Playing for our lives

08 Young boys with play a street game in Spanish Harlem in January 1947

One sunny afternoon a few years ago, my then 9-year-old son uttered those words every parent or carer will be familiar with: “Mum, I am bored.” I gave him my usual response: “Go outside and find someone to play with.” He went out and returned five minutes later: “There is nobody out there.” I looked out the window to check that it hadn’t suddenly started raining, but no, the sun was high in the sky and not a cloud in sight. And indeed—not a kid in sight either.

Between June and December of 2016 researcher and urban explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison walked “the length of Britain and a bit” wearing an EEG headset that monitored his brain’s responses to the different places he visited. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year he was asked to share some of the things that had stood out during his journey. “There are no children playing in the street,” was his first remark, “except in Newcastle.”

According to research conducted by Play England, 71% of adults say they played out in the street every day when they were children. For today’s children that figure is only 21%. Continue reading

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To never be forgotten

24 hours of photos

“24 HRS in Photos, Erik Kessels”

“He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day. He told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had since the world was a world.”

Funes the Memorious – Jorge Luis Borges 1942

~~~

I am holding a photograph of a young woman. She is wearing a white dress and gloves and is sitting on the floor in a bare room. To the left of her sits a man, but only his shoulder and part of one hand are visible. The photograph has been torn in two.

The woman in the photograph is my mother. I have only ever known this image with the second person missing, and when I was little I would stare at the empty space beside her as if staring long enough might reveal the mystery person’s identity. I once asked my mother who he was. “Oh, I can’t remember,” she lied. Continue reading

Regarding the Land

“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
― Wendell Berry

Several years ago I was invited to work on a ‘Soil and Story’ project for the Soil Association.  It was a wonderful opportunity to do some research into different cultural approaches to soil and earth. Now that I am in the process of co-organising A Land Conference in Devon  I decided it might be worth looking up some of what I discovered working on that project. What follows is an extract from some of my research.

“The world’s indigenous peoples revered and still revere the soil as a power in itself, rather than as merely a provider of food, minerals or structural support. Native Americans say ‘the earth is our mother’ and refer to the soil as ‘our mother’s flesh’. The Maori of New Zealand call themselves ‘tangata whenua’, people of the land, and call her ‘the mother that never dies’. For the Australian Aborigines the land is the place of ‘dreaming’, and dreamtime stories explain how the land was created by the journeys of the spirit ancestors. Continue reading

The long remembering

 “We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

Maya Angelou

Last week I was walking on Dartmoor when I stumbled upon The Mariners Way.

The Mariners Way is said to be the track which sailors walked from Bideford in the north to Dartmouth in the south. As I made my way down it I couldn’t help thinking of the many travellers of all kind who would have trodden this stony path over the centuries. Each with their own thoughts, in reminiscence or anticipation, walking in company or alone, in good health or ailing, by day or by night. Each leaving their imprint on the soil, their sounds on the air, exhaling their warm breath into the ether. Each in turn feeling the cool night air on their skin or the sun gently breaking through a dense cover of leaves.

As the path descended further into the valley I, like my fellow past travellers, was greeted by the sounds of the river Dart. Continue reading

The undivided self

I have a memory of how it started.

I was visiting my Dad in New York and my big sister had taken me and a friend to the fairground. I was thirteen years old. It was summer. I was dressed in shorts and t-shirt. When our turn came for the Ferris wheel my friend and I went to take our seats. As the fairground worker placed the safety bar across our laps he raised his eyebrows and nodded towards my lower half. ‘Nice legs’ he said, directed not at me but at the man operating the controls. I remember feeling both strangely flattered with the attention (were these nice legs like the ones I had seen in magazines?) and confused (why was a strange man who barely looked me in the eye commenting on my body?) and in that moment I did for the first time what I would learn to do habitually for the next three decades: I looked down at my legs and experienced them not as belonging to me, but as separate entities open to evaluation by others, who seemed to know something about their worth that I didn’t. Continue reading

Sleep like a river

“How we need another soul to cling to.” – Sylvia Plath

Since my nine year old son watched a particularly scary episode of Dr Who we have started practising ‘kawa no ji mitai’.

Kawa no ji mitai is not some ancient martial art designed to chase away the bogeymen from under the bed, but it may be just as effective. Kawa is the Japanese sign for a river flowing between two banks. When a child sleeps between his parents they provide the protective and comforting banks that keep the child safe. The child sleeps like a river. Continue reading