Tue. May 28th, 2024
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Playgrounds have evolved, no longer are children at risk of being maimed which, as a parent I wholeheartedly approve of. There is a small part of me that longs for my children to get to experience what I did. Of course I then remember the injuries we all sustained and am thankful for the new experiences.

Modern Playgrounds are super safe
Foam everywhere and no where to garrote yourself. A marvel!

In episode 31 of the Variety Show podcast, I explained to Rob how I hurt my back on a swing. The playground was pretty old and each swing had a single chain on each side. This meant that if you lost your balance, you were off. Imagine losing your balance and scraping your back across concrete… I can still feel the searing pain of hot water washing my back in our bath.

Today, I’m going to focus on playgrounds of past and the death traps we loved.

Important Note – Not all Playgrounds are equal

The vast majority of playgrounds now have AstroTurf or some form of foam as padding. We were lucky if we got bark chips and more often than not, had concrete. Therefore, almost all the playground equipment we see today will get an immediate +2 damage.

Spider Climbing Frame

Damage Rating: 6/10

PLaygrounds miss this Spider
I believe the Spider may be controlling this man.

Why would I rate this 6 out of 10 for damage I hear you ask? Well, where do I begin. Although this spider looks friendly, he is a solid metal beast looking at taking your teeth, brain matter and shoulders. Anti-slip paint? Don’t be daft.

Our spider was found in the confines of Killigrew Infant school. Unquestionably, a concrete floor was a bad idea but this was the 80s and no one cared. So, how did he injure kids?

Firstly, we were an infant school so think ‘tiny people’ running full throttle with little control. Now imagine them trying to run under him without ducking fully. Yup, face first into solid metal hurts and I’m sure plenty of kids lost teeth and braincells this way.

Secondly, he was slippery as hell. I can still to this day feel the cold metal underhand but wearing ‘magic’ gloves was a big no no. The paint wasn’t anti-slip so your hand would slide all about in gloves. Then comes the days when it was damp – nothing was stopping you slipping off on to concrete.

Finally we have the ‘climbing’ portion of this beast. Not long enough to make good Monkey Bars, you instead climbed and walked across the bars. Of course, with them being slippery and lacking good co-ordination led to many kids falling between the bars. Can you imagine the pain of landing on those metal bars with your armpits?

I understand why many parents wouldn’t let their kids play on it when they were about.

Death Swings

Damage Rating: 7/10

Playgrounds are better off without death swings
Yep, that’s a single chain on each side making balance highly important.

The thing about swings in playgrounds is that they are inherently dangerous. Walk in front of one and you get kicked, jump off one and break your legs and in my case, fall backwards and lose the skin off your back. They are dangerous and this is why they get an 8/10 rating.

Kids love danger and, like our ancestors, yearn to fly. What better way to soar in the air than to get your swing up to maximum height and jump? We all did it, some more successfully than others but we definitely all did it. The sensation of air flowing through our hair as we arced through the sky was glorious. Landing however, wasn’t always such fun. There were two ‘safe’ ways to land a jump from a swing. The first would see you continuing moving in the same direction with a stumble / run – applause was guaranteed. If you didn’t fancy the run you could always forward / commando roll and style it out as an action film.

Messing up though was indeed ‘messy’. Landing with your legs straight would send a jolt up your spine leaving you sore and weeping “didn’t hurt, honest”. It also led to plenty of kids squatting on landing, kneeing themselves in their mouths and taking out teeth. Trip to the dentist anyone?

Of course, then you had the swings like above which only had a single chain each side. Balance was key or you’d be off it on your first swing and this ladies and gentlemen, is my story. To repeat, we had no padding just concrete – remember this.

My Story

We’d just had a successful summer visit to Burston Rose and Garden Centre (I’d later work there) and were walking home. The walk always took us past a small playground with slide, swings and I think roundabout. Mum happily let me in to play and I head straight for the swings. One swing, two swings, tragedy. I went backwards and dragged my back along the concrete, taking the skin off bottom to top.

A very sorrowful walk home and agonising bath later and I was put off using that playground. One day I’ll fill you in on Greg in Junior school tripping me up and sliding across the concrete on my face..

The Tooth Chipper 5000 aka Ride on Horse

Damage Rating: 4/10

Playgrounds horse
Ride him at your own risk

Riding a horse can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. This translated perfectly to the creation of the ‘sausage horse’ or ‘Tooth Chipper 5000’. It might look boring but once you and your friends got up to speed rocking back and forth, the sensation was rather pleasant. Many playgrounds across the UK had these and it’s sad to see so many have disappeared.

Possibly the lowest damage rating from this piece of equipment as typically, it was just your teeth that suffered. Sitting at the front of the horse was fun, you controlled the rest of the team however, one slip and your teeth hit that heavy metal horses head. It’s also worth noting that if you were crap at timing, there was the good change you lost your teeth to the back of the persons head in front of you.

The Neck Breaker Slide

Damage Rating: 9/10.

It was a hard choice to make this an 9/10, especially when I can’t find an adequate picture of what a lot of parks had here in the UK. With heights often double that of the children playing on them, these slides were brightly coloured, had low walls and no bannisters. Climbing the steep ladder felt a challenge and certainly wasn’t for those with poor balance. My first Ambulance training taught us that any fall above double the height of the person was traumatic. I’m amazed that these slides didn’t cause more broken necks from children falling off the top of the ladder.

Obviously, being dead or paralysed means that the Neck Breaker deserves the score it awarded.

Of course, there was one other injury these slides could dish out. Imagine the baking hot sun, you’ve had your Mr Freeze Pop from Ramish the Newsagent (big up Chiswell Green) and head to the park. You’re wearing your coolest shorts and as it’s the 80s / early 90s, they are particularly small. You climb up the ladder and sit your thighs and calves on to the shiny metal and immediately feel fire. For once it’s not the makers fault, modern slides have this issue to and it seriously hurts.

The Space Thing

Damage Rating: 5/10

Preparation for the moon? No, just hurting yourself.

I can only assume this design was based on the retrieval capsule used in space travel. If your playgrounds had this installed then I guarantee you pretended you were an astronaut at least once. Designed for you to climb up from the bottom, sit in an angled seat before struggling to free yourself, it was a cool bit of equipment.

This with good climbing skills could get in and out quickly without falling headfirst out of ‘nose’. Not good at climbing? Perhaps you should have avoided this one. Like our spider friend from the beginning, this was made out of pipe metal and anti-slip was not a thing. One poor positioning of your foot and down you would go. Mouth open? Say goodbye to those teeth. Fallen through a hole? Expect to feel that pole smash against your throat or worse, under your chin.

I’m sure with a bit of research I could have found a better image (thanks Andy for this one). It does open up questions that I never thought I’d ask. I grew up climbing in from the bottom when it appears, we were meant to go up the ladder and then down. The more you know!


Danger Rating: 7/10

Oh wait, that’s the style of slide but with added railings behind this spinning nightmare.

I have NEVER been able to stomach roundabouts, no matter the playgrounds chosen variant. They turn my stomach immediately and leave me feeling disorientated for ages. It doesn’t stop them being one the most popular items in a park.

Without copying and pasting text from above, one of the biggest risks on these was losing your teeth. Heavy metal bars, kids daring each other not to hold on and that little shit who won’t stop spinning it. Suffice it to say, dentists had Ferraris and Lambos for a reason.

Just like the swings, another common childhood challenge was to throw yourself off the roundabout and not fall over. More praise was given for the longer you had been spun and boos shouted out if you came off straight away. The thing is, kids don’t know physics. They’re also idiots but we can cover that another time. Throwing yourself off a spinning roundabout when dizzy is bound to lead to trouble and I can only imagine the numbers of broken legs, concussions etc it caused.

Imagine the pain of having your shin scraped by the roundabout as it spins. That horrible, warped metal that probably has tetanus. Yup, that happened a lot of damn did it hurt.

What do you remember from your playgrounds

Feel free to fill me in on what you remember from your playgrounds of past. Mine was Greenwood Park in Chiswell Green and honestly, it feels a little sad and empty compared to when I was small. Only one things remains in that park that is original to me and even that is now scheduled for replacement. The last big slide that runs down the hill is off to the scrapper.

For more Nostalgia, just click me.

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Having tried everything from YouTube to Blog writing, TJ eventually settled with making podcasts with his longtime friend Rob. if you find something nostalgic from the 80s or 90s then TJ will probably be interested. Star Trek is a huge passion of his along with most things Science Fiction. Finally, he is a devoted Husband and, Dad to two kids who make his mad world complete.

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