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Lucy Mangan: ‘I can‘t tell you how deeply I hate making stuff’

Someone turn on the telly before Lucy has to get creative with poster paint

It’s the new year. There’s no Halloween. There’s no Bonfire Night. There is no Christmas. It’s cold. It’s dark. ‘It’s booooorrriiiiiinnnng’ comes the cry from sons and daughters across the land. I curse our pagan and Christian forefathers for not inventing something to break up the remainder of the dead season. Somehow I don’t fancy my chances of getting my three-year-old interested in Burns’ Night (‘On January 25th, you’ll get to eat haggis! No, it’s not like pasta with tomato sauce but you get to recite poetry in an auld Scottish dialect. Come back here!’).

When I were a lass, children were expected either to turn the television on (all three channels of it), make their own entertainment or to be bored. I read, mostly. Or made pompoms. Yeah, I’ve made a lot of pompoms in my time. I don’t know why. I never made them into anything. What CAN you make pompoms into? They just gather dust. They’re intimations of mortality, spherical testaments to the futility of life in coloured wool. And at three years old, my son is not dextrous enough even to have a bash.

As Modern Engaged Parents, of course, turning on the television is anathema. You might as well say you’re having your child voluntarily lobotomised. 

We are expected to be productively engaged with, or at least arranging, stimulating activities for our children at all times. But I honestly have no words to tell you how deeply I hate art and crafting, playing with coloured sand, constructing cardboard forts or anything involving poster paints. Maybe it’s different for parents who have artistic leanings or a practical bent. I have nothing. All of it makes me want to smash my house up. I pray nightly to an unbenevolent 

God that my son will learn to read soon and take us both away from all this.

In desperation I turn to my husband. He was born in the country and I always feel that this should give him more insight into the unformed, primitive world of childhood. ‘What did you do as a child when you were bored?’ I ask.

‘Fight,’ he replies, turning another page of his book, More Naval Battles Than You Know What To Do With. ‘Builds character. And either leadership or survival skills. Then we’d throw some jacks at the wall and start dancing with a powerful yet graceful animal energy. No, wait – that was West Side Story.’

I am reminded why I only ever turn to my husband in desperation.

‘What else?’ I say, helplessly.

‘I talked to old people. But today’s old people are rubbish. Baby boomers instead of war veterans. What are they going to do – tell him stories about their final salary pension schemes? I took things apart – but now everything’s modular and designed so that nobody can get in to repair it and you have to buy a new one every time, so he won’t be able to do that. I climbed trees, but we live in an urban wasteland.’


OK then. Pompoms or televisual lobotomy it is then. Sorry, kid. Wrong time, wrong place, wrong parents. Better luck next time.

If you hate craft, too, try…

Washing up
Fill a bowl with (clean) soapy water and use plastic pots to ‘make’ cups of tea.

Cardboard box
Save any large boxes and hand one to your toddler with a tub of crayons. Believe him when he says it’s a bus.

Paint charts
Next time you’re in a DIY shop, pick up a few free colour-mixing-system paint cards. Challenge your toddler to find something in your home or garden that matches each of the colours.

Sort a pile of items from the recycling bin that are safe to play with. Arrange them on the floor to ‘make’ a spaceship control panel, a wiggly line, a dinosaur… 

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