Taking a tortoise for walk in Tower Hamlets
We’ve been busy getting started here at Play Times, starting with a tour around the area of the team (comprised of Penny, Rainer, Zoe and Morgan).  We started with a look at flash earth (www.flashearth.com) and although the images were old they did allow us to get a feel for the area and play at giving each other vertigo by swooping in close and quick to specific spots.  Then we left Oxford House and jumped on the Number 8, which runs along Roman Road which is either an urban artery or line of severance, depending what you’re looking for at the time.
All of us have chosen to live in this area and know it fairly well, but this time we were exploring, trying to see different things and to see things differently.
We talked about the Situationist idea of ‘taking a tortoise for a walk’, about that process of letting go of the emphasis on arrival and letting travel be a process, not a product.  It’s about feeling the moment, opening yourself to the sights, sounds, smells of that exact second, in that exact spot.  That said, we knew there wasn’t enough time to see everything on the first day, so made a rough route through the places Penny and Morgan had previously identified as possible Natural Play sites.
On arriving on one estate we saw this sign posted above some supposedly ‘public’ space saying “No Loitering”.  Penny took a photograph of it and a woman, standing outside her front door, asked us what we were doing.  Quite right, too – we were in her neighbourhood taking pictures like tourists.
“Looking for places where kids can play on this estate,” Penny said.
“Great,” she replied.  “I’ve got 5 kids, and there’s nowhere for them.  When they leave this gate open they’ll go in there and play for hours.  They build dens.  But they always come along and pull them down again and clear them away and then lock the gate.”
The other ‘they’, of course, were the estate managers, and the place she pointed to was a fenced-in wooded area, making Penny think of Narnia and how the entrances open and close unexpectedly.  The woman called across to some of her friends, who joined in and talked over each other in a chorus.
“These are looking for places for kids to play,” she said.
“There ain’t nowhere.”
“Well, there’s that concrete.  Used to be a playground.”
“Yes, I used to play there.”
“Yes, but it ain’t nothing now. And if you park there you get clamped.”
“No play stuff there anymore.”
“There’s nowhere for them to go.”
The conversation followed its own course and became a discussion of rats in the area.  We started to understand the layered problems faced by residents of all ages, and some of the health and safety issues we’d have to consider when thinking about play spaces.  She said that she’d want to help, and that she would be able to help us get local residents involved.  We couldn’t image that she’d be an easy woman to say ‘no’ to!
An excellent start.