Location: Costa, Teeside Retail Park.
- More people drinking Hot Chocolate than there are people drinking coffee.
- Toddler with a bald patch using his wrist-restraint-rope to have a tug of war with his mum. Mum losing.
- Businessman showing off by drinking a large coffee in a two-handled mug using only one hand.
- Two twin teenage boys wearing different clothes but with identical haircuts.
There’s a playground outside – suitable for ages 12 and under. That’s incredibly unfair, I’m much more able to tackle the monkey bars now than I was when I was young/old enough to play on them. I could never do monkey bars – it felt like my sternum was splitting in two, my arms the two wishbone prongs and the little chicken-sharkfin at the top my lovely breastbone, ready to crack under the weight of my ribby abdomen and gangly, flailing limbs.
Growing up, I recall various playgrounds, with various playground surfaces – the one at primary school with a rich, rotting humus of bark chippings; the one at Center Parcs Sherwood with red rubber tarmac that cut down on split skulls but increased the frequency of friction burns five-fold; the one at the village hall with lush grass and an occasional sprinkling of sheep shit.
It’s rare to find a play area now that has a knee-tearing, razor sharp covering of gritty asphalt, which I imagine was all the rage ‘back in the day’, when men were men, women were subordinated and children were screaming animals that played football in the road, chased rag and bone carts and were regularly abducted. Coming home from a hard day’s play with bleeding shins and half a nose, the septum scraped off on a pebble-dashed wall, was a rite of passage, an everyweek occurrence that shaped generations past, and their aesthetically dubious monostrils.
Total Wipeout : Extreme Playground would be a welcome shot in the arm to a tired format. Children (12 and under) dashing through a nail nettle-strewn course in bare feet, tumbling down greased slides, navigating crawl-tunnels of ever decreasing headroom, funnelled out into the final obstacle – a barbed-wire abseil down a 40-foot wall with a 30-foot rope. Obviously we’d hold it in Argentina, to circumvent health and safety, and let the local Argentinian children watch, but never play. They can go back to their slums of corrugated metal, tiptoeing through streets littered with glass and shit, rusty nails tearing at their skin, gouging out flesh and grinding in TB, before collapsing into a bed of tattered hand-me-down rags that their brother used to wear before he was introduced to the second dimension by the child-hungry wheel of a bus.
Those kids on the play area outside – they’ve got it cushy.
Me, inside, with my ice latté – originally a hot latté, but I am sat by an inexplicably open door – I’m in pain. I want to be out there, playing. So what if I’m far too big for the swings? I could get way higher than them, probably even over the top like I always tried, and always failed, blissfully unaware of the laws of physics and the damage such an achievement would have caused.
At Sherwood Center Parcs, I tried riding my bike on gravel, and quickly discovered how the patella is sort of a ‘stone magnet’, with the tiny bits of rock nestling nicely in my kneeflesh, bedding down, and leaving a small, irregular patch of pale scar tissue when they’d been evicted from my sheltered housing, my skin looking as if it had been shot from close range with a miniature shotgun/blunderbuss hybrid.
Everyone’s got scars on their knees – that’s why psychics often mention it when cold reading – and they show that we did stuff, got it wrong, but it fixed itself. That’s not true of everything, there’s plenty of things that are way beyond fucked, but your knees tend to mend. Although, if they don’t, I recommend titanium. And get the surgeons to put them in back to front so you can walk like a duck. Ducks are cool.