My summers are a complete and utter contrast to the rest of the year
We stay in an ancient village which nestles into the cleavage of the mountains. Through each of the three streets a stream flows with spring water. A river runs on one side of the village and on the other side a quiet road leads up a hairpin path of fear to the village that is next door to us on the map.
Our doors are generally kept open and we run in and out of each other homes with comfort. We build little dams in the stream and cool our feet or our beer in the pools Neighbours pop in for drinks and chats and we have feast on tables in the middle of the roads. Every one knows every one else and watches over each others business in a benign way… ‘don’t call on Fatima yet… she will have been up early preparing food – Ramadan in the middle of summer ooo la la!’ ‘ I am taking a trailer full of stuff to the tip, do you have anything to take as well?’ ‘We have grown too many haricots vert. Do you want some?’
And the children? They have the most perfect of playable spaces. Trickling streams outside each front door for the littles to play in together, blinding each other with the light that dazzles of sploshed water. As the kids get older they go to other streets and play there, or to the river or into the foothills of the mountains or as they get older and older, over the mountains on walks that are process not product. There are steep falls and wide boar and snakes and fast flowing water, but they will be home in time for food., then off again into the night to lay on their backs and watch the shooting stars.
It all sounds very similar to the play memories that I have heard shared about the East End of London – surprisingly.
The idea of playwork is as strange and pointless in the cobbled streets here as is a pair of stilettos. I am blissfully redundant and can focus on cooking and painting. I have always said that like peace campaigners, playworkers aim for their work not to be necessary. Here that goal is fulfilled.
The children with their noses pressed against the frosted wire re-enforced glass balconies as they look out over dog shit strewn patches of municipal grass way below them, seem a world away.. they are a world away.
Such inhumanity seems inconceivable while I luxuriate in the French village.
Yet I have not been back in London for a day before the reality slaps me in the face again.
An e mail ‘They want to take the playground out again- a child fell over’
‘They want to dig up the playground- toxic soil conditions’
‘They want to call a halt to the project- no safety surfacing.’
‘They want to stop the kids playing out, too noisy’.
Sadly the work of a playworker is not strange and pointless- a meaningless luxury here. Without us to validate the playing, the children would not be able to claim their right to get off the high rise balcony and into their real worlds.
We are doing that work. We are seeing the changes. It does matter.
I am understanding more clearly that there are many different sorts of playwork and many different places to do that work. In the playgrounds, estates, parks and offices of London- and many other places in the world- playworkers are needed, play literacy is vital. If I try to explain a compensatory environment for play to the folks in the French village, they would not have clue why such a thing was necessary. If I have the same conversation here, I see a wave of understanding and relief.. a comprehension of what it is that has been missing and wrong for so long.
‘Play is a river that runs deeply through all of us’. (Hughes and coincidentally Eberle)
And as the funding streams dry up, the need for play becomes greater.