Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 8 December 2011

Losing the swings - and the roundabouts too

The Mail is exercised this morning about a children's playground dismantled because the equipment failed to meet European safety requirements.

Perhaps the most striking thing about it*, for those of us on the downhill side of 40, at least, is that the offending equipment illustrated looks distictly tame by the standards of our childhood.

When I was young, our local park featured a slide of such vertiginous altitude and gradient that users regularly overshot the long horizontal run-out; a cage at the top of the ladder was the only protection against plummeting to the tarmac ten feet below.

Meanwhile, the swings described vast and graceful arcs from a massive frame and the see-saws were long planks of wood balanced on a central pivot; no springs or rubber matting - if you didn't get your feet down in time to break the fall, the end would hit the ground with a spine-jarring crash and your opposite number would be flung wildly into the air.

Best of all was the roundabout, a flat octagonal arrangement of planks on a central pedestal strangely reminiscent of our dining table at home. The resemblance ended there, however; in the hands of determined ten-year-olds, this contraption could generate sufficient centrifugal force to catapult its gleeful occupants a distance of several yards.

It is, perhaps, a good illustration of how expectations of children's behaviour have shifted over the past four decades. Certainly we sported an interesting variety of grazes and bruises, but the incidence of serious injury was, if anything, lower than today.

Regardless of European directives, we have seen an increased insistence on monitoring and restricting children's ability to decide for themselves or to take responsibility for their actions - small wonder, then, that a generation has grown up expecting to be provided for and entertained by others.

And just as the relaxing of discipline in schools has led to appalling behaviour as pupils try to find the limits of what's allowed, so the reduction of risk has taken all the fun out of the playground and surely contributed to risk-taking behaviour elsewhere.

*apart from the blatantly misplaced apostrophe of the caption - 'Before: The playground with it's full complement of equipment'.
I mean, we're all vulnerable to the occasional typo but they get paid to produce this stuff.

Incidentally, a trawl through the Mail also turned up this festive headline:
'Father has finger bitten off in parents' brawl at school NATIVITY PLAY'
I can't wait to see what JuliaM makes of that one!


  1. You forgot the Witches Hat

    yes we had scrapes , bumps and bruises. But it also taught us to 'man up'

    I am consistently amazed by the over reactions of my Niece's and Nephew's to minor injuries that to us would have been barely noticeable , so many had we collected by their age.

  2. PC. wow! we never had one of those - looks like fun!

  3. We also had One of theset to this day I have no idea what its nae is, plus the rocking horse . Along with the roundabout and slide you mentioned , also a climbing frame.
    All on concrete hard stands

    To my knowledge, nobody was killed, maimed or irreparably harmed by any of them.

  4. The only good side to H&S playground legislation I can see, is most are fenced off now and dogs are banned.

    Leaping from a swing at the top of its arc only to land in a freshly laid clutch of dog eggs was never nice

  5. Good point! Although our park was relatively dog-free, being alongside a main road with no fence.

    (I can see this thread degenerating into the Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch)

  6. That's true, come to think of it. It's so wimpish today.

  7. I remember all those rides too - plus the witches hat. I have a sneaking suspicion that all those grazes prodded our immune systems in a healthy way too.

  8. @AK

    I'm sure it did, all those cuts & scrapes made sure we had a healthy population of white blood cells ready to do battle at a moments notice.

    Unlike the kids today where they have to start from scratch each time

  9. "I can't wait to see what JuliaM makes of that one!"


    I'm adding that to a post I already had prepared on 'the modern nativity'!


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