As any self-respecting sexagenarian will tell you, things were so much better in our day. Sure there was no TikTok, no Facebook, no Instagram, no video games, no PlayStations. In fact there was no internet, no mobile phones, no laptops and no desktops. For many indeed there was still not even the luxury of a colour TV. Our telephone, if we had one, was attached to the wall by a long curly cable, and often we would share a party line with somebody along the street which meant we could only make a call whenever they weren’t using it (although we could eavesdrop at will on their conversation). We couldn’t send text messages on it though – or order a pizza (a what?), bet on a horse, check the weather forecast (that’s what Michael Fish was for) or update our social media status. Crisps came in four flavours, ice cream in three – and mousse, newly invented, was packaged in a cardboard box.
But we were happy.
Part of the reason that we were happy was because we had the play park. The play park was a place where we could really let our (long and greasy) hair down and express ourselves. Mostly they had a slide, a witch’s top, a set of swings and a roundabout, amongst other things. What they all had too was solid ground, of tarmac or of stone, which took no prisoners of those whose limbs or skulls made contact with it during the course of play.
For the benefit of today’s social media generation, using a play park began with a process that was known to those of my cohort as “going out”. This involved climbing out of bed, getting dressed, venturing out beyond the front door and actually interacting with our friends in real time, face to face and using real words which the other party could hear and understand. Not a “lol” or a “pmsl” ever passed our lips. We had to speak the whole sentence, and the other guy had to listen. If he didn’t like what we had to say he would hit us. Not send us a red-face emoji.
When this happened to us we would either hit him back (if we felt lucky), or cry. Not one of us ever went for counselling, or sold our story to the papers, or sued for damages. But I’m digressing a little.
The play park was a physical space in which we could release all our pent-up energy. Because this was play as it was intended to be, and play how it actually happened. And that was the bit that was the most fun.
Let’s begin with the slide as an example. The idea was that we would walk up a flight of steps, eventually leading to a platform of sorts which seemed almost to be in the clouds, at which we would sit and position ourselves for the descent. The descent was by means of a series of metal panels, which when combined with the process of gravity allowed us to slide down to the bottom again. The difficulty arose when the weather was hot. Being metallic, that meant the panels were hot too. Most of us wore short trousers, or skirts. Having said this, what was a real bonus was having a friend sitting at the bottom of the slide unaware that we were heading down, at speed, feet first. Such joy as was achieved at the point of impact almost made the burns worthwhile.
The witch’s top was a large conical contraption upon which we were supposed to sit as it rocked gently around a large pole at the centre. Only nobody ever sat. Rather, we would stand on the handrails and crash it violently from side to side, usually until somebody was catapulted off. This seemed to happen more often than not, the only imponderable being whether the first contact made by the victim would be with the ground below or the swinging contraption itself as it made its return motion. Great fun was had by (almost) all.
Flying off the roundabout could be even more risky, as it usually involved an involuntary run at a quite unnatural speed before being brought to an abrupt halt by the first inanimate object that stood in our way. Meanwhile the swings provided a lethal combination of both height and velocity for fallers, more so when assisted by an over-enthusiastic pusher who would invariably ignore our pleas to stop. Truly, those were the days.
For those kids of today who do manage to escape their virtual worlds for long enough to go out and get some fresh air, the soulless, sterile zones which pass as play parks are sad affairs to be sure. Wood chip beneath the climbing frames, which tend to be made of rope with nary a perilous metal bar at head height anywhere to be seen. Rubber turf and synthetic, garish colour. Plastic slides about three feet from the ground, most likely with an iPhone charger at the summit and a notice disclaiming liability should anybody’s offspring be left traumatised by the experience.
Call me old fashioned, but I sigh for the play parks of old. I’m still alive after all, and the bangs on the temple and egg-sized lumps on the forehead made me what I am today.
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