plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

Archive for December, 2013

All you need is faith

The other day I was accosted on a London street by a man I didn’t know. He was plugged into his earphones, though I wasn’t, but it was him to take me by surprise. It turned out to be an approach of the good kind. I was walking along slowly, drinking my coffee, when I saw a wine glass smashed into several large pieces on the pavement. I was near the playground and my first thoughts were about how a child might hurt themselves on this broken glass: so I shifted the pieces to the edge of the path with my foot. I carried on walking. Soon, the man who I’d overtaken a short while earlier caught me up. He didn’t introduce himself but just said, straight out: ‘If everyone did what you’ve just done, the world would be a beautiful place.’ I saluted him with a ‘Thank you, sir.’ It was a beautiful thing for him to have said.

It gave me an instant faith in humanity. This doesn’t happen all the time in the world of adult interactions. At a minor and seemingly inconsequential level, there are those whose interpretations of etiquette rub against my own; at a deeper level there are those who refuse to pay the debts they owe, or who lie and manipulate for their own benefit; at a wider level, there is the futility of male-dominated war and the pointlessness of ‘my God’s bigger than yours’. All of this, and more, is graceless.

Every so often though, I’m reminded of the fact that there are some people out there who appreciate the small significances of moments: by which I refer to adults. More often than this though, I see how children know. It’s just this. By definition, this is all wrapped up in my interpretation of personal interactions with the children who I work with, but I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that what I see is what is there. Two such examples from recent interactions spring to mind straight away.

In working with the children I’m currently with for the past month or so, I’m just getting to know their characters, quirks and so on, and vice versa. One girl, around ten years old, suffered a minor accident recently: nothing much, but enough to upset her. I spent some time telling her of the stupid things I’d done when I was younger, causing myself accidental harm (not that that was a way of saying she was being stupid, rather to cheer her up!) She laughed and soon forgot her minor scrape. A week or two on, she’s happy to see me when we collect her and others at school: we walk down the street burping at one another (shush, don’t tell anyone!)

Another child is about four years old. We don’t really have any conversations yet but, for some reason, every time I catch her eye she’s smiling at me in a way that says something like: ‘That thing you did [whatever that turns out to have been], was something special.’ I don’t know what that moment was. I don’t think I’ll ever know. It doesn’t matter: she looks at me and seems to tell me that she has faith in this adult.

It has to be said that I don’t have faith in all the adults I come into contact with. I try: I give them as much openness and trust as I can when meeting them (maybe I trust too much, on the whole), but sometimes I’m let down. When I do meet other adults who continue to be supportive, trustworthy, empathic, insightful people (and who have many other qualities), I feel blessed by them. So, to all of you who I refer to here, I salute you also, as I do the earphone-wearing stranger in the street. When I meet these strangers in the street who shine, I’m impressed with faith.

There is the softly spoken man who serves coffee from the back of his van on the corner of the busy junction (who trusts I’ll not cheat him by stamping my own loyalty card, and who lets me off the 20p when I just have a £20 note to pay with); there’s the young man who picks up the card that’s fallen from the woman’s purse and hands it back to her; the man sitting on the Tube train opposite me, finishing his newspaper and, on seeing me watching him fold it up and put it behind him, offers me the slightest gesture that says, ‘Would you like this?’ I offer him the slightest gesture to say that I don’t, and thank you.

All these little moments add up to the significant possibility that we can have faith in others. I need to remind myself this when shouting at the guy who almost ran me over because the lights had changed and, technically, he might then have had right of way; when accidentally knocking a woman on the escalator as I passed and not apologising to her; when falling into the trap of racing everyone else on the train station concourse because the platform number has just flashed up and everyone wants to get to the turnstile first in order to get a train seat.

Sometimes patience, or sorry, or waiting will be seen. Little things make the world more beautiful. Often, when with the children, I will take their offerings (things they’ve made for me, or just things they’ve found or need to give me) and I’ll say thank you and bow. It’s play, of course, but I mean the bow. The children will look at me with their smiles of skewed curiosity: I don’t mean the bow in any way other than a sort of ‘namaste’ to them.

This isn’t all a way of saying ‘we must have manners and give up our seats for old ladies’ and so forth (our ‘manners’ and our morals are individual to each of us and we choose them and are reflected by them): sure it would be excellent if others’ etiquettes synched favourably with our own (yes, thanks to those few where I stayed the other night, refusing to observe the traveller’s etiquette of ‘let a sleeper sleep peacefully’); it would be excellent if greed and lies and cheating others, futile wars and God-afflicted conflict could be resolved; ultimately though, those who do the small things will be seen and ‘known’.

So, not only do I bow to the children I work with and for, I bow to those I know who are deserving of much faith for many reasons; I bow to those who I see in the street who do the smallest but significant things, their acts of kindness and beauty; I bow to those strangers who take the time to tell me of the things they see in me, if they see it worthy, and to remind me that, with a little faith, the world can be a beautiful place.



My sister’s reading: for Dad

There are further words for my late father, following the recent surreal day of his funeral. We knew that my youngest sister would stand up to present a reading and I knew it would offer some insights into her and Dad: a time when she was a child, when I was away at College or University or away in my head, when their times and play together were different to my play with him some years earlier. Being the youngest, perhaps the most protected, had an interpretation of a down-side; though being the youngest also seems to have had its up-side too.

I was genuinely struck with the beauty of this reading, as my sister read it: other people relate intensely to those we also relate to ourselves, but they relate in shifted arrangements. I was struck by ‘seeing’ Dad, in his play, in their play for those few minutes. So I asked my sister’s permission to publish those words here.

I appreciate that these writings of my father are of an intensely personal nature (my own and my sister’s and any more that may come to be), but I trust that the element of play that this blog is primarily focused on is all good for you, this readership. In writing there is healing. In writing there is the hope that others can also see their times of shared play and, ultimately, of love. This post is shorter than I normally publish up, but for me — today — there are no words more I can add.

These are my sister’s words:

I remember Dad as being a man who did things his way. When I think of Dad, I think of Monty Python, his love of Cornwall, watching the old Cowboy and Indian films with him.

I think of his sense of humour, which was definitely unique to him: the way he would whistle to the tune of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, or the way he would sing ‘I’ve got a song that’ll get on your nerves’, which would always end up stuck in my head for days afterwards.

I think of when I was growing up: every Sunday evening we would sit as a family at the dining room table and have cakes, listening to the Top 40 on the radio, with Dad on my right-hand side. I think of silly little things like Dad letting me play snooker with him at the local Social Club, even though I could barely see over the side of the snooker table and it was against the club rules.

I think of Dad cutting the grass in the garden into a maze just so I could follow behind him; of Dad cutting my toast into the most awkward of shapes; of his fried egg sandwiches that he liked to eat on a Sunday morning whilst reading the paper. I think of his Freddie Mercury dancing, of our trips to the zoo, of toasting whole loaves of bread on the open fire while Mum was at work.

I think of hiding behind Dad’s newspaper when I didn’t want to go to school, of the ‘stranger danger’ bus he used to drive, of making bridges with him and flicking rubber bands around the house. I think of running around the living room with Dad, singing songs from the ‘Jungle Book’.

I think of our family holidays to Cornwall: looking in rock pools, clambering over the rocks to get out to sea with him; of Dad diving over the side of the dinghy we were in to get his sunglasses from the sea.

All of these little things and more, I remember, are to me the most important things about my Dad . . .

I would like to finish by reading a message from my four year-old daughter:

Dear Grandad Poorly Head, I love you today. Please look after Coober [my dog] and your dog from when you were little. Love K.

Grace and civility in the city

I’ve done a fair amount of travelling around the past few weeks, and what strikes me is the degree of play ‘out there’. I’ve not got anything particularly new to say here, perhaps (Huizinga did a pretty good job of analysing ‘the play element in culture’ over half a century ago); however, it is worth thinking through again and again, adding in recent perspectives and observations, because it just doesn’t look like this country (UK), at least, is seeing the whole picture. There’s so much adult play going on out there, in the city, but children’s play is marginalised.

The playwork field knows this, yet we’re still seen variously as ‘those bloody hippies’, or lefties, or angsty wannabe revolutionaries or the like. Maybe some of us are some of these things, but time and again those who do truly stick up for children’s rights to just play aren’t taken seriously. Where’s the educational attainment? Where are the outcomes and the end products and the perfectly formed, neatly socialised individuals popping out the other end of the sausage machine? There is no sausage machine. Play happens.

Or, rather, play should happen, out there, out and about, or be given the chance to happen, but it doesn’t: not always. Walking through London streets recently I was struck by all the playable spaces: there were gleaming bollards to weave around, wide walkways to run down, green spaces to jump around in; there were several great, huge, pristinely-piled stacks of leaves marching down the edge of one street on a busy thoroughfare. There was enough space around them for potential players not to get caught up with passing buses and bikes and the like. Maybe the leaves had only just been piled there; or maybe it just isn’t acceptable for children to make use of such playable possibilities. I had a very definite urge to jump in as I passed by. I resisted but I don’t know why.

Out on the streets and in the bars and on the Underground though, there are adult players everywhere. Everyone, it seems, is plugged into something small and flat and glass-screened. I looked over people’s shoulders on the Tube, thinking they were emailing or the like, but they were zapping various aliens instead. I watched as one young woman held a conversation with a young man in a suit. She idly jumped her avatar over walls and bridges, flicking with a thumb as if bored by it but as if it were all still absolutely necessary: that she had to do more than one thing at a time, still talking to the man. Don’t people stare out of windows, even in tunnels, or people-watch, any more?

Our pubs are temples to our hedonism and escapism. There may even be all the play types here, if we look hard enough. In the tunnels there are musicians; odd men sing and shout at cash machines; there are street artists and dancers; people race each other along the pathways and in their cars; some people frequent the corners of bars, focused entirely on their partners, really in need of getting a room! It’s all play and there are no specific places for that play to happen. People drink on the streets, sing and dance and race anywhere they like, if they feel it in them to do that.

Children, on the other hand, are restricted to the authorised, ‘acceptable’ play ghettos sprinkled around. There’s no telling what mayhem might happen, you see, if they ever escaped and spilled out onto the street. Imagine, dancing around on the paving slabs? Or what about children racing their mates around the pavement bollards? Think of the adults . . . they’d have these mad, chaotic, dangerous creatures all around them, tripping them up and causing safety hazards. Life would be ridiculous in the city. Imagine if there were some children standing at the cash machine making up odd, hilarious only to themselves word arrangements, shouting it out to the rest of that corner of the city. It’s not like if an adult did this: we can all walk by ignoring the mad old man doing something like this, or the self-styled preacher at the church gates shouting out all his odd, meaningful only to himself word arrangements and beliefs. We can’t ignore children doing this though.

Why is this? Of course, I’ve given my opinion on things like this on this blog plenty of times before, but I’ll go over old ground for these newer observations: adults fear children, have a need for control, a need for their own purpose, a phobia of the seemingly ‘chaotic’: well, plenty of adults do, though admittedly not all of them. The groundswell of opinion does seem to be weighted against the children though. ‘Be civilised’ seems to be the dominant condition of adult need when it comes to children. It does call into question what ‘civilisation’ amounts to.

Like empathy or grace, we can’t make someone else be or do civility. We can smile and laugh when we see beauty and grace though. The other day I was eating lunch in a public café area, minding my own business, and two toddlers were skirting around, not eating their own lunch. They kept poking around the edges of where I was, stopping, looking, smiling, offering the tiniest of play cues with their facial expressions. Later, they were still there when I moved outside. I saw them pressed against the window, so I got down to their level and they placed their palms against the glass. We played on either side of the window. Their mother was nearby and she was fine with the play. If these interactions — although minor on the face of it — adults and children, could be allowed their replication, out and out, on and on in the city and the country, there would be grace and civility, as such.

We tolerate drunks and the possibly delusional on our streets, the racers who could cause actual harm, the loudness of musicians and singers when we’re trying to sleep, and so on, and we say this is civilisation. Yes, so this is play maybe, adult play, but if a child runs and screams at a pile of pristine leaves, or if a child stands up high and chants a favourite song, say, then this is uncivilised and must be stopped.

Where there is knowledge of ‘this is play’, there is grace. Where there is grace, there is civility. Perhaps we could look up from our screens and see. We can experience the world out there for a change.

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