Urban Fathers' Liberation Front

Confused dads working out the city

Politics is Child’s Play


It’s approaching crunch time in our street’s efforts to hold, or resist, a formal street play event.  For some time, and on the back of a couple of road closures to hold a play event and a street party, a group of residents have been trying to lobby the Council to allow a formal road closure no more than once a month to allow children to play, with supervision, in the street without having to worry about traffic.  A smaller group of residents have also been lobbying hard to prevent it.

Most adults you talk to will remember their own childhood playing in the streets.  Street play was the first thing I did when I went outside as a child.  I had a brother, and there were kids of a similar age in the street.  We used the street for football, for hide and seek, for meeting one another.  You looked out on the street to see who was around.  I remember playing in the street much more vividly than going to the playing fields around the corner, or playing in the garden.  We lived on the coast, and we played in the street more than we went to the beach.

I believe that parents generally have a desire to see their children play out, close to home with other kids in the neighbourhood, and I believe that most parents would understand the benefits of allowing that if pressed – the opportunity for meeting and making new friends, the chance to improvise play, to meet kids of different ages, to understand responsibility and road safety, to become more aware of their surroundings and, perhaps most importantly, to get fresh air and exercise.  The street is an ideal place to do that, as demonstrated throughout our urban history.  There is a strong groundswell of political and ideological thought currently to encourage more street play to get at these benefits, and our street’s efforts are caught up in this.

However, our modern world is complicated by fear, cynicism and a superficial mainstream media which can entrench views and prejudices, and constrain innovative ideas.  The campaign to promote the formal road closure has been countered by a rather aggressive campaign against.  This campaign has been characterised by references to paedophilia and kidnapping, by arguing that the nearby park is perfectly adequate as the only playspace available to children, through a fear of damage to cars and property and by arguing that the street – which has over 150 households on it – has insufficient children to justify the apparent inconvenience of closing it for two hours a month.  These are all perfectly valid concerns, of course, but not insurmountable and not necessarily specific to the idea of street play; some of the arguments apply to the world we live in anyway.

And so crunch time is about the street voting one way or another.  The Council dilly-dallied over the case presented to them for a street closure given the hostile minority that presented a case against.  A public meeting designed to overcome the issues between the two camps failed to reach a conclusion, and now every resident on the street will be allowed to vote one way or another – by December 2 – to finally put the argument to bed.

Our street’s predicament is very unusual; street play events – and the legislation around it – are being used very constructively throughout the country and with the backing of London Play and Boris Johnson in the capital itself.  There is usually very little negative reaction.  Indeed, our case is so interesting that representatives from the street will be presenting their experience at City Hall on December 3 at a street play conference at which Boris Johnson and Diane Abbott will both be present.  This will perhaps be with the benefit of a ‘yes’ vote.

Of course, kids can always play in residential streets where traffic isn’t a problem without the need for formal road closure orders.  But, the momentum to close streets to stop traffic and enable street play is building across the country, even across political party boundaries.  The case studies and best practice that feeds this momentum will surely enable more and more children to experience street play safely by closing their street temporarily and allowing them to enjoy the benefits of this that are ordinarily denied them.  It will also build stronger communities.  It remains to be seen whether the vocal and occasionally aggressive opposition in our street will prevent it happening in ours.

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The Celebrity in the Family


No, it’s not her…

I have, through my marriage, a celebrity in my family.  It’s slightly contrived and a little distant – a sibling of my wife’s aunt – so much so that there’s often talk amongst other family members of their time with them but never really any prospect that I’d come face to face myself.

This person is bordering on iconic, first entering public consciousness in the early eighties and helping to alter the course of a genre, and remaining in the public eye to the current day, appearing in several terrestrial programmes this year, one in particular to great acclaim.  Not only that, this person has an equally iconic partner, and some of their children have started to carve careers in the public arena as well.

As I said, the chances of me actually meeting this person have always been remote…until this half term.  Whilst staying with my wife’s aunt, it became apparent that our time in her house could, possibly, overlap with this person although it did remain a slim chance.

My track record with personalities is pretty straightforward.  Outwardly, I remain calm and appear composed and consider them as just a normal person doing their daily stuff.  Or, as in the case of Peter Capaldi outside Euston’s Pret last week, eating his porridge (the porridge is unconfirmed, but he was spooning something into his mouth early in the morning, and I can’t think what else a Scot of a certain vintage might eat at that hour), I say to myself, ‘oh look there’s Peter Capaldi eating something that looks like porridge’ and leave them well alone.  By contrast, on the inside, my stomach is normally cramping as I try to think of something very profound and clever to ask and muster the courage to whimper a hello.

In the case of celebrities I really do want to talk to, the approach is generally similar, although I do generally reach the point of whimpering a hello but then my mouth goes dry and they realise – in a similar manner to Hugh Grant’s character in About A Boy – that I’m not very interesting, and the moment is lost. More successfully, I have sold some of my cards and prints to celebrities and had very satisfying conversations with them without needing even to try to think of profound things to say, largely because they were more interested in me.  However, my proudest celebrity moment is looking very much in love with KT Tunstall in Chicago, but that’s because I am.

I have digressed some distance.  The thing with my family celebrity is that I spent much of the preceding days thinking to myself how I might behave if our time were to actually overlap, and about the weirdness of having effectively shared domestic space and appliances with a major celebrity.  It felt really weird, and all within the constraint of having to treat this person like the long lost uncle Dave who you’d ordinarily nod acknowledgement to before banishing to the dustbin of awkward relatives orbiting the outer rim of your family.  Here was a person who I didn’t know, yet thought I knew intimately.  I was so conflicted, wanting to ask the profound, only thinking of the mundane and all the time trying to act like this was just another member of the family coming to visit their sister.

And it happened.  I stepped out of the house with an empty pram whilst packing the car to be greeted by the sight of said celebrity walking towards me and asking to the whereabouts of their sister.  After commenting that she was inside on the phone, I said hello and introduced myself and we shook hands.  It felt totally inadequate, but I was heartened by the fact – disclosed over a cup of tea later – that they’d thought that the empty pram had contained a three year old child.

And so, the brief fifteen or so minutes in the presence of this wonderfully talented and entertaining person passed without incident of any kind.  My eldest daughter drew a couple of pictures and she and our visitor talked about her first days at school.  They seemed to share a joint love of jacket potatoes.   I didn’t ask any celebrity related questions, or ask for an autograph, and tried to remain calm.  I think I got away with it.

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