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

Posts tagged ‘perry else’

A personal tribute to Gordon Sturrock

It was with sadness that I learned of Gordon Sturrock’s passing, just a few weeks ago now, pretty much five years exactly since the passing of Perry Else. The two are inextricably connected with one another in my mind and studious experiences. Just as was the case with Perry, I knew that Gordon was unwell, but that his illness was terminal (he said as much a year or so ago at the PlayEd conference in Cambridge). I knew also, by this spring just gone, that Gordon had only a matter of a few months left to live. Even so, the inevitable news of such final events still has the potential to leave a recipient a little caught unawares. It is, therefore, all the more laudable that Gordon’s late flurry of writing and communications with other playwork writers and thinkers took place with such focus on his part.

I had spent the best part of last summer developing ideas with Gordon, via email, and writing those ideas into what became our joint paper, published in the autumn. I was acutely aware of the support he was providing, not just for myself, but for others engaged in study and development of their playwork writings. Gordon seemed to have a need to make use of what time he had left to succinct effect. He wrote at length to various groups, and to individuals; he sent books and other gifts. It was, in my reading of his focus, a way of saying to those he communicated with: keep it all going, think, keep thinking, take this all on further.

Around Christmas and the New Year, Gordon launched into an array of lengthy written communiques with a group of play and playwork thinkers and writers. He was passionate therein about an urgency in social and political constructs. He kept a keen eye, and also fed into his other various writings, the goings-on of the ‘gilets jaunes’, the yellow vests, and the mass protests taking place in France at that time. He sent a gift of a yellow vest, compelling that it be worn with pride. Gordon was seeing playwork and its reason for being having a place amongst the precariat. Those missive communiques, pamphlets reminiscent of tubthumping calls to arms of days gone by (I imagined they might be carefully typeset and nailed to telegraph poles, or illicitly pasted up somewhere, in alleys in bohemian quarters, maybe, in the deep of night), those pamphlets sit quietly awaiting my re-reading again, visible in my email intray.

Those who have read much of Gordon’s work would no doubt agree that his writing often required a great deal of concentration. Gordon was of the opinion that those who failed to understand the words he was using (and his vocabulary was extensive) should invest in a dictionary rather than him dumb it down. I readily admit that my vocabulary has improved significantly because of Gordon’s writing. In person, however, you seldom needed that dictionary.

I have an abiding memory of Gordon observing me as I was (what I now come to term more and more as) playworking. It was maybe a dozen years ago and we were at a small conference. There were maybe only a couple of children there, maybe only the one, the son of a delegate, and there was a break in proceedings. The boy played and, every now and then, cued me into the flow of things. I went with that flow. Gordon was nearby, quietly taking everything in. He later told me what I was doing, a level I was operating on, which I was conversant with as he explained what he’d seen but which, over the years of reflecting on this one play frame, I understand better and better as I replay recent playworking through that same lens. Gordon had explained to me his observation of a playworker witnessing their practice as they worked. As with other significant moments of appreciated feedback, I have never forgotten this or him taking the time to observe and see to it that it was worthwhile to tell me.

His explanation linked very much with certain aspects written into the Colorado Paper, which he co-authored with Perry Else. This remains, to this day, a seminal paper in the playwork field, even though many still haven’t read it, and few have understood it fully (suchlike as this was in one of Gordon’s final laments). I will not claim that I understand the Colorado Paper fully, but I become more astutely aware of its inner workings every time I consider it and every time I run it through my current reflections and practice. On more than a few occasions, Gordon used the idea of a paper or thinking process being ‘a North’. I read that as something akin to following the Pole Star. The Colorado Paper is a North.

Gordon’s background in psychoanalysis has taught me plenty, or set me off into trying to find out plenty, on the significant matters of potential neuroses, therapeutic (small ‘t’) interaction, and the sheer weight of what might be in our day-to-day experiences around children. Play, and the playworker (minus the possible manifestation of the ego), have great and graceful, small and significant affects that can, under conducive circumstances, make such difference. Gordon knew this. If we indulge in the slightly reductionist exercise, for a moment, of choosing which strand of playwork thinking suits our own experiences and worldviews best, mine has for a long time favoured Gordon and Perry’s psycholudic consideration, a little ahead of Bob Hughes’ evolutionary writings (as valued as they also are) or developmental schools.

What Gordon gave me, through his writings and other communications, was the gentle persuasion to explore deeper and deeper into concepts I thought I already knew well enough, but of course, didn’t quite. I am aware, currently, that a regular group of children can bring to this playworker, daily, all their play, all their stories and continued narratives, all their possibilities and all their tumbling agitations with one another, with where they are, with the adult world and so on, but they also bring all their projections and all their transference. One of the last things that Gordon wrote, deep down in a missive to be relocated, was about how we should, as I read it, examine the counter-transference in our practice.

Gordon had always engendered in me the desire to think, and he still does, just these few weeks after his passing. Peace be to you, Gordon: an Artisan-Erudite.
 
 

A personal tribute to Perry Else

Playwork has lost another of its own. This week Professor Perry Else passed away: I wanted to add my own thoughts following those who’ve already taken the time to reflect and write. In a sector that has a certain intensity in its discussion, ideas, experiences, conflicts of perspective, depth of thinking, there is also a cohesion just because of all of that. Perry was one of our own. Of course, playwork has lost others over recent years, but on a personal note Perry’s passing was a little different because I knew him, or at least, I had the privilege to hold discussions with- and be listened to by him. When I heard the sad news on Sunday this week, I was shocked. I knew that he wasn’t well, that there was some treatment involved, but I didn’t know the nature of his illness or the true extent of it: Perry didn’t seem to need to say it to everyone.

So this post is my tribute to Perry, based on the short time that I knew him and on the affect he has had on me. I don’t remember for sure the first time I met Perry: it may have been at Beauty of Play in 2007, or it may have been at another playwork event or conference somewhere around the country. It doesn’t so much matter because what matters is that, having read the Colorado Paper I was at once inspired to be in the presence of one of its authors (it remains a seminal text in the playwork field, if not totally comprehended by all) and also at ease in his presence. Perry had a way of concentrating on what you had to say, listening in, respecting the opinion, before taking the conversation on. I always knew I was in for a challenge of my own concentration when we talked though.

A few years back, at Beauty of Play one year, Perry sat down with me over breakfast, at the table overlooking the trees in the dip at the back of the old country house in Stone, Staffordshire. He was already alert at 8am (which might have been an earthly hour for him, but which has always been an unearthly hour for this playworker!) I had to concentrate especially hard as he talked about his latest writing, his thinking on play, and so forth. Some of it went in but that was my fault for getting out of my tent before double figures in the morning. I remember that Perry said to me that morning that he’d appreciate it if I didn’t tell anyone yet about the contents of that conversation (and he’d had conversations with others, of course) because he was still working on it. I didn’t, as requested.

In the summer of 2012, if memory serves me correctly, Perry and I had a conversation about me delivering a session at Beauty of Play that September. I’d presented before at the event and that year I needed to go but couldn’t fund it so well. Perry offered me a deal and then suggested some research subjects to work on over the summer ready for the event. We agreed that I’d take up the study of epigenetics, and how it related to play. Perry supported my research, offered advice, and took the time to talk things through with me. I really did appreciate his mentoring.

Every so often I would cross paths with him at other events. One year I was tasked with trying to explain parts of psycholudics at the National Playwork Conference and Perry must have been doing the advanced psycholudics discussions, in the same track. It felt like being his ‘warm up man’, either way, and in a way, even though it wasn’t a straight me and then the next guy gig! It focused me. It made me realise I had to get everything spot on for my own audience because they might well then head on to Perry and find out about this psycholudics thing straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

Another year Perry and I were both in amongst a large group of playwork colleagues at the Playwork Conference, listening to a colleague discussing the play cycle. It must have been strange, in a way, for him to sit mostly in silence as others discussed the writing that he and Gordon Sturrock had done years before; there again, maybe he’d got used to it. He listened carefully, as seemed to be his way. That session, I related an observation of play that I’d once mentally taken (never having fully written it down), of children lounging around on the platforms of an adventure playground I’d visited in London a few years previously: I used it to explain some learners’ ways of understanding the ‘metalude’. Perry carefully made corrections at this point. He explained the metalude not, as he perceived the example, in terms of a whole ‘thinking process’ taking place in the playing child, but more as a kind of ‘presence’. I didn’t focus well enough to capture his exact words. I wish I’d raised it again with him when I saw him last, in March, at this year’s Playwork Conference.

What transpired was that I collared Professor Else after the workshop, sitting on the floor, in a small group of playwork colleagues, explaining my experience of a number of years of attempting to teach the finer nuances of psycholudics, as I understood it, and how it all seemed to feel like the Colorado Paper had been diluted down to ‘just the play cycle’ bit (through a combination of teaching methods and learner comprehension). Perry listened, accepted the stance, and my memory is of a good discussion held with a man who seemed to respect the contributors, the feedback, the material, the possibilities and consequences.

This year, at the Playwork Conference, towards the end of the day I sat on the sofas that myself and Arthur Battram had set up specifically to engage some salon dialogue. I was tired, having talked with and concentrated on listening to my peers all day. Perry came by and sat down on the sofa. I was instantly aware of concentrating hard (not because Perry spoke a different language, as it were, though others might playfully disagree!) but because I always felt inspired to focus in his presence. There are things, now, that I wish I’d asked him more about.

My deepest condolences go out to Millie, Perry’s daughter, who I met at Beauty of Play, she of the most beautiful singing voice. Perry would tell long tales around the campfire down there at the edge of the woods: tales we’d often heard the year before, story-jokes that wound about with that particularly languid tone of voice he had. Millie would later sing, and I hope she’ll sing a beautiful song for her Dad.

Of course, we can never have known someone as a family member might, though the passing of one of playwork’s own is significant: it’s tinged with extra pertinence if that person has directly affected any other.

Peace be, Professor Else, sir.

Joel with Perry (2012)
 
 

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