Sunday, February 19, 2012


So, you want to mummify your cardboard robot and have it guarded by a team of dough-people with rambutan skins on their heads? Here’s what you do …

1. Four testicles in a bowl, yesterday.
 No, they’re actually rambutans. Know what they are?
 If not, I can help by revealing that they’re a weird sort
 of fruit. When I was a lad, fine old British-style apples
and peaches were good enough for us. But my wife,
being born in Malaysia, was weaned on this sort of stuff.
If you weren’t sure, don’t feel bad. In a Sydney
 supermarket one time, a pesky red-headed child stopped
 to examine some and asked his harried mother what
 they were. When she shrugged I helpfully said they
 were rambutans. “Leave them alone,” the mother snapped
 to her boy. “They’ve got rum in them.”
That's as true as I sit here today.

It was the fruit that actually provided the impetus for this whole project during dessert recently when one of us, and it may well have been my daughters or my wife, found himself pondering some rambutans for a long time before reaching a literally breathtaking realisation: “THESE SKINS WOULD MAKE GREAT HEADS OF HAIR ON SOME LITTLE DOLL THINGS!” I shouted.

Granted, as a ‘eureka’ moment it was less profitable than some others. But it’s rare that I feel like Archimedes in his bathtub, so I still took the chance to run around in the nude for a while like he did. Oh to be an eccentric ancient Greek mathematician, eh readers?

From there, the whole idea just snowballed, really. What can I say? It was six-year-old Lani who suggested the dolls could make guards. We had just been to London so perhaps she thought the skins would resemble the bear-fur hats of the Grenadier guards. I still thought they looked like an unruly head of hair, or a hat the Queen might wear to Australia in the sixties. But I was big about it and we went with 'guards'. I do want to stress, however, that none of this would have happened if not for me.

Then it was a question of who or what would they guard? The girls at that time were just crazy for embalmed human remains. We'd just visited the British Museum, so Lani suggested our forces could guard a mummy. When I said we had no Egyptian dead people in the house Lani spoke the kind of sentence that makes me love being a stay-home dad, one I'd not heard enough in 20 years of working in busy newsrooms:

“Let’s mummify our robot!”

2. He, Robot.
 While really really bored once,
and trying to enforce a strict six-hours-
a-day TV limit, I suggested to the girls we
build a robot. Surprisingly, they jumped at
the chance, perhaps because I assured them
it would actually work. With the usual
suspects from a raid on the craft box -
toilet rolls, egg cartons, other boxes
which looked more like torsos and heads -
our beautiful creature came sort of to life.
We stuck it together with loads of homemade
papier mache. This gets really gooey and
messy and is thus heaps of fun. Remember
the four main ingredients: paper, flour, water
and a maid to clean up. Once it was dry, the
girls painted the robot for a finished look
which was, I can say completely objectively,
utterly, utterly bizarre. Noone's ever been sure
if he has four eyes or two and a couple of rosy-red
cheeks from applying too much rouge. Here he is
cooling his heels backstage before his big makeover
with his constant companion, our robot cat
(factory-built). It's really cute how these two
hang together. In truth, Robot was probably
just glad to be down from the top of the
clothes dryer, where he'd been for about a
year since precisely the day we made him.
It sounds like I'm playing the dangerous
game of attaching a human personality to
a cardboard robot, I know. But they're
like plants - the more you talk to them, the
more personality they have. Admittedly, I
hardly ever spoke to him, but it is true
that when you're a stay-at-home
parent it's possible to go completely

3. We needed dolls, and fast. Our real ones were either too
big or too nice to have their hair spoiled by rambutan juice.
So I summoned another brainwave and decided to bake
some. Using more flour, which I hear is sometimes used
for eating, and some water, we rolled up bespoke balls of
dough to fit into the halved rambutan shells. If you have
just an ordinary, household oven, you can bake them for
10 or so minutes. I even remembered to leave them soft on
the inside, the better for mounting them on ice-cream sticks.
Years from now we will look back on these five minutes
as my "golden age" of parenting.

SERIOUS TIP: Kids shouldn't burn themselves on hot ovens.

Also, I said 'if you have an oven' to sound funny, but it should be remembered it's actually not a given in Chinese homes, as touched on in my previous oven-related post Cakes From The Grave.

4. Mummifying Robot. Out came the toilet roll again, this
time showing its versatility by being full. Was there ever
a better craft invention? 1st Prize: Toilet rolls. 2nd: Ice-
cream sticks. 3rd: Pipe cleaners (Did you know these
were once used to clean pipes!)
Lani made her doctor
mother proud by insisting on a surgical mask for this
procedure. Another important point to remember
is since you might take photos of this to splash all
over the internet, ensure your home is really tidy.

5. Evie also wanted a surgical mask. It was fun
until someone lost an eye.

6. "We're having one of those mummify-your-robot
parties. Want to come round?"

7. The kids made sure they used the tape measure. I still
have no idea why.

At this point, our Ayi (maid) wandered in. She’s a 50-year-old Chinese woman. She looked at the kids, playing with their toilet rolls and wearing their masks while performing some sort of surgery on a possibly transvestite robot. She’d been bemused enough that we hung onto our old carboard rolls and boxes. The Chinese generally have a theory that once you’ve used something you throw it out. I include my wife in this category. I, however, zealously keep an enormous box of junk for occasions just like this. My wife and our Ayi sometimes call me a hoarder, but I always say that just because something's old, used and is now rubbish, doesn't mean we should throw it out. That we were now mummifying this assemblage of junk was something else for Ayi to wrap her head around. She looked at us quietly and walked away.

8. Time to put the faces on the guards. To make him look
nasty, drawing directly from my schoolboy graffiti training,
I gave this one fangs.

9. The cap fits! Is it hair? Or is it bear? It doesn't really
matter. You just wouldn't mess with him, would you?

10. Lani gave this one pink glasses and lipstick, for what's
a guard without lipstick?

11. When you bake these doughboys, an unplanned feature
is the little creases that appear as the dough opens up. I
decided to use this one as a part as I drew some hair. Lani
then unwittingly deployed another key plank of the schoolboy
graffiti manual by adding a moustache and ...

12. ... oh dear. OK now we had a guard who looked like Hitler.
This led to all sorts of questions, such as "Daddy, what's a reich?"
 I must confess here that I'd neglected to have that
"Nazi danger" talk with the girls. I'd never really thought
it necessary. But then I became a bit disconcerted when
Lani insisted this fellow should be the guards' leader. And
then I thought back to a couple of other things that had stuck
in my mind about our first-born from earlier on ...

13. ... like this.

14. ... and this.

Still, I decided to avoid the subject, particularly since our Hitler was in fact smiling.

We continued on diligently but found our guards couldn't stand up by themselves. We figured we'd need sentry towers for them to be propped in. Again, the versatility of toilet rolls came to the fore.

15. The German dough machine.

16. Adough Hitler (right), his smiling right-hand henchman,
and another guard in the background, possibly someone's

17. With a face and some harrowing blood
streaks added, C3P Tutankhamun was complete.
It was time for some pictures. Good to see the
age-old staple of Martian antennae in photos
continues through the generations, remaining
hilarious on people and mummified robots alike ...

18 ... although by this stage the girls were a bit over it and
it was hard to get them to sit still, hence photos like this.

19. And this.

20. And I've got no idea what they were attempting here.

So there it was. Our mummified robot/German guards with rambutan-capped dough heads was declared an unqualified arts-and-crafts triumph. It held pride of place on our dining table - amongst schoolbags, clothes, bits of paper, musical instruments, dishes, a stick, things waiting to be fixed, and just stuff - for almost a day before being thrown in the bin. That seems a little sad but a lot of afficionados will tell you that its fleeting nature is part of the beauty of this type of thing.

We celebrated long into the night.

* NEXT WEEK: How to best make use of a durian casing while only spiking a handful of holes in yourself and without stinking the house out unbearably.


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