I have what some may describe a bad habit of always keeping myself busy. In my books, being inactive is a criminal waste of precious time. Of course work and family takes up a lot of one’s day but I am talking about the period of leisure. Time spent during leisure hours has to have a purpose and ideally something to show by way of achievement – something creative.
It is difficult to identify the ‘whys’ related to spending leisure time. Why does A play so much golf? Why is B always in the shops? Why does C like photography? Why is X sociable? Why does Y like reading books; Why does Z spend so much time watching TV and reading the newspaper? It’s a combination of a host of factors including your genes, the environment, financial resources, etc. but also what phase of life one is passing through. Before marriage, leisure is personal and probably involves a lot to physical related activities. After marriage it becomes child-centered and then as the nest empties and the children fly away, leisure reverts back to being a personal affair but much more sedentary. That is the phase of leisure that I am passing through when I was placed on a strict quarantine by my wife because of the Coronavirus.
My father retired in the late 1950s when I was at the age of 10 and established a small factory within the industrial area of the new capital of Islamabad now called the ‘I’ Sector. The factory manufactured furniture and sparkplugs and it was for this reason that for many years my two main hobbies were tinkering with the car and designing and making furniture. I also became a good handy man around the house and one of the best compliments that I received from one of my grandsons was to hear him boast “My Nana can fix anything”. Of course once one is past the age of 60, it is difficult to continue with physically demanding hobbies but fortunately I had acquired others which enabled me to overcome the boredom of being quarantined.
Forced isolation is the ideal time to complete unfinished projects and I pulled out a 1,000-piece jigsaw that my eldest daughter and I had worked on during her visit from the UK last year. It has a very interesting theme commemorating 100 years of uninterrupted service in war and peace of the Waterloo Station in London. Named after the battlefield where the British defeated Napoleon, Waterloo is the busiest railway station in the UK, and also the country’s largest in terms of floor space and number of platforms. The jigsaw is in two parts with exactly the same scenes but one set in the Second World War and the other during the 1950s. My daughter completed most to the difficult and tedious portions including the roof which has a lot of similar looking girders and many black pieces that to me were a nightmare. I worked on the relatively easier parts which had many large and small male and female figures.
It was less than half complete last year and I had carefully packed it away awaiting her visit during Easter Holidays for us to complete it. Sadly, the world got hit by the virus. So now I am working on it alone and it’s a welcome diversion to both unwind as well as challenge my brain. Jigsaw puzzles are especially good for improving short-term memory. They help in remembering shapes and colors and visualize the bigger picture to figure out which pieces will fit where. Apart from being very therapeutic, if you are stressed out, bringing order to chaos, even on a tiny scale is comforting. What does one do with a jigsaw puzzle after it is completed? I have framed and hung the few that I made earlier but if you don’t have the wall space, pack it back in its box and keep it for your grandchildren.
Another unfinished project that is helping me get through the quarantine is completing a pencil sketch of a set of faces of Pashtuns that I extracted from old photographs of the Frontier Corps. Populations from the tribal areas have strong and interesting features because their bone structure is generally heavier than other ethnic groups in Pakistan. Features of different tribes are also fairly distinct. I have always preferred pencil sketching to painting. Mixing colours to get the right shade is an art that requires time to perfect. It is also more time intensive because paints need time to dry before applying other colors / coats. Painting can also be expensive. Apart from various tubes of colors, painting also requires brushes of varying thickness, special paper or canvas, thinners, easel, etc.
Forced isolation is the ideal time to complete unfinished projects and I pulled out a 1,000-piece jigsaw that my eldest daughter and I had worked on during her visit from the UK last year
On the other hand, there is a lot one can achieve in pencil sketching with just some basic material – a few black art pencils of varying hardness, a water brush, drawing paper, rubber and sharpener and a little bit of confidence. The best place to begin is the YouTube which has many coaching lessons both covering what materials to use and how to sketch. I started with following and copying sketches that were being demonstrated on YouTube and then moved onto downloading sketches from the internet and copying them free hand. Landscape drawing is much easier and more forgiving than figures – human or animal. Some prefer to work on a large pad; I however prefer to pin my drawing sheet to a drawing board. I term pencil sketching as a progressive form of art that allows an amateur artist like me to move from very simple yet appealing sketches to more elaborate both in terms of subject matter as well as material. From black and white sketches, I am gradually progressing to using colored pencils and may then go onto an interesting medium of watercolour pencils.
What I am enjoying the most while being quarantined is reverting back to my first love i.e. building scale models. I assembled my first model of a tank (which I still have) at the age of 12 and through the years have added over 250 armoured fighting vehicles, aircraft and ships. They come in kit form and range in size and complexity; from simplified small-scale models for war gaming, to large, super-detailed renditions of specific real-life vehicles. The larger kits like a 1:48 inch scale German Tiger Tank has close to 1200 large and small injection molded parts made of styrene plastic that are assembled by gluing with a special cement. In high quality kits some of the parts are of etched metal, barrels are of turned aluminum and track links of die cast metals. The kits have a set of detailed diagrams with instructions for assembling and painting and where to apply the military markings which are provided as transfers (decal) on a sheet.
Military scale modelers go to great pains to make the model look authentic. The process is called weathering and is achieved by applying different washes of paints and other techniques to transform the factory fresh finish into an aged, dirty, rusty and weather beaten replica. Special paints are used which do not chemically react with the styrene plastic and applied with an air brush instead of paint brushes to give that diffused effect. Paints mostly come in small cans and in a multitude of hues specially related to military vehicles, ships and aircrafts of different nationalities and during different periods. During the Second World War, the Soviet vehicles were painted in a color identified as protective green, that later was known as ‘Warsaw Pact Green’. US military vehicles mostly used No 9 Olive Drab and the Germans painted their vehicles in gray Panzergrau color. During winter vehicles operating in colder climates were painted white and those operating in the desert were sand colored. I must confess that not all my models were finished to that degree of accuracy but like any hobby one should devote only that much time where it remains enjoyable. When it starts getting tedious it is time to move on.
The model that I am working on during the quarantine is customizing the fuselage of a famous German Second World War fighter – the Me 109. A very good friend had this wonderful kit in 1:24 scale which is about the largest commercially available scale for hobby kits. The kit had two options for the fuselage; I built him the aircraft with the opaque fuselage and he allowed me keep the transparent one which I have customized. Customizing is an advanced stage in scale modeling using aftermarket accessories, leftover parts from earlier kits and engineering one’s own. It obviously takes longer but the degree of satisfaction is much greater. I scratch built its Daimler-Benz DB 601engine, the entire control wiring, fuel tanks, etc. I am currently reconstructing the cockpit. With no instruction sheet to follow, I am relying on photographs of the original downloaded from the net as well as similar projects by hobbyists who post the details on blogsites. My best models are the one that I ‘scratch built’ i.e. it wasn’t a kit out of a box and I fabricated the entire frame out of aluminum sheets cut and filed into a final shape and then glued. Many of the smaller parts however are salvaged out of boxes of ‘spare parts’ that I have collected and saved over the years.
Military scale modelers go to great pains to make the model look authentic. The process is called weathering and is achieved by applying different washes of paints and other techniques to transform the factory fresh finish into an aged, dirty, rusty and weather beaten replica
It takes a fair degree of ingenuity to reproduce what looks like the original but at such a small relative scale of 1:35 or 1:48 e.g. the maps inside a command vehicle were cut out from a photograph; I used the cartridge case of .22 bullets as shell casing for a 208 mm self-propelled artillery gun; and used thin rubber coated electrical wire to replicate hydraulic pipes for a combat engineer tractor. Two draws of my desk which is also my work table is full of paints and brushes, small tools, and trays full of bits for customizing kits and scratch building. Unfortunately, ever since I took and pieces up serious writing, my scratch building projects diminished. There are only 24 hours in a day. The ultimate level of military scale modelling are dioramas which are based on a theme and provide a realistic 3-dimensional landscape for one or more models. Materials for replicating landscape including buildings and foliage is commercially available as also sets of figures which are assembled and painted from kits. Every diorama is a challenge to make it look realistic while fitting in the vehicles and figures.
All my pursuits during the lockdown are not deskbound and twice a day I practice my golf strokes. I am not a regular golfer. The only time I seriously played was 25 years ago while commanding a division in Bahawalpur. It was the best way to pass the hot summer evenings. However, I never totally lost interest and have always kept a good golf set and bag full of practice balls. They are made of plastic, hollow from inside and with holes. Therefore, with even the strongest hit, they will not go more than 30 yards, which is about the length of most gardens. Strike the ball from a mat of astro-turf so that you don’t rip up your Korean grass. If you want to get the satisfaction of that feel and sound of the club striking a regular golf erect a large canvas screen 8 feet high and 10 feet across that will absorb the impact. Half an hour in the morning before it gets too warm and the same in the evening is good stretching exercise for the waist upwards. It’s also a good mental exercise if you combine it with coaching by watching golf tips on YouTube. I watch a 10 minutes clip on how to correct a mistake and then try it out in my practice session.
It’s a somewhat slow process of two steps forward and one foot back but I am determined to now get onto the golf course once the course opens. At my stage of life that is probably the best spinoff benefit of the lockdown.