Tanya Shadrick as a child, with her mother
Tanya Shadrick as a child, with her mother

Welcome to the first issue in Season Two of The Cure for Sleep: Stories From (& Beyond) the Book. This month’s theme concerns play: how we might (re)claim our creativity.

Readers were invited to respond as follows: When did you last play? Describe a favourite childhood game – solitary or shared. What made it so potent?

Any stories received on this theme will be curated below. Click on each name to go direct to that reader’s contribution.

Joanna Hall

March extract

At this new distance from my girl and boy, I understood of a sudden what was missing in my own development: children who are safe know exactly what they need, and are unafraid to ask for it. Again and again. Their desires are not always being sandbagged or buried or rationed. What might be obvious to others had for me, there and then, the force of revelation. I came back off the hillside at the end of that week with it ringing inside me, as if I were a bell being sounded.

How would it be to give to myself, for even a short while, such kindness? To spend time learning or recovering what I loved, what I yearned for? To ask for exactly what I needed, as my children were able to do? I’d been so concerned in my first life on becoming safe and secure, and intent since the birth and its aftermath on giving care – to the children, other mothers, hospice patients.

Could I do it? Learn how to play, and not for others’ sakes, but my own?

[Full extract on Substack]


Reader responses

The last time I played was on my local beach where someone dumped tumbles of bricks. Yes, I was alone. Was it playing? I was researching local bricks and their history for some writing about the movement of the families who made them. I was making walls and knocking them over, filming the gradual blocking-out of the view.

tamsin grainger

I made a deal with my youth.

Steve harrison

Oh the shame of it!

When I recall it, my cheeks burn with the audacity, humiliation and deep flow of the pleasure of play.

My sister and I loved horses and – aged 12 or so – stabled a whole collection of them in our garage. They were ridden out every day, gleefully, seriously. Though we were not oblivious to the cat-calls and hooting laughter of the local lads, the pull of play was too strong. Rusty was my favourite, a soft yard-broom with an orange head, a cob; my sister rode the heavy horse, a stiff large brush, a Clydesdale or Shire perhaps. There were various other Shetlands and Welsh Mountains. Some we would have to do battle with, as they were flighty and feisty and we would tug on the belts and banding we had fashioned as bridles and head collars.

Helen Callear

I remember one summertime, where the grass was turning yellow and dry, so it must have been a heatwave. We made up this game, where we were part of a royal family, taking part in athletic competitions. I remember spending a lot of time out on the lawn taking part in long jumps and javelin throws, in my five year old body, with imaginary poles, medals and sand. In my memory the game lasted several days and even weeks. It seemed to be our reason for getting up and going outside for a long time.

Fionnuala O’shea

After school I paddle in the chalk stream til my feet go numb. I search for life and colour and collect it in a bucket. Turning over stones, I ease tiddlers from the gravel. Stoneloaches with barbels like mini catfish, patterned like sunlight glancing off ripples. Miller’s thumbs, with broad heads, bulging lips and spiny armoured fins. A tiny walking house made from twigs glued to grains of sand carries a caddis fly larva. At the end of my session I count my haul and release everything.

Jo Sinclair

Making Rustic

Amy millios

‘Play!’ she said. Instructing my two-year old son.

But play cannot be instructed.

Play is a felt thing. A thing that starts with safety, creativity and allows for risk – and takes you by the hand, becomes visceral, brings pleasure. It has no particular end.

Genevieve Dutton

Thanks to Covid-19, my wonderful niece was eight months old before I met her. Shortly after that first meeting, I sat her on the couch beside me. She fell over onto her side; I said ‘Whoops!’ (as you do) and tickled her; she giggled happily and I sat her up again. She immediately fell over again, and I repeated the performance. When she fell over for the third time, I finally realised that this was now a game (I don’t have children; I was slow to catch on). Eight months old and she was already able to create a game and draw me into it.

Tracey Kennedy

There was a yard in front of the rural cottage we lived in from when I was aged six to about nine. Hens pecked their way around it during the day, Rhode Island Reds going, ‘Bok awk, bok, bok’ and then teasing us by sometimes ‘laying out’, meaning we would have to search the surrounding fields for their eggs.

Enclosing the yard in a horseshoe shape were some sheds and outhouses, dusty relics of past labour. In one of the sheds I can remember seeing tiny chicks hatch one night by the light of my dad’s torch, all yellow and fluffy, pecking their way out of their shells. Most of the outbuildings were missing a door, or the door hadn’t been closed in years. In one we had a swing, where we could aim to reach the swallows nesting high in the rafters if we kicked off powerfully enough. In another there was an old timber cart, with its shafts for the horse pointing up towards the spider-busy rafters. In the cart itself was an old mattress. We played all kinds of games there, my brothers and I, far from other children over the summer holidays from school. We built imaginary – to us ‘real’ – worlds that had us occupied and absorbed for hours.


When I look at pictures of myself as a child


On it Like a Car Bonnet

sue reed


Sheila knell

I am 9,7,12 and in-between. I am heading to our beach most probably on a bike and unlikely to be without friends. A rote route of up hill, over railway, past dandelion borders and council house turf, right past the ghosted youth club, across the car park that rarely sees a car, then skirt the swings. We have arrived at Green Lane Park, an uninspiring expanse of grass, daisies and the bald earth of last season’s football pitch, all flanked by ferociously unforgiving nettles. A concrete path pours a harsh line across the park, the only interruption, a bridge over the brook part of Cole. The brook is largely ignored, partly because it is estranged from the path, and it flows a metre and a half below park level. Back then it was lined with the long grass the mowers didn’t turn to, and now the satellite shows me clumps of shrubs hussling to meet, forming an umbrella over the water. From above, the brook, let alone our beach, is truly hidden. We scramble down its sandy bank in a familiar place where the water is skinny and in return for our attention it offers us a sand and stone seat. We dispose of shoes and socks to wade light in its trickles. We are largely hidden in its cleft and content in the long hours of our afternoon. Our young hearts embraced the land as our partner in play, with our backs to the municipal offerings of fun, the swings, skate park, football pitch. Instinctively we moved to the edges, to inhabit the hidden spaces that the suburban wildness afforded us. I hope there are others now making wonder with the Cole as I continue to seek unadulterated spaces elsewhere.

Joanna Hall
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