Thursday, 31 May 2012

Scandinavian moon craters, whales, and sunken ships.

One of the disappointments of playparks in Edinburgh is how similar they sometimes are. I was excited recently when I discovered the existence of a Danish company called Monstrum. Their designs of playparks include ships sunk into the grounds, whales you can crawl into, giant spiders...

I recommend looking at all the pretty pictures on their website (visiting might be fun too- if anyone has been please let me know)

 "Why only play on a monkey frame and a sandbox, when you can play in a moon crater or a submarine or a giant spider or an enormous snail or a Trojans horse or a rocket or an ant or a princess castle?" - Monstrum

I hope something like this comes to Edinburgh soon.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Let's cycle to the beach at Portobello and play frisbee: top tips

Until a few weeks ago, it was at least a year since I had been to the beach. Considering that I gaze out of my office window everyday and see the Forth behind Arthur's Seat, and that I am rarely ever more than 6 miles away from the sea, this is a long time. 

Despite being a native Edinburger, until a couple of weeks ago I had never been to Portobello. I have now been to Portobello twice. 

The first time was one Saturday after my friend B suggested we cycle there. Arriving on a sunny day I was instantly reminded of exactly why visiting the beach and seeing the sea can be exhilarating. Unfortunately I lack adequate poetic ability to properly capture the reasons in words.We didn't hang around long that day, as Lilliputian had organised a pinata smashing party we needed to get to (which it turned out was to be followed by rearranging her living room into a fort), so we resolved we should go back in two weeks time and play frisbee. 

Here are my tips for "cycling to Portobello and playing frisbee".

1. Don't leave your bike outside in the rain for 2 days beforehand

When I left work on Thursday it was bucketing down with rain so I did what any sensible person would do and abandoned my bike at work in favour of a less wet form of transport. When I went to collect my bike to cycle to Portobello my seat was completely soaked through and sodden, and we had to borrow a plastic bag from a nearby shop.

2. Don't throw your frisbee in the sea

One of our friends brought along an extra special (apparently it cost £12) frisbee with a hole in the middle called an aerobie. A group of us played with it for about five minutes until it he threw it in the sea. Despite many of us (not me) bravely wading in and searching for it, it was never seen again.

3. Bring Kites

It was a windy day, so kite flying worked quite well. Apart from my "easy to fly" Tesco family kite which didn't want to stay in the air for more than thirty seconds.

4. Don't over complicate rules when playing games

We played piggy in the middle with our frisbee. I always thought this was a simple game not needing long discussions about rules, but apparently not.

5. Meet near a nice cafe

We met on the part of the promenade which is outside the Beach House Cafe. Convenient on a freezing day as you can disappear inside with a warm drink and still see the sea.

6. Get a friend to wear their camera on their head.

Andrew did this. The resulting footage will be available to view soon.

7. Bring your bike, and if you don't have one get one

You can't cycle to Portobello without one, and there is a pleasant cycle route along the Innocent Railway. Some of our friends were forced to walk.

8. Bring a change of socks

No explanation needed.

9. Bring a bucket and spade to help build sandcastles

We didn't do this, but next time I think we should.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

In which we travel to Leith to prove we aren't snobs, and succeed in proving ourselves lazy

Are we unwitting snobs?  Personally, I don't really know that I can provide a clear answer. On one hand, I live in Morningside, went to St Andrews, and enjoy things like craft beers, irony, and dinner parties.  On the other hand I am poor, I avoid George Street, and I once ate roadkill.  I also like putting ketchup on things.  In my life, at least, things may even themselves out, but upon glancing at our excellent map of visits I noticed a little geographic snobbery beginning to take root - specifically, a bias towards Old Town.

Today we decided to rectify this apparent discrimination by heading Leithwards, to Pilrig Park.   Why Pilrig Park? Why not?!  We needed to branch out and we knew this park existed, and that was good enough for me.

the sun obscures things somewhat

When I arrived, I did a little reconnaissance along the perimeters, observing the local flora and fauna.  Parents with kids hogging the swings? Check.  Teenagers sitting in sullen circles? Check. Junkie passed out on a bench?  Check.  There were several other classifiable specimens, notably dog-walkers, barbecue maestros, and racquet-wielding sport aficionados.  The sun was up, the day was warm, and even at half past 6, the park was lively.

I took an immediate liking to Pilrig Park - there is an abundance of good sturdy shade trees, and enough variety in the terrain to keep things interesting.  Although I noticed the detritus of the shadier side of Leith (beer bottles strewn near benches, the lingering smell of weed, one or two creepy looking men in tracksuits), the park still managed to effect a pleasant, welcoming vibe.

me doing my thing
 Did we actually play?  Well, not really.  In fact, hardly at all.  I clambered up on a giant revolving child-trap, and Marianne kindly gave it a spin.  The swings and flying fox were being bogarted by the aforementioned children.  Also, and perhaps most importantly, we were being inundated by the delicious smells of BBQ.  It was nearly dinner time.  The cruel wafting scents eventually drove us to leave the park in search of food.

To sum up: what do adults do when they try to play?  It depends on the circumstances.  Sometimes we are truly in the spirit of things, and we go off on adventures, or hiding and seeking, or building forts, or bouncing around on inflatable things, or playing monkey in the middle with frisbees.  These are the good times.  On other occasions, however, we may be a bit preoccupied, tired, or downright uninspired.  These are the days we end up going for a nice walk to a park in Leith and stopping for coffee and croissants on the way home.

So there you have it, dear readers: In attempting to prove we weren't guilty of a bit of anti-Leith snobbery, we only succeeded in proving ourselves to be a bit unimaginative and lazy.  And susceptible to burger envy.  And still a little bit snobby.

Friday, 11 May 2012

It's raining, it's pouring: why not turn the living room into a fort?

Fort from the outside
Fort from the inside
Last week we were in the pub and Lilliputian was having a conversation with GM. I was daydreaming so I am not sure what it was about, but one of them said 'let's build a fort', and someone else said 'yes lets', and someone else said 'right now' and everyone said 'yes now'.

And we hurried back along the 10 minute walk to a flat, went into the living room and started to pull the cushions off the sofa, turn the sofas upside down, and find some rope which we tied around the room so that we could create a canopy out of curtains and sheets. (I might see if Lilliputian can write a post about the construction, because I left a lot of that to the experts, and mostly enjoyed the crawling through the tunnel)

This is something your parents would never let you do - so there are advantages to being an adult!

We have been a little lucklustre about visiting places over the past few weeks - I blame this partly on the weather being awful and erratic leading to days when doing anything more energetic than curling up on the sofa seems like a terrible idea, so we need to think of more activities that can take place inside. Or we need to go to the pub until someone comes up with more ideas, and makes them happen then and there.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Wine & Seek III: The Royal Botanical Gardens

The organization of the third installment of Wine & Seek (which I chose to call Wine & Seek III: the Revengening*) fell to me, by far the eldest of those engaging in what we’re not really allowed to call grown-up or adult play but no-one can really think of a better term for than that. Nonetheless, as Ben Franklin said; we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing. And if the opinion of a man who flies kites into thunderstorms and fakes other people’s deaths can’t be trusted, then whose can? So I summoned our intrepid crew to play in Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens, confident of fine weather, lovely surroundings and rejuvenating fun.

The Palmhouse: not suitable for hiding in, but handy during unexpected hail.


A good attempt, but blue jeans are not a hider's friend!

The Botanic Gardens are quite possibly the ideal hide-and-seek location. Large areas of dense rhododendrons, bamboo thickets and various other forms of vegetation perfect for hiding in, under, behind or up are separated into obvious play areas by wide paths, allowing each new game to be played in a new location. Some worked better than others: the first area we tried, comprising the Demonstration Garden and Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, provided few really great hiding places (though Lilliputian managed to successfully conceal herself inside a spiky bush which kept her hidden until last), with most people simply ducking behind the first tree they found at the garden’s edge. However, later areas provided sufficient camouflage to keep the hiders concealed even when the seeker was looking directly at them, and if we’d had time to play any area more than once we’d no doubt have found even better hiding spots.

One of the greatest benefits of a park like the Botanic Gardens over others is how well maintained it is. Thanks to the groundskeepers who patrol the gardens there is practically no rubbish to be seen, there are no dodgy characters hanging around, and there are no mysterious and frankly slightly creepy tents pitched in the bushes. I was slightly concerned while setting up the event that these same groundskeepers might not take kindly to our off-path charging around, but it seems that as long as one is not actively engaged in damaging the plant-life, you’re free to do as you wish. We were even cheerfully informed that we were free to “picnic” (drink wine) wherever we pleased, so long as we tidied up after ourselves.

The only drawback to this is that the gardens close at 6pm, and the groundskeepers make a sweep 15 minutes beforehand loudly blowing whistles and directing everyone to the nearest exit, which lead to our group being divided, with half sent out through the East Gate while the others made their way to the West. There was some concern that if the more adept hiders were not discovered, they’d be locked in and forced to fend for themselves until the next morning, but happily everyone made a safe exit in the end.

Best Hiding Places

The view from Marianne's hiding spot.

The Copse provided the greatest number of good hiding spots, but with most of the gardens left unexplored on this occasion it’s impossible to say where the best ones really are (especially since Lilliputian refused to reveal those she’d used).


Easier to set boundaries to play areas than Easter Craiglockhart Hill, and more pleasant to play in (and with a greater variety of hiding places) than Calton Hill, the Botanics were probably my favourite location so far. However, Wine & Seek has only just begun, and new locations await everywhere! The best may be yet to come.

*Like “The Revenge”, but times a million.