The Furred and the Restless

Yesterday I was sitting in my house, typing away at emails and waiting to meet with Hannah from Chwarae Plant.  She’d parked the car on my street and I was expecting a call to say that she’d found a coffee shop nearby.  Instead, she said the following.

“I’ve found a chinchilla!”

Assuming I’d heard wrong, I said, “you’re at Cafe Chinchilla?”

“No,” she said.  “A real chinchilla, hiding under a car.  Come down here and take a look.”

So I went to where she was huddled with the little animal, and we called the RSPCA hotline, the local vets, everyone we could think of.  No one had reported one missing, and no one was quite sure what to do with the one that we’d found.

“You don’t want to bring him here,” one of the rescue groups said.  “We’ve got hundreds of dogs, the little guy would have a heart attack.”

After asking around the street, it seemed likeliest that he’d been abandoned.  He doesn’t seem the adventurous type, and was huddled outside the front door of a student house that had been vacated that day.  Without any better ideas, I took him into my house while we figured out next steps.

I try and make these posts related to play or playwork somehow, and it’s true that so far the process of gaining his trust is not entirely unfamiliar.  Take it slow, follow his cues.  Set out den-making equipment and cardboard toilet rolls.  After getting things wrong early on and frightening him, I was reminded of Marc Bekoff‘s Rules of Fair Play* and quickly changed tactics accordingly.  Now he scurries behind my furniture, occasionally taking experimental nibbles of my slipper.  (The chinchilla, that is.  Not Marc Bekoff.  Though, if you’re reading this Marc, hi!  I loved your presentation at IPA.)

However, when we went to the pet store to pick up some supplies to tide the little guy over, I found the perfect thing to make this post hang together neatly.  We’ve discussed parenting methods that treat children like animals – now we have equipment for animals that treats them like children.

I bring you, the Adventure Playground for Gerbils.


* Bekoff’s Rules are based on years of observation of animal behaviour, and are as follows:

  • Ask first (such as by a dog’s bowing posture, etc)
  • Be honest
  • Mind your manners
  • Admit when you’re wrong



8 thoughts on “The Furred and the Restless

  1. Hello there, Ms Morgan Le Play,

    If you know me at all, you know that I take ages to get to the point if ever. It is usually tedious, and, sometimes, only sometimes, worth it. If you can delete this before reading it, I would advise you to do so.


    “I would rather hang out with coyotes than discuss evolutionary psychology with some of the yahoos who weigh in on such Chronicle topics.”

    which I found here:

    There aren’t many coyotes here in Grantham, so instead I hang out here, sometimes. The alternative – hanging out with the playwork fraternity – is too scary…

    Thank you for drawing my attention back to Marc Bekoff, whose work I have some how avoided being aware of, for far too long, despite the best efforts of some of my friends. This actually took some real work on my part, because I have had an interest in primates and evopsycho for many years.

    Such are the limits of one’s unaware auto-didacticism. As Rumsfeld said, and was right to say, despite the mockery he endured and the fact that he is a mass murderer by proxy: ”We do not know what we do not know.“

    What a dunce I am to have avoided Mr. B!

    I made some informal observations of bonobos a few years back, and have used a video clip, of an adolescent male bonobo playworking with a young male bonobo, in my presentations.

    Some time later Penny Wilson brilliantly wrote up a conversation she had with a US zookeeper about the provision of a stimulating environment for gorillas.

    I have just read the Chronicle piece and been astounded by it and hugely amused by the yahoos and coyotes.

    Thank you Ms Le Play, for bringing it to me.

    And I loved the online gittery of the numbskulls – best one was the native american who thinks he knows more about coyotes than M. Bekoff. (NB: I wouldn’t know either way, I’m just saying.)

    Reminds me of an anecdote from Saul Alinsky about his community work with native americans.

    A bit like watching Worf dealing with hecklers when he did an open mike spot at the Starfleet annual comedy night. This guy at the back, an Andorian I think (they’re the blueskinned ones aren’t they), shouted ”Get off, you’re rubbish.“

    Quick as a flash, Worf came back with this zinger:

    ”I am a Klingon warrior! It is not the way of a warrior to scuttle in the corners of the cave of Kah’ rapp, like a small child or, or, a WOMAN, while there are skulls to be cracked and vermin to be slain! “

    Then he waded into the audience and killed the Andorian bloke with a single thrust with his bat’lev.

    And his girlfriend.

    And 3 blokes that looked at him funny.

    What am I on about? Alinsky challenged, dared to challenge, playfully, the received and avowed wisdom of the native americans who had invited him to work with them. He was saying “If your ‘Way’ is so great, why do you need me?”

    You, Morgan, have found a delightful way to share wise things with people without upsetting them.

    I haven’t.


    I like the gerbil adventure playground. When will the native americans of playwork acknowledge that their ‘Way’ is not working?

    Go in peace, my child along your chosen warrior’s path. I dub thee ‘Dances With Gerbils’.

    1. Goodness! What a lot to consider – thank you for both of my fine nicknames, which I will wear with pride and possibly write onto future conference name badges.

      The thing for me about Playwork’s elders (however that hazy term is defined) is that there is so much that’s so wonderful to draw upon. The gaps seem to be in how we apply good ideas to the world we share, how we work together, and how we explain it to people who don’t already agree with us.

      I have, without any doubt or hesitation, met some of the finest minds and individuals I have ever known through playwork. But at the same time, I have to acknowledge that as a field, we’re not always very good about sharing our toys.

      1. I’m going to prove your point, initially. The point about not sharing very well.

        I wrote a reply, here, which has turned into a piece of writing which I will post on my blog. It’s better that if I am going to annoy playwork people, that I do it in my own place rather than in your place.

        That will happen today I hope.

        In the meanwhile I’ll just say that I agree pretty much with your last two paras, I might prefer to word it like this:

        The thing for me, ]Arthur says], about Playwork’s elders (however that hazy term is defined – that’s a ‘good enough’ term, thanks, says APB) is that there is some stuff that’s so wonderful to draw upon, in amongst some glittery stuff and some drab stuff, andt’s not always easy to spot the real gold amonst the glisters.

        ”The gaps seem to be in how we apply good ideas to the world we share, how we work together, and how we explain it to people who don’t already agree with us.“

        Well said. There’s 2 things at least in there:

        1. how we apply good ideas to the world we share,
        2. how we work together
        3. how we agree which world we share, or worlds,
        4. how we explain it to people who don’t already agree with us
        (embedded in that last one is the issue of achieving our goals? maybe explaining isn’t the best way to achieve our goals? might there not be other ways other than explaining that might be more successful, like [as I know you know] demonstrating {both senses}?

        (I’ve written a bit on some of that in my draft reply which became a piece).

        ”I [APB] have met some finer minds and finest individuals I have ever known through playwork, and, yes, we have to acknowledge that as a field, we’re not always very good about sharing our toys, and we don’t try that hard, and for various reasons we become discouraged.

        (I’ve also written a bit on some of that in my draft reply which became a piece).

        Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year

  2. Nice post Morgan. It would be interesting to know if your Chinchilla is a child Chinchilla or an adult Chinchilla. Marc told me in Cardiff that adult animals would engage in play inasmuch as they had their basic needs covered (not thirsty, nor hungry) and felt safe (no predators around). As I assume you have met those expectations with your new friend, your Chinchilla has now a great environment to play, be her a child Chinchilla or an adult one. My conversation with Marc also was about the “work” of animals, in terms of providing for their survival needs (food, water, safety), and he agreed that that began before what could be termed adulthood (notwithstanding that, in general, childhood in animals tends to be much shorter than in humans).

    Now, as you might have guessed, this intertwining of animal adults playing and child animals working made a lot of sense to me. Specially, it triggered the necessity to think further about what could it mean to have present day urban adults’ needs satisfied, in order to allow them to play; about how are those “needs” artificially enhanced by the market -by definition, an inventor of needs- in order to deny that possibility; about how modern day work deprives not only of the possibility of play (because we have to work ever more to satisfy our ever increasing “needs”, especially considering the ever decreasing welfare state), but, in itself, as an exploitative mechanism, also of playfulness, that state of mind, emotion, attitude, basic to being able to engage in play; about how accepting the possibility (necessity!) of child work -understood in non-alienating terms- might also open minds to embrace the possibility (necessity!) of adult play.

    Best, to you and your Chinchilla.


    1. The vet said that the chinchilla was a young adult – but in doing my research it said that they really need a friend, lots of very considerate human attention, and an extremely calm and loving environment. My fear is that anyone who would dump an animal probably didn’t treat it very well before that, and I suspect that he arrived to me quite traumatized.

      It made me wonder about the ‘feeling safe’ aspect of play between chinchillas and humans. How would he become certain that I was not a predator, after all? I think that it’s this question of ‘safety’ that the advocates of bonding play are really getting at, and potentially the therapeutic aspects of finding a positive attachment to a human after a betrayal.

      I really wanted to gain his trust, but sadly my room and my tenancy agreement mean that I couldn’t provide the sanctuary he required. He’s been placed with a very nice family who are doing everything they can to create a chinchilla-friendly environment and I’m sure he’ll be happy there. (Sob sob.)

      In terms of market-led neediness and play, I have been noticing a huge number of advertisers recently promising play through their products when marketing to adults. Sony, Canon and so on, in the run up to Christmas. So I think there’s an issue around inflation of ‘need’ to unattainable levels but also the extension of this ‘aspirational’ quality to play – making expensive equipment seem necessary for it to happen.

      (Sidenote about online research: How did people do anything before the internet? And now that I’ve got it, how do I do anything else?)

      1. re ‘marketing to adults using play’

        it’s been there as a strong phenomenon for about 20 years in several strands of advertising.

        beer ads did ‘men at play’ until the ASA stopped them.

        recently the play pitch has, as you note, been adopted by tech and gadget sellers. (they call them selves marketeers, I call them hawkers.)

        its partly about product lifecycle and market maturity and commodification.

        first you sell a camera as a tech gadget to early adopters, later you sell the same tech to the mass as fun.

        in the PC arena, first you sell computers to help businesses, then to help students, then to families to help children at school and to shop and find things, and then when everybody except yer gran has one (and actually she got one but didn’t tell you) you sell a new one as ‘funner’ than the boring one you bought last year.

        (as a sidebar – remember megahertz? this new Packup-Hell Destroyon 15000SX has a 59 gigabuzz pentium chip that can download photos of justin beiber 456,325 times faster than the competitors? nobody cares anymore, unless they’re using the laptop for missile guidance; they’ve all got big screens and stuff. so now we sell on fun.)

        a paper I haven’t written yet (been, what 10 years in the making) is this one:

        ‘THE PLAYWORK FIELD THINKS THAT THE STRAIGHT WORLD HASN’T GOT PLAY. IT HAS’, a polemic by Arthur Battram, (a follow up to his 1988 paper presented at Play Ed – ‘Messages from the Future 1999’ which looked at the 2 tracks of playwork education and training. The predictions came true in a more horrid way than I imagined, btw, yes there is a PDF – buried on Bob’s site or I could send it to you)

        ‘Perhaps the real tragedy of playwork is seeing failure in that success. Maybe we’re annoyed that they [the straight world] , like recalcitrant children, aren’t playing nicely, the way that playwork wants them to. Maybe we’re like play jobsworths telling them that’s not the right way to play. Maybe, but it is freely chosen, grandad they call, over their shoulders as they run off. Perhaps the real failure of play is that it is ubiquitous in the straight world, except in the lives of children. Perhaps play has been seized by the people who sell stuff and used, like fresh meat, grist to the mill, for their own purposes so that they get ever fatter from selling play to adults and denying it to kids.’

        this unwritten paper, as that attempt at a title and a precis show, is a huge contradictory rambling complex thing. I can write it for an audience: I can’t write it for 5 different audiences, all of whom might not be wanting to read it.

        Morgan, you make it easy for me to write, because your bright sharp interest elicits my writing. An audience of one or two(I would include Eddie, and Penny, perhaps others sometimes). Thank you for reading this. I stopped writing, largely, becauseI felt that audiences had drifted away and stopped listening.

        Now that the PlayEngland/CWDC/SkillsActive/Surestart/ new labour aircraft carrier has been torpedoed, there might be more interest in my raft…

  3. You say’ there’s a lot in there’ commenting on my post that mentions ‘hanging with coyotes’ (my new NA nickname).

    True – you might never get round to talking about it here, but, I’m curious, which bits of my ‘lot’ intrigued you pertickerly?

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