In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Chances are, if you ask another busy, working adult what play looks like to them, you’ll be fixed with a look of perplexity.  It may be fleeting but it’s still palpable.  ‘you mean the kids?’  or something is often the first answer. ‘No, for you’.

‘Oh, right’.  Cue much thought.  Or suspicion, depending on how close you are to the person in question.

It’s a thing that I personally don’t do often enough, to the point I’d started to forget what it actually looks like for me.  It’s easy to list what I like doing when I’m not working, but that’s not necessarily play – it’s usually grown up stuff.  As I age, the distance grows between me and my eight-year old self, which is a shame, because therein lies the secret to helping me play – re-engaging the antennae of curiosity, poking and prodding around at things to see what they do.  To paraphrase this, I’ll quote the brilliantly irreverent Baxter Dury (son of Ian) in that we need a…. “Nose just like a fleshy antenna, seeking out unsavoury business”.  Well maybe not unsavoury, but you take my point and it’s a cracking lyric.   Adults are more governed by ego, prone to presumption and general ‘grown-up’ ness.   So I ask myself, what would eight-year old me have done when presented with a whole day to do whatever I wanted in?

For me that would have been painting, drawing, sticking, photographing or some other way of interpreting the world around me, often quite directly.  And so many years later, I do this for a living.  And the longer I go without getting in touch with my younger self, the harder ideas come, the tighter the creative restrictions feel and deadlines loom larger.

Living and working in the countryside, and with the post-pandemic continuation of video meetings, it’s easy for me to go a month without proper physical immersion in new or different places so a real conscious effort has to be employed to carve out this time.  This isn’t downtime – if anything it’s full-on eyes-wide-open up-time.  It’s not billable, it’s not ‘for’ anything, it’s just to allow my brain some space, and to help me remember why I am who I am.

So when my partner had to be in Bristol early one Monday morning, I figured I’d drive her there and pick her up and spend the day ‘mooching’ about.  I didn’t really have any ideas about what I would do, but I knew that my creative brain needed a good shake-up and some sensory input, possibly even an overload.  So I headed out with a camera to try and capture a day in the life of Bristol.  This wasn’t a serious photo-journalism project, simply me looking for colour, contrast, contradiction and creativity.  And what better place to find it than the confluence of the Avon and the Severn?

Of equal importance to the general getting outside of my own head and having a free day to unleash the inner child, it’s also a good time for me to confront my inner critic. We all have them to varying degrees, (if you don’t – go you! – some are heavily concealed, others are well managed, and some people just can’t seem to extricate themselves from the all-pervading ‘I am a fraud’ feeling.  For me, this is a great time to have these conversations with myself.

Are these things I think about myself actually true? Am I really this, or that?  Where’s the evidence?  It’s about engaging with and talking to that inner critic, not cowering in its wake or confronting it head-on.  Becoming friends, almost, and understanding where it comes from and what its favourite tipple is, even.  Once you’ve had a go at that, you may even find it evolving into a helpful companion.

As a dear friend reminded me on discussing this article, “When we play, we create, we laugh and our relationships blossom.  That’s all you need to know, and I should know!”

I hope you like some of the images of a colourful Bristol in late summer.