’s also perplexed by the manner in which the children are allowed to go to the toilet; they appear to be kept in some kind of holding pattern. Which would seem bizarre to me too.

Stuffing caught him unawares also. As a family we don’t really do stuffing. It only really makes an appearance on our dinner table at Christmas, along with hot ham and dessert wine. Stuffing has passed my son by. So when he was served it for his lunch, he was confused. Which is fair enough, it just looks like squidgy meat. He described it as ‘yucky sausage’, in case any stuffing advertisers are looking for some copy.

I have been learning too. I have learnt that I need to take my glasses when I pick my sons from school. To prevent me waving enthusiastically at the wrong child and scaring the shit out of them. If you’re reading, little boy on the trike, I am profoundly sorry.

Last week I picked up my younger son from nursery at lunchtime while his brother was halfway through his school slog. I am not sure what I thought would happen, perhaps that the youngest would be presented to me through a hatch. Instead I was invited to wander through the school grounds to fetch him from his classroom. My concern was that his brother would glimpse me, mistake the situation for his extraction and an unseemly kerfuffle would ensue.

So I turned up the collar of my coat, edged along with my back against any wall and made my way furtively to the rendez-vous by the mud kitchen. Which is not a good luck for a lone adult man in a primary school. I eventually had to explain myself to a suspicious janitor. Once he was satisfied by my explanation I reached the nursery.

Happily I arrived undetected. My older son was nowhere to be seen, possibly at that moment missing within the vast climbing frame. Of course the first thing my youngest wanted to do once I’d picked him up was to seek out his brother. He suggested that I use a pair of binoculars.

We all have a lot to learn.

Any good?

I’m A National Trust Member And I’m Officially Past It

I remember when it all ended for me and my wife. Even as the transaction was complete I felt some of my life-force slip away from me, like we’d taken a shortcut into our autumnal years. I looked down at the little circular sticker that I’d just been presented with and all it said to me was: IT’S OVER FOR YOU. We were members of the National Trust.

We joined up in March last year at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge. Wimpole has a working farm and terrific selection of ginger pigs. We were seduced. Since then I have attended only a few events that might possibly described as youthful. This summer I went to a music festival on an industrial estate in Peckham Rye. And even though the dancefloor was filled with people of my own age, I felt decrepit.

The stigma of NT membership fixed itself to me around like the stench of homemade preserve. I shuffled around as if ‘ANCIENT’ had been branded onto my forehead. All I could do was to loiter sheepishly in the wings and tap my foot arrhythmically. I may as well have been a chaperone, a fusty old dad only there to pick up his kids. I was a member of the National Trust, the oak branch logo lit in the sky above me like the Bat signal.

The motto of the National Trust is “for ever, for everyone”. But mainly for old people. There seems to have been a concerted push to appeal to younger families, but in truth there isn’t a vast amount to do for a small child. They introduced an activity list for children, but it’s mostly things you can do on your doorstep, like making out farm animals in cloud formations or rounding up beetles. On a doorstep.

If there is an adventure playground then it isn’t very adventurous, perhaps a small curve of tree stumps to skip along. At Easter and Christmas treasure trails are offered, mostly perfunctory copy-and-paste jobs from the year before. If you are lucky, somewhere in the grounds there might be an angry owl on the end of a rope and a man in an oven glove waiting to show it off.

But I don’t regret signing up. Because even if there isn’t a great deal to do, National Trust properties are nice places to be. They’re always kempt, the woodwork always freshly chalk-painted, and you can set your watch by the jam scones in the cafes. I believe that they may have found the perfect baked spud and cheese and cloned it.

There is something affirmingly democratic about how the National Trust allows the population at large to scurry and nose around what used to be exclusive domains of toffs. Our preferred NT property is Polesden Lacey, where the Queen’s mum and dad had their honeymoon. Its history doesn’t register with our kids. When you are running off your cloned jacket potato on the vast rolling slopes, nothing does.

Any good?

My Advice To My Son As He Starts School (Which He Didn’t Ask For)

My son starts school tomorrow. And he has only asked me for one piece of advice. He is concerned about accidentally breaking wind in his classroom (I’m paraphrasing for reasons of delicacy). I have explained that he shouldn’t feel ashamed if he lets something slip on the odd occasion but to try and avoid making a habit of it. Just in case his classmates start giving him and his emissions a wide berth. I added that if he was suffering from excessive wind then to speak to his teacher and ask permission to visit the toilet.

In a half-baked attempt at crowdsourcing, we also asked the six-year-old son of a friend of mine for some general tips on reception class. His core message was that it gets more difficult in Year 1. In fact it was his only message. He offered nothing about reception itself. It seemed a bit brutal, but he’s probably on to something.

It only gets more difficult from here. Part of me feels sad for my son because from now he’s basically going full-time. And he will remain full-time until he is pensioned off. Apart from some respite in school holidays and at university, which from my experience is just a long series of afternoon baths.

Of course I am not telling my son any of this. And obviously it’s not like he’s joined the rat race just yet. He’s outside the rat stadium on the rat warm-up track, honing his racing skills with his new rat pals. From what I can gather reception class involves finding stuff out, a bit of structured play (the best kind of play) and the constant provision of snacks. In this environment my son is going to thrive.

It’s probably best that my son hasn’t asked me for any guidance other than my thoughts on flatulence (clearly he considers me to be an expert in this area). But if he does seek my counsel again then I will let him know this: to make the most of his school days he should be kind, have fun and use all the talents that he obviously possesses.

And just go easy on the free flapjacks. If you’re still worried about the wind.

Any good?