SMOKE: Why I Hated Playgrounds

Originally published: 19 January 2005

I was out walking That Bloody Dog the other night and she managed to convince me to take a detour from our usual route.

I'm rather reactionary when it comes to such matters - I like to know my route and stick to it - but she promised to spend one entire evening without growling at Monkey Boy next door.

Naturally I leapt at the opportunity and instead of turning down our road we continued across and to the next one before hanging a left.

The first thing the dog did was ease out a fat one onto this new, virgin sidewalk. Pretending I hadn't seen her I hurried on in case anyone was watching.

Halfway down the road we passed an old playground, but instead of flooding me with memories of happier times I felt a chill go through me. It was a gloomy evening, the southeaster was blowing and the field was knee-high in old, yellow grass that was haggard and tired from years of being bullied by the wind.

The swings and roundabout were old and broken with peeling, faded paint, and a rusty wire fence - sagging in places and broken in others - framed the whole depressing tableau.

The dog and I stood for a few moments as the wind whistled about our ears, engaged in a tussle - she was straining to go in and I was straining to keep her out, and after a minute or two of this meaningless squabble I settled it by explaining that if she didn't come with me I'd pop her over the fence of No. 17 and let her get better acquainted with the presiding Rottweiler. The one with froth and stuff on his jowls. Yes, my small friend - that one.

With a wistful glance back at that wonderfully unexplored territory she came with me, and we hurried home deep in our own thoughts.

When we got home I took her lead off and she sat expectantly in front of me as if demanding answers, and I realised that at some stage of your life you have to stop regarding your children as kids and just speak openly and honestly to them.

So I settled her next to me on the armchair and told her why I didn't like that playground. My tale went something like this.

I never went to playgrounds as a kid by choice. I only ever went to them when other kids I was with were going to them. In those situations there was nothing I could do.

It's one of the great benefits of not being a kid anymore - when my friends go to playgrounds these days I don't have to go with them anymore. I can just hop in my car and drive home without getting involved with Jesus Chavez and his band of smacked-to-the-gills underlings.

[At this point of the story That Bloody Dog looked up - head tilted to one side - and asked what an underling was and whether she could have one for supper. I told her to shut up and listen, so she layed her head on my knee again, slightly wounded, and we continued.]

The thing with playgrounds is this: all they are are places where bigger or more popular children get to try and kill less popular, smaller children, on parental-approved devices of torture.

Example: let's say you decided the safest route was a swing - one of those bucket-like ones made from truck tyres. You'd hop in and sway gently for a while, lost in your thoughts, when some Pig would spot you and come haring over to push.

No kid pushes another kid because they want them to have a fun experience - they push them to see how terrified they can make them. The first prize is to get the swing to do a full 360°, although few ever managed that.

You could scream all the blue murder you wanted - the only way to stop the terror would be when the kid below got tired.

I hated swings, man. I really did.

But they weren't much better than the see-saw - no matter which kid you found to go on the see-saw with you, their only aim would be to see if they could either: a) dislodge you by slamming into the ground as hard as possible, or b) lift you up high, climb off still holding their seat down and then let go, causing you to plummet to Earth with a pelvis-shattering crash.

Or what about roundabouts? On you'd hop and some ponce would decide to see how fast they could spin you, and often teams of them would operate at once.

The centrifugal force applied by a roundabout going at high pace is extreme and it was all I could ever to to hold on and not slide off the edge or lose my grip.

First prize for the tormentors was if you did lose your grip and went cartwheeling 50 metres through the dust and Highveld thorns. That represented a good day's work.

I went to a couple of playgrounds that had sandpits - forget about it. The moment you get in some kid will take it as his lifetime destiny to cover you with as much sand in as short a space of time as possible, and with all that sand comes weevils and dust mites and other nasties that make you itch for days.

And slides. You'd think you'd be on safe territory there - no such luck. There was always some kid trying to push me down it or climb up it while I was going down or following me the moment I began my descent - it was never a comfortable experience.

Since I was only ever in playgrounds in summer I always had shorts on and would invariably get stuck halfway down the slide as my legs stuck to the metal surface. Then I'd have to crab my way down and kinda climb off when at an acceptable height to do so and the whole thing was just appalling.

Finally - the jungle gym. The only time in my life I ever went up one was a disaster - as I reached the top a gang of thugs below decided to play a playground version of Lord Of The Flies, with me as the piggie at the top.

The aim of the game was to knock the piggie off its perch, which involved them following me up and trying to pull me down by my legs.

I bounced and clattered my way down and never went up again.

I honestly can't remember one single enjoyable time spent in a playground.

I finished my story by telling That Bloody Dog that I didn't want her sniffing around disused playgrounds and digging up bad memories. She told me she understood, licked her chops and said that now that we were done would it be possible to have one of those fine underlings I promised a while back?

Always distorts the truth, that dog.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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