Play memories of family and beach

Do you ever have that feeling that a topic just keeps coming up, no matter who you’re talking with?

Recently for me, it’s been play memories. I’m working on a longer piece about these (and how we use them in training and outreach) but first I thought I’d share some of my own.

I’ve written before about the tide pools I played in as a child, and the shock of recognition when I saw them again for the first time since childhood. Two years after that reintroduction, I’ve found photographs taken when I was young and my family made a trip to the coves in La Jolla.

My childhood was in many ways “ahead of its time”. Growing up in Southern California, I was driven everywhere. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was nearly 10 – simply because I didn’t see the point. Where could I go? We had regular assemblies at school on Stranger Danger. Instead, I took classes: art classes, dance classes, juggling classes. I tried to be good at everything, and was usually more popular with the teachers at my progressive schools than I was with my peers. Most of all, I read. I read adventure stories about children whose parents were dead or hopelessly neglectful, where children ran half-wild and got into muddy mischief that I could never have imagined.

And yet, in other ways I was very privileged. When we went out for family adventures it was along the coastline of La Jolla, Balboa, Coronado. We jumped in and out of coves for hours, often. For a long time we had a boat and when I was eleven we moved aboard that boat for a year – a year in which I had a dingy of my own and a series of adventures that have defined my life (and my playwork) ever since.

I had long days with my parents of loitering on these small and gorgeous coves, the delicate pockets of ocean and smooth sculpted rock. Sunburnt nose and the grit of salt and sand in the back of my throat. The joyous honks of sea lions, each fat as Father Christmas, sliding and lurching in the harbour mouth.

Sometimes I’d dig so deep into the rich, heavy sand that it would fill my hair and swimsuit completely. My parents would hose me off in the backyard before letting me into the house and I remember turning in that hard cold spray, feeling it strike the pink skin on my shoulders, the scrap of sand pushed off my skin, the noise of clumps falling on the hot concrete steps before being wrapped in a huge towel and walking back inside the large cool house, to my books and my TV.

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