In this day of Health and Safety madness, playgrounds are pleasant, safe, nice places to play. They have colourful, soft equipment for children of all ages to learn, grow and exercise.
Not so in my youth.
Kids were expendable in the eighties. We didn’t have spongy rubber mastic to cushion our soft little bodies. Bark chips were unheard of and everything – everything – was razor sharp.
Playgrounds of the eighties were surfaced in acres of concrete or tarmac, often patched, and able to skin a kid’s knees in less than a tenth of a second. Everything was constructed from either cast iron or thick steel painted in vile pale yellow, blue and raspberry paint at least five millimetres thick. Enterprising vandals would add their own artwork, usually some kind of swear word, and there would be a thin skim of shattered glass coating the already lethal ground.
Evidence of the older kids that took over residence late at night could be found in the large amounts of cigarette butts and discarded Rizla packets that blew into sad drifts against the base of the lethal equipment that was securely concreted in.
Slides today are relatively short in comparison to those in my youth. Every one was the same – stainless steel with a step-ladder type staircase to ascend to the heavens. They were all the same height, at least ten feet, and had just a pair of thin handles at the top as a ‘safety’ feature.
This didn’t stop mothers sending their snot-nosed little bundles of joy up to the top to wait in line for the scared one at the front to get pushed, screaming in fear, down by the one behind.
I did hear a story that a man fell from the top of one of these slides and suffered such horrific head injuries that he eventually died. Can’t vouch for the validity of the story but I can certainly believe in the probability.
Roundabouts have been updated recently to be wheelchair accessible, they are set at ground level to aid ease of access and have speed limiting devices in them to make sure you can’t spin your children too fast.
Even this little example is safer than those in my youth. The decking is wooden though to give an example of how things used to be. Holes would often rot through this wood, the perfect little ragged trap for a toddler’s foot. Also note the complete lack of safety railings here, the handrails have been perfectly aligned to ease you from the ride with centrifugal force. At full speed, of course.
Then there was the gap underneath. Just large enough to trap an enticing morsel of something any kid might want. A Lego man, 10p or some other incentive for a youngster to insert their arm. Once in this position, the sheer weight of the spinning wheel of death could drag them round in a circle, snap their arms like matchsticks, dislocate shoulders and generally cause some horrible injuries.
I recall once being spun so fast by a couple of older boys I couldn’t hold on – or see straight – any longer and was duly thrown across the iron hard ground, rolling to a stop several feet away from my starting position.
The Witch’s Hat
This demonic contraption was a spin-off from the roundabout. A cone shaped arrangement of metal poles attached to a wooden circle at the base and then suspended from a central pole.
Again this is a more safety-conscious version. Once aboard the ‘Hat’ children could be dislodged with relative ease in a number of fun ways. Spun off by centrifuge, tipped off by unbalancing, the options were numerous.
The Rocking Horse
Best in show here, this deathtrap device was a six or eight foot long ‘horse’ with a cast iron head.Click here for a perfect example of this savage piece of ‘play’ equipment.
As a male of our noble species, I clearly recall the first violent exposure of my testicles to the ice cold iron when my crotch was slammed abruptly forwards by the ‘rocking’ motion of this half ton device.
More arm snapping possibilities could be found in the general vicinity of this playground toy as once a group of about five kids got it going, it was more like a hydraulic bucking bronco in sheer velocity. Anyone stupid enough to try and reach under one of these things invited the possibility of a range of injuries from grazes and broken bones to severed fingers and possible death.
As stated, kids were much more expendable in the eighties.