Playgrounds

Having kids is like owning a couple of labradors – you have to take them out or eventually they’ll take a dump on the carpet. You think I’m making that up? Darling Daughter once squeezed one out onto the Axminster, just because she could. Darling Son thought it was the funniest things he’s ever seen and I secretly think he resents me for not giving him a camera phone for Christmas so he could capture it and make two-hundred quick ones on You’ve Been Framed.

So, you have to get the little blighters out or they develop so much pent up energy that they start to turn on each other, like caged wolves. They begin to get toy rage as well and just trash the toys. You build them a nice train track to push their wooden trains around? Trash it. Help build a lego castle and put Playmobil knights in it? Trash it. Build a Hotwheels track over storage boxes? Trash it.

Plus – more importantly – if you tire them out then they’ll sleep (this is more hope than a guarantee) and then you can do all the exciting things that you couldn’t do during the day like tidying, washing and blogging.

Now that we’ve moved to Swizzerland getting them out the house is more complicated than it used to be. Now we have to put them into more layers than a gobstopper; so they wear thermals, jumpers, snowsuits, snowboots, gloves and hats. It can sometimes take me half an hour to get out as it’s also very funny to run about in the buff flinging clothes around like some Woodstock throwbacks on acid.

In the megopolice that is Rolle we have not one…not two…not three…but four – count ’em – playgrounds. The children are giddy with playground glut, but the playgrounds – obviously – vary in quality. Our closest is past it’s heyday (which was in the late ’70’s I think) and it has a post-apocalyptic, rusted-to-dust quality that reminds me of Prypiat or Planet of the Apes.

The second closest is in a bit of a clearing so gets a right hoofing of wind off the lake and the kids get a bit fed up there after a while. On the plus side it does have a beach with a large collection of stones. We like to lob the stones and watch the ducks try to eat them. Yes, it’s true, we’re becoming Swiss.

Next is The Castle Playground which is in the shadows of Rolle Castle. This is a lovely playground with a view of both the castle and the mountains and it has a beach. Because it is so good, it gets pretty busy and at the weekends it is teeming with kids of every nationality;  like the United Nations except they’re more decisive and they have more fun.

The last playground is so far away that the kids normally give up hope half way. Me too. It’s next to a casino, maybe that’s why it’s so grim. I think the swizzers sit in the Casino and bet on which kids will get a head injury on the climbing frame first….

So, what makes a good playground?

  1. Impact Concrete Yeah, I know: ‘when I were a lad, our playgrounds were built on concrete – no, forget that – they were made of concrete. Broken glass was strewn like confetti in a church car park, and there was always one boy or girl who went home in an ambulance and they always had ginger hair…aye, happy days…’ Well, welcome to the future: we can now put impact concrete on the ground so that your children don’t die when they fall off the swings.
  2. Decent Swings It may seem a small ask, but if a playground only has flat swings and not the cage swings (when your child slots his/her legs through) then it’s a total non-starter as Darling Daughter will have an ‘turn’ because she can’t go on the swings. Darling Son hasn’t learnt the full swinging technique, so I have to push him and that riles DD even more. Before you know it I have two screaming kids on my hands and I have to exit the playground Jack Bauer style.
  3. Selection of climbing frames One of our playgrounds has the Jungle Gym equivalent of K2 and you can see children silently mouth: ‘fuck me.’ before they tackle it; they need support teams, gurkhas and emotional readiness training. I am all for challenging my children, but there needs to be a couple of climbing frames at different levels of difficulty.
  4. Something different Councils (and Cantons) seem to just go to the playground supermarket and buy bits of equipment and pray they don’t get anything that’ll kill children. Back in Gloucestershire in one of the playgrounds was a ride called a Rhino (I have tried to google it, but no joy) and it is borderline terrifying. That’s no imagination, that’s desperation. What I mean is: here there is a playground that has a concrete maze. Simple, yet brilliant. Back in the UK, in Westonbirt Arboretum’s playground, were log tunnels and balance beams. Simple but genius.
  5. A Coffee Shop Just what you need, caffeine shots for under fives… It’s not much to ask: now that we’re parents and can’t get drunk at lunchtime anymore or do recreational drugs we need coffee, dammit! I’ll accept instant. Both the imaginative playgrounds above have coffee shops.

If I were to build a playground I would make the whole thing out of neoprene or impact concrete and have a maze with a rice cake machine in the middle that takes and hour to find. Auto swings with LCDs built in showing a rolling selection of Pingu, Bob the Builder and Mr Tumble. A slide with a crash mat at the bottom. Oh, and child size hamster wheels – not sure if it would contravene their human rights, but I reckon it’s worth a punt. Imagine how knackered they’d be!

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6 thoughts on “Playgrounds

  1. Can you remember when UK playgrounds all had an old piece of farm machinery on them to climb on, a big tractor or combine harvester? Or was that just in Devon, where I grew up? And how about swings with in-built films for parents? I’d push them for hours if I could watch the Wire. By the way, did you move to Rolle because it sounded like Rolo? Think I’ve just got chocolate on the brain, having tried to give it up for Lent.

    1. Definitely a West Country thing. In London the kids would’ve hot wired it and used it to ram-raid Argos.

      As ever, I have given up Lent for Lent. It works on so many levels and creates a logical paradox; which is in the spirit of religion generally. Besides, I can’t give up chocolate in Switzerland – that would be insane!

  2. Playgrounds are the best when imaginative selections are combined in a streamlined design that flows both aesthetically and functionally. There are many great playgrounds on the west coast of the US, many from us here at Miracle Playsystems. Some are huge, others are small, but all are stunning in terms of looks and style. We have themes that fit well into any location… that mesh well with any site’s essence. You should check out our blog!

    1. Thanks for the comment but I think calling jungle gyms and slides ‘miracle playsystems’ is over-egging the pudding a touch…that it’s a miracle that a kid can climb on a climbing frame is maybe investing metal, plastic and wood with too much significance.

      I have checked out your blog, though, so the pitch worked!

  3. So many true comments here that made me chuckle! Thanks for sharing. I really agree with the point about a selection of climbing frames. Children learn through play and they need to have an element of risk to overcome – but this means the right level of challenge they can progressively improve on. K2 certainly sounds like a challenge!

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