13 May

I’ve been reading a book recently, recommended by a friend, written by Michael Ende called ‘Momo’. I’m not half way though yet but it is great. You should read it.

One part of the book has stood out to me for the way it captures my feelings about children, play and toys. I’ve worked in playschemes that have been stacked to the rafters with plastic cookery sets, dolls, toy cars and more, and I’ve worked in ones that had nothing but pieces of second hand fabric, stuff that you’d put into your recycling bin and lots of imagination and I know which one I think is best…

“More and more often these days, children turned up with all kinds of toys you couldn’t really play with: remote-controlled tanks that trundled to and fro but did little else, or space rockets that whizzed around on strings but got nowhere, or model robots that waddled along with flashing eyes and heads swivelling but that was all.

They were highly expensive toys such as Momo’s friends had never owned, still less Momo herself. Most noticeable of all, they were so complete, down to the tiniest detail, that they left nothing at all to the imagination. Their owners would spend hours watching them, mesmerized but bored, as they trundled, whizzed or waddled along. Finally, when that palled, they would go back to the familiar old games in which a couple of cardboard boxes, a torn tablecloth, a molehill or a handful of pebbles were quite sufficient to conjure up a whole world of makebelieve.”

Play is inherent, and so is the desire and ability to play. Children are having their imaginations sold short by things designed by capitalism to keep them occupied and teach them how to be good men and women.

This section goes further…

“…Momo came across a doll on the steps of the old amphitheatre…Nearly as tall as Momo herself, the doll was so life-like that it might almost have been mistaken for a miniature human being, though not a child or a baby. Its red minidress and high-heeled sandals made it look more like a shop-window dummy or a stylish young woman about town.

Momo stared at it, fascinated. After a while she put out her hand and touched it. Instantly, the doll blinked a couple of times, opened its rosebud mouth, and said, in a metallic voice that sounded as if it were issued from a telephone, “Hello, I’m Lola, the Living Doll.”
Momo jumped back in alarm. Then, automatically, she replied, “Hello I’m Momo.”
The dolls lips moved again. “I belong to you,” it said. “All the other kids envy you because I’m yours.”

“Let’s pretend you’ve come to pay me a visit,” Momo suggested.
“Hello,” said the doll. “I’m Lola, the Living Doll.”
“How nice of you to call,” Momo replied politely. “Have you come far?”
“I belong to you,” the doll said. “All the other kids envy you because I’m yours.”
“Look,” said Momo, “we’ll never get anywhere if you go on repeating yourself like this.”

Momo tried several games in turn, but nothing came of them. If only the doll had remained silent, she could have supplied the answers herself and held an interesting conversation with it. As it was, the very fact that it could talk made conversation impossible.”

I’m reading this book at a time when the cuts are putting children and young people’s services at real risk. I was in Walthamstow for work this week, where it is looking like as many as 6 children’s centres are at risk of closure. These are places that insure that every child has access, not only to play, but also to health checks and support for their parents. Here in Hackney, the youth team are being merged with the youth offending team, and then half of that collective staff are set to lose their jobs. At the moment it is looking like the youth workers who are going to go. Youth centres will close, and those that remain open will be staffed by youth offending staff.

Important spaces for our children and young people are seriously under threat.

I was excited this week by an email doing the rounds about a potential new adventure playground in Hackney, springing up on unused, squatted land. I’ll be getting involved in that and I’ll update on here when I can.

Keep up the fight against the cuts for our children and young people!!


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