Robert Macfarlane in ‘Childish’ the final chapter of his latest book Landmarks explores children’s fascination with microcosm, with small worlds, tiny landscapes and snug places with reference to Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (1958):
Bachelard writes at length about our lifelong dream-need for hollows and huts. Traversing ornothology, psychology, architecture and literature, Bachelard discovers a family of den-like recessed spaces – corners, birds nests, cellars, attics, chests, cavern, walled gardens (the horus conclusus) – that continue to exert a fascination upon the mind even as it ages, becuase they ‘shelter day-dremaing’. He calls the readiness to be astonished by such places ‘topophilia’ (place love), but I think we might also name it ‘wonder’, ‘innocence’, or even just ‘happiness’.
It was that last line that stayed with me – small spaces prompting ‘wonder’, ‘innocence’ and ‘happiness’
When the Boys and I recently dismantled the little model railway we’d begun to build I felt tempted to add another word to Macfarlane’s list – ‘playfulness’.
In the days leading up to it’s demise the Boys became fascinated with exploring the space or the terrain of the layout. From an adult perspective the layout might have been utterly incomplete with stations left unbuilt and landscape and town depopulated; but none of that mattered to the Boys; it became their contoured blank canvas upon which complex stories were weaved and dramas acted out.
It was disorderly and creative, organic, non-linear playfulness.
Their play had energy and freedom and in watching them play I saw glimpses of a wild and wonderful imaginative world I’d sadly long since left behind in my own childhood.