For those of you who don’t know why our website is called Sitting On The Swings, myself and Mr Taylor were among a number of children who grew up on the Bricknell Avenue estate in Hull, and on the periphery of that estate is a small playground and playing field known unofficially as County Road Park. It would be the social hub of our pre-pubescent years and Martyn and I grew so attached to the place that at the end of our last year of high school and the summer of exams and decisions, we would drag ourselves there practically every day in the early afternoon and literally sit on the swings for hours, drinking Sunny Delight and talking about the previous night’s fare on the Paramount Channel, which we’d stayed up until four a.m. to watch. We did this because a) we were hopeless with women, b) we had absolutely no money and c) we had nowhere else to go. When I started this site up a few weeks ago I thought it would be a nice idea to use an actual photo of the swings themselves as the backdrop so I wandered down there one afternoon when I was off work during the week, camera phone in pocket, to take my pictures. I live quite a way from there these days and have no reason to pass the place in my usual routines and so I hadn’t seen it for quite some time. When I got there something seemed so wrong about the place. It was still recognizable from as I remembered it, but everything had been ever so slightly tweaked somehow. An iconic image from my childhood had been interfered with and it was disturbing, sterile and rather sinister, as if the Mona Lisa had been photoshopped.
I looked round trying to work out what changes had taken place, then decided that I ought to leave ( It was half two in the afternoon, I was wearing a long black coat and waving a camera around in a children’s playground; I probably didn’t look too savoury.) When I looked through the photos on my laptop upon returning home, I realised what it was: everything looked so much safer. Where once the surface under the swings had been merely concrete, now there was slabs of that horrible rubber tarmac stuff that gets ridiculously hot in the summer. Opposite the swings, if I remember correctly, there had once upon a time been a slide, which, even taking into account how the memory distorts these things, must have been a good seven or eight feet tall. This had gone, replaced by a small, chunky climbing frame type thing that stood no more than five feet off the ground at its highest point. A few weeks later, I was taking my daughter to see my mother so I took the long way round and once again walked through County Road Park. Looking around with scrutiny this time, I deduced that it was almost impossible for a child, or anyone for that matter, to hurt themselves in this place. And thinking deeper, I realised this was because if someone did get hurt here, the council would get sued, the newspapers would be involved, and Cherry Healey would have recorded a BBC Three documentary about it within days. Without wishing to sound like my father, it was so different in my day…
I first started going to County Road Park when I was about eight, nearly nine years old. The summer of 1990. The summer of Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, Spatz, The London Boys and Salvatore Schillaci. Barmy, balmy evenings. We would be allowed to go to the park minus parents. No-one was worried about paedophiles back then, as they were all working for the BBC. The whole aim of going on the swings was “trying to get level” which essentially meant you would build up so much momentum that the chains of the swing would be horizontal, parallel to the ground. It was dangerous and that was the thrill. We knew that if we fell off we would hit the concrete and break a leg, so we didn’t fall off. If we had have fallen off, our parents would have blamed us, told us off and hugged us while we tried not to cry. They wouldn’t have even dreamed of suing the council. Kids aren’t allowed to make mistakes anymore. They are not allowed to get hurt, they are not allowed to get mud on their knees, they are not allowed to learn common sense. If you got hurt, you would realise how you did it, and you wouldn’t do it again. For example, when I was nine years old, my best friend was a lad called Hiu Lam. One day he was running towards our classroom, which was a portakabin situated on a raised platform, accessed by a few large, flat concrete steps. He tripped up, fell onto the steps and scraped his face from forehead to chin. He had huge graze marks right across his features for about three weeks afterwards. Did his parents attempt to sue the school? No, of course they didn’t, they accepted that their son had had an accident at school, as so many kids do, and put some Savlon on his face. Hiu Lam himself would have learned not to run up the steps again. Today, if that had happened, some new-age interfering dick would have run to the local paper and started an online petition to have the entire school knocked down and rebuilt completely out of cotton wool and foam rubber. And probably would have succeeded.
Next to the park, there was the abandoned shell of a social club. We as kids disagreed whether it had been called Golden Quay or Rosie O’Grady’s (it had in fact been called both.) We played there regularly, and to be fair, in hindsight, it probably was quite a dangerous place. Certain areas of it were in total darkness, it stank, and it was always in danger of collapsing. We never told our parents that we played there, as we knew that we weren’t supposed to. One day, I was there in the middle of the afternoon with one of my friends; I can’t remember who but I think it may have been Stevie B, and in the centre of the open space which I now realise had probably been the dancefloor at one time, me and Stevie noticed some discarded hypodermic syringes. It was a terrifying sight for a couple of ten-year-old kids. We didn’t know why we were so shocked, we just knew that we didn’t like it. I remember it like it was yesterday; we didn’t speak, we just looked at each other and walked out into the daylight. We knew, we knew, that we couldn’t go back in there anymore. It was off limits. Kids are not stupid.
Allen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx