Craft and creativity in a Covid age with New Forest Mark and Hugh

Old school, new school, young school

New Forest Mark and Hugh with a rather more sober than usual contemplation about the role of craft and creativity, in a Covid age and beyond

Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400This week Mark takes on a rather more serious theme which is definitely cause for consideration by ourselves as well - although it's true even many more of us probably relax these days with soduku, crosswords and jigsaw puzzles...and Hugh's cartoon lightens any serious mood!

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Valerie Singleton, recycler extraordinaire

Those of us of a fine vintage will be more than familiar with the ritual of rinsing and saving yoghurt pots then finding the space to store dozens of empty cereal and egg boxes. We were doing this long before recycling became the norm. These seemingly uninteresting objects were destined for one final glorious role as they made their sad journey from the fridge to the bin. Some might be transformed into Thunderbird 2, perhaps Tracey Island or maybe a pencil stand.

Back in the seventies many of us watched Blue Peter. Every week there was something different to create and most mothers had a cupboard which was stuffed with craft items from paints to pots and from glue to glitter.  I remember my intense concentration as I followed the steps for the latest construction. These had to be memorised. There was no ‘catch up’ television then. No internet to peruse, it was great fun and used to occupy us for hours.

Old school, new school

There’s a reason that computer games are so popular and not just with younger people either. They are visually exciting and often addictive. The graphics are superb and improve year on year as does the processing technology of the machines that run them. However, do you think that a mute, lone child sat at a desk in a darkened bedroom, curtains drawn and the face illuminated by a flashing screen is a happy sight? Gone is the interaction with others and the life-giving vitamin D, the bulk of which we absorb in sunshine. Social skills are not given to us in a box that we open at Christmas. These skills are honed around the kitchen table and we soon learn how to interpret the raised eyebrow or perhaps a slight hesitation in an answer or the change in tone of a voice. Hints such as these can be an insight into the soul. These revealing reflexes can offer a great deal to the watchful. For years Chinese jewellers have looked intently into the eyes of their clients. When opening a box containing a piece, the jeweller looks for dilation of the iris which betrays a positive response. If the client feigns disinterest the jeweller knows the lie and the trap is set. Through intelligent observation the jeweller will become richer, the client poorer and the client’s wife happier.

Did you see my bookshelf?

Thanks to the great lurgy it would appear that even interaction at our place of work is under threat. In this brave new world, we won’t have to commute or even put on a skirt or a pair of trousers. All we need to do is arrange a camera so that it faces an impressive array of books, sit behind a desk, look somewhat intelligent and try to stay awake. Dad will be in the family home and not at his company headquarters. When his working day ends, he simply shuts the lid of the laptop and walks into the kitchen for a glass of the good stuff. There’s no gin fuelled two-hour train commute and he doesn’t fall, exhausted, through the door at seven pm only to switch on the news and fall fast asleep. No, Covid daddy is ready to create! He has been sat at a screen for eight hours and his strained eyes and twitching fingers crave relief. The simple shapes and gentle tones of the empty corn flake packet are a balm for his exhausted soul. He stretches his fingers like a pianist about to embark on a major work. His busy mind slowly settles as he contemplates how best to glue plastic to cardboard. It looked so simple on the telly! Who could have imagined that messing about with PVA glue could be good for the soul?

If Carlsberg made grandparents

There are two friends of mine, Evelyn and Steve, who have found themselves in high demand as grandparents. At the same time, they have discovered that grandparenting is in itself, high demand. They tell me that they always sigh with relief when the two girls, one six, the other two, are collected by their parents. Children of that age have incredible energy (as you once did) and parenting is hard; after a punishing day at work, it’s harder still. Parents are generally much younger than us and with youth comes resilience. Nature equips younger parents well and they can cope when a poorly child keeps them awake in the wee small hours.  For people of mature years to become good grandparents is a daunting task, especially for extended periods. Children are just plain demanding.

Evelyn and Steve like to take their grandchildren on a stroll to nearby woods armed with shopping bags which are filled with leaves, sticks, bark, fir cones and anything else which might be useful. On return to the house the dining table becomes an impromptu work bench and utter chaos reigns. Only grown-ups are permitted to use the extremely hot glue gun but other than that the children are free to create; there is often blissful silence as their fertile minds are absorbed with invention. Once the children have been collected by their parents the real work starts as the lounge is reclaimed for some well-earned evening rest and relaxation. Have you ever seen anyone using a leaf blower inside their home?

These children are lucky. Their imaginations are fired by their outdoor experiences and I know that Evelyn and Steve often face a barrage of questions. I wonder if these childhood experiences will mean that computer games might not have the same appeal as they do to other more housebound youngsters? Perhaps the sights and smells of these woodland walks will give their grandchildren a thirst for a more natural environment. It might be that for these two the flashing visuals of computer games hold less appeal than they do for others. Time will tell but one thing is for certain; these children will be socially capable. We might not be able to say quite the same for a child that has been left alone in a room all day long, day after day.

We don’t know what we know

A good friend once told me this motto as a warning against making assumptions. We are both from mechanical backgrounds and as such we are extremely capable. A common mistake is to assume that others have the same abilities. When my children were very young, I volunteered to help out in class. I suggested to the teacher that they might try to make something simple like a mug tree. I would supply the wood and bring in some tools. All the children had to do was cut through one small piece of wood. The whole thing was an utter disaster. They didn’t even know one end of a saw from the other and they certainly couldn’t use one. I had assumed far too much. When you get involved in grandparenting you soon learn what they are capable of but for me the terrifying thing is what they don’t know. The life experiences that you and I take for granted are foreign to the little ones. They don’t know that a freshly made cup of coffee can hurt. I have personally rushed a scalded child to a hospital in my car. The experience was shattering. Children have no idea how dangerous electricity is either. Imagine you are making Yorkshire puddings and carefully taking a pan of smoking hot fat from the oven. A child will think nothing of standing close behind you. For them there is no danger. They will dash into the street without warning or climb dangerous heights fearlessly. When my son Ben was a toddler, he went through a phase of posting things. He found a small magnetic plastic letter, the type that you rearrange to form rude words on the fridge door at parties. He posted it into the gas fired heater in the lounge. The letter melted and when the heater was switched off that evening it prevented the gas valve from fully shutting; slowly the house filled with gas. After smelling it in the early hours my wife called an emergency engineer who confirmed there was an explosive atmosphere; luckily, we got away with it. When I am with my two-year-old grandson I watch him like a hawk. His mother lets him make his own mistakes wherever possible but for the serious stuff, she quickly intervenes as do I.

There’s a lot we can give

I shall leave you with this thought. Children are very impressionable as are some adults. If we keep our opinions to ourselves, we will allow our grandchildren to develop theirs. The rest they will learn in the playground where hopefully they will have developed the social skills to choose their friends wisely. With the television switched off children can speak. When they speak they receive replies and they learn. When they are enjoying crafting, they are learning still more and learning to love their grandparents.

Don’t forget, they’re only ours for but a moment. Enjoy these short but precious times and try to expand their creative side. It might be tough but it will be worthwhile.

elfnsafety in the woods


More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:

Dreaming of holidays
Miracle or monster? Modern communications

RNLI and Lymington Lifeboat

Happy New Year Resolutions and Revolutions
Merry Christmas 2020
What our cars say about us
The litter pickers of the New Forest

A roof over your New Forest head

Richard St Barbe Baker

Our star, our sun, our salt!
To Lymington or Cuba
The Auld Mug

Seeds of success

Moonlit meeting with cetaceans 

Trees and what they tell us
Cartography and trig pillars

Pony drifts and pannage in the New Forest
A journey from the New Forest via Lymington
The brilliance - and persistence - of Marconi

Equality in the skies
Bees pollinators par excellence 
Cordless home entertainment

The joy of sheds

When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Bucklers Hard

Salisbury Cathedral 
Pond Life in our Forests 
Bombs Away 
Baileys Hard 
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Heath fires
Lymington Lido
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...



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