Only boring people get bored. That's what we're told. Gauge your eyes out, then go do something. Look like you're being productive. Because life is about being busy and looking busy and doing busy-people things like, heaving a sigh to show how busy your life is.
My son said he was bored for the first time the other day. Stumped, I was. Had I had wine in my mouth, it would have made the white wall abstract. Up to this point he'd accompanied his 8-year-old existence with a soundtrack of gun noises and whispers from inside an adventure-hungry and bellicose Lego community it was impossible to yank him out of.
I thought about saying 'only boring people get bored' but it seemed counter-intuitive. I thought about giving him a list of boredom-crushing possibilities. Playing with his little sister was out of the question because she was feeding her plastic baby compost, DVDs were for evenings, but a puzzle was an option, or reading Harry Potter in French, or drawing a picture for his auntie who always asks for a picture but never gets one, or setting up some kind of battle scene where General Grievous meets the naughty ones in Jurassic Park. But then he'd groan and say that he didn't like dinosaurs anymore, plus they're at his dad's house now.
There was no way I was going to play with him. I was taking my newly-enforced 20 minutes out to read. The 20-minute rule stipulates that all three of us have to do our own thing. For 20 minutes. No 'he or she did this', no 'can I haves', no 'but whys', no feeling bad for anything.
I looked at him, kicking at books with his bare feet. I remembered what a friend had told me about how he'd made little people out of his own fingers through lack of toys, so to my son's statement, I finally replied "great". A risk, I know.
The boy saw me dive back into my book and produced an apocalyptic teenage huff. So he dragged his toes into the sitting room. Apart from the three occasions where he came back to take a pair of scissors, then a magazine, some thread and felt-tip pens, offering a generous display of fury each time, I didn't see him for 20 minutes.
When his sister soon bombarded back in to inform me her baby was in hospital because she had eaten three Sylvanian Family rabbits, together with the compost and a worm, so baby needed to have paracetamol injected into her ear, she asked where her brother was. I said he was in the sitting room.
"You can both come in if you want," he said, peering round the corner.
So in we went.
The place was a crime scene. There were ripped up bits of cardboard and paper and pens with tops off, the scissors were lying on the cat. But there was something standing upright.
Four shoebox lids had been taped together making a wonky box, upside-down U-shapes cut out to make tables, toilet rolls for chimneys, and little paper candles with squiggles of orange dangled from the ceiling on thread. It looked like they were floating. Tiny pizzas and chocolate bars and oversized bananas had been torn from supermarket magazines and all the rolled-up paper people given a feast. 'Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry' it said on the front.
"Don't touch it!" he said to his sister, throwing her finger away.
I couldn't help smiling. He'd turned boredom into something beautiful.
Here, the risk was worth it. But it's not an easy one to go for. Particularly given our modern day quest to annihilate boredom. To place higher value on creating to-do lists than doing nothing. To make screens into dream surrogates. To Netflix ennui. The DVD at the back of the Renault Espace is that telling example of how reverie - staring out of the window at cows or clouds - ends up on the dust heap.
Granted, if you do take the DVD away from the kids, you may want to put them up for adoption, because yes, it will be loud. But in de-screening them, you're potentially letting the brats develop a very cool human skill which is how to get somewhere with nothing. How to develop the best pinching techniques in history, show empathy for a sibling who gets punished for what you in fact did, how to produce a coordinate harmony to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, making it sound almost medieval.
The makeshift Hogwarts shows that there's creative potential in dillydallying. Even if it will be messy. Check out all those scientists who discovered things when they didn't mean to. That pharmacist chap, Walker, who was stirring a pot of chemicals and noticed a dried lump at the end of his mixing stick. He tried to scratch it off but it burst into flames. And the world got its first prototype of the strikeable match. And there's the apple on the head one, of course.
So here's to the time-wasters of this world, to those who rip their hair out and turn around in circles, kick books, make magic from nowhere and surprise themselves. To the procrastinators and masturbators who have no clue where they're going but venture there regardless.
To all those 8 year olds who say 'I'm bored'.
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