When I was a child, I always thought it was a strange thing to say. But that was because at that age I was getting the saying wrong. I was sure they were saying ‘swings on roundabouts.’ Which sounded dangerous to me. Having to get across the road to the centre of the roundabout to be able to play on the swings. Surely there were better places for them. I used to look out every time we went past or around one. I never saw a single one with a swing in the middle.
Of course, I know why now, but I didn’t then. I wasted no end of time looking for something that wasn’t there. I never asked my parents or my brother about it. I didn’t ask them where were the roundabouts with swings on them. And now I am glad that I didn’t. I would never have heard the end of it. The glee they would have had in teasing me. I can hear the mocking voices in my head. I can here them saying “Ooh, has this roundabout got a swing on it?” and then their laughter.
At. Every. Single. Roundabout. Ever!
They would all still be doing it now if they were still here. And if I had ever said it as well.
But I get ahead of myself. I thought that swings on roundabouts would have been dangerous. But during my childhood I found the swings were plenty dangerous enough for me where they were. They were OK when I was small, and I sat in the little cage with my mum or dad pushing me. It was all nice and gentle and fun. But then I became too big to use the little swings with the age. I moved onto the big boy swings. There was no longer someone to push me. I had to try and build up my own momentum. And I was rubbish at it.
Back then the swings were two metal chains with a thin, almost smooth, piece of coloured plastic between them. Every single one of them had Wicksteed Park in raised letters upon them. I did go to Wicksteed Park once in my teens, but that is a story for another time. I always wondered just how many swings it must have to have passed on all their older seats to every park in Leicestershire.
No matter how I tried I couldn’t get the motion to get high enough. Sat down I would find myself sliding off the plastic seat. Standing up was just asking for trouble. I lost count of the number of times I fell off onto the hard, rough concrete and remnants of broken bottles left by the bigger kids who used the parks at night.
It wasn’t until they started replacing the Wicksteed Park seats with big thick black tyres that I started to be able to swing like the other kids. The deeper surface and better surface friction meant I could get them up to the point of being horizontal. And once there it meant being able to jump off and land on the grass beyond the concrete base. The scraped elbows and knees subsided. To be replaced by twisted ankles and jarred knees from terrible landings.
If the swings were dangerous to me as a child, then the roundabouts were worse. They had many different ways of getting injured.
There was the simple one of just flying off the side when it got too fast to hang on when it was being spun faster and faster by the bigger boys. And woe betide you if you flew off into one of those boys. That would get you a kicking as well.
If you did manage to hold on, then getting off once it had come to a halt could be fun. The roundabout may have stopped spinning, but my head wouldn’t have done, it would still be going around like crazy. I would weave about more than I ever did when I was older and drunk. And then the inevitable would happen. My balance would go, and I would hit the deck. And then lie on the ground with the clouds in the sky above me twirling away. I would close my eyes and lie there until I felt it had passed. If it was a good day then I wouldn’t be sick. I would get up and do it all again.
Then there were the angled roundabouts. I would climb on, gingerly get to a standing position and start walking. As I did the roundabout would start moving, and the more I walked the quicker it got, and then I would be jogging, and it would become faster still, and the next thing I knew I would be sprinting. The trick was to be able to leap off whilst at speed. Which I managed to do every time until I didn’t. my last effort saw me trip and land face first on the spinning hard wooden top, at which point I blacked out, and so missed the part where I was flung off and flew through the air to land twenty feet away in a crumpled heap. I smashed my cheek bone, broke my nose, lost two teeth and took months to recover. I never went on a roundabout again.
And of course, the saying isn’t true anyway. It is never only all swings and roundabouts.
There would be the climbing frame. Solid steel bars at all kinds of ridiculous angles, and if you were lucky, built into the shape of something recognisable. My local park had a helicopter.
Then there was the rocking horse. Five seats of doom. More little plastic Wicksteed Park numbers on a big old steel elongated horse with a solid shaped head. Which some poor unfortunate sod had to push, and if you weren’t on and weren’t paying attention the solid head would slam into you if you got too close.
And no self-respecting play area would be complete without the long metal slide. Hotter than the surface of the sun in the summer and colder than ice in the winter. And I’d try and get a flying start from the top to get down it as fast as I could. And then instead of going all the way around to have another go I’d attempt running back up the slippery slope. With varying degrees of success.
You may be wondering why swings and roundabouts are on my mind. Well, it turns out that when it comes to life and death it is all about roundabouts and swinging.
I sit and write this in the living room of the family home. I am alone with my thoughts. Earlier today I attended a triple funeral. My mum, my dad, and my brother were all buried today. In the same plot. I have seen lots of gravestones where it eulogises multiple family members on the same slab of marble, or slate, or granite. But it was the first time I’ve ever been to a funeral where they have stacked multiple coffins in the same deep hole.
My mum and brother died on a roundabout. An articulated lorry couldn’t – or possibly wouldn’t – stop at the line and drove straight into the side of their car. Turning it over and crushing it against one of the trees in the middle of the island. It’s unlikely they knew what actually hit them.
My dad was supposed to have gone with them that day. And if he had he would have been the one who would have been driving. Would the outcome have been different if he had had been? No one can tell. But my dad didn’t take the survivors guilt very well and I came home to find him swinging on the end of a rope in the hall. It was less than twelve hours after the accident.
Twelve hours for me to become an only child and then an orphan. And all that goes through my mind now is “it’s all swings and roundabouts”. And I suppose right now that is true.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my life now. But I do know that one night, in the not too distant future; I am going to go out and build a swing in the middle of that accursed roundabout.