Playgrounds are dangerous places I should know, having lost teeth playing silly buggers on the slide at Bar Hill Rec. the whole place was a death trap. These days, it’s all safe play, loads of wood chipping and rubber matting to fall onto, and not a single sharp edge or masses of exposed mechanics to rip off innocent fingers. More’s the pity. Kids need to be exposed to bone-crushing danger, I say. It made me the social misfit I am today. Back then, if you were going to fall off the twenty foot monstrosity of a climbing frame of tubular steel and exposed bolts, you would land on concrete or tarmac. And like it.
Hideous accidents were legion in our park. In fact, there was an ambulance bay by the main gate and a permanent supply of bags of frozen peas to keep severed fingers fresh. The swings were made out of the hardest substances known to man, and could decapitate anyone foolhardy enough to walk past. The concrete tunnels housed wild creatures and broken glass, while you got exactly what you deserved riding a piece of torture equipment called the Witches Hat, while the whole thing was surrounded by a hawthorn hedge. If the swings didn’t get you, the thorns would rip you to shreds.
Parents didn’t give a monkey’s either. If you didn’t come home from the park, they knew to drive to Casualty where they’d pick you up after having your bits sewn back on. The human body can take a lot punishment. You could do yourself a lot of damage yet still walk away, often with crucial body parts in a shopping bag.
Now, we’d done plenty of stupid stuff before, usually ending in pain, explosions, or pain and explosions. Today, having seen some crap-fest on television, we were – as usual – The World’s Greatest Stuntmen, and we were going to do the World’s Greatest Stunts. At the park. On our bikes. And a skateboard.
Doomed then, before we even started.
We started off with the easy stuff. We set up a small ramp with a bit of wood which had once hidden rather important and life-threatening rotating machinery on some of the more fiendish equipment. We jumped over on the skateboard. We jumped over one of the bikes. Then we jumped over Dave, taking great care not to cause him any physical harm. Well, as little as we could get away with, because we secretly wanted to know what his insides looked like.
But we wanted speed, we wanted thrills. We wanted stolen cigarettes and hardcore pornography. But at the age of thirteen neither was forthcoming. So we settled for mind-bending death-defying skills instead, which basically involved jumping over hawthorn hedges on your mum’s Raleigh Shopper.
Try as we might, there was just no way we could get up enough speed for the jump. Dave had already chickened out at the last moment and come within a whisker of severe mutilation. We needed speed. And there was only one way we were going to get it.
It was my idea, I am forced to admit. Carry your bike to the top of the slide – a thirty foot high behemoth of cast iron and a sheer drop that rivalled Beachy Head as one of the country’s most notorious black-spots for gravity-induced death – and zip down as fast as you dare.
I lugged the bike to the very top, and in fear of my life, mounted up. I was scared shitless, I don’t mind saying, the only thing I could see below being cold, hard tarmac. I chickened out. I let the bike go, and it careered down the slide on it’s own, catching Dave squarely up the arse with one of the handlebars.
I followed it down at a more sedate pace to the jeers of my mates. Fate! Why do you mock me at every turn?
“out of the way you great poof” said Herbie, “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
He grabbed his bright green skateboard and hoofed it to the top of the slide, while we readied the ramp for his do-or-die stunt attempt.
He was as scared as I was, but was determined not to chicken out. With a whimper, he jumped onto the board, and shot off down the slide like Eddie the Eagle’s less talented and rather more mental brother.
With a thooosh he shot off the end of the slide and landed, with Tony Hawk-like agility, on the board and careered his way towards the ramp and certain glory.
“Go for it Herbie!”, “Ride that board!” we yelled after him as his moment of triumph approached. Only cruel, cruel fate could let him down now. Or, forgetting the crucial detail that the ramp was made of wood an inch thick, obviously.
Herbie hit the ramp.
The skateboard stopped.
Herbie didn’t. He flew.
It was majestic. It was beautiful. It was sweary.
And oh! He nearly made it.
The hedge claimed him. Wood, leaves, branches and thorns, thorns, thorns swallowed his thrashing body.
There were screams of pain. There was blood. There was a fear-wracked teen in his death-throes, clutching his groin which had come into contact with something solid. There was only one thing for it.
Half an hour later, a blood-drenched wraith dressed in rags appeared at my front door on all fours.
“You… you…you… GIT!”
“Err… you all right mate?”
“Me fookin’ skateboard’s bust!”
He held up his skateboard. A piece of green plastic and a couple of wheels.
“And me bollocks are killing me.”
“Take a look at them, will ya?”
“Oh no, I don’t do other fellas’ testicles. I’m no bumgay, y’know. Lie to your dad. Say it was bigger kids.”
The catch-all excuse of ‘bigger kids’ did it. He told his dad. Dad didn’t believe him.