I am fortunate enough to live somewhere where this is possible without being scared to death about the creepy people I’m supposed to fear in dark places in the middle of the night. I realise that this is perhaps only possible in a small town.
As a tiny minority know, I go to university in a small town, mainly populated by students. This particular small town has a castle, and in the castle, a children’s playground. The playground is standard issue, it has little kid’s swings, normal swings, a climbing frame with slides and rope tunnels which once seemed so dangerous and so high above the ground, but are now just amusing distractions. It has soft tarmac on the floor and grass around the edge; all it’s really missing is the wood chippings you were so used to scattering into the air when your feet came back to ground after jumping off the swings at their apex. It’s a typical playground, apart from the fact it’s sandwiched between a churchyard and a castle ruin. You can sit on the ruin of a windowsill and look over the modern, colourful metal tribute to childhood, or turn around and look over the solemn, grey, stone tribute to death.
I have never seen it in the daytime, though. It might be an odd thing to declare, but I never have. I’m not sure what colour the metal piping on the climbing frame is, I’m not sure what the sunlight looks like when it gleams off the slides, the only way I ever tell where the grass starts and the tarmac ends is the soft squelch when I tread over the edge.
I am a student. I am a frequenter of the playground in the dark. It might just sound like a childish, stupid, drunken thing to do; invade something clearly not built for you after trekking through the dark castle, only the moonlight and your memory guiding your way, not caring that your shoes (often the very last shoes you’d want it to happen to) are covered in mud. But it’s not just childish, it’s not just stupid and it’s not just drunken. It’s a sense of freedom I’m yet to find anywhere else.
Me and my friend, or often a group of us, will end up in the playground somewhere between 2 and 3am, after the nearest pub closes. We clamber over the castle ruins, surprisingly faultlessly, nobody ever falling, nobody ever missing their footing and kicking a stone, somehow our eyes and the moonlight finding the right way amongst so many wrong ones. In our somewhat drunken reverie, almost encouraged, rather than dissuaded by the freezing cold and wind rushing in off the sea, we will wander to the end of the playground, where the real swings are. We don’t intend to hurt anyone, we don’t intend to vandalise anything, we don’t intend to lurk and drink secret bottles of vodka or shoot up. That’s not the point.
We will sit. We will swing. Often in silence, often talking between us about how bloody stupid this is and where we should go next. But the best times of all are the times when we sing. I cannot sing, I’m pretty sure she can’t either. We are the atypical drunks, singing on the swings. I sing football songs, or perhaps a football song in particular – Annie’s Song, or the rather corrupted Sheffield United version, at any rate. She sings a variety of things, as I’m pretty sure she knows every lyric on the planet, and I can never keep up.
But we sing. At the top of our lungs, because nobody can hear us here. We’re not even listening to each other, I don’t think. There is just me, her, the creaking of swing chains, the rustling of jeans as our legs swing back and forth, the sound of air parting around us and the sea rolling in the distance. And there is freedom. An obscure sort of freedom. No freedom worth writing a novel, or a political treatise about, no freedom worth enshrining in a constitution, because I doubt it’s one they can take away from you. This is not freedom in the sense of liberty, this is freedom found in pure, reckless abandon.
It’s one I value greatly. As there, on the swings, with alcohol coursing through me, for just moments, I can break free of self-consciousness, I can find the sort of simple pleasure that you have to seize when it comes to you, and the sort of simple pleasure nobody can take away. The pleasure of being a child again, when nobody’s there to judge you, when there’s no great compulsion to be adult until you step off those swings, the pleasure of letting the air sail past your face, and the pleasure of jumping off at the apex of the swing’s arc, the same fearful adrenaline of something so simple as jumping joining the alcohol in your veins and for a second, you feel invincible. There is the simple pleasure of swinging, singing and jumping in the dark. To me, that is what freedom feels like; that is freedom at its most tangible.
Oh no! A non-factual write up from me. Run away!