Message found in a bottle of snake oil, in the Sargasso sea…

A friend of mine said, in a lovely,erudite presentation to some very smart folk:

“a weakness of my current thinking is a lack of explicitly encompassing the group, the social.”

Totally agree, we all lack this.

Re-examine page 49 of ‘Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management’, written by myself.

Then think about that botanical nostrum – Early Years textbooks teach that there are three kinds of play in young humans and many mammals: 

  • individual play
  • parallel play
  • social play

Know that this is botany – classifying plants by the shape of their leaves. We observe the spots of a leopard, but what is the mechanism that creates them?

What are the primitives, the atomic irreducible processes that underly the phenomena?

We do not have a language to describe phenomena in groups. I  suspect they are incommensurable, like weather prediction after Lorenz.

We do not have a language to describe phenomena in groups.

This has hamstrung playwork, education, professional football, orchestral performance, NASA budgetary oversight inquiries, Air Accident Investigation, Corporate Fraud Investigation, etcetera etcetera.

There are clues in the Miles Davis approach to group play.

There are clues in Taoism, and Zen.

But as Sapir, Whof and Wittgenstein, and probably Gibson (JJ not W) would tell you, language shapes thought and we do not have the language. 

Try explaining how to put oil into a car without using any car-related, or engine-related words. Go on, try it. Write it down, now go through it and strike out any car-related and engine-related words that crept in. We don’t have a big enough RAM, our short-term memory, to hold even one sentence of the resulting tedious arm-waving stuttering verbiage.

Why doesn’t the world move when I shake my head?


M’learned friend also said:

“This has many implications, but that main one is that we should judge education by the value created for stakeholders (laudate Tom) – this is fittingly complex and circular. 


Very pleased that you rate teecha Tom.

Not stakeholders, feck stakeholders. Leave that to the Tory Goovey Gradgrindians.

I  think you might mean participants? If so then I‘ll semi-agree.

How would you judge a Beth Chatto garden? Answer that and you’ll know how to judge education .


Read Seedstock by Frank Herbert… full text here…

I  cannot link to that story without rereading it, and when I  reread it, I  cannot help but be moved to tears.


Koan for you: “how can we value things without judging them?” asked the abbot.

Answers on a postcard to my fastness by Ruabon mountain, please, or via ‘e-mail’.


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.

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'


what we lose when when we fear prolixity and live brevity

Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’ who goes on and on.  Besides, one-liners are cool.

So if you have a lot to say, maybe you should blog (kettle? black?)? Of course, that’s why I do – right now I’m channelling Seth Godin.

Yet sometimes extreme brevity is uncool. Like:

  1. More haste, less speed.
    1. Oh boy. A work colleague sends you an email. It’s 3 words. It might be ambiguous, so at the risk of looking a bit silly, you reply asking: Did you mean x or y? they reply, tersely, in what appears to be confirmation. So you then say: So what we are saying is the blah blah is x and not y because of [reason]. You don’t need me to tell you how much longer that took.
    2. And multitasking is a myth. Every time the inbox pings, your concentration on that important thing pings away. Hey.
  2.  Some things can’t be explained in a text, or a one-line email.
    1. Like love, or systems.
    2. Or why?  why usually needs space, which, increasingly, we ‘don’t have time for’.

Call me Captain Prolixity, for reasons that you don’t have time for.

Give them all ASBOs! This is what advocacy for play looks like

What follows is the (obviously) unofficial view of a senior police officer on the subject of ASBOs, ABCs and other legal attempts to control the nuisance of children.

The officer is commenting on a report, which you can read by following the link below.


The officer said:

“I am writing in a non official capacity – my role is that of *** in ***

If I can take the opportunity to comment on your ABC report. I thought it
was spot on and I will ensure it will be sent to my officers responsible for
delivering and working with those who deliver ABCs.

I do see a use for ABCs but as you point out, when the system is vague
and threatening it does nothing to inspire me that this is a tool that will
be of any merit or worth.

Surely children who may be experiencing problems in their lives require
support and should not be growing up in an authoritarian environment?

Thank you for a thought provoking report.”

The report he or she is commenting on is this one:

Report re: The Compatibility of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts with
Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights

By Jan Cosgrove and Matthew Cosgrove

Click to access 1325042991.pdf

Have any of our noble play-related university lecturers done any work in this area? I would love to see it.


You can find out more about FPFC here:

Even the sports guys think there is not enough play and too much testing



“I told a friend today that it’s time to take a stand. Here is that stand.

“I have been an advocate for, and more importantly a community worker in Active Play for quite a few years now, and have worked in a number of capacities.  Because of that, I have had the opportunity to watch our advocacy develop in the context of physical education, sports performance, the so called “obesity crisis”, and the push for academic “excellence”.”

Above and Beyond


“During this time, there have been herculean efforts made to justify ”moderate to vigorous physical activity” for kids and teens in terms of things like “productivity”, “test scores”, and “health”.  All you have to do is look at the terminology.  It is clinical and measurable.  That’s what I keep having to justify play against – clinical and measurable.  I will submit to you during this article that play can’t compete with measurable on it’s turf, but measurable is no match for LIVING.”



Go read it!







Ooh, there is snow.


Snow picture borrowed from my chum: A snow day means a play day!

Some schools announced this morning, that they will be closed tomorrow – how do they know? Other schools are open. Apparently Five thousand schools were closed today. Ooh… Interesting…

The weather is different in different parts of the country. Some schools within a mile of each other are differently open: one is closed, while another is open. Some heads insist on opening, making a special effort. Others close if they think significant numbers of children won’t be there, perhaps because it affects their absence records, which in turn affects their league table position. It’s complicated. Questions are being asked.

An ambulance man said, on the telly, that there had been a number of sledge-related incidents, and advised people to wrap up warm, despite not being a weatherman or weather woman. Seems that stating the sodding obvious in a serious way is within the purview of all who appear on the gogglebox.

Snow threat receding, we are told – how on earth do the Scandinavians cope?

Given that lots of schools are shut, and a lot of children are sledging, we might expect a few incidents.

No broken bones, because, if there had been, we would have been told about the ‘snow shock near-death horror’ by a meejah desperate for something more than:

“School shut, kids have fun in snow.”

COBRA discusses growing AlbertKyder threat
COBRA discusses growing AlbertKyder threat


Some schools are open, some schools are closed. Maybe some questions should be asked.

School shut, kids have fun in snow.



Ffs: just go chuck some.

A calm defence of adventure playgrounds in the midst of extremism…


… the extremists being the short, sighted politicians on Wandsworth council: telling lies and treating peaceful protest as if it were a bomb scare…



Kiburn AP  deceased 2012

Kiburn AP deceased 2012

(That’s a picture of another AP, closed last year. You never see children in these pictures, because play projects have been bullied into believing that it is illegal to take pictures of children without the consent of all parents. It is not against the law to take pictures of children, although if you do you may be assaulted by stupid people who think you are a bad person, and even detained by a plastic policeman who doesn’t know the law. As a result, even nice people, like a photographer working for the play project itself, with the consent of management and parents, are put off.  So the consequence is that no-one knows what a joyous place an AP in full flow looks like, they just think it is some sort of deserted half-baked unused play sculpture.)


Please read this considered and considerate perspective on the closure of the Battersea Park adventure playground by Wandsworth council.

Despite what the media tell you, these Occupy people are sensible and grown-up. This is how the item opens, I love the deference of the opening words:


“If I may I would like to start with a quote from my mother who worked with children and parents at one of the first adventure playgrounds in London at Notting hill.

Notting Hill AP: A screen grab from the1960s  film

Notting Hill AP: A screen grab from the film

“The adventure playgrounds from the beginning and relevant now were where children were able go out of school hours to try out challenging play opportunities in a safe environment using and developing their own imagination and practical skilled designs for the new playgrounds in their areas. Parents were able to be proactive in becoming involved and so gain an understanding of the adventure playground concept – in several cases they became champions and worked tirelessly on the adventure playground model in their local communities after having spoken to local residents and neighbours on their vision and explaining children wanted somewhere to play where they could have an adventure and take a few risks not just a playground with swings and slides. The community did not want them in the streets.”
Mary Cousins.

”The community still does not want them in the streets and why would they? Nor do children want to be on the streets. What Wandsworth council are doing by removing the adventure playground at Battersea park is directly removing a safe environment for those children where they can be free after school, hang out with their friends and give younger children further opportunity outside school to learn through play, something which is still part of our schools national curriculum and has been for many years.“

Read it all at:

New rules for fragile, vicious children

Attention, people who work with children, these are the truths you should teach your customers:

  • You can do what you like, steal or hurt others, it doesn’t matter, so long as nobody sees you, or your mate will lie for you – because guilt is dependent on proof and not conscience
  • Deny everything and call them liars. demand proof
  • Don’t apologise! It isn’t in your own interest
  • Accuse people –  it feels good and makes you powerful
  • Zero tolerance is great – they’ll assume they did it!
  • Children shouldn’t choose who they play with

What’s that? You don’t agree? Why not? You are against bullying, aren’t you? You don’t agree with bullying, do you? You support AntiBullying Week, don’t you? How dare you disagree, you bully!

Well, if you support anti-bullying, you must support those statements, because all those ‘truths’ are the consequence of anti-bullying policies. Which leads me to this article denouncing anti-bullying policies, which contains the most cogent argument I have ever read on the issue. Read these quotes, then follow the link below:

“Whether we like it or not, arguing, teasing and fighting are normal parts of childhood. Learning to tell the difference between a spat and systematic bullying should be a basic parenting skill, but our much vaunted zero-tolerance policies on bullying make it impossible. They also make it very difficult for children to reform their behaviour.

”…[W]hen every incident is treated like a potential crime, teachers’ roles change dramatically.

“She cannot simply say: stop it! Nor can she simply scold the perpetrator or propose such age-old solutions as ‘shake hands and make up’. Her job is no longer to educate, but to investigate. Once a report is being made, the accused child’s parents immediately – and quite naturally – become Jack’s defence advocates. They tell their child to deny everything and challenge every accusation by demanding irrefutable proof. …

“The process demeans the teacher’s authority, eliminates arbitration and belittles personal responsibility, as it teaches children that guilt is dependent on proof and not conscience, and that sincere apologising is not honorable but contrary to self-interest.

And children do learn. They soon learn that making accusations gives power, and zero tolerance means the presumption of guilt. Our current interpretation of bullying is entirely subjective, thus bullying occurs whenever someone feels he or she has been bullied. We have already had a case of bullying where Jack told Jill she has a nice hat. Jack thought he was complementing her, but Jill interpreted it as a sarcastic remark.

“In another case, boys who didn’t allow a girl into their game were considered bullies by way of exclusion. So children no longer have the luxury of choosing who they play with. It was not systematic shunning; but a single incident was enough.

”For those of us who still believe that children are neither as vicious nor as fragile as we are now led to believe, it’s time to realise that the over-officious anti-bullying campaigns are a part of the problem.”


Penny Wilson’s thoughts on Social Behaviour and its Anti

Has there been a rise in ASB, or has there been a rise in people complaining about children playing, which is then dealt with under the label ‘ASB’?

As Penny Wilson says:

“Do we see a group of children chalking on the pavement as a traditional and harmless play activity?
– or-
Do we see it as ‘Encouraging older children to feel that graffiti is permissible?’

”Sitting in a housing office I hear an officer describing a young man in shockingly negative ways. Looking out of the window during this monologue, I see the same young man helping an elder along the street with her heavy shopping.“

Some wisdom from the Wilson: go read it.

click here – Catch ‘em doing Something Right!

A school, modified play, and the danger of leaves

A school, modified play, and the danger of leaves

Nothing to add to this superb blog. Go read it.





Craft and Managerialism: the magisterial contribution of the Sennster

Just after writing the last piece on Craft and Playwork I found this piece on Sennett by Laurie Taylor. (Boy am I glad it was after!).

I’ll freely admit that I have struggled to read Sennett (just recently I failed with ‘Together’ and ‘The Craftsman’ ) Thankfully the often populist Laurie Taylor has read him, so we don’t have to. What is often glib within the confines of his 28 minute Radio 4 show ‘Thinking Allowed’, is here simple and clear and personal. bravo.

Go read it.

Speaks more truth about playwork and managerialism than a platoon of PhuDs.

Some nuggets:

”Workers like Janet (skilled booker of guests for radio) are expected to play along with this fiction, to display continually that that they get along with others in the workplace. She is required to manipulate her appearance and performance in such a way as to lead others to believe she is a model of cooperation. And it’s her ability to do this – to go along with the fiction of teamwork – which determines her promotion prospects and indeed the whole of her future career. It is no longer enough to do your job well; you also have to constantly demonstrate that you possess a full set of people skills: you have to show that you are a “nice person”.“

”What unites his writing and his practice is the philosophy of pragmatism. He explains to me that he came to this through reading “a wonderful book” by John Dewey called Art as Experience. “It took the aura of inspiration out of the arts and went back and looked at what is actually happening. It asked whether an artist is any different in kind from a bird or a beaver building a nest or a set. The answer was ‘no’. There’s a great continuity in practical ideas.” According to Dewey art should be part of everyone’s creative lives and not just the privilege of a select group of artists.

“This theme is taken up in The Craftsman, where Sennett argues that we place too much emphasis on the idea of spontaneity and originality in art and by so doing devalue its craftsmanlike qualities. “We are,” he insists, “far too riveted to this notion of inspiration, of genius, of the idea of the single lone creator, the near-madness of artistic creation. As Dewey said, it is just an ordinary activity.”

”But the particular appeal of pragmatism to Sennett lies in its insistence that we address the world as we find it, that we do not have recourse to grand overarching theories about how it might or should be, or concern ourselves with looking for absolute truths. We have to start from where we are and make those interventions that improve the quality of our shared lives.“

Craft and playwork (“Science tells you that your opinion is worthless”)

Worth reading despite the presence of the sweetly-grinning fey keyboard-bothering popster, Mr. Cox.

here’s my edited highlights of the piece, designed to give you my choice of the most relevant points, while not quoting too much of the article and infringing the NS’ copyright:

—–my precis starts——-

”BC: That’s the point of exploration: you don’t know what you’re going to find.

“What do you make of neutrinos apparently being measured moving faster than the speed of light – which would overturn Einstein?
”BC: Science should be really honest – the experimenters don’t believe the result, I don’t think, because it does require a big revision of our understanding of physics. But they check it, they can’t find anything wrong, so the correct thing to do is publish.
JF: The false alarms get weeded out.
BC: You can think of areas where that’s problematic: medical research, for example, where the behaviour of people depends on the research – I’m thinking of disasters like the MMR scare. But in general science should be really naive; there shouldn’t be PR spin or politics.

“What motivates climate sceptics and the rest?
”BC: Carl Sagan pointed out that “Science challenges”. And the natural human response from people who are educated, who have a title or position, is to assume their opinion is worth something. And science tells you that your opinion is worthless when confronted with the evidence. That’s a difficult thing to learn.
“JF: As a theoretical physicist, most of my time is spent doing calculations that are wrong. It’s a humbling exercise, a massive dose of humility.

”How can we teach that process?
BC: Quantum mechanics is interesting, because it’s a theory that is absolutely shocking in its implications and yet not technically difficult. I think it should be taught in schools for that reason. Measurements of the world suggested something very odd – that particles can be in multiple places at once – so we developed a theory and it works. It’s that process of saying: “Your preconceptions about reality are not right, because the evidence says so.”

“One of the book’s messages is not to trust your intuition. So how do you distinguish between a bonkers idea – and a bonkers idea that’s right?
BC: Experiment! Make predictions.

”Are we all doomed?
BC: On the human timescale, the adoption of the scientific method – making rational decisions based on evidence – that’s the important thing. Look at public policy, health policy, economics: there’s a reluctance to be humble.

—–my precis ends——-

I’m referring to the bit in my title: how do you feel when I say that  most of what we think we know about children and play is, well, let’s just say ‘unscientific’?

I’ll unpack this a bit, then link it to my assertion that playwork is a craft, a bit (because I’m lazy).

Science is based on disproof. That’s why it’s Einstein’s or Darwin’s  theory, not because we don’t accept them,  but because they might be wrong. Lots of people in white coats are plotting to do them down by disproving them with the full approval of their biggest fans in the ‘scientific community’, as we have to call it.

I suppose at some point they might make the leap and become laws, like Newton’s, but notice this: Newton’s laws HAVE been supplanted by Einstein’s, but that doesn’t mean that Newton’s laws don’t apply 99% if the time. (They called them laws back then; science is less confident these days.) You don’t need to worry about time dilation until your Ford Focus is capable of near-light speed, but if you are sending a probe to Mars, Einstein can really ruin your day.

The lovely Dr Jack Cohen is fond of these phrases:

‘false to fact’


‘that turns out not to be the case’

Just two of the ways that scientists try to politely say – ‘you are wrong, what you said is not true’.

Now, (as I’m fond of saying):

Are we putting enough energy into disproving the cherished theories of playwork?

Can were even call them theories? Theories have to be disprovable.

And… does playwork even need ‘theory’ (as we call it) ?

Personally, I’ve tried to be careful not to claim theory status for my ideas.

Those ideas including, but by no means restricted to (let’s attempt a comprehensive description) ‘on the application of the edge of chaos concept to various aspects of the play of children’.

I have become increasingly concerned about the application, by others, of my thinking to the range of playworker responses; an application which can easily slide into prescription.

If all art aspires to the condition of music, then all science aspires to the condition of mathematics; and if all all science aspires to the form of mathematics, then Bach’s fugues are the highest form of mathematics. Bethe’s formulas for stellar formation, when encoded, give us ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’ when played on a Fourier synth (ask me).

If playwork is aspiring to be scientific, it needs to abandon it’s flirtings with post-modern theory.

And equally if science has no place in playwork practice, then attempting to delouse playwork of it’s pseudo-science fleas by asserting a post-modern perspective on science is a pretty roundabout way to go about it.


which I want to get round to writing about sometime,



A craft is not a profession, nor is it merely an occupation, or a mere hobby. A craft CAN be a hobby or an occupation, and can exist within an occupation.

Last year we had double glazing (I know – finally!) to the remaining single (undouble?) windows in our lovely but 130 year old end-terraced house. The main guy that did the work was a craftsman. His attention to detail, his pleasure in the job well done was almost immediately apparent. I say almost, I had to get over the mess (minimal as it happened) , the noise and the disruption first. I finally gave in, did a bit of daytime telly, caught up on last weekends dead tree news and basically became their butler for the day, applying my theory that the best quality tea and coffee, and good biscuits are the best way to get good work out of yer stout British yeoman. That and honest appreciation. That last part was easy, as I say, this guy was class, he was skill, to use two archaiac working-class men’s expressions of appreciation.)

His story is interesting, though typical: now working for a double glazing firm, he was once a proper craftsman – carpenter or joiner, I forget which, sorry. Might have been cabinet maker – I think he trained as that, then went on .the building’. You can’t  really say he was ‘proud’ of his skills, because that word, along with ‘passionate’ has been hugely debased by the meejah to the extent that we are encouraged to be ‘proud’ if we bake a cake on Masterbake or get a yodelling audition on X-factor. I blame Heather Smalls – we were brought up to believe that pride was a sin.

So here we have this guy, and all he’s doing is bashing out our old windyframes and slotting in the new ones – made in some factory, cut to size on a computerised controlled CNC cutting machine, designed by some bloke on a CAD system sat in front of a big monitor, assembled by some lads in overalls- that he picked up from the depot this morning; nothing to it just slot ’em in. Think of all the money that little window-making companies used to waste employing craftsmen to make window frames by hand; think of all the employment created for painters repainting the bloody things every 5 years, now that money goes instead into the pockets of the IT guys and the factory owners, and the craftsman have to scrape a living basically installing Lego.


But if you’ve ever watched proper old fashioned physical work being done, you’ll know that there is a suprising amount of craft knowledge in use, no matter how routine and menial the task is. A good example is watching those 2 bonkers cleaning women on the telly, I forget their names: loads of intelligence, skill, knowledge and know-how being casually imparted to the nation’s slovens. (Is ‘sloven’ a real word? I was trying to avoid slattern or slut because of their sexist and sexual overtones. The gene for keeping a filthy house is not sex-linked. hope you didn’t think I meant Slovenians.)

Yes, Craft.

You might also notice that the technocrats of double-glazing have exported the risk (Ulrich Beck) of problems with fitting to the installer. The lowest paid worker is now shouldering the risk. We could suggest that while the task of making double-glazing has simplified, the task of installing it has complexified. The sleight of hand of the market. I wave my hand and the profit has left the warehouse and flown via the regional factory to the owners.


And the only playworkers I respect, and there are many, are those who stubbornly practice their craft, despite the best efforts of their managerialist bosses, the technocratic frameworks of monitoring, the viccissitudes of funding, the indifference of local authorities, the increasing stupidity of parents (I blame society) the vast ‘professional’ timidity and arse-covering of other agencies and the actions of the kids themselves.

Recalcitrants* all, stubbornly doing the best that they can.


So let me finish by saying this:




*Note to fans of my ‘Edge of Recalcitrance’  – the above is my best shot at why I call playworkers recalcitrant.

Further reading:

Richard Sennett : ‘The Craftsman’, ‘Together’, ‘Bowling Alone.

Matthew Crawford: ‘The case for working with your hands’.