News, Culture & Society

CRAIG BROWN says his number one life lesson is Poohsticks

A poll reports that two-thirds of men think they were worse than their own fathers at teaching their children ‘life lessons’ such as making a catapult or washing a car.

I know how they feel. Sometimes, I wish that my own father had taught me the valuable life lesson of ignoring all polls.

How much richer my life would have been if the two of us had sat together tearing all the latest polls out of newspapers and throwing them onto our camp fire as the evening sun went down.

The poll in question came with a list of 30 lessons that today’s fathers have failed to pass on. Top of the list is Building A Tree House, which seems a little ambitious.

In Poohsticks, (pictured, Winnie the Pooh) you have to stand on a bridge and throw sticks into a river before rushing to the over side to see which one comes sailing past first 

Whatever next? Recording A Number One Hit Record? Tracking Down A Criminal Mastermind And Placing Him Under Citizen’s Arrest?

One or two of the lessons are so easy that even I have managed to pass them on. For instance, at number 11 comes Playing Poohsticks. I am proud to say that I taught both my children to play Poohsticks. 

You stand on one side of a bridge, throw sticks into a river, and then rush over to see which one emerges first. It is not all that difficult, just so long as you don’t forget to let go.

Now that they have grown up, I have to play Poohsticks on my own. Crossing a bridge over the Thames near Lechlade the other day, I threw two sticks into the river.

Oddly enough, the stick I had really wanted to win came second, while the stick that I had chucked in half-heartedly, so as to hamper its chances, emerged the winner.

But it taught me a valuable life-lesson: if you really want to win, play against yourself.

Many of the life lessons in the poll seem completely unnecessary. At number 21 comes Washing A Car. I think I once washed a car as part of a Boy Scout Bob-a-Job week, but I have never felt the need to repeat it. After all, it’s not as if I’m in charge of a car showroom.

And anyway, to a large extent, cars are self-cleaning. Once you have bought them, they quickly go from sparkling clean to moderately dirty to very dirty, and then there’s a downpour of rain and — hey presto! — they’re back to being moderately dirty again. Who could ask for anything more?

Other life lessons, such as Skimming A Stone, also seem useless. Few spectacles are gloomier than the sight of three generations of men, each one teaching the other how best to skim stones. 

Far quicker to teach your child Sinking A Stone and be done with it. I don’t want to poke fun at all these skills. Some I would dearly love to have. My life would be much richer, for instance, if I were able to identify one bird from another. 

I know the most famous ones (seagull, robin, peacock, swan, ostrich), but with anything less showy I draw a blank.

Other life lessons, such as Skimming A Stone (stock photograph), also seem useless, writes Craig Brown 

Other life lessons, such as Skimming A Stone (stock photograph), also seem useless, writes Craig Brown 

I own bird books galore, but in my experience birds are fidgety things, and refuse to stick around long enough for you to rush indoors, lay your hands on the right book, turn to the relevant page and check up on their song, plumage and habitat.

Perhaps the pollsters asked the wrong question. In these dizzying days of electronic devices and social media, it is the fathers who need lessons from their children, and not the other way round.

Though I may be able to catch a tadpole and make a daisy chain, in 2018 there’s no call for tadpoles or daisy chains, unless they have just been trans- formed into important new technical terms in the latest Microsoft handbook.

It all calls to mind the old Groucho Marx gag from Duck Soup.

‘Why, a four-year-old child could understand this report!’

‘So run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can’t make head or tail out of it!’