Watch “Why You Need A Good Internal BS Meter” on YouTube

Rick Beato is a musician and educator.

This is the best statement on the need for Bullshit Detector since Postman and Weingartner wrote Teaching As A Subversive Activity, the whole text of which is around on the web, and is a must read.

BTW, I hate videos. Just give me the feckin’ words and the odd diagram. But there’s always an exception to every rule.

Push for order… Lock in the chaos…Report: Side effect of Apple’s increasing garden walls is better hiding places for elite hackers – 9to5Mac

Report: Side effect of Apple’s increasing garden walls is better hiding places for elite hackers – 9to5Mac
— Read on

This is hilarious.

I’ve been waiting for this for years. Walled garden security theatre, and incidentally a hollywood BDAM trope for years. Once we’re in, etcetera.

As a system is tightly controlled to impose order, so the chaos breaks through. Systems become brittle.

Thanks to computers, we can now develop brittle systems much faster than before, that fail harder. Hello Texas, is the water back on yet? The leccy? Technological progress.

The Magic beneath Food Truck Location

ice-cream-van-roma-cafe-mid-40'sBack in 2012, the U.S. food truck industry for the first time blew past the $1 billion revenue mark (it in fact reached $1.5 billion that year), making it one of the fastest-growing sectors of the national food and restaurant market. Still, food trucks are often seen as the enemy of local restaurants. Just as cab drivers have taken to protesting Uber and other ride-hailing services, brick-and-mortar restaurant groups have rallied in cities across the nation to ban or limit food trucks.

But what do food trucks actually mean for urban economies? What impact do they have on local restaurants, food industries, and our choices as consumers?


A recent study from Elliot Anenberg of the Washington, D.C. Federal Reserve System and Edward Kung of UCLA takes a detailed look at the economy and geography of food trucks in our nation’s cities. To get at this, the study uses unique data on food trucks from the U.S. Census Bureau and a dataset of daily Washington, D.C. food truck locations, as well as social media data from Twitter and Google Trends. The study is particularly interested in the connection between food trucks and new digital technologies—especially social media—and how food trucks make use of them. Here are its five big takeaways.

via The Secrets to Food Truck Location – CityLab.


1. Twitter is a big factor in food truck location.

Food-seeking flocking behaviour.

2. The connection between food trucks and digital technology is greater in big, dense cities.

Network effect, more nodes, and more importantly, more connections. Check out Valdis Krebs.

3. When it comes to location, variety matters a lot.

We, birds, humans, weasels, get bored eating the same stuff. And to maintain health we need to eat different stuff. Variety matters. Duh.

4. Food truck location is spiky.

Even normal economics understands this power law effect.

5. Food trucks cause households to spend more money on eating out.

See 3 and 2.


Complexity fans will have spotted the lack of underpinning theory in the otherwise excellent CityLab piece. So I provided it, in bold italics. You’re welcome.



provocation #3 ‘Why oh why did this happen, can you see what it is yet?’ (file under: contentious and and half-baked) | LinkedIn

An occasional series of provocations for management thinkers.

May contain elements of offense.

(File under: contentious and and half-baked)

provocation #3




NB: My target here is managerialism, not committed, ethical, hard-working public sector employees and elected representatives.

Rearrange these into the correct order:

1. Give police targets determined by politicians, and managers subservient to them

2. Import managerialism into the public sector

3. Destroy the multi use approach to city and town street life – thanks planners, abandoning the streets after 8pm to ne’er-do-wells, clubbers, drunks, and the poor and desperate.

4. Think it clever to save social services budgets a few quid by buying cheap places in care homes for vulnerable kids in depressed towns like Rochdale.

5. Close your children’s homes and allow the market to create cheap children’s homes in low cost areas.

6. Send vulnerable kids half-way across the country

7. Don’t see children and youth as valid members of society with needs, rights, and AGENCY, so don’t cater for their leisure and affiliation needs

8. Rack up business rates so that only poverty-level wages for fast-food work are viable in town centres.

9. Prioritise car theft, based on public complaint, over missing children who don’t complain because they don’t matter (“scrubbers” anonymous policeman, BBC Radio 4 Friday, September 12, 2014 13:37).


That was a trick question: there isn’t an order only a pattern.

Then wonder why the Rochdale Child Abuse Scandal.

Discuss. Use both sides of the argument and the brain.



if you find this offensive is it less or more offensive than the Rochdale Child Abuse Scandal?

via provocation #3 ‘Why oh why did this happen, can you see what it is yet?’ (file under: contentious and and half-baked) | LinkedIn.

INTRODUCING: musings|half-baked… ‘who should run the world and why’

Introducing ‘musings: half-baked

This is a new category, in some ways going back to my original idea of a scrapbook in the form of a blog. So half-baked musings are scraps of thinking, that I might do something with, or might pique my or someone else’s interest.

So here is the first one, file under ‘who should run the world and why’.

Very cool lady judge presiding over the Pistorius case. I’m going to extend the ‘the world should be run by 8 year old girls’ to include ‘successful black women of pensionable age’ (context: where black is an oppressed group within the dominant societies on this planet. Your culture may vary. May contain traces of nuts).

Despite being jovially couched, this is a serious notion. Its about experiences and perspectives. Its an idea emerging, slowly.

The idea is to specify, in a quasi-scientific manner, the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ for a thing. In this case ‘running the world nicely’. It’s like a concept car for management systems thinkers.

Judge MasipaArticle is from yesterday's 'i'


REGENERATING THE PUBLIC REALM: Blenders, babysitters and burglars! – connecting neighbours in unexpected ways – Playing Out

“For my street – and the others who have shared their experiences – new and rich connections have grown from sharing time and fun on the street during playing out sessions. And they have changed the way I feel about living here for the better.”

We know more about regenerating a rainforest or a prairie than we do about regenerating the public realm.

We really need to get out more.

And we really need to study more.

PlayingOut, is one neccesary, but—of course—of itself, insufficient condition for this regeneration of  the public realm to take place. Pun placed intentionally!

Read and follow their excellent bloggery.

via Blenders, babysitters and burglars! – connecting neighbours in unexpected ways – Playing Out.

Out of sight, out of mind, out of the brain of Mr Chown, for your reading pleasure

Out of sight, out of mind.

Excellent blog by the wise Mr Chown. Sample quotes:

20 years on I still see signs of children playing out, unnoticed by adults. Surveys and questionnaires provide only a partial picture of children’s independent mobility. We need more direct observation and engagement with children and families in their own neighbourhoods, not just in schools, if we are to create policies to support children playing out and to measure their success.”

‘We have given up haunting the places where children play, we no longer have eyes for their games, and not noticing them suppose they have vanished’. Children’s Games in Street and Playground – Iona and Peter Opie.”

Out of sight, out of mind.

Teacher Tom: Everyone Protecting Everyone

Teacher Tom: Everyone Protecting Everyone.

When the girls came outside, the boys chased the girls chased the boys, wildly, around and around our outdoor space, all flushed and breathing hard, chasing without catching, everyone protecting everyone.”

The way he did it, honestly sharing his opinion, not adding any judgment,and the playful shuttle diplomacy he practiced, is pure playwork.

Shame that many playworkers don’t do it like this.

This is either because they aren’t allowed to, or they haven’t been shown, or, probably, they haven’t been allowed to learn how to.

My favourite A.S.Neill anecdote: if it featured a car, I could have called it ‘Cars and Girls’

Here’s my favourite Neill anecdote, told in my own words. It works like a stun grenade lobbed into the ivory tower of pedagogy and pediatric development, I reckon.

I’d like a snappy title: how about this:


Once there was a boy at Summerhill who could not read. Teachers were concerned about him, and wanted to help. Neill said, calmly and firmly: “No.”

The years went by and the boy –  still utterly illiterate and fast approaching his final year of school – wanted a motorbike: the key to his freedom to roam the leafy lanes of East Anglia, and the key to meeting GIRLS in the nearest town, several miles away.

That summer, as he turned sixteen (and became eligible for a provisional license to legally ride a 50cc motorcycle), he  discovered a rusting moped in a hedge.  He dragged the wreck back to Summerhill and set about restoring it. He scrubbed and cleaned until it gleamed.  Of course it wouldn’t go. It would need masses of mechanical and electrical know-how to get it going, if this were even possible.

So he went to Neill, they all called him Neill, and knocked quietly on the half-open door of Neill’s study, clutching the Haynes manual for the Honda 50, and asked: “ Neill , please will you teach me to read this?”

And Neill said, calmy and firmly:




Thanks to Joel, for evoking this with your blog, to be found here:

Start your reading about Neill here:

(I think I would have first heard of Neill by reading an article in New Society by Leila Berg)

Arising in the playspace: what is the role of the playworker?

Thank you to Morgan for sharing this quote:

“I am of course employed as a leader, but on an adventure playground this is hardly the same as the accepted idea of a leader and organizer who works, as it were, from the outside. Rather, mine is a function which arises within the actual framework of the playground where I am in a position to give the children every opportunity of putting their plans into practice. This initiative must come from the children themselves and when the necessary materials are to be had these give the children the inspiration for play. I cannot, and indeed will not, teach the children anything. I am able to give them my support in their creative play and work, and thus help them in developing those talents and abilities which are often suppressed at home and at school. I consider it most important that the leader not appear too clever but that he remain at the same experimental stage as the children. In this way the initiative is left, to a great extent, with the children themselves and it is thus far easier to avoid serious intrusion into their fantasy world.”

from John Bertelsen’s “Early Experience from Emdrup” in Adventure Playgrounds,p.20-1.

Now, note the word: ‘arises’.

Something that arises is something that is emergent.

He is not saying his role is mandated by his employer, nor is it subservient to, or defined by, his ‘customers’. Rather, it is, from my complexity perspective – an emergent phenomenon within the playspace.

Which brings me right back to my presentation in 1997 at PlayEd: ”Designing PossibilitySpaces – the key task for playwork“. It is this emergent quality of the playspace, which is not a simple linear result of the staff and the physical environment, that determines and creates the playspace. Yes, it is circular. And yes, it is emergent from many interactions between many humans – mainly the children with each other, but also with adults.

(Author’s note: I’ve added single quotes around the phrase ‘the child’, just like that. I did this just now: Thursday, April 18, 2013 14:27.  The reason being that I wanted to clarify that I am focussing on the concept we point to when we use the phrase, and I am indebted to Morgan for pointing up what I was doing. I was taking for granted that my audience would know what I meant, which is always dangerous. Like Morgan, I wince when ever I encounter the idealised child in print.)


Yet we continue to talk about children in the singular. Playwork is not about ‘the child’. As I have said before, and been mightily  misunderstood and majorly castigated for: playwork is not about helping children. Playwork is about providing playspaces (a term that needs to be defined, but not now, but see below*)  for children – PLURAL, not helping ‘the child’. SINGULAR.

Playwork is not about ‘the child’. Leave that bogus concern to social services, who have discarded all they knew about families as interactive systems in favour of a tabloid-driven heroic rescue mentality.

Playwork is about children en masse. Groups of children. Large numbers of children.

If we focus on individual children and we neglect to focus on the playspace*, – the culture being continuously recreated autopoietically, the resulting emergent behaviour of the denizens en masse – then we stop doing playwork and become rescuers.


The role of the playworker

is an emergent responsiveness

to the playspace.



Thanks again Morgan, for sharing that Bertelsenic nugget. More please.

David Snowden is a natural born playworker!

I’m very pleased, and slightly amazed, to have been invited to attend two, yes two, Cognitive Edge training courses next week, which I will blog about. I’m a big David Snowden fan, and readers who have seen me present ‘MIPS’ at PlayWales’ Spirit conference in 2010 will know that I approvingly quote his ‘how to organise a party for teens’ piece.

Cognitive Edge does very clever things, which I will not attempt to describe here until I have been through the training, but you can read a little here: David Snowden

As homework for the course, we are asked to re-read several of DS’s writings, and I came across this, which I had read years ago. It is delicious and wicked:

“In another case, a group of West Point graduates were asked to manage the playtime of a kindergarten as a final year assignment. The cruel thing is that they were given time to prepare.

“They planned; they rationally identified objectives; they determined backup and response plans. They then tried to “order” children’s play based on rational design principles, and, in consequence, achieved chaos. They then observed what teachers do.

”Experienced teachers allow a degree of freedom at the start of the session, then intervene to stabilize desirable patterns and destabilize undesirable ones; and, when they are very clever, they seed the space so that the patterns they want are more likely to emerge.”

Experienced playworkers, of course, also do do that, don’t they?

I keep threatening to write up my ‘Edge of Recalcitrance’ presentation, not least because it is becoming more widely misunderstood. Yes, taught widely, and widely misunderstood.

I first presented the ideas at the PlayEd conference in 1997 – with one Wendy Russell in the audience – and a broad range of experience of playwork in the room. I reckon the majority of those present ‘just got it’, because what I was describing chimed with their lived experience of their playwork. That was my main intention – to offer the field a language for describing what playworkers do, so that we could begin to get that across to others. Not easy without words. But that was fifteen years ago (which is a whole generation if you are a member of one of Eric Pickles’ ‘troubled and troublesome families’) and I fear that the lived experience of playwork has changed. Because of elfansafety and all that, don’t you know.

Playwork trainers and speakers in the know know that the ‘Where did you play as a child?’ exercise, (which many use, and almost as many claim to have invented), has stopped working with younger playwork audiences. It used to be a superb way of quickly tapping into the essence of the experience of play, because it reliably elicited responses about, freedom, reverie, lack of adult supervision, danger, excitement and all that. Now we are getting blank looks – many of these young playwork entrants seem to have suffered play deprivation themselves – they simply don’t report the life experiences of a childhood spent away from grown-ups, crossing roads, being out all day, lighting fires, being chased off, doing stupid ‘dangerous’ stuff and suchlike. ‘Hire for attitude’ some wise guroo* once said, ‘everything else can be learned on the job’. Very true, which is why playwork might struggle: if the workers you hire don’t have the playwork attitude, moulded by experience, then jamming it in there over a few days of training in a nice classroom is going to be tricky.

And, explaining my ‘Edge of Recalcitrance’ and why order and rationality don’t work, is I suggest very very tricky indeed. As  DS said: “They then tried to “order” children’s play based on rational design principles, and, in consequence, achieved chaos”.

A lot of people don’t get it. I saw this, in a paper about theories in playwork available to download from a Play Council’s website recently:

“Children’s play is naturally slightly chaotic.”

No it isn’t.

Children’s play is complex!

(What does that word ‘ naturally’ mean in this context? I’m assuming they mean, when not interfered with by grown-ups).

Children’s play can also be ordered (that is – appears ordered, not can be ordered about!), and yes, it can be occasionally chaotic, but if ‘left alone’ (easier said than done)  it tends to migrate to the ’edge of chaos’. Which is why I say that the ‘Duty of Care’  for people working with other people’s kids, has to be countervailed (if that is a word, not, as I used to say ‘balanced’ because it is not a simple static balance it is more a dynamic tension) with the ‘Duty of Recalcitrance’.

If that doesn’t make much sense, it’s because I am compressing an hour’s lecture and thousands of words and two or three diagrams into a short paragraph.


I must write it up soon.


I’ll be back with more Snowdenia after next week. If he ever wants a job as a playworker or playwork trainer, I’ll let you know. He is a natural.


*Guroo = Small marsupial, likes to make its nest from your strategies and policies, becoming a pest in some areas

play is salt and games are sugar

On his blog,

FB is asking, in the context of a conference  he attended:

“What about the ‘connections’ bit of ‘material connections’? There was in my opinion a lot of talk about play and toys and players and their various ontological statuses …. but relatively little about the relations between them, the microethnographical details (smartly laid out by Tara in her opening provocation) of connection and contact and clash and cuddle. Perhaps that’s just not where we collectively ‘were’ today (maybe an emphasis for a follow-up?!)”relatively little about the relations between them”

To which I say, addressing the phrase: ‘relatively little about the relations between them’:


Children, who can easily get excluded from the topic list, rather like poor Africans begging outside a UN summit, are not interested in toys.

(Please don’t mistake me for the sort of buffoon who wants to include children in adult conferences about play: kids no more want to talk about play with boffins than frenchmen want to talk to boffins about the experience of being french and a man. Any responses gleaned are likely to be instructive only to students of colourful vernacular reproductive language.)

Animals will seek out salt when their bodies need it, and, if given the chance, will gorge to the point of obesity on sugar.


play = salt
computer games = sugar.

Hmmm, that’s worth exploring – maybe later.


Children are interested in other children.

We know that humans are social animals, we know that the most important part of the ‘environment’ for starlings is other starlings, so why aren’t we more interested in the ‘connections’: why aren’t we more interested in children’s interest in other children? That Franzen novel might have been really interesting if it had been called ‘the connections’.

N-K networks are a big area of study, but when the ideas drift over the fence into neighbouring fields like sociology and psychology, the focus is always on the N and not the K. As I often quip – it’s as if we study flocking by interrogating individual starlings (a dumb idea, on several levels, which I won’t go into here).



There’s a glorious mechanism which boots up human culture in any group of baby humans growing up together, the very best example of which  is the new sign language which developed in orphanages for deaf kids in Nicaragua in the 70s or 80s.



We could, if we wanted to, find out so much more about all this.

But it’s hard to study the flock and easy to study the starlings.





(Thanks once again FB, for the stimulus.)

A NICE CUP OF TEA AND A SATDOWN (was Mary Portas thinks we need high street management)

Mary Portas thinks we need high-street management teams to reverse the decline of the high street.

Yes folks, Mary Portas thinks we need more managers.

That’s right, folks, Mary Portas thinks managers make things better.

Aaaw, bless.


oh…hold on…

She’s not saying that. the headline is crass. blame the media, for, she’s not saying that. the headline is crass. oversimplifying. its what they do. bears say mass in the woods, popes use improvised woodland latrines, and the media sensationalise, simplify and distort. duh.


you really shouldn’t let me listen to the ‘Today’ programme

(its on Radio 4 in the morning, pre-9 am, folks, if you are instead listening to banging chewns on Radio Noise FM)

why not? why shouldn’t arthur be allowed to listen to ‘Today’?

because he rants off like this.

Mary Portas is on the radio. I am shouting at the radio, because she is right, and WRONG!

2 points:

1. not that kind of manager!

memo to self – write a piece on kids of managers, good non-managerialist managers versus bad managerialist managers. need to do this soon, before I get attacked by managers.\\

2. she thinks the goal should be footfall.

It’s not about bring back shops or less supermarkets its about do anything to get more feet on the street. and its not about organic markets its about barnsley market

I agree.



she then goes on to say ‘so we have to relax planning laws’.


why aargh?

because its the old mistake, good understanding, rubbish solution.

Mary Portas, has, I reckon, got a good understanding of what went wrong, and has been convinced to support a certain solution (relax planning law).

Who thinks letting developers do what they like is a good idea? no one, apart from developers, their partners and the politicians who are their paid-for friend (who thinks spending more on youth clubs? no one except, youth, unemployed youth workers, and the national yoof bureau). That won’t happen , because youth clubs HAVE NO INFLUENCE. Who thinks we should spend more on under 5s? on adventure playgrounds? you get the drift)


Oldest game in the book: analyse a complex problem, do a good job, then allow vested interests to pick one solution.

newsflash: if a problem is complex, rather than complicated or simple or wicked, THERE IS NO ONE SOLUTION.

(I wrote a book about this – ‘Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management’.that book sort of scratched the surface. since then, 15 years ago, some smarter management consultant than me have deveoped some useful tools. ASK ME )


if you only implement one solution to a complex problem, then it won’t work and you are wrong.


that’s what we got from Labour with Surestart and family tax credit. That’s what Alan Milburn MP ex-Labour minister of something, thinks (also on radio just now). Alan thinks we need to spend more on under-5s services. Great analysis, Alan, wrong answer because it’s a single solution to a complex problem. These won’t go away. the world is ever more complex.

So are we all doomed? nope, probably. What is to be done?


What is that? it is a way of working together to work on complex problems. it is a methodology by which 70 people could meet for 4 hours (Watford BGOP workshop 1999) and everybody could be heard and the complex problem better understood. When they next meet they could come up with some small actions to take. and so on. No big single wrong answer, many small answers, some of which will work, some of which won’t.

The process has a simple acronym, MLTQ: ‘many little things quickly’ (technically MLTQfb, fb = fed back, abbreviated to be reminiscent of TQM).


Everybody, but specifically small movements with no money who want to make a difference, like the UK Play lobby.

I will write more about SAT (Social Argument Technology), but for now I will merely point out, that some wise person, probably your mum, said there are few problems that can’t be made better with a nice cup of tea and a sit down (and biscuits). Heck, there’s even a website for that, because there is now a WEBSITE FOR EVERYTHING:

I’m saying that complex problems can only be made better with a nice cup of tea and a SAT down. and biscuits.

what is a ‘SATdown’?

it is a special meeting, in which we sit down together and use Social Argument Technology to have an arguement, nicely, listening to each other, not focussing on anyone problem or anyone solution, and stuff like that.

more on SAT later.



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THE REDISCOVERY OF FIRE: playwork, training and the ‘problem’ of fire



This is some writing on playwork. 

I realise, on re-reading it, that it is somewhat opaque by virtue of being condensed to fit into two pages of a magazine. I am happy to expand and expound on any of the ideas.

What’s odd about this piece is that it was rejected because it had too many footnotes,

or was it simply because it had footnotes?  

I forget. So I took my bat home.

I thought it should see the light of day,

I thought that it should gambol free in the shallow-angled pasty light of midwinter, seeking its listeners.

I like this piece. It’s 18 months old, and I had forgottten it almost completely, so when I read it, it was as if I was not the author, so when I say I liked it, it’s not showing off, it’s just fact. (Fact in the sense that my opinion is factually reported by me, I mean). When I say I like it, it’s more that I appreciate it, despite its flaws. It should be longer: that means work that I’m reluctant to commit to without guidance – tell me, what of it to write more of, dear reader/s (too many prepositions, up with which one cannot put).

I will say this: it is absolutely about leadership and management. Absolutely, even though it contains no Tuckman, no norming, norman-ing, no storming norman-ing.

(‘Storming Norman’ was a Gulf War general. Sheena was a punkrocker).

It is absolutely about leadership and management.





© Arthur Battram, PleXity 2011


He said “Something on Management and Leadership“, which, as Picasso knew, just makes it more difficult, having to choose from EVERYTHING, which is why the Spanish philanderer chose the restrictions of the junkyard and its ‘objets trouveé’. That’s loose parts to you, play boy.


Management as we understand it,  developed in the huge multinational corporations of America, the UK and Europe in the middle years of the last century. These huge structures found it increasingly difficult to act in new ways and even to communicate, which lead to wave after wave of management fads, like TQM, BPR and the ‘Learning Organisation’. Evil management consultants, expert at exploiting the last drop of profit, moved on to the next chic fad, whilst marketing the already discredited fad to the gullible public sector and the larger national charities as ‘Best Practice’. Thus it was inevitable that ‘the Quality movement’ would pose the latest threat to tiny little play projects pottering along minding their own business – of course TQM is inappropriate, but you can get funding to do ‘Investors in People’, oh yes, funding to waste hundreds of hours (which aren’t funded) getting a framed piece of paper alongside such luminaries as McDonalds and Northern Rock.  The little fleas have littler fleas and thus the voluntary sector has PQASSO, its very own quality scheme. On the theory that ‘we should do it to ourselves before they do it to us’ we have the noble ‘Quality in Play’ – which unfortunately finds itself not to be the ‘preferred approach’ of many a Children’s Services Childcare Development Team (last year Play England failed to run a programme of training for assessors in the North basically because they were asking play people to pay commercial rates and nobody has the money).


I hear tales of woe about ‘childcare settings’ which, when not forced to operate some Gradgrindian ‘homework club’§§, are busy implementing some imagined ‘Prevention of Fun Act’ requiring them to ban most stuff because the school won’t like it, or the caretaker complained or the parents don’t like the kids getting messy or the head doesn’t approve or… Where does this stuff come from? Where are these Funeaters, these cold-water-pouring Blue Meanies, these banners of the sacred ‘Fire Play’?  Let’s go see – come with me now, dear reader, to another part of our world, a corner of our green and pleasant, a land of powder-blue Saabs and ‘themes’…


Last year I found myself teaching a group of childcare people the joys of playwork and our lovely principles of play. I met Tehanu* who—responding to the ‘demand characteristics’ of an enthusiastic and proselytising tutor (me)—told me about George****, a small boy who didn’t get involved in stuff, and just sat about, until one week in which the owner of the club, driver of a powder-blue Saab convertible†, friend of the Head, and decreer of ‘themes’, had decreed that this week the theme would be ‘Boxes’ and thus George was unexpectedly to be found making, playing, inhabiting ‘being free’ while being boxed in, like Picasso . And thus was George fulfilled: he had found his ‘signature play mode’.§ Until Powder Blue poppedin saw that this had continued into the following week, and was not happy and she spake unto Tehanu most crossly and ordered her to see to it, and Tehanu did not, for she valued George and his play and was prepared to suffer some wrath from the PB, who in any case was never there and probably wouldn’t remember, like a busy parent, which is how most managers of small businesses behave, for better or worse.


Cut to the chase – with this group I found myself going back to my roots as a playwork trainer, focussing on the installation of bullshit detectors***. I explained that their job, in order to be true to the creed of Playwork in its mighty Principles, was to be subversive in their Stalinist ‘settings’:  that they must develop ‘the bushido of the revolutionary’**, they must be cunning and practice tradecraft and proceed to cross the Great River using the ‘stepping stones of possible’, making innocent queries, attributing small intentions to the Gods of CACHE and NVQ, such as the display of the Charter, and the Principles, moving doggedly forward from one ‘adjacent possible’ to another, keeping their eye on their goal, which in this case was this: to offer many more, if not all, of the 16 Play Types of Bob. Of great help to me in this task is the unfairly neglected “Making Sense – Playwork In Practice”, the free to download CPC/Playlink publication,  I commend it to you because it illuminates very educational-sounding outcomes using lovely anecdotes of proper play.)


And blow me down but the next month they did , and it wasn’t the ones I thought it would be, so there’s me shown. ‘We’re doing fire play’ they chorused. Wow, I said tell me about it, and it transpired that they’d got the principles on the wall, and they’d circulated Making Sense, and talked to the Deputy Head who’d talked to the boyfriend of one of the other teachers who was an Outward Bounds Expert (I know what you’re thinking and I don’t care because they did it, so what if it needed some Goretexted herbert with a map on a string round his neck, needs must) and they prepared the Pit of Fire and they did Fire Play, or to put it another way, all this fuss and malarkey,  but yes ‘they had a bit of a fire’ as we used to call it, THEY HAD A BIT OF A FIRE.


And, and, they probably imported another bloody American ‘tradition’ – marshmallow toasting, and maybe they even did spuds. (We did spuds on my playground; thinking back, some of those kids must’ve lived off them – here’s the recipe: steal spud from Mum, bring to playground, wrap in foil (we always had some knocking around because of ‘chasing the dragon’)†† throw in fire, root about with stick until you think you have found it again in there, argue with other kid as to whose it is, which passes the 10 minutes or so until, not being able to wait any longer, you rake it out and grab it, and hop around like Rumpelstiltskin going ‘Ow ow ow ow ow’ juggling it as you peel back the foil and chew through the layer of grey hot ashes to reach the hot steamy fluffy mashy bit, which you gnaw away at until you are basically ricing raw spud.  Rewrap and repeat.  True story. I am Nigel Slater.)


But isn’t it a shame that we have to make such a bloody fuss about it? And isn’t it good when it works, though? Space will not allow me to more closely explicate my tale as the lesson in Strategic Playwork‡‡that it is, nor to explain the key difference between Leadership in a management context (as recently inflicted by the CWDC’s PLM programmes) and Professional Leadership, nor to reveal the identity of the Funeaters, although the clues are there to be found. Perhaps another article?


For those of you thinking I’m exaggerating the problems, I found this job ad:

“PLAYWORKER: Nursery School“


”Blue Peter style presenter needed for after school and holiday club, provides fun childcare during term time and school holidays for children between the ages of 4 and 11 years“.

Chilling, isn’t t? That’s chilling as in spine-chilling, not chilling as in ‘chillax’. I was going to put (sic) after ‘Blue Peter style presenter’, I’m choosing not to because I do have a little bit of pretend confusion: do they mean ‘style presenter’, a presenter of style, like on a ‘lifestyle show’ whatever that is, or do they mean ‘Blue Peter-style presenter’ ? I’m not sure where the illiteracy originated: was it with the employer or the advertiser? Whatever, someone should’ve spotted it. It’s easy for me: there’s just me writing this, so if there are errors they are mine, all mine. Mmmm, precious errors, demonstrating my humanity (in theory). Some may say that I’m being an old fusspot, that it is obvious what they meant to say. To which I say this: please meet me in a cafe. I will have a small piece of scrap timber, a big nail and a hammer. I will ask you to read out what it says on a piece of paper as I stand holding the hammer. The piece of paper will say this: “See that nail? When I nod my head, hit it”


Arthur Battram divides his time . He collects fountain pens and enjoys kerning more than a grown man should . He created Playstock with Eddie Nuttall, a free alternative conference coincidentally next door to IPA2011. He says read this: It’s a review of a story which inspired half of the title – the other half is from the US Ambassador to China in the 1930s, Paul Linebarger, who wrote a collection of linked stories ‘The Rediscovery of Man’.

~~~~~~~~~~actual end of article~~


(They didn’t like footnotes, so I renamed them so as not to cause offence.)

§§ is that ‘club’ as in free association around leisure interests, or ‘club’ as in baby seal?

  • an obvious and poetic pseudonym (google Tehanu).

† a poetic invention, justified by this maxim of the Klingon ambassador, who proclaimed that you simply cannot truly understand Shakespeare, dear boy, until you have read him in the original Klingon. Kurosawa would approve.

‡ which is why I mentioned him at the beginning, I realise: ah, the unconscious mind at play.

§ ‘Signature play mode’, as in ‘signature strength’. It’s the type of play (not necessarily ‘play type’) which invigorates you, the one that just feels right –  a lovely notion which I have invented, so you have to quote me, for it is mine, mine, precious, lifted from another field as one does, my precious, mine; ask nicely and I may tell.

#   Pop. The verb ‘to pop’ is a signifier of power in managerial relationships. Not sure? Then try this: next time you’re in the care of a health professional, query their use of an utterance they make, like this one: “Now, if you’d like to just pop up onto the table for me and we’ll have a little look…” Ooh, they do so hate having to, um, actually issue an order whilst loving that YOU DO WHAT THEY SAY!  I prefer the more blunt schtick of the security personnel “I’m going to have to ask you to…” Makes me sullen just writing about it – if I ever arrange to meet you at the British Library, make sure it isn’t in the courtyard café – because if it is you’ll be going through security with me which, trust me, you won’t enjoy.

** no, I didn’t actually say that.

††  Of course I’m joking, sheesh.

‡‡ Strategic Playwork: my term for an expanded playwork conception with elements of grass-roots community work, activism and resource-seeking. Email me for  my PDF from PlayEd’07.

*** google this : ‘Postman bullshit detector’. Neil Postman, iconoclastic educator.

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