Over these parts
, wooden playgrounds are new-fangled stuff that my own kids get to play on, nice safe wood-chip floors and all. When I was somewhat smaller, the playgrounds of the villages of the Chilterns
and the Vale
were collections of hefty metal constructions, mostly painted in that peculiarly municipal shade of mid-dark green that, for townies
, was also applied to the woodwork of park keepers' huts.
There were, of course, swings, and often swingboats (for which I could never find an appropriately dimensioned partner, but which the big kids made fly) and see-saws that gave fairly substantial altitude gain for small effort. The centrepiece of the equipment would be the big slide, usually just steps and a small platform, none of this integrated stuff with scrambling nets and rope ladders and climbing frames and whatnot, but a climb to ten, twelve, fifteen feet or so, and then a section out of a hyperbolic curve of a descent on a brass surface, polished bright by generations of brattish arses, that - unless the surface was wet, which spoilt everything - threw you off into the trench in the grass or mud carved by repeated impact. There were apocryphal horror stories at school about vandals - football hooligans - Arsenal supporters probably - who used to insert razor blades in the cracks between the sections, so it was mostly better to make sure that you weren't the first one down in any given visit.
But the true test of the playground was not this, but the roundabout.
There were a range of designs, but the basic principle was a couple of hundredweight of cast iron extending out five or six feet from the hub and mounted on bearings good enough that a determined eight-year-old could get it up to an interesting pace and a couple of ten-year-olds could pull about 2G. Some had narrow running-boards around a central box, some a floor all the way to the central shaft with radial handrails; a few had no floor at all, just four or six radial gates onto which you had to clamber as the beast gained momentum; falling off guaranteed you some pretty solid wallops as the rest of the gang passed over you, even assuming you missed the bars. Scooting, or running and jumping on at the last moment with the smaller ones hanging on for dear life to fight the centrifugal force, which, we were later to learn in Physics lessons, did not exist. My memory tells me that the direction was usually anti-clockwise, but maybe we switched to avoid getting too dizzy.
All gone now, a victim of the boom in accident claims, or maybe just an increased awareness of the laws of physics and a bit of common sense. Nothing else - except public footpath signs, perhaps - is ever that shade of green, though.