"There are too many bloody shrinks around," he'd say. "You can't move for them: useless buggers." There was a particular shrink in whose hearing he'd always opine thus at my parents' parties. I'd goad him by suggesting he was protesting too much simply because he shared a name with the pope of anti-psychiatry, RD Laing. Which would get him going even more.
"You know why there're all these damned shrinks don't you?" I did indeed – he had told me – but it was always a pleasure to hear him tell me again. "It's because there's no respect for remedial craft, just like there's no respect for making things. You English (he was a Scot) aren't interested in there being a product." That is, a product such as a face rebuilt out of necessity or vanity (which is necessity by another name, though see the shrinks on this one). Or a product such as the E-Type Jag – English, surely? – that he drove at such speed that he once got me from London to Salisbury in 65 G-forced minutes: any trouble from the constabulary and he'd point at the Clarence House sticker on the windscreen (he'd seen to the Queen Mum's face).
"They let all these people into medical school without finding out whether they've made a plane out of balsa. Have they ever completed an Airfix kit? They have not." That, I always felt, would have been my fate sealed. Had I attended medical school I'd have ended up a shirking shrink – for I failed the Airfix test: the Lancaster bomber's wheels wouldn't retract, there was Humbrol on the cushions and the carpet. My one essay in balsa construction served only to introduce me to peardrop-scented dope. I flew; the plane didn't. But at least we had the opportunity – even if that opportunity was spurned by cackhands like me – of making models from balsa, Airfix, Revel, Meccano and, for New Elizabethan design-and-builders, Mini-Bricks. There was also a system that employed rods between which were slotted plastic lozenges, like curtain walls, and another where we mixed our own concrete for slender Dudok-ish bricks of 15 × 7.5 × 2 mm. This one was an enemy to reuse, thus unpopular with parents.
My one essay in balsa construction introduced me to peardrop-scented dope. I flew; the plane didn’t
All these forms of modelling kit were, of course, "interactive" – not that we knew it. At this juncture I might, I suppose, fall into old fart mode and fulminate against a quality that informs such kits today. I might … I might as well. My daughters are aged between 20 and eight. In their lifetimes, the degree of sheer slickness of the hobbyistic/craft-educative props has grown in inverse proportion to that of the skill and rigour demanded of the user.
I'm a fine one to talk, sure – but at least those kits used to present a challenge. I failed it, but was at least enjoined by their very quiddity to take it on. And for every kid who was as bottom-of-the-class as I was, there was bound to be one who was top, and who might have seen the way to realising his (it was always his, then) potential through an extension of those media. In other words, he might realise that he had a future as a builder, an architect, an engineer, a maker. I don't hold to the notion that CAD programs will benefit children in the long term: they're too easy. They're Barbie and Klaus – sorry, Ken! – on a screen. Even this clumsy oaf can distinguish between getting his fingers round the right screw and punching a button (as the actress said to the bishop).