Play - sing, dance, draw, write

Sing, dance, garden, write – be in the now, just play. Have fun. It does wonders for your health.

The Auction Mart (market)


When I was nine years old, my parents took me to an auction mart (market) one

Thursday evening; it was held in an old converted hay barn. My sisters were there

too and I got a bit fidgety only to be told by my parents, “Sssh – your turn’s coming.

Just pay attention to now.” Now if ever there was a lesson in coming out of the past

or delaying the future and coming into present time, that was it. Not that I knew

that then.

Bids were made by farmers for all sorts of agriculture implements (I was raised in

the country) and by housekeepers for what seemed like rather dowdy furniture

which clearly someone found if not useful, then inexpensive and affordable.

Then my parents told me to really pay attention. What did I see? Did I recall when

they gave me the option of singing lessons or piano lessons? Yes! And what had that to do with right here, right now?

They pointed; I looked down on the auction floor and there was an old, upright piano with beautiful decorative inlay. My parents started bidding. And at £7 (about £160 in today’s currency) – equivalent to one’s week’s pay for my father, the gavel landed with a thud and we were now the owners of the piano. I can’t recall ever feeling so excited – not just the fact that we were the owners of a piano but more so that my parents had invested so much to invest in my future. A lesson in gratitude.

And was it worth it?

Well yes, that piano was my pride and joy for many years.

I learned to play. I developed an interest in music. I went on to study music at school.

How play helps

In later years, wherever I travelled in the world, if there was a piano, I was entertaining.

In my 40s, I played in hotels and restaurants, earned more money in tips than session

payments, and this helped me buy my own hotel.

I learned that the black notes were as nothing without the white; that it took both

to balance and create harmonies.

And piano playing helped me realise the value and importance of living in present

time. Of play. You don’t “do” the piano or “work” it – you play it. And is life not

meant to be naturally playful, or have we lost the art of play so on the treadmill

of earning a living have we of necessity become.

I loved writing from an early age; it was a form of escapism. When I wrote, I forgot about the bullying at school, the poverty at home, about the conditioning I was getting from society, about not rising above my station. In writing I was in the moment, in the now.

How "Now" helps

The physical universe is naturally in the now, in all its playfulness. It has its seasons, they come and go, bird song makes sweet music, snow paints landscapes, the clouds give shape to the blue skyscapes but whilst here they aren’t going anywhere. That is to say, they don’t have some destination that they ought to arrive at.  Clouds just cloud, and give the illusion of moving to a new destination but in reality, they are just clouding, doing what clouds do best, in this moment.

Music differs from cooking a meal or travel. When you cook there is an end product; when you travel, you are trying to get somewhere.

In music, though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, all musicians would rush to the end of the piece. And there would be composers who never wrote beginnings, but only wrote finales. Audiences would applaud only the final note, that one note, before the curtain down, for that’s all there would be.

As a teenager, my weekends would often be spent at Ceilidhs, Scottish country dancing events, and the aim of each dance was not to reach a particular spot in the room because that’s where you were meant to arrive, it was to dance, to have fun, enjoy, just be in the moment, the now. The whole point of the dancing was the dance…not the final curtesy or bow.

My father was a gardener and he taught me over and over that the point was not to instantly create produce and flowers, it was to plant, to sow, to tend, to nurture, to observe, to watch a plant in bloom from tiny shoot to final bud and then to not be attached, to let it go, to do what it needed to do in that moment.

Contrast this with our education system – which puts us in boxes each with a goal in site, each graded and tested to the hilt – from nursery, to primary, to secondary, to college, to University. It’s always about recalling and remembering data and planning for the next stage in life. And then it’s about work, going out to join the world which you’ve never really left as it is all man made anyway.

And to survive you fit in, with this to sell, that to do, a quota to achieve, you have kids, you work hard to support them as that too is a phase, and all the time you are secretly planning for that great big thing coming down the track -  and not a musical track. It’s called retirement, when allegedly you are supposed to enjoy your life but more and more people fret and fear retirement, can they afford it, how will they survive, as they live older and older, will they be fit to live, mentally or physically, or simply live to fit?

When do you wake up from this madness? When do you decide to live life and not have life live you?

Imagine the people who live to retire; they scrimp and save to put some savings away. And then when they reach retirement age, they don’t have any energy left, their bodies are unfit, the spirit willing but the limbs not. They’re more or less impotent, literally and metaphorically. And many are put in some old peoples, senior citizens care home, where they are treated more as commodities than human beings. Play, if at all, is for Sundays and even then, for only an hour.

And then we realise we missed the whole point along the way.

What if, after all, life were meant to be a song or dance, a musical thing, to be played at, to be drawn, to be written, to be painted, not worked at, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played…not lying in a box as the final chords were played.

So, whilst there is music in the old body yet, ask yourself:-

  1. If you were to relate to life to living it as if playing music, what would be different, how would you be different, what would you be doing differently, how would you spend your time differently?

  2. Where and how can you get more play into life and enjoyment out of it?

  3. What can you do from today that means you avoid living a deferred-life insurance plan, paying in to others coffers, for future imaginary success, and instead enjoy the music being played right now?

  4. What are you playing right now, a simple piano solo, a vast orchestral symphony, a quintet with a few friends, a piano concerto of great crescendos, highs and lows – or the Death March from Saul?

  5. If you were to write your story each day, what would it be? A tragedy, a drama, a Mills and  Boon. It is, after all, your choice.

  6. If life were an ever-filling piece of art, what would it be? A landscape, skyscape, a seascape, a townscape?

It’s been said in many ways – there is only ever the now. We can plan all we like but we have no guarantee that we will ever make it. Success is not just arriving at the end of a journey, the meal on the table, the present wrapped, the joy is in the wrapping, filling the present with love, savouring the travelling, enjoying the whole performance and not only the curtain call when the lights go out and the cleaners come in.


If you were to write a prescription for more play in your life, what would it be?

And if not now, when? Why not now?


“You can't stop the future

You can't rewind the past

The only way to learn the secret to press play.”

― Jay Asher,

Be in the moment

Michael English

Irish Entertainer