When I was a kid In the sixties and early seventies I used to love going to the local park.
This activity in my home town of Preston was known universally as 'going downt park'. Our nearest one was Ashton park not too far from where I lived. Spitting distance my old dad would have said.
The transport of choice for my mates and me was pushbike power. Leaping onto our choppers we would head out down Powis road, fend off derisory heckles like 'get off and milk it' and 'don't strain yourself harry!', turn right at Pedders lane and bobs your uncle. A vast verdant field of fun spread out in front of us like a play mat.
At the start were a cluster of small hillocks covered in trees and being on bikes we were drawn to them like ducks to water. Up and over we went along well-worn tracks, legs akimbo on the down-slopes yelling all the way. Anyone getting in the way was quickly forewarned with a deft peel of bell ringing and klaxons. The plastic tassels dangling from our handlebars danced in the wind like viking hair. We were kings on those hills.
Suitably knackered from riding bikes, the gaggle of lads would push them up the grass to the water fountain, where we would quench our raging thirsts on corporation pop as if we were lions panting on the Serengeti. Sated we would cycle past the tennis courts to the swings, were we'd park our choppers on their cool sprung stands or simply let them fall on their sides.
The swings weren't just swings. There was a slide, a climbing frame and a roundabout. We called the whole lot the swings. The actual swings themselves were a huge A-shaped metal frame holding at least four seats on long chains. The seats were either simple wooden planks, cold metal upturned trays or complex wooden kiddy chairs with lift-up bars.
There were two sets of these swings I think inserted straight into the grass, which had always worn away in the middle. None of your namby pamby safety surfacing back then. If you fell off you would bleed to death in front of your mates.
Using a swing was, like any skill, a learning curve. In the case of a swing it literally was a curve that you had to learn how to master without falling flat on your face.
Once seated, in order to gather momentum, you had to initially push yourself back, then lift and stretch your legs out in front, whilst the swing arced forward and only at the zenith should you bend your legs in and fly backwards.
Pendulumming thus you'd eventually reach velocities only achieved by test pilots. It had been known for a top swinger to break the sound barrier and produce a sonic boom!
With such extreme forces at work one of three things could happen 1. The entire frame fell over 2. You flew over the top bar like Olga Korbut and met the grim reaper on the other side or 3. You had to jump off.
Jumping off a swing moving at speed is rather like leaping off an intercity bound for Chorley. Hair- raising is not the word but like all tribal rituals around the globe it had to be done if you were to remain inside the gang. Letting go at the highest point was a rite of passage and to seal your mates' unquestioning acceptance you had to land on both feet on the grass about twenty feet away like Rudolph Nureyev.
It mustn't be forgotten that all of this testosterone- fueled skydiving was often in front of posse of girls, all taking notes on the smoothest release, the highest leap and the most crane-like landing in order to grade the 'talent'. Showing off with cocky somersaults in mid air in some vain attempt to boost your scores was a recipe for disaster and a sobering lesson in the laws of gravity.
But it was all good, clean fun!
Sadly, as we got older, the swinging stopped and we headed straight for the femmes, but ..... for those glorious few years when we were still innocent enough the park was were we stretched our wings, tasted flight and discovered who we really were.
Did you go down to the park or the rec readers?