Friday, 20 October 2017

Zan On Tour 2017: Canada

It has been a month since I left Canada and I am only just about grasping the magnitude of the adventure I've just had. I don't think I really explained what I was doing out there - the last time I blogged I was still putting the whole journey together. 

So let me explain: my Pop-Up Adventure Play colleagues Morgan, Andy and I together drove across Canada in a tiny yellow car (see photo below) to meet 18 different hosts across the country. At each of these stops, on an official capacity, we led a workshop and/or pop-up adventure playgrounds which brought together long-term play advocates and those who were new to play.


On another more unofficial capacity, we met with play advocates to learn about their communities, about people's views on play, and to listen to genuine folks talk about their own work. It was big. Before I left home, my heart wasn't nearly as prepared to give as much as it did, but when I look back now, it was totally worth it. Maybe that's why I feel so tired at the moment.

It's all good though - I am back now with a regular routine and space for my own thoughts. I ran the numbers too - we drove over 10,000km (about 6000miles), which feels like madness when my longest British commute is 200 miles to London. Crazy.

Learning from the 2014 USA tour, I made sure we had time to rest. We all have to play in order that we can be the best version of ourselves, especially when we are on tour. Almost every day, we sleep in a different bed, and meet different people, and drive, drive, drive. It gets both monotonous and disorientating at the same time so whenever we can, we try and fit some fun. It wasn't much, but a day here and there made a difference. Kept us balanced. Solidified our friendships.

So for this blogpost I thought that I might show you photos from our trip, especially the ones which were taken when we were off duty. Here we go:

Just a road side stop in New Brunswick somewhere. So understated, so beautiful.

This is the World's Largest Axe. Andy and Morgan and there to help with the scale.

This is Toronto's CN tower after Andy and I went up for a short visit. Beautiful day!

One of the amazing moments on the tour - when Andy made friends with a butterfly!

Beautiful lake just... by the road in Ontario.

Love this photo and it's seussical quality.

Here's Morgan, hanging out in the prairies.

This is me with an Indian head. In Indian Head, SK.

The Rocky Mountains as seen from the Overlander Mountain Lodge. Beautiful.

This is the glorious moment when we saw our first moose, and we finally understood that moose were not creatures of myth. Jasper National Park.

The moment when we arrived at the West Coast of Canada. Oh my, what a journey.

This is one of the most beautiful images I have ever taken, and where my heart was at it's fullest. So much joy in Porteau Cove, BC.

Here's the last photo for now - me, Morgan and Andy. I love these peeps so much - they're not just my colleagues, they're my family.

I have really been quite taken by Canada. It offered beautiful and changing landscape and a feeling of possibility. I'd really love to go back and visit one day, just for me - my own play time! I can also feel a change in the air for play in this lovely country. People really get it, and are passionate to make a difference. Being physically able to travel the width of Canada really highlighted that. I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity.

Thank you, Canada. My heart is full again, thanks to you. I will see you again soon.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Chuffed: My Next Big Adventure

I have spent the last few months in a frenzied state of organising.

As you all know, I work with Pop-Up Adventure Play, a small UK-based charity that works worldwide to promote the child's right to play. We do this by visiting communities and talking to folks about the benefits of play, giving hints and tips on how to improve sites for play and encouraging the use of the playwork approach when working with children. We also run public play events with recycled materials called loose parts and provide children with time, space and permission to direct their own play within that setting - an ideal platform for play conversation. In essence, we speak about playwork theory and then model the practice in person to folks wherever we go.

The next big adventure is big. I think that I must say this every time I go on a massive trip with Pop-Up. Let me look.... this was the blog about the World Tour, and this was the post reflecting on the USA tour. Okay, maybe I didn't say those exact words, but they were big adventures. Each of these trips took two months to complete and over 4 month to organise. The USA trip took us on a 11,000 mile round road trip of the country, and the world trip saw us clock 37,000 miles literally around the planet. I'm thinking back and realising how ridiculous these plans really are... and I still can't believe that I was part of it!

I'm going to add another crazy adventure to our list: Canada! 

Ladies and gentlemen, Team Pop-Up Adventure Play - which now includes Andy as well as Morgan - will be touring Canada as part of Pop-Ups Tour 2017! Hoorah! It will be a glorious 2-month journey where we will travel from East to West in the little yellow car delivering workshops and play events as we go! Yes - it's awesome, yes - it's mad, and yes - I know how far that drive is. But it's going to be great! 


As it always is with these things, we want to reach the folks in the world which are hard to reach, either literally or financially, or both. If you have followed my adventures enough, you'll know that they are meaningful as well as fun, otherwise we just wouldn't do it. It's hard work driving endless hours every day for days on end just to reach someone's town for a few hours, but if it means that the message of child-led play can get to those folks, then so be it. To ensure that we are able to hang out with all folks, regardless of financial background or location, we are doing some fundraising! 

If you are willing and able, please donate to our Chuffed campaign here and support our work. If you can't donate, please share my link and my story with everyone everywhere! I will be so very very chuffed if you are able to support us in any way you can!

We're not doing this to make money and we are not in it for the glory. Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing this for children and their play - please help us help children across Canada to have more play opportunities.

More details about the adventure soon! :) Please enjoy this photo that I took at the Campference while I do carry on doing more crazy organising in preparation for the tour.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

"This was a journey of puddles - a Puddle Journey!" - Reflections from a day with Hannah and Nina

My little friends Hannah and Nina came round today to have a play. It was raining hard when they got here so they had brought a board game with them along with their wet weather gear.

     "Do you really want to play monopoly, or would you like me to get some stuff out for you to do whatever you want with?"
     "Stuff!"

So for the bulk of the morning, Nina and Hannah were occupied with their own projects, consumed with their own intrinsic desire to create, design or investigate. My mum was quite amused by my laid back approach to this child care (by mid morning I'd managed to do most of my emailing without them noticing) but she could see that they were absolutely fine by themselves.

For lunch, I went with pancakes, thinking that food with interactivity always goes down a storm. I wasn't to know that they'd never made pancakes at home before so this was a real treat! After building their confidence with the stove and frying pan, both girls tried out the making of the pancakes and - to Nina's pure delight - mastered the art of flipping pancakes too. By the time lunch was over, she was way better than me!

When lunch was done and after some thoughtful discussion mainly due to the looming black clouds in the sky, we decided to go for a walk by the river. We all agreed we'd put on waterproofs and wellies just in case the sky did suddenly pour so we kitted up and headed out. The weather held and the sun actually made an appearance as we investigated the swollen river. Going into the river wasn't an option today, so the girls spent some time throwing rocks into the water instead. That was the case until they discovered some excellent puddles and realised they were puddle-ready! And thus began the puddling! Here's a snap I took on my phone:

I kinda love this photo - there is such movement and joy!

They loved the puddling. They beamed during every splash. They needed to step into every puddle and kick the water, and let's face it, who wouldn't. It was a great day for it!

There may have been quick trip to the polling station after this (the conversation from last visit was very helpful) and as we walked, the girls marveled at the puddles we had just splashed in.

     "This was a journey of puddles - a Puddle Journey!" said Nina
     "Let's do it again on the way back. Please can we do it again on the way back?" asked Hannah, with big eyes.

We splished and splashed our way back to my house, and covered a genuinely massive range of topical conversations (from "Why do people take drugs?" to "What do you think your mum will vote?" and also "Where's your favourite puddle?") while jumping into these little pools of slightly buddy water. As fat droplets fell from the sky, we got back home and continued playing with all the loose parts I had at home.

Other joyful things happened after too, which I can't completely recall, and soon after the girls completed their marvelous creations, they went home. These two girls bring a lot of light into my world and spending a day with them is always enlightening. They are chatty and spirited and always full of enthusiasm. They remind me of why my job as a playworker is important, and why I love play so much. 

They are full of surprises too, and even if they think that the moments they create are mundane, I think they are truly wonderful. Like when Hannah picked some flowers for my mum and then asked me for something to put them in - I asked her if a glass tumbler was okay and she said yes, stuffed it in and disappeared. The moment was just hilarious to me and made me smile, and for some reason, this glass of flowers is so very beautiful to me. It's like no matter how orderly you want your life, sometimes a bit of chaos in a glass is perfect. It reminds me that no matter how organised you are, sometimes a little play is needed to make things just a little bit better.


Thanks for coming round, Hannah and Nina. It was a really lovely day - thank you for making and flipping pancakes with me, and jumping in puddles with me. I had loads of fun. See you very soon! :)

Friday, 19 May 2017

(Almost) 12 hours in Brussels

"What are you doing on 18th May?"

Now, there are only a few people in my life that I would happily entrust an entire one of my days to, especially because I am insanely busy most of the time. But my friend Andy is a person that I know I can trust a day to, and it just so happened that I was in fact free that day.

"Nothing" I typed, as I walked from my car to meet some friends. "You want to fill my day?"

About 20 minutes later we had booked flights to Brussels for one glorious day trip. It was a super cheap flight, at reasonable times of the day, and we are both experienced travelers so... it seemed silly not to really.

So yesterday, at 6am Andy and I yawned a greeting to eachother and set off to the airport. Here's what we got up to, mobile phone photo edition:

Here I am excited on the flight to Brussels. Eventually I moved from this seat and occupied a completely different row with Andy and All Of The Legroom. Hardly anyone was on this flight.

I was so excited to be in Brusssels, this was the first photo I took - the beautifully tidy streets of Brussels

Grand Place! The square that all the roads seem to lead to! It is embellished with gold, impressively tall and features some intricately designed buildings. We didn't go in to any of them apart from the World Heritage site one. And I'm still not entirely sure what it was about. Haha.

Frites! With a lightly spicy sauce. I've no idea what the sauce's name was but the combination was absolutely delicious. Could just sit and eat them all day long. No idea how they make them so delicious but Andy thinks that chip shop chips and french fries might have had a baby together, bringing the fluffiness of chippy chips and the crispy deliciousness of french fries in one delightful sauce covered package! :)

Tin Tin art! Lots of Tin Tin art everywhere. I'd forgotten that I used to really like Tin Tin as a kid.

Waffles Brussels. Covered in completely optional but quite important strawberries and white chocolate. Very sticky. Totally worth it.

Waffles not Brussels. Covered in icing sugar. Glorious. Icing sugar snow on clothes totally worth it.

Here is the peeing boy! Super small and crowded by loads of people! I still have no idea why it's so famous / popular!

We found some square trees near a statue of Elizabeth and Albert staring at eachother. There must be a story there somewhere.

The Royal Palace. Only lightly guarded. I clearly managed to book in some dramatic sky for this photo.

Weirdly enough, here is a peeing girl statue. Why? Who knows. Not nearly as popular as the peeing boy statue.

Here I am with Andy as the sun shone brightly on our trip. I think that's the theatre behind us. Super happy.

We found a secret viewing spot that looked far and wide over Brussels. So pretty, and so quiet - it felt like we were on top of the world! We even saw the famous Atomium statue from there.

Finally, some mussels. They were yummy. I may have eaten them at such a speed that Andy was mildly alarmed.

It was a long day but it was totally worth it. I had loads of fun saw so many beautiful things and wish I had a bigger belly to eat more food! It was pretty tiring, yes, but I feel like I had such a great adventure! It was really exciting to do something as mad as flying to Europe for the day and much needed too. I haven't been playing nearly as much as I should do recently, so this was a welcome break indeed! Delicious food in a beautiful city with wonderful company made this an amazing adventure - I'm already looking forward to the next spontaneous trip we have! 

And yes, I totally think it was worth just going to a city for a day - it was tiring but it was definitely a day I will never forget. Thanks Andy, for suggesting this amazing whirlwind adventure! :)

Thursday, 4 May 2017

"Will you be voting for the people who will make more parks?" - Reflections from an afternoon with Hannah and Nina

      "Our school has closed today because it's a polling station. Have you been to vote?"
      Hannah and Nina had come to visit. I could see two pairs of sparkling eyes looking back at me through the reflection of my rear view mirror as I drove us to a nearby country park. The last thing I had expected was to talk about today was politics.
      "I haven't been to vote yet, but might do after you two go home."
      "Why do people have to vote?"
      "It's very important. It's an opportunity for us to tell people what we want. When you two are old enough you have to go and vote, okay?"
      "Why's it so important?"
      I paused here. Do I go down that women's rights wormhole? Do I touch on how some people in this world still don't have a say? Do I know how to explain democracy or communism to an 8 and 12 year old?
      "It's important because a lot of people had to fight for our right to make choices. A lot of people had to do a lot of things in order that every person in this country has a chance to say how they want things to happen."
      This seemed to stem the flow of questions for a little bit. We arrived at the country park and the sun shone brightly. I let these two young ladies take the lead as we explored the space. We followed the river around to an area where we could wander right onto the riverbed and do some gentle river-bed combing. We like looking for treasures.
      We ended our park exploration at the fixed playground where there was the usual fare. Having done the swings and the slide, I asked the girls if they wanted to come and vote with me. They were interested to find out what happened at the polling station since their school had been turned into one, so this was an awesome opportunity. On the drive out of the park, we noticed an area that had been recently flattened.
      "Oh look, it looks like they're preparing to build something here"
      "It's probably houses," said Hannah with an air of nonchalance, "it's always houses".
      "Well, what else would you want to see built?" I said, with a smirk.
      "A park or something. But it's never that."
      "Well why do you think they don't build parks?"
      "Maybe they think people don't need them. Maybe they don't have fun."
      The subject changed, and other things were pointed at, and soon we reached my designated polling station. I parked up, and the girls quizzed me some more as we got out of the car.
      "What do you vote for when you vote?"
      "We can vote for people who make promises to us, like less homework, or more school dinners..."
      "Will you be voting for the people who will make more parks?" said Hannah, with genuine concern.
      "I really hope so." I was touched that this was the priority for her, and also quite sad that this was unlikely to be a priority for any of the candidates.
      "What other promises would you want to vote for?" asked Nina.
      I paused for a moment to think. I hadn't really looked at any of these promises that the candidates for the brand new Manchester Mayor had put across, and actually not being a very politically minded person myself, I actually wasn't really ready for this question. What did I want?
      "I would really like if someone could just promise to be nice, if I'm honest."
      "Well, that's a very important promise," Nina said to be quite earnestly, "it's important to be nice."
      We walked on and I explained that the voting inside the polling station is a bit of a secret so people don't talk very loudly inside. I also explained that I'd be happy to show them what I voted, but not for them to loudly broadcast it to the rest of the room. They nodded solemnly and then we went in.
      I whispered explanations for everything to Hannah and Nina as they looked on, wide-eyed at the volunteers helping at the polling station. After I carefully made my marks on my ballot paper, Hannah put my vote into the box and we went back out into the sunshine.
      There were more questions which required me to explain the merits and drawbacks of each of the parties. I tried to make these explanations balanced (and goodness, I had to dig deep sometimes) and eventually they seemed satisfied with my answers.
      There wasn't much more talk about the voting after this. We went home and admired our treasures while sat outside in the sun. I reflected on how funny our conversations were today, and how of all people, I was explaining the voting system to two interested children. I really don't know the first thing about politics so answering some of these questions took a lot of deep High-School-Lesson excavation, so I hope that it made sense.
      Today's conversations really meant a lot to me. Having talked to these young people about so many things today including health, education and even suitable phone usage (they brought it up, not me!) they chose to prioritise parks because they knew that there really weren't enough of them, and it was an important issue to them. They wanted me to vote for the people who will help build more spaces for them to play but I didn't know how to tell them that political parties of the UK don't really prioritise play, don't really think about the leisure time of children and are not in the business of play. How do I tell two members of our society that their needs are basically being ignored, but in the same breath encourage them to exercise their right to vote?
      Ultimately, these two young ladies know where their priorities are. And I have made an important decision and promise: whenever possible, if it is in my power, I will give these two the right to make their own choices, and to play. I may not be able to change way the world treats children, but I can make a difference to these two little ladies.

Thank you to Nina and Hannah for a lovely day of treasure hunting and political discussion!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Little Visitors

We stood at the door and waved goodbye to my nephew, my sister and brother-in-law, signifying the end of two very busy weeks in my house. I'm typing this as I get ready to go to bed, exhausted!

Week 1
My little niece came to visit me with her mum and for a few days, her dad too! We ate a lot, ran around a lot, did all the stairs multiple times, went for a lot of walks and argued over clothes a lot. She's using so many words now and it's so very wonderful to hear her shout "DAN!" knowing that she's asking for me!

Here she is, wearing a shirt I bought for her!

Here she is, looking at Auntie Dan and wearing the shirt that took us an hour to get on her.

Week 2
The second week brought my little nephew with his mum, and also for a few days, his dad too! We played a lot, talked a lot, did the stairs a lot, talked some more and found a new favourite TV show together. There are so many words now for this little boy, in both Chinese and English! His version of my name is "THAN!" and it makes my heart sing so!

Here is a very thoughtful photo of my little nephew. Always very focused.

Here we are, having a whale of a time as usual!

Having them around has been a great blessing to me. It's been a tough couple of weeks for us as a family so having these two little people around, giving me random objects, little hugs and the occasional snotty kiss has been fabulous. Their little voices great relief in a time of big feelings, keeping us all grounded and seeing the positives in life. Hope to see you little people again very soon, your Auntie Dan/Than loves you so!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Planes, Storms and Automobiles

I've been back from the USA for 2 weeks now and the scale of my trip has only just settled in. Okay, so it wasn't an around the world adventure, nor was it 2 months in a car, but it was definitely epic. Here are some photos in chronological order to help you go through this journey with me:

This is Times Square in NYC. I spent a week there with my awesome Mr E.P.

Mr E.P. and I made this rather awesome snow dinosaur during the first snow storm of this trip. Everyone, please say hello to Tiny the Dinosaur. 

Next I flew to Los Angeles. We were super busy there and it wasn't until the 5th day I was there that I realised I hadn't taken many photos. Here is a walk on the Venice beach before the Campference.

Here is the Playwork Campference on the first day. It was awesome - you can read more my thoughts here.

Here is the Campference on the second day - a rainstorm! There was so much water the streets turned into rivers and all the children could do was dance in it. I could have cried that day, but didn't - it all turned out okay!

Here is the Campference on the third day and this is one of my favourite photos of this trip. So much awesome: so much play.


Here is a walk on the beach after the Campference. Not so warm here - but we are happy! So pleased to spend time with Morgan and Andy!

After LA, we drove to San Francisco for a workshop and Pop-Up.

We were only there for a short time but we managed to sneak in a little bit of tourism.

I had a break from work after that and hung out with Mr E.P. We didn't do much and this is probably my most interesting photo - an old bit of hive!

Refreshed, I flew to Chicago to meet Morgan where we looked out onto Lake Michagan and found out that we won an award! It was a very surreal moment which we will never forget.

We ran a workshop in Evanston, IL where the adults really got into their play.

We hung out with some lovely people and this young man and I did a lot of adventuring by the lake.

Morgan and I then drove to Springfield, IL where we did a keynote to 300 librarians, and then borrowed a lot of their spoons to play with. It was amazing.


And of course, I had to finish off the trip with one more snow storm. Two feet of snow happened overnight and I think that by the time I had gotten to this feat of weather, I had just stopped worrying and just started enjoying it. Here's me - happy! :)

During this trip I have been on 8 flights, driven 6 different cars, completed 4 presentations, experienced 2 snow storms and survived 1 epic rain storm. At one point, I looked around and started laughing at the sheer madness of it all. We did so much as Pop-Up Adventure Play, and I feel like I overcame a lot as Zan. And it was so great to be able to share the adventure with some awesome people too. It was an incredible journey, and I am excited for the next one: Canada! More soon!