At our children's school summer fair on Friday, one of the teachers was offering henna patterns drawn onto the hands. As the other stalls were packing up, this teacher still had a queue of children stretching back from her table, each child waiting for their design.
On Saturday, the five of us went into MK market and bought our own cones of henna paste. As soon as we arrived at the Sunflower celebration event at Conniburrow Community Orchard our eldest two sat under a tree and began adding to the designs on each other's hands. 'We just did decoration and more decoration. It's … it's addictive.' After a while they shifted to the gazebos where members of Big Local Conniburrow were offering food and drink. Georgie (Manly) joined in, further decorating our children's hands and then doing her own.
The Community Orchard is in a public space which was already well used by children for all sorts of games. As the garden has moved through its stages of construction and cultivation, children have kept playing there, allowing their games to move around the changes, or to respond to them. (Some children borrowed the runner bean canes and made a den with them over in the far corner). When she is in the orchard, Sarah Wright makes a point of acknowledging the children, inviting them to join in with the gardening, growing her relationship with them.
So the child who wandered through the Sunflower celebration felt very much at home, confident to explore what was happening. This child joined in, having her hands hennaed. Later our children moved back under the tree and started work on their feet.
Rachel, Sarah’s sister, arrived and built up the enthusiasm for potting up sunflower seedlings. Soon a group of children were helping her. This was not the official opening of the Community Orchard, that is planned for the autumn. But already it feels like the orchard is fully functioning as a social space and a community resource. As well as the henna decorations, there’s bunting, there’s refreshments on offer from Big Local Conniburrow, there’s the children’s den with canes, there’s a man playing with his dogs. Later on someone starts flying their drone above the orchard to see if they can photograph it. And all these activities are able to share the same space.
In the evening, back at our serviced apartment in Central MK, our children were still possessed by henna. The walls of the apartment are white and all the furnishings and flooring are pale colours. We agree that henna can only be applied outside the building. After tea we walk along the redway under Childs Way, along Appleseed Way into Oldbrook. We find the big playing field, dotted with families and football kickabouts. We sit down right in the middle of the playing field and we (the parents) finally succumb and start decorating our own hands. The act of henna on parental skin shifts the mood. Our eldest child flops back onto the grass and starts discussing nothingness: 'You know nothing. Not emptiness, but no world, no solar system, no universe. People imagine it's like a white room or something. But there's no white, because it's nothing. And there's no colour. And there's no room either. It's like, like AARGH. It's so hard to … Do you know what I'm trying to say?'