Close your eyes.
You’re sitting in the corner of a room, where low winter sun is filtering through the net curtains at the window. Picture two little boys aged 7 and 8 playing on the bedroom floor with a metal Meccano set. Hear the tin clinking as little fingers sort through small nuts and bolts, angle and rods. Sense the oily aroma of the slightly rusted components. Feel the pride as a working model is crafted from insignificant parts, lovingly assembled in the same way their father had done with the same set so many years before.
It was a learning environment, right from my earliest memories, whether it was the discovery of mechanics using Lego, physics whilst damming a stream, or the discovery of a completely new concept whilst out on a hike in the woods.
The discussion of the forces at work in a bridge structure; the philosophy of a political dilemma; the risk assessment of pyrotechnic reconstructions; the involvement in domestic construction projects – I could never escape mind-challenging scenarios.
We built two different rafts, made of pallets and dozens of lemonade bottles (calculated at 1 bottle, or 2kg of upthrust, per kg of load to give a theoetical safety factor of 50%) We had heaps of fun launching them into a small river, but soon discovered that load distribution and structure weight needed consideration on any future vessel designs!
We discovered, first-hand, how dangerous it is to dismantle fireworks.
I raised small animals and sold them as pets. I rescued an eel (by hand) that was swimming round in the water filter on a boat, built an aquarium to keep it and returned it to its home a few months later.
I learnt basic financial concepts buying eggs in bulk at auction, and selling them at a modest mark-up to the neighbours; taking a bucket and squeegee to clean the windows at friends homes; and watching my younger brother excel at his rabbit-breeding venture.
My brother and I dismantled bike frames and reassembled them in different ways. We made one with a ski foot in place of each wheel, but the snow disappeared before we had a chance to try it. You can imagine how the feelings of pride and defeat combined when we saw the very same style of bike, shown professionally-built, in a magazine a couple of years later.
Together with my best friend, we built a go-kart with a lawn-mower engine. I cast lead into a home-made mould to make shot for my catapult. We were constantly finding ways to create using limited resources and minimal external guidance, but we succeeded in realising a vast array of creative ideas.
I bought my first car. I changed the engine over for different one. I bought another car. I changed the engine on that for a bigger one. After two weeks of being up to my elbows in grease, and with nothing but a Haynes manual to guide me (no Google!) it started on the first turn of the engine. See the car.
The learning curve resembles a roller-coaster, but the experience has been exponentially more exhilarating!
For me, the learning environment has never stopped.