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What Playtime Has Taught Me

When our 4-month-old flat-screen and HD television came to a rather abrupt and unexpected end under a deluge of (quite artistically plastered I have to say) E45 cream, it was a blow, but I managed to pull through. (There is now always - praise the Lord - the iPlayer and I keep the laptop tucked away in Drawer 3 under a pile of old t-shirts in our bedroom where it sleeps snugly and safely, away from those prying little, cream-smearing fingers).

When our pine kitchen table underwent the kind of metamorphosis you only see in science fiction flicks and turned into one of the giant yellow and purple rectangular toadstools from Alice in Wonderland, that put off dough rolling for a while, but in the end I found another solution. (I bought another, less antique and more plastic kitchen table. I know, I know. Hey, I am nothing if not practical. Not sure Kirsty would go for it, mind).

When the red Givenchy dress my husband gave me for our 10th wedding anniversary was transformed into a rather more avant-garde style piece of clothing that Jean Paul Gaultier might conjure up on one of his wilder days, a shudder of pure panic and deep despair did ripple through me for a moment - I cannot lie - but I managed to find another similar dress (from Mango, natch) that I have so far managed to cunningly disguise as the original, tucked away as it is in the wardrobe for special occasions.

When the Arts and Crafts curtains that I inherited from my Grandmother and which hung in the living room, were trimmed into more of a thinly threaded frame allowing people to see directly into our house like some sort of live museum space exhibiting dysfunctional homosapiens, I bit the bullet and went to see the Swedish House Mafia (or as it is perhaps better advertised: Ikea).

I did used to wonder how I now take these things in my stride when, in the past, I would have run shrieking from the house, sending coffee cups flying, holding my hair in clumps and giving the cat a coronary in the process. (The cat and I now have a mutual and profound understanding/laissez-faire attitude to the house).

But this new serenity is not just down to the valium (joke!) it is because, now, I pretty much value playtime over anything else.

I have learned so much. I have.

The value of free expression for one. Yes, maybe there have been a few sacrificial lambs in the shape of previously beloved items of furniture, but that’s part of the process, so you’d better get used to it. That vintage orange lampshade from the nice flea market in le Marais, Paris? Furgeddaboudit.

Of course, should I want to spare the sacrificial lambs their strangely kaleidoscopic fates, you can let your kids play merry havoc at somewhere like Camp Beaumont’s playtime instead, putting a nice slice of distance between them and the living room’s Persian rug.

One of the other things I have learned is that is also important to let the kids have some time by themselves too. I mean, whose heart can not be filled with joy when the little sunbeams say in the sweetest little voice, ‘Mummy go away. Go away Mummy’?

No, of course I am joking again but that said, giving them a bit of a free reign during playtime is definitely good for them. Just maybe tie those curtains up for a while.

Other things I have learned during playtime include this: kids can spot a cheat, or in my case, a guilt-ridden, hesitating and procrastinating cheat, a mile off. So don’t even think about it. They will realise the thought has crept into your mind like a shadow in the night before the thought has even had time to make itself known to you. They are that good.

I have also learned that what you previously thought was an inanimate object suitable only for storing old tv listings magazines and pamphlets, is actually better used as a space ship, as unlikely as it looks, sitting there, tucked behind the wood for the fire (actually, that’s not wood for the fire, they are violent and stern-looking alien beings who are interested in invading Earth).

The most important thing I have learned through playtime is that sometimes, you’ve just to let go - both in terms of your material possessions*, but also your hold on the activity.

*(Just not the china though. Not the china. That’s not an option. Step away from the china.)


  1. Ohhhh... I shudder at the thought of my home being trashed too much. Just a little I can cope with. But not too much... I can manage the smeary handprints all over the large windows where the children have been "helping" me to clean them. I can even manage just a teensy bit of pen on upholstery and crayon on the walls (though I believe I yelled on both occasions) - much more than that has me holding my head in my hands... yet I aim for creative freedom and spirited children - what a scary balancing act over the next few years!


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