‘I’ve made this form for you to fill in’, I say, handing over a piece of A4 paper. The A4 paper is yellow and has lines on. This is just about the best sheet of paper I’ve ever written on, made all the more exciting by the fact I stole it. The top bit is curling round on itself where I ripped it out of my sister’s refill pad. At first, this annoys me but I get over it.
With my chunky blue felt pen I’ve marked out two columns. (I say ‘my’ chunky blue marker pen – chances are this was stolen too. Probably from my dad’s desk). One column is for questions, the other is for answers and each question is clearly separated from the next by a neat, horizontal dashed line. Each question, or ‘field’, is numbered and written in capital letters.
‘You should write the answers with this pen. Here.’ I hand over a black biro.
My mum stops whatever it is she’s doing at the kitchen sink and pinches the index finger of her pink rubber glove. My mum always wears her rubber gloves two sizes too big so they slide off easily.
Gloves now draped over the side of the worktop, she dusts off her hands on her trousers and (reluctantly) sits down at the kitchen table. She looks at me and then looks at the bit of yellow A4 paper, then looks at me again. ‘What have I to do?’ she asks, a bit bothered.
‘You’ve to fill out this form. With this pen.’ I’m still holding the biro so I wave it at her this time until she takes it from me.
‘And what is this for?’ she says, scanning the piece of yellow A4 paper, a bit confused.
‘It’s a form I made.’
‘Uh-hm. Is it for school? I’ve just to fill this in?’
‘It’s not for school. It’s a form I made.’
My mum doesn’t say anything more and just quietly does as she’s asked.
‘Do you want me to put ‘Mum’?’
‘No. Put your name.’
Favourite food: Spaghetti
Shoe size: 5
And on she continued until all 20 questions were complete. ‘Ok. There you go. I hope I’ve done it right’, she says, leaving the piece of yellow A4 paper on the table and making her way back to the sink.
I made forms for everyone. My parents, my sisters, my classmates, my friends… relatives who just popped round for a nice visit not expecting to be accosted by a small child wielding a biro pen, demanding to know their favourite colour and what their pet’s name is. Forms were my favourite.
Making them for other people to fill in was fun but once I’d forced my friends to participate more actively, things really got good. I’d make them forms to fill in, they would make me forms to fill in, then we’d all swap. And with each swap we found out something new about each other, or accidentally unearthed a secret or started to notice ourselves becoming proper people.
But, giddy and grinny at the thought even now, my dad started to set aside little scraps of proper paperwork for me to fill in. Blank invoices or receipt pads – sometimes blank cheques and old pay-in books, that kind of thing. And don’t even talk about the time I got a typewriter for Christmas. Next level form making. Other people started to give me forms too. Someone, I can’t remember who, gave me a gift of what I assume they thought was ‘scrap paper to draw on’ but it was a gummed pad of some kind of application form and I was delighted but didn’t faint. (Actually, I think that same gift also included reams of old printer paper and now I’m thinking about the perforations and the holes and the green gridded pattern and the red lines I’m only disappointed I probably did use it all as scrap paper to draw on).
Next art project: Questionnaire Club.