Jane Bradley: Life’s too short for homemade Play-Doh

The attractive brightly-coloured product that brings a smile to every child's face is a world away from the grim concoction that can be whipped up  in the kitchen
The attractive brightly-coloured product that brings a smile to every child's face is a world away from the grim concoction that can be whipped up in the kitchen
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There’s a limit to what can be done in the name of austerity and home-made Play-Doh is it, writes Jane Bradley

Nearing the end of my maternity leave a couple of years ago, I was trying to be as frugal as possible.

Living for a year on little more than the statutory maternity grant had taken its toll, while it had turned out that babies were quite expensive.

I was also trying to up my wholesomeness as a mother, in a bid to assuage the guilt which was undoubtedly about to strike when I ditched my beloved daughter into the arms of strangers after I returned to work. Both of these things made the idea of making my own Play-Doh very attractive indeed.

So, I downloaded a recipe from the internet – from one of those “mummy blogs” where smiling, in-control women post idyllic pictures of the craft projects they do with their children in a bid to make the rest of us feel bad – and got to work.

It looked easy; it looked beautiful (“just add glitter for that sparkly effect” suggested the recipe); most importantly, it would cost only a few pence and, I was promised, it would be entirely natural.

None of those nasty synthetic Play-Dohs in my organic kitchen. Oh no, thank you very much. (It was only later than I consulted the ingredient list on the outside of a Play-Doh pot and discovered that it actually contains little more than flour, water and salt. And costs 99p a pot).

I didn’t have any pink food colouring, as per the picture, or sparkly glitter. But I dug around in the cupboard and used what I could find.

Half an hour later, my daughter was screaming with boredom, I was exasperated and there was a large blob of funny-smelling, grey-ish camouflage green-ish something sitting on my kitchen table. It was slimy and salty and made Morph look positively psychedelic, so dreary were the constructions we could achieve with such a material.

Yet, I persevered. Every few days, I would unclip the lid of the bulging Tupperware container (we had made double quantities) and force my daughter to “play” with it. It was like trying to build a Lego house out of snot.

When a relative bought her her first tub of actual Play-Doh – the vivid neon pink and yellow stuff with a squidgy spirally, turny thing which produced hours of fun, she almost cried with delight.

I was reminded of this extreme austerity this week, when I caught a glimpse of a clip from a popular Russian TV show.

Many Russians, aside from the oligarchs and their wives, have hit hard times in recent months. The global oil price is cheap and western sanctions are starting to bite, not least in the availability of foreign imports.

The show, Healthy Living, hosted by Elena Malysheva – a small, elderly, slightly Yoda-esque Russian matriarch in a long, orange coat – suggests a range of measures which householders can utilise to make do and mend. “We’ll Survive These Troubles!” is the title of this portion of the show.

One suggestion was ways to extend the life of a child’s school backpack, another was how to re-waterproof trainers. Useful tips.

But the third was the most incredible. Malysheva whipped out a pair of gigantic men’s underpants and proceeded to demonstrate how women could turn the delightful garment into a handy T-shirt.

The audience watched in amazement as Malysheva took a pair of scissors to the Y-fronts and quickly transformed them into a tiny crop top which she pulled over the head of a girl sitting in the audience. Viewers were rapt. I’m certain many of them were heading straight home to raid their other half’s keks drawer.

The clip has attracted nearly 100,000 views on YouTube, whether by people keen to emulate Malysheva’s quirky, frugal style, or just to gawp in incredulity, it is not clear. The fact that the enthusiastic, money-saving host was wearing an Apple watch worth a few hundred quid is perhaps by the by.

There is no doubt that we have become a nation of wasters. Zero Waste Scotland estimates that we throw away around 380,000 tonnes of food alone every year, while our consumerist penchant for chucking out something which is slightly worn and buying a new one is becoming ridiculous. But although I feel that make do and mend is an admirable aim, there is a limit. Since we were all plunged into recession a few years ago, saving cash has become a way of life - merely for the sake of it.

Google “ways to save money” and there are hundreds, literally hundreds, of blog posts, teaching you how to do things such as make your own laundry detergent, which involves having to painstakingly shave a bar of soap into a bucket and combine it with washing soda and hot water.

Goggle “frugal blog” and there are even more. But I wonder how many are doing it because they really need to live on the line – in which case, of course, every penny counts – and how many are doing it just to prove they can. And while the simple life can not be knocked, there are times when a simple life becomes an exhausting life.

Using up leftovers and turning off lights to save electricity is one thing – shaving soap into a bowl while wearing my husband’s pants as a shirt is another. And as for the homemade camouflage Play-Doh? It was relegated to the bin, never to be made again. Life’s too short for saving 99p.