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  • Friday was a day of two worlds. Work was in a world of snow, soft, cocooned, but not ideal for the launch of a new project bringing service users and providers together from across the country to work together. So we were a small group and in need of an icebreaker. The night before I had raided my son's bathtime toys to put one together. The group was to design policy tools together and were all participants in a research project to learn how service users and providers can better do work like this together.
    Now research makes some people nervous. It's about being at the wrong end of a microscope. Judge, assessed, assigned a category. What if it's not? What if it can be an adventure, an exploration? What if we can make it what we choose? So I brought out a bag and explained inside it could be tools, could be reminders of what they did want research to be like, or to not be like. I asked people to take a chance, reach into the bag, take something out, explore it and then talk about any thoughts it prompted about how we would go about our project together.
    Almost first out of the bag was a plastic egg with a stretchy green plastic baby alien in it. Hmmmm it got stretched and pulled a lot and then it was hard to put back in its egg. Maybe our project would be like that, it would open up things that surprised us, and were hard to put back the way they were before. Another person, a service user, said it was good. She saw the fragile, the just emerging that needed support to grow. You could feel the room thawing.
    And then the sonic screwdriver came out of the bag the one essential tool of Dr. Who. (Dr Who, rather eccentric British sci-fi tv series much loved in the 70's recently revived). We joked about how it would be good to use to get over thresholds, like ethics committees that get prickly about any work with “vulnerable" groups. Sonic screwdrivers are good at unlocking the unlockable—would our project be?
    . . . and the launch day goes on. We have lunch, get to work and, as people are looking at watches and at the deepening snow, we wrap up early. Meanwhile I’m checking texts from the Mum I’m to lead a children’s group with that night. There is a pack on children’s rights we could download and use. But I have seen it in use. It asks children to choose between wants and needs in order to understand what a right is. Thing is, push come to shove they will discard the right to a name, the right to a country. And are rights really about the bare minimum, how bare? She asks do I have anything better. Well, no. That is not until my colleague driving us out of the snow into the rainy brown coast reminds me I have my bag with me. Okay.
    The children’s group begins with a small collection of seven year olds spinning round and round the space, arms out, like sufi masters seeing how long they can go on for. That’s a good beginning. We play a game, we discuss why, without any prompting they arranged to take turns. We get from what’s fair, to what’s right to having rights. I ask if a person was all alone on a planet would they need any rights. They say no. I ask if one other person came to that planet-would they need rights then? They say yes. What sort of rights? Oh, here, I happen to have a bag of them just here, let’s see. A spaghetti measure comes out. We decide everyone has a right to food. A hat with brightly coloured dreadlocks comes out, we decide everyone has the right to be themselves. The sonic screwdriver comes out. Some mums don’t know what it is. The kids do. But they are slow to say what the right is. One mum asks what is it—is it a weapon? The kids decide it could be, but not really. The Dr. never uses it like that. He uses it to get out of scrapes without shooting. We decide it represents the right to be protected from weapons. I can’t help but think how different the conversation would have gone if it had been a gun. As it is the room is warmer we somehow all seem closer together. Drawing our favourite rights on cards has a quiet feel to it. Before a game of bouncing around like rabbits breaks out.
    Like I say, a day of two worlds. One snowy, one wet. Both with people who have taught me how to see a little differently what I have been carrying with me all along.
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