I watched from where the adults were eating. She was fully absorbed in something. I approached quietly, with my camera, and was immediately greeted with "This costs 10p"
"Oh really? So how much is this?" Pointing next to where she pointed.
"Oh that's free" and she disappears into the giant box-house with a lot of chatter to herself and brings out a polystyrene tray of bits and pieces. Then she points at things and tells me what they are.
Distracted momentarily by a passing neighbour I had a short (adult) conversation as I watched her poke, jab and move the contents of the tray.
"What are we waiting for?"
"It's in the oven"
"How long does it need to be in for?"
"One minute, and then we have to fry it" So we did. In the house.
She took it out of the fryer and picked up each item on the tray to explain to me what each of them were. There were noodles, red chicken, sweets and burgers.
"We need more - I have one!"
So then she found a piece of paper and a pen and started making an extensive list of things. The best list of things I have ever seen.
She would write her version of each word, and then look up and say
"That's a good one -what else?" There was a little pause whilst she thought, and I waited.
"I have one!" she said. And then she would put her entire concentration on spelling the next word. And the process would repeat.
The neighbour from number 1 walks past at this point and looks over and silently laughs. I don't think he was laughing about the spelling although he saw it. He was laughing at her seriousness, her absorption, and the intensity of the play. And the genius of the spelling. This was serious stuff.
This list continued for 3 sheets of A4. It was a very long list. I left her to write as I mingled with the adults briefly, but then there was a light tap at my side and there she was, presenting the tray to me.
"We need to give out the food - it's free!"
The next part of the story, I was unable to photograph because I was an integral part of it. The little girl took me to almost every adult at the Street Party and asked them if they wanted a blueberry drink. Or a noodle. Or a sweet.
"It's free!" she cheerfully announced after each item was taken.
The magical part of this: every adult said yes. Every person took something and pretended to eat it. Everyone played along with this little girl and allowed for her play to continue. This was around 30 adults!
She decided she needed more food and ran off to collect more bits and pieces from the boxes on the floor. Just when I'd almost forgotten that we were still playing, I saw my Dad jumping up and down and pointing at the following scene. I almost ran over:
The little girl had approached the group of little girls and they were talking. I don't think most of it made sense, but they were all so serious, and they were so involved with the moment. I think she was explaining about every item on the tray.
I wasn't involved in any more of this play scenario. I know it carried on for a little while, on and off, but the intensity and urgency had thinned. A photographer from the newspaper arrived and interrupted both adult and child activities, but it didn't stop proceedings, it just changed the direction of it all.
"I'll let you keep that one, it's a good one" she said, handing over the blue list of things that she had written. I looked at the list and thought about what she had done. It was only then that I realised she must have played out her experiences prior to the Street Party. Her mum must have been doing a lot of cooking which she imitated. Her mum must have also, at one point, made a list of some sort, which she also copied. Finally, she must have also understood that the food that was cooked was for sharing. And so she did. And it was amazing.
I cannot explain to you just how lovely it was to be involved in that little girl's play. It has been a long time since I've been able to fully dedicate my time to any playful activities without any priorities of my own to compete with. And it was lovely that all the neighbours played along - they understood that it was important so they dropped their adult agendas for a minute and allowed the child to direct her own play.
Hoorah for child-led play, hoorah for magical play scenarios, and a big thank you to the little girl for making my day :)