Ever since the sad demise of my little car I have been forced to walk the mile to school every morning. Yes, I know that it’s hardly a marathon and that in time I may feel the benefits of a little exercise and not to forget of course that I am now doing my bit for saving the planet. But in all honesty, walking is blooming boring especially when you walk the same route day in day out. Mr R happily goes off on one of his daily constitutions but always with earphones in situ and listening most probably to a little Beethoven or Sibelius to while away the time. But I’m alas without the luxury of an iPod and have to think of other ways to pass 30 minutes of tedium !
Most days I just count how many steps I need to take between lamp posts, or think up shopping and to do lists. I was so bored the other day, I even resorted to counting how many slugs and snails I passed. Initially I would be nosy and glance in the windows of the houses I passed to see if I could pick up a few styling tips, but that got boring after the third day and besides its seems that slatted blinds are de rigueur in Swindon these days making it very difficult to see inside.
I get to walk past two play parks on my route and today they got me thinking how different a trip to the park is for kids these days than of those of my own childhood back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It seems that play equipment has to be enclosed these days to stop dogs from running amok and causing..well, I’m not sure what! Play surfaces are soft enough to allow children to hopefully bounce off it if they unfortunately slip of fall from the whatever they are swinging or climbing on. And why aren’t there any stand alone swings, slides, or climbing frames. We used to tell our friends that we’d meet them at the swings. These days it’s be quite a mouthful to say that you’ll meet at the “thing you climb on, then through, then spin on that’s got a slidey bit and that’s supposed to look like a rocket”! I’m sure that the equipment is designed to encourage the kids of today to make the most of their gross motor skills, fire their imagination and not forgetting of course, letting them have a bit of fun without coming to any harm. But I got to wonder how often children actually get to play in these little parks. Are there far more exciting things at home to keep them occupied these days in the form of readily available kids TV programmes, DVDs and computer games and the likes? How many kids these days are actually allowed to play in the parks unsupervised ?
The local park played a big part of my childhood. If we weren’t causing mayhem with our friends when playing in our road (and we’re talking serious knock out Ginger games here!) then we would be at The Park, which wasn’t close to home, but a good hours walk away but as we walked everywhere the distance didn’t faze us at all. Most of the time we never told mum where we were going, but that was never an issue. She knew that we were in one of several places. Either mucking around in the old disused railway station, making dens on the common, or at The Park. As long as we were home in time for tea then she didn’t mind. We were at least out from under her feet!
The Park, which in reality was only the corner of a playing field where the play equipment was located, seemed huge compared with todays play parks. But that could be because the equipment was huge back then and needed a lot of room. Slides seemed to be as tall as a house. Climbing up the ladder was as much fun as the slide down. No such thing as guard rails back then and nothing to stop you from falling to a certain death onto the concrete below. But we didn’t let a little thing such as that stop us from clambering over one another at the top and whizzing down frontwards, backwards, sideways and every which way wards! Swings were to be swung as high as the clouds and then leapt from or to see who could spit the furthest. Part of the fun back then was the thrill of playing dangerously! Bumping a see saw so hard that you were in danger of being thrown over the handle bars. Hanging off a roundabout by one hand as it spun around faster and faster. Seeing how many kids you could get to fall off the Witches Hat when it was pushed violently against the central pole. You were never playing by yourself at the park. Half the time it was all about being in a gang. The aim of the game most of the time was causing the opposing gang damage. Usually in the form of a cut or bruise or two or by getting weedy girls to cry! We were hardly a caring bunch back then and we never played fairly. We were out for blood !
The best thing about the summer was getting to lark around in the park’s paddling pool. The water was never quite clear enough to see the bottom and many a time we went home with cuts from broken glass. It wasn’t uncommon either to have a quick wee in the water as the park’s loos were always full of great big hairy spiders !
Our days were filled with imaginative play, working and playing together and being adventurous. We learnt how to make decisions and cope with potentially dangerous situations. We were happy and always slept well at the end of the day because we were physically tired. It’s sad that children today don’t have the freedom that we had, but of course they have advantages that we didn’t. As they say..it’s all swings and roundabouts!