I am lucky enough to live in a relatively quiet part of town.  There are large council estates all around and certainly many barriers to children’s playing outdoors, but at the end of my road is a little dead-end street faced by kitchen windows, where children kick balls, whisper in doorways and blow bubbles.  This is rare, particularly in London, and gives me the vague impression at times of walking past the 1950’s.  Opposite them is a small rectangular green where children play football with their friends or fathers, where mothers push babies and toddlers stumble through the grass.  This little green has been identified as a Pathfinder play space and is currently receiving a makeover.

It’s on my way to the local tube station, so I pass it most mornings and evenings.  I see it in occasional afternoons too, walking through a sea of children headed home from school, and I have watched the changes of this Pathfinder site in slices, like stop-motion photography.

First came the Herras fencing, in big and detachable sheets that dog walkers and children squeezed around, muttering.  There was a general air of Something About to Happen, even though nothing as yet had.

They tore a curving line through the turf, one that didn’t seem to connect with the entrances and exits and did not follow the desire lines people had made over time.  It did seem a generous shape, however, and was suggestive of further alterations.

Bits of inexplicable play equipment began to arrive, twisted pipes that lay in clattery stacks against a tree, sheets of metal.

Rocks and rubble were deposited by the truck load, and at this point there were children there whenever I passed, before school, after school and all weekend, throwing dirt at one another and kicking the stones into piles and out again.  It was an unintended but glorious demonstration of loose parts theory.

This I did not see, but my housemate told me she had passed a police officer shouting at some children there, “You, throwing rocks!  Stop that now!  I can see you!”

Dirt came again, massive piles of it that were shifted into a small mountain over the rubble and scattered into sweeping drifts that had small leafy plants plugged into them at regular intervals.  A slide was set up, one end firmly embedded in the mound of earth.

Bank Holiday Weekend – the last day of the financial year and the busiest at our green.  The dirt mound was covered in turf, flowers stuffed into the earth, signs erected ‘Play Here’ and the twisted metal fences removed.  It was open!  The children came and scrambled all over it.

But new turf needs to be watered daily, and no workers came for a week.  The rectangles of turf dried and shrank almost immediately, leaving gaps like brown grouting between them.  They let go of the earth then, and slid one down against the other like the scales of a fish, slipping under children’s feet as they returned to climb.  The kids just laughed and dared one another to charge up the hill, fell-running.

The children took the sheets of turf and held them in front of their feet, sliding down the hill and shouting “magic carpet!” until the loose parts were all exhausted.  The turf crumpled at the base, leaving the dirt exposed.  The flowers were dry and their petals falling to pot pourri.

Once the moveable elements were exhausted, the children stopped coming.

This morning I came past again and saw that workers had relaid the turf in a new, crossways pattern, and set up a watering system at the top.  The dying plants had been removed and new ones set out, still in their pots, to replace them.  The workers were sitting on a new bench they had installed, eating sandwiches before dusting the crumbs off themselves and setting about the play space.

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