Published: 04/08/2017 16:00 - Updated: 03/08/2017 12:05

Joyous calm of a paper take-off


My mother’s youngest brother, my uncle David, started it.

He showed me how to fold a piece of paper, and make a paper aeroplane. I was entranced. I was only five.

That same night I was left with Mr and Mrs Forbes (“Foozie” and “the other Foozie”) in Craighill Terrace. This was where I was usually parked when my parents went out somewhere for the evening.

Donnie Forbes – who worked at the Glenmorangie distillery – gave me a small note pad with pages that easily tore out, and for the next two or three hours, sitting in front of the fire, I folded paper aeroplane after paper aeroplane. A lifetime habit was born.

Next came the Rupert annual.

I wonder how many readers remember this, but generally speaking there was a bit of paper folding, origami, in it each year.

In one story Rupert folds a giant square of paper into a box, then he goes boating on the river in it. At the end of the story were the instructions. Squint-eyed and tongue-out with concentration, I carefully taught myself to make that box. Today I can rattle it up in a jiffy.

Next was a paper dragon that would eat things – and then a catamaran – and then a Chinese junk. All still part of my repertoire today.

Finally there was the spider.

I cannot tell you how many times I tried – I was 10 or 11 by now – and every time I would get so far, and then I would come to a step I couldn’t follow at all.

The diagram made no sense. Finally, when I was sick and bored in bed, I remember this as cleary as yesterday, fiddling with the paper, the clever move came to me. Not true origami because it requires four small cuts with scissors, nevertheless my first splendid spider came into being. Today it remains my showman piece.

Now you would think that “when I became a man I put away childish things” but as you sense from the above, this is not the case. And it is particularly bad when I am in church.

“In today reading from the New Testament we heard...”

At this point, almost as if someone else is guiding my hands while I listen to the sermon, I take the order of service, fold it on the diagonal so as to make a perfect square, tear along the crease, and off I go.

The box, the spider, or the superior type of aeroplane taught to me by James Richardson (nowadays distinguished surgeon) while we were at Tain Academy – who knows where the minister’s words take me. But they always end up with something folded sitting beside the hymn book or pew Bible. It’s quite odd. Some people reach for the extra strong mints or fall asleep, but I do a spot of origami. Almost every time.

Of course it is true that these repetitive actions – a bit like knitting or chopping the veg for a stir fry – do in themselves have a calming effect. And they don’t take away from conversation, or simply listening to the television or indeed the sermon. Although I would not be surprised to find that fellow worshippers find my origami a little surprising, I would say that it does no harm.

Maybe it’s my age, but I would go a little further than this.

Right now I am very much in the middle of buffeting circumstances.

Three email accounts, Facebook and Twitter, not to mention two iPads and an iPhone. There is so much coming at me right now that sometimes I hardly know which way to turn.

This is not an unusual feeling in this age of social media and complete interconnectedness. Many will share my experience and will understand just how discombobulating it can be. It rattles one at the edges.

So this is where the older calming pursuits have a value that I never fully understood before. I am grateful to my uncle David. That’s why I always make my first fold.

Want to make a spider? I’m your man.

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