Thursday, 17 February 2011

Swings, roundabouts and witch's hats

All the fun of going to the park was about The Swings. The rest of the park was boring. Nothing beat the thrill of swinging high; swooping to an apex, leaving your stomach behind as you started to faaaaall backward until you reached the second apex behind you - and then accelerating forward again, like the pilot of a fighter aircraft zooming in to strafe ground targets.

Any self-respecting park in 1960s England was equipped with the following: Two sets of swings - baby ones (with gates to stop the infant falling out), and the grown-up ones (like the one pictured left with me sitting on it); a slide, a roundabout (to the left of the pic), a witch's hat (a conical frame rotating wildly around a central pole) and a rocking horse (for six children).

Today, children's playgrounds in parks are vetted by Heath and Safety. There's a foot-deep carpet of soft rubber in case a 'kid' should fall off any of the apparatus, all of which are sanitised versions of the wild rides my generation used to enjoy.

Look at the chains on the swing. Imagine poking a finger into one of the larger links. Or for those who remember the witch's hat - a little hand being stuck into the space between the rotating cone and the pole holding it up. Yet I cannot remember any cases of death or hospitalisation among my fellow playmates. I did once do myself a nasty bruise running down a slide, though.

The rocking horse could be thrilling if six children - all together - really put all their effort into seeing whether they could violently rock the horse off its moorings and set it into orbit.

For me there were three parks. Elthorne Park, Hanwell (in the photo - taken by my father, Bohdan Dembinski, in 1960), and Dean's Gardens, West Ealing - both within walking distance of our house - and for a special treat - Gunnersbury Park which had a climbing frame shaped like a fire engine.

Elthorne Park disappeared into the distance, the valley of the River Brent and the Grand Union Canal. As a child I was cross-eyed and could not judge distance very well. As a result, I thought the park was infinite in size, its western borders shrouded in mystery. It was only after a successful eye operation at the age of eight did I realise that Elthorne Park was actually quite small.

Looking at the photo above gave me a deja vu; for two nights ago, I dreamed of Moni's son, some time in the future; he looked like a smiling version of the little chap seated on the swing.

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