It's a cold, dark December after school session at The Shop of Possibilities. It's pretty quiet, but there are a few children inside with a couple of members of staff. I'm outside because there are four children playing together around and about the outside of the Shop.
They are wrapped up in their own invented narrative, I'm a little too far away to hear exactly, but something about "The Tall Man". Whatever it is, it involves a lot of running from one place to the next, congregating often in a little cluster with their voices hushed, before one of them (normally the same one) shouts an instruction and they all run off again.
They have two torches which they use to scan around in the dark for clues. They have been fascinated with using torches for a few days now, it's given them a reason to be out in the dark. It is really dark too, there aren't many lights on the estate, and the ones that are on give off an eerie orange glow, perfectly adding to the atmosphere the kids are trying to create with their story.
Every so often they run a bit further, or around a corner and I slowly follow at a distance just enough so they are within my sight, but I don't ask them to come back. They aren't actively trying to get away from us or the play space, they are just going along with their story. I think it's great that they are confident enough to explore the outside in the dark.
They picked up a pretty substantial tree branch that they found lying on the floor, which seemed to become a wizard's staff that could cast spells and double up as a giant sword. I kept my distance, knowing that these four children are pretty measured in their approach to play fighting, they are sensible and understand the difference between real and pretend. It was tough to remain invisible though when at this moment a concerned looking passer-by walked past this small group of excitable, slightly wild looking children with a giant stick! However it was important that I wasn't giving the kids the sense they were being watched.
At one point, whilst slipping out of the narrative to have a heated discussion over what each of their names were "in the game" one of the children gets back into character and charges off in the direction of where I'm sitting, about twenty paces away from where they were talking. Surprised to see me, she exclaims "Oh! I didn't know you were there!" she shrugs her shoulders, and then in a split second turns back to her friends and carries on where she left off.
I still stayed outside, observing from a distance, but now wondering if the realisation that an adult was watching them would change anything. It didn't seem to, but you never really know do you?