Rainy days survival guide

Half term's been a washout, the forecast's looking grim, and the children are climbing the walls. Perhaps it's time to revive the almost-lost art of making our own entertainment. This refresher course offers fun and games for all the family - whatever the weather


MAKE: HOME-MADE PLAY DOUGH

Use store-cupboard ingredients. It's not sticky, doesn't dry out and can be any colour you like.

What you'll need: 1 cup of flour (use any cup), 1 cup of boiling water, 2 tbsp cream of tartar, half a cup of salt, 1 tbsp oil, food colouring. Mix together and knead when cool enough to touch. Older children can make it themselves provided you are on hand to deal with the boiling water.

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 3 (rising if you are letting the ankle biters make it themselves)

Danger level: 2 (thanks to the boiling water)

Number of minutes killed: 10 to make, then hours of fun modelling.

GAME: TEN YEARS YOUNGER

Is Dad looking a bit long in the tooth? Mum lost her sparkle? It's time to give them the 10 years younger makeover. Put together a whole new look including a funky hairstyle, bright make-up and clever accessorising. Give a full commentary on their new style and if there's a camera to hand, take before and after shots to prove your skill as a stylist.

What you'll need: Hairbands, hairbrush, make-up, make-up remover, spare spectacles, scarves and any other accessories to hand.

Noise level: 2

Mess level: 3 (make sure there is some make-up remover to hand)

Danger level: 2 (Just mind the mascara wand)

Number of minutes killed: Up to one hour, depending on how many makeovers you're doing.

MAKE: MILK BOTTLE MOUTH ORGAN

A slightly quaint but weirdly satisfying activity for the musically minded. Fill clean glass bottles with different amounts of water. Blow and refine until you get the required note. Put lots together and play a tune.

What you'll need: empty glass bottles, water

Noise level: a soothing 3

Mess level: 2

Danger level: 2 (don't drop the bottles)

Number of minutes killed: 30

GAME: HOME SHOPPING CHANNEL

Why let those people at QVC have all the fun? Switch the TV off, gather round the sofa and entertain each other at no risk to your bank balance. Each player selects a household object and makes a two-minute presentation to try to sell it to the others. At the end of their pitch, audience members may ask one pertinent question about the product, and everyone then votes on whether or not they'd like to buy it. The salesman/woman with the most votes wins the round. After all rounds are completed, the salesman/woman with the most votes is declared the winner.

What you'll need a bizarre and eclectic assortment of stuff from around the house. Vacuum cleaners, feather dusters, paperweights, bookends, etc.

Noise level: 5

Mess level: 2

Danger level: 2 (Don't strangle your family or friends)

Number of minutes killed: 30-60

EXPERIMENT: THE UNBURSTABLE BALLOON

Of course, if you hold a blown-up balloon over a lit candle, it will burst. But have a go just to check. Then half fill a new balloon with water and blow it up the rest of the way. Hold the balloon over the flame and it will turn black without bursting. Why? The water absorbs the heat of the flame.

What you'll need: Balloons (2), water, candle, matches

Noise level: 5 for the first balloon; 0, theoretically, for the second

Mess level: 2 (balloon fragments and potential water spillage)

Danger level: 3 (involves a naked flame - watch those fingers!)

Number of minutes killed: 10

GAME: WORD SEARCH

Choose a really long word and see how many smaller words you can find within it in one minute - or two. Points are awarded for words found with the biggest number of letters, or for words that no one else has identified.

What you'll need: Big dictionary, pens and paper

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 1

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 30-45

WATCH: THE JUNGLE BOOK(1967)

A great introduction to Kipling's classic tale, despite the fact the Disney reportedly dispensed with Kipling's actual narrative, calling it dark and depressing. A masterclass in voice work - Phil Harris plays Baloo, George Sanders plays Shere Khan and Louis Prima shines as King Louie - it's the phenomenal soundtrack that really makes this a film such a joy. Armed with the "Bear Necessities", you really won't notice the stormy weather outside.

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 78

EXPERIMENT: FOOL YOUR FINGERS

Fill three bowls with water at different temperatures: one ice cold, one tepid, one hot - NOT boiling hot, silly. Place one hand into the cold water and the other into the hot for a minute, then put both hands into the tepid water. The hand from the cold water will tell you the water is warm, while the hand from the hot water will insist that it is cool.

What you'll need: Bowls (3), water (hot and cold)

Noise level: 1 (possible "Ooohs")

Mess level: 1 (keep a towel handy)

Danger level: 1

Number of minutes killed: 10

MAKE: PEG DOLLS

A classic activity for nimble fingers, there's something infinitely satisfying about creating these dollies from scratch. Take a large wooden peg, draw on a face, stick on some wool hair, and dress with available materials. Even novice sewers should be able to stitch together a simple dress with which to adorn their creations. The more adventurous might want to attempt something more catwalk-tastic.

What you'll need: large wooden pegs, enamel paint (or felt-tip pens) for the faces, wool for the hair, glue, needle and thread, spare scraps of material. Ribbons, sequins, bits and bobs.

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 4

Danger level: 2 (if in doubt, issue thimbles)

Number of minutes killed: 60-plus

GAME: PINK TOADS

All questions must be answered with the phrase "pink toads". What did you have for breakfast? Pink toads. What's your favourite flavour ice-cream? And on, and on. Little children find it hilarious, but may need help thinking of questions.

What you'll need: patience

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 15

GAME: SLEEPING BAG TOBOGGAN

Take a sleeping bag. Sit in it at the top of the stairs. Slide down. Horrifically dangerous. Fantastic fun.

What you'll need: sleeping bag, stairs, crash helmet

Noise level: 4

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 5

Number of minutes killed: Until bruises/broken bones become too unbearable to continue

MAKE: BUTTERFLY PAINTINGS

The science of symmetry made simple. Fold a piece of paper down the middle. On one side of the fold, paint one half of a butterfly's wings. Fold back together for a moment. Unpeel to reveal the completed creature in all its wonder. Hey, if it was good enough for David Hockney...

What you'll need: Robust paper, paint, water, brushes

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 4

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 30

GAME: WOULD YOU RATHER...?

Get your playing partner to choose between various foods/experiences. Would you rather eat chocolate or cheese? Smell Daddy's socks or kiss Granny's hairy wart? Eat slugs or spiders? As you can imagine, this game doesn't take long to descend into anarchy.

What you'll need: a fertile imagination

Noise level: escalating

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 1 (although the X-rated version could go on for some time)

MAKE: TOY PARACHUTES

Find out whether Barbie was born to fly or if Big Ted falls like a stone by making parachutes for toys and launching them over the banister. Use a tea towel as the 'chute, tie it to the willing victim, and geronimo!

What you'll need: different-sized toys with a good head for heights, string, handkerchiefs, pillowcases or tea towels, stairs

Noise level: 2 - just a few muffled thumps

Mess level: 1

Danger level: 4 (watch out for skydiving stuffed animals when passing by the stairs)

Number of minutes killed: 30

MAKE: YOGURT ICE LOLLIES

A simple, fruity snack that is bound to get small mouths watering and is a good source of calcium. Makes 8-12 lollies.

What you'll need: 1 tablespoon honey, 450g plain yogurt, 170g frozen fruit juice from concentrate (thawed), ice lolly moulds. Mix all ingredients well in a bowl. Pour into lolly moulds and freeze for 4 hours. Extract from moulds and enjoy.

Mess level: 3

Noise level: 1

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 15 (4 hours freezing time)

GAME: RAINDROP RACES

A classic game straight out of the pages of AA Milne. Pick a raindrop on a window. Race the others to the bottom of the pane. Slightly tragic - but hey, if you're desperate...

What you'll need: window, lots of rain

Noise level: beyond silent

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 10-40

EXPERIMENT: HOME-MADE BUTTER

When the children ask you how butter can possibly come from cows, get them to make their own by shaking non-homogenised full-fat milk up and down in a jam jar until the tiny balls of butter start to appear. This takes ages - hurrah. Even better, you can spread the results on your afternoon toast.

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 1

Danger level: 1

Number of minutes killed: 45

MAKE: TREASURE MAP

Yo ho ho. Making a treasure map is a good time-filler for scurvy knaves. Take a sheet of paper and make it look "olde" by tearing the edges artistically. Then, draw a map filled with dangers - "here be dragons" and "blood-sucking quicksand" are always winners - and silly instructions like "walk two steps forward and one step back, hop five times to your left then jump sideways". Add a big "X-marks-the-spot" and a few felt-pen bloodstains. Crumple into a ball, then smooth out, dip the edges in cold tea and place on a baking tray in a low oven until the map is dry and crinkled.

What you'll need: Paper, pens, cold black tea, baking tray, oven set on a low heat

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 2

Danger level: 3 (grown-ups should supervise the use of the oven)

Number of minutes killed: 30 to draw, 10 in the oven

GAME: PICTURE CONSEQUENCES

Fold a long strip of paper into four sections, leaving only the top section remaining. The first player draws a head in the top section before concealing it and passing the paper on to the next, who draws a torso on the next section down. The third player draws the legs, and the fourth the feet. Open and reveal the peculiar hybrid beast you have collectively drawn.

What you'll need: Paper, scissors, coloured pencils

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 2

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 20

GAME: OFF-FLOOR EXPLORING

It's time to get physical. The aim of this game is to see how far you can get around the house without touching the floor. Clamber over the sofa, swing from the door frame and balance on the skirting board. Just make sure those feet never meet the floor. If you manage it, try a different route, or try to beat your time.

What you'll need: Good balance, somewhere safe to store breakables

Noise level: 4 - expect shrieks of delight and howls of despair

Mess level: 2

Danger level: 5 (Not a game for nervous or particularly houseproud parents)

Number of minutes killed: Depends on how big your house is - anything up to 2 hours

GAME: WORD ASSOCIATION

This old chestnut still proves surprisingly popular, and it's a great game for encouraging little brains to think laterally. Not that you actually say that out loud. Think of a word, next person thinks of another word associated with the former. Blue - sea - fish - chips. - blah - blah - blah...

What you'll need: nothing

Noise level: 2

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 15

EXPERIMENT: THE FLOATING PING-PONG BALL

Set Mum's hairdryer to cool and point it directly upwards. Support with toys/books/shoes as required. Turn on and place a ping-pong ball in the airstream. If necessary, construct a funnel for the hairdryer using an old plastic drinks-bottle. The ball will bob happily in thin air.

What you'll need: Hairdryer, ping-pong ball, plastic drinks bottle (optional)

Noise level: 2 or 3 (depending on hairdryer)

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 10

GAME: ROCK STAR

Get ready to rock the joint by creating a stellar line-up of friends, siblings or even toys and performing a sell-out gig. Write a song, choreograph your music video and make as much noise as possible. Record it and listen to it - if you dare.

What you'll need: Rock props like hairbrushes for microphones, saucepans for drums and any real instruments available. A digital camera for the brave.

Noise level: very high (if you're doing it right)

Mess level: 1

Danger level: 1

Number of minutes killed: 1 hour

WATCH: MOUSEHUNT (1997)

This knockabout caper turns on stumblebum brothers Ernie and Lars Smutz (played by Nathan Lane and Lee Evans), as they try to rid the antique house they have inherited of a solitary mouse. Needless to say, the mouse, exquisitely brought to life, runs rings around them. Evans is magnificent, pulling more shapes than a Plasticine man, and there's a vintage performance from Christopher Walken as psychotic Caesar, the rodent exterminator.

Noise level: 4

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0 (unless you're a mouse)

Number of minutes killed: 98

EXPERIMENT: THE SHRINKING CAN

Fill a bucket with cold water. Put a tablespoon of water into the empty drinks can, then heat the can over the stove. When the water in the can boils and starts to steam, pick up the can with a pair of tongs, take it to the bucket of cold water and turn it upside down, touching the drinking hole of the can to the surface of the cold water. The can will collapse instantly.

What you'll need: Water, bucket, drinks can, tongs, stove

Noise level: 2 (probable "Ooohs")

Mess level: 2

Danger level: 3 (Bit of a minefield, this one. Mum and/or Dad should probably demonstrate first)

Number of minutes killed: 15

GAME: CHOCOLATE TREASURE HUNT

Write clues for those who can read, draw pictures for those who can't. Leave the clues all round the house for them to pick up until the first one back to the kitchen gets the treasure, which is probably a bar of chocolate.

What you'll need: Paper, pens and pencils, bar of chocolate

Noise level: 4

Noise level: 1.5

Danger level: 3 (Will everyone please SLOW DOWN!)

Number of minutes killed: 45

MAKE: HANDPRINTS/FOOTPRINTS/CATPRINTS

Never mind the mess, these paintings make the kind of mementos that will have you weeping with nostalgia when you chance upon them in years to come. Put a large sheet of paper on the floor, fill a flat dish with water-soluble paint and select the area of your anatomy you wish to preserve for posterity. Press said area down firmly on the paper, being careful not to smudge the surrounding area. Remove. Job done.

What you'll need: Large sheet of paper, water-soluble paint, soap (for afterwards)

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 5

Danger level: 2 (although you might want to do a skin test before slathering paint all over sensitive skin)

Number of minutes killed: 30

EXPERIMENT: MAKE OLD COINS BRAND NEW

Find some tarnished old coppers and fill a cup with vinegar or lemon juice. Drop the coins in for 10 minutes and watch the years fall away. Dry them on some kitchen towel and they'll sparkle as if brand new. The science bit: acid in the vinegar or lemon juice dissolves the dark copper oxide that coats the coins.

What you'll need: Some old coppers, a cup, vinegar or lemon juice

Noise level: 1 (possible "Ooohs")

Mess level: 1

Danger level: 2 (Keep vinegar and lemon juice away from tiny eyes)

Number of minutes killed: 15

WATCH: THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

A stunning family adventure from Disney/Pixar, The Incredibles follows the fall and rise of Bob and Helen Parr (aka Mr and Mrs Incredible), one-time superheroes who have had to retire from saving the world for fear of being sued. When Bob gets seduced into working on an illegal project by a mysterious informant, the whole family are forced out of retirement to help save his skin. Fabulous stuff.

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 115

MAKE: CARPET PICNIC

Ah, the delights of an alfresco feast... But what can you do when the weather gods are resolutely refusing to smile on you and your happy throng? Easy - just gather together a cornucopia of comestibles and head for the balmy plateau between the sofa and the fireplace. Those struggles with a Thermos in a windswept layby will be but a distant memory.

What you'll need: A blanket (or rug), cocktail sausages, crisps, cheezy dippers, Scotch eggs, buffalo wings, napkins, cartons of juice (for the little ones), bottle of wine and cups (for the big ones).

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 5 (potentially)

Danger level: 1 (Don't choke on the buffalo wings)

Number of minutes killed: 45 or so

GAME: WHO AM I?

One player chooses a celebrity/animal/actor/ singer/cartoon character to be. Other players must guess the identity of the first by asking questions, to which the answers can only be yes or no. Also known as 20 Questions.

What you'll need: nothing

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 15

EXPERIMENT: LIVING SHINE

Mix cornflour with cooking oil in a bowl until it's the same consistency as thick cream. Dribble the slime on to a sheet of cling film on a flat kitchen worktop. Blow up a balloon and rub it vigorously on your hair or T-shirt to build up static electricity. Pass the balloon over the slime and watch it move. Igor, it's alive!

What you'll need: Cornflour, cooking oil, bowl, balloon(s), cling film, hair/T-shirt

Noise level: 2 (probable "Ooohs")

Mess level: 4

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 20

RECIPE: PEPPERMINT CREAMS

Tasty and simple to make, this is a top rainy-day recipe. Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl until it forms a paste. Sprinkle some icing sugar on a clean work-surface and roll the mixture flat. Use a biscuit cutter to cut out the creams or take little pieces, roll each into a ball then press until flat. Place them on the greaseproof paper and store somewhere cool overnight before eating.

What you'll need: Egg white from one large egg or two small eggs, 8oz sifted icing sugar, a few drops of peppermint essence (taste as you go along), pink or green food colouring, biscuit cutter, greaseproof paper

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 4 - be warned, this recipe is very sticky

Danger level: 3 (contains raw egg white)

Number of minutes killed: 30 minutes to make and wash up, 2 minutes to lick the bowl.

WATCH: ET (1982)

Essential viewing for any child over five, Spielberg's homesick alien masterpiece is more a rite of passage than entertainment. Just don't forget to stock up on handkerchiefs - and bright conversation about the possibility of life after death.

Noise level: 3

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 5 (if viewers are of a sensitive disposition)

Number of minutes killed: 115

EXPERIMENT: THE MAGIC FINGER

Fill a large bowl with water, and sprinkle black pepper evenly across the surface. Invite children to touch their fingers gently to the water, while Mum and/or Dad surreptitiously coats an index finger in washing-up liquid. When the children's fingers have had no effect, ask them to stand back before touching the washing-up liquid coated finger to the water. The ground pepper will all instantly retreat to the edges of the bowl.

What you'll need: Bowl, water, ground black pepper, washing-up liquid.

Noise level: 1 (possible "Ooohs")

Mess level: 1

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 10

MAKE: SAILBOAT SANDWICHES

A simple snack to remind you of sunnier days. Get the kids to colour paper plates in blue, or colour in a piece of card and place over the serving tray with the sandwiches arranged on top like boats. Add fish crackers for an extra dose of realism.

What you'll need: Mini sub rolls, tuna or some other filling that will compliment cheese, Cheddar cheese, tooth picks, paper plates, painted blue, fish crackers.

Slice the top off the rolls to hollow them out and add the sandwich filling. Cut cheese into rectangular slices (about 1/8 of an inch), then halve diagonally into triangles, as decking. Add a toothpick mast and Sellotape a small piece of paper to it with a picture or your name on it.

Mess level: 2

Noise level: 2

Danger level: 1 (keep children away from knives)

Number of minutes killed: 20

MAKE: VEGETABLE FLOWERS

A cheat's guide to a kitchen garden, vegetable flowers are an arty exercise that makes getting kids to eat vegetables fun and painless.

What you'll need: Assorted vegetables. Try radish slices, spinach leaves, cucumber rounds, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks and baby carrots.

Chop the vegetables into thin slices in assorted shapes and then arrange them into a blooming garden on a large plate, as bit as possible. Cucumber and radish are best for petals, while cherry tomatoes work well as centres. Spinach works well for leaves and celery equally so as stem material.

Mess level: 2

Noise level: 2

Danger level: 1

Number of minutes killed: 45

GAME: DON'T SAY YES OR NO

Players cannot answer yes or no to the questions asked of them. Do you have brown hair? It's a dark colour that is lighter than black. Is this game infuriatingly difficult? Yes. Yes. Yes.

What you'll need: a quick brain

Noise level: 3-4

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 20

MAKE: SOCK CREATURES

Take your lonely odd socks and turn them into a menagerie of beasts. To make a hand puppet, put your hand in the sock to work out where the eyes should go and then stick on buttons or sequins. Add a nose and ears made of fabric to make a dog, fox or badger. Stick in some wicked looking teeth to create a croc. For a stuffed creature, fill your sock with cotton wool to pad it out then tie the loose end with the string or wool. Add limbs and features accordingly. If there are sufficient socks, try making your own zoo.

What you'll need: old socks, wool or string, PVA glue, fabric off-cuts, buttons or sequins, cotton wool

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 3

Danger level: 1

Number of minutes killed: potentially hours - especially if you put on a puppet show.

MAKE: POTATO PRINTING

Chop a potato in half and, using a small kitchen knife. Cut out a design on the flat surface of the demi-tuber. Wipe the potato for excess moisture and then press down into paint. Print. And repeat.

Noise level: 2

Mess level: 3

Danger level: 3

Number of minutes killed: 60

MAKE: MODEL PLANE

Generations of budding Boeings and junior jetsetters have been cleared for take-off with the help of model kits from Airfix, Revell and Tamiya. Choose anything from classic warplanes like the Spitfire and Lancaster to sleek airliners such as Concorde and the giant new Airbus A380. And if your child can successfully build a Harrier jump jet, they're probably destined for a Nobel prize. There's a kit to suit pretty much every age, prices start at around a fiver - and after that, well, the sky's the limit.

What you'll need: model kit, poly cement, modelling paint, paintbrush, newspaper

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 2

Danger level: 1 (don't stick your fingers together)

Number of minutes killed: anything from a couple of hours to several days

WATCH: THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (1970)

The children may find this Edwardian-set, knickerbockers-and-steam-engine drama a little twee, but they'll sure enjoy watching Mummy and Daddy sobbing on the sofa as such dramas as "Bobby's birthday" or the famous platform scene unfold. A fine example of how terribly nice children were in the good old days - and how incredibly smug.

Noise level: 2

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 109

WATCH: SPIRITED AWAY (2001)

Chihiro is the heroine of this Oscar-winning animated epic, penned by the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. Losing her parents on a day out, Chihiro gets trapped in the spirit world, where she faces a gallery of eccentrics and grotesques, and where she must find the spell to break free. Miyazaki displays more imagination and innovation in two hours than most animators could offer in a lifetime.

Noise level: 2

Mess level: 0

Danger level: 0

Number of minutes killed: 125

MAKE: GINGERBREAD PEOPLE

What you'll need:

75g brown sugar

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tbsp water

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp golden syrup

1 tbsp black treacle

90g ( 3 1/2 oz) margarine

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

200g (8 oz) plain flour

Sweets, currants or icing to decorate

Cookie cutters

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Medium heat the sugar, treacle, syrup, ginger, ground cinnamon and water in a saucepan until it begins to boil. Take off the heat, stir in bicarbonate of soda and margarine until it melts. Add flour, stirring as you do so. Let the gloopy mixture cool down and solidify in a mixing bowl for at least 30mins.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, to a thickness of around 4mm. Use the cookie cutters to create your gingerbread men and transfer on to a greased baking tray. Decorate with sweets, currants or icing. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden brown. Add an extra 5min for a crunchier texture. Place on a cooling rack.

Mess level: 4

Noise level: 1

Danger level: 2

Number of minutes killed: 60

MAKE: CARDBOARD THEATRE:

Indulge in a little stage parenting with an activity for the wannabe Branaghs and Winslets in your midst. Cut the front of a cardboard box into a proscenium arch. Cut the sides out so that you have access, and place on a raised surface. Decorate the stage, if you will, or otherwise get on with staging high tales of derring do/romantic escapades and fantasy adventures with all available toys. Creative types can be employed on the staging and scripting of this mini-production, while direction should be handed to the more vocal participants in your care. This activity requires serious imaginative thinking - so be prepared.

What you'll need: a cardboard box with the front cut-out, scissors, paper, and paints or crayons to design the set, dramatis personae: dolls, teddy bears, farm animals, plus all relevant doll clothes/ costumes

Noise level: 4

Mess level: 3 (depending on how intricately you design the set.)

Danger level: 2

Number of minutes killed: after pre-production, rehearsal time, and performances, this show can run and run.

MAKE: PAPIER MACHE

Fashion a plate, bowl or ball out of papier mâché, then decorate with bright colours. While the traditional recipe calls for wallpaper paste, PVA glue dries more quickly and is much easier to use.

Cover your mould with Vaseline or clingfilm to prevent sticking, dip the newspaper in the glue and start layering, using the paintbrush to smooth everything down. Wait for each layer to dry before applying the next.

What you'll need: newspaper torn into strips, PVA glue mixed with some water to thin it down, a paintbrush, a mould (try a balloon, a bowl or a plate), Vaseline or clingfilm to cover the mould, paints, an apron

Noise level: 1

Mess level: 5

Danger level: 1

Number of minutes killed: all day - especially if you insist that the maché makers tear their own paper, wait for each layer to dry, decorate their creations and clear up afterwards

MAKE: COLLAGE

Not everyone can be a Tracey Emin or a Banksy. Not everyone can draw. Not everyone can colour in a picture of Asterix without going over the edges. But anyone can have a go at pouring out their angst on paper, with a bit of help from a handful of discarded colour supplements and last Christmas's double issue of Country Life. Snip, rip and clip to your heart's content, arrange the choicest cuts on paper and reach for the Pritt stick. Then, while it's drying, ring Charles Saatchi.

What you'll need: plain paper, old magazines and newspapers, bits

of string, sequins, leaves, flowers, sparkly bits, that sort of thing

Noise level: 0 (true creativity requires concentration, so cut out the chit-chat)

Mess level: 3

Number of minutes killed: anything from 30 to a couple of hours

Danger level: 2 (beware of paper cuts; and don't run with scissors)

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Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick