Very soon I could see that it was three boys, maybe between the ages of 10 to 12 who were using a large yellow bin as a boat. It wasn't a very good boat because it was a bit too deep and an odd shape. I pretended to pick at rocks as I wandered closer. Two of the boys ran past me in a panic.
"It's okay" I told them "I've seen you already."
They paused and looked at me and I carried on "As long as you drag it out of the river when you're done, then you're golden".
A brief look of relief flashed across their faces. "Okay, we're just going to get our stuff." And sure enough a few minutes later, they returned to their friend who was guarding their boat and dumped their bags and coats on the rocky shore of the river. It was a warm day.
The two bag boys waded back into the river and judging by sounds of struggle over the next few minutes, they were working out for the first time how to get the third boy into the boat. It was kind of hilarious and I laughed out loud as the lad hit the water for the second time having missed getting into their improvised boat.
My attention was caught by a bird nearby who was fat and chirpy, so I took a few pictures of it while in my periphery, I watched the lads get the third boy into the boat unscathed.
"Hey lady, look!" I turned around, and sure enough he had managed to get in, and was holding two thumbs up at me.
"Brilliant", I said with half a laugh. He was so pleased with himself.
I walked on ahead thinking, "My work is done here, they wanted an audience which I granted, they are safe. My play advocating role is complete" until all of a sudden I heard the unmistakable words of-
"Argh, what the **** was that?"
"There are loads of them!"
"Hey lady, are there lobsters here?"
I started laughing really loudly. "There are crayfish here, which are like little lobsters"
"But they're massive". He held his hands out urgently about a foot long and asked "Will they hurt us?"
"Probably not" I said, laughing some more.
One of them screamed and the boy in the boat scrambled out and all three of them half ran, half fell back onto shore. They started throwing rocks at the boat, in a vague attempt at rebuking the lobsters.
I walked on, comfortable that the play frame was over. As I went around the meander of the river I could see that play in the boat had resumed but the boy in the boat had no control over it as the other two pushed it about. At that moment, I decided to make a paddle.
This is the river that flooded last Christmas. There is a lot of debris nearby - tyres, fences, the odd bike and at least two toilets. A veritable haven of adventurous play, really, but has only recently been discovered by the young people in the area. As I walked along, I sourced a long stick for my paddle handle, and also found a flat wooden piece with a hole that fitted perfectly into the knot of my stick. I latched the whole thing together with long strands of plastic bags that litter the area. Two new young lads ran past me as I headed back to the yellow boat and I distinctly heard them say "They're probably further down there."
On my return to the yellow boat, it was much further down the river and there were now about 6 boys. They had gotten the boat stuck in the bed of the river and were trying to work out how to unstick themselves. A lot of tipping and shouting was involved, and of course, the one boy that was still in the boat was defenseless and at the mercy of his boisterous mates. I waded into the water, holding the paddle out in front of me.
"Oh, she brought us a paddle!", said the boy in the boat.
"Oh, we saw her making that before!" exclaimed a voice from behind me as I passed the paddle over.
"Oh, this is well mint! Oh, sorry that your wellies are wet" said the boy in the boat as he watched the water rush into my boots.
"Oh, they're super wet" I said, laughing as I headed back to shore with a squelch, squelch, squelch.
A couple of the boys laughed as I poured the water out of my wellies on shore. The rest of them had managed to release the yellow boat and proceeded to push it towards the far shore to tackle their next risky manoeuvre. I noted that along with the increase in number, the average age of the boys had increased too, so as I wandered off home, I decided that they could collectively deal with further risks or troubles they might meet on this hot Spring day. Even though my wellies were wet from the inside out, it was worth it to be on the periphery of this play engagement.
I could see the paddle being used to poke things gingerly from inside the boat as balance was restored to the boy who had too many friends outside of his temporary plastic ride. They were so present in this engagement, immersed in nature and free of adults, rules and shoes! I have never met any of these young people before, but I feel like I met their genuine selves for a moment that day. They were being curious children. They were playing.
Three boys and a yellow boat.