Our Local Park Used To Be Full Of Children, Now It's Almost Always Deserted...
It's a beautiful late July afternoon and I'm sitting on a bench in a small adventure playground at our local park, as my son plays with one of his friends on the swings.
"The Park" as we've always known it, comprises of two football pitches end to end and a large grassy area, cut in half by a path with the adventure playground in the middle. The Park has gone through some changes since I started coming here twenty years ago. Gone are the huge swings, the 30ft slide, the wooden roundabout and the spinning steel spider's web that we used to get up to speed and zoom around on our skateboards. Everything is very safe, with bark chippings replacing the hard concrete that we used to graze our elbows and knees on so often.
Something else is missing. The kids. Maybe its rose tinted spectacles, but I remember coming down here during the summer holidays and there would be hundreds of kids playing football, tag, or on the swings and slides. You had to get there early if you wanted to nab a good pitch for a game of knock-out wembley or full pitch two-a-side, but now the place is almost deserted. I can see a handful of Goth-like teenagers smoking over by the changing rooms, and the noise of kids playing in the play-scheme at the local school. A few dog walkers are pacing the perimeter, but we've really got the place to ourselves. Where have all the kids gone?
Maybe it's our modern lifestyles. I'm only here because I'm off work for a week, but normally my wife and I are both at work and I'm sure lots of other working parents are in the same position. Grandma who looks after our son normally is getting on a bit, so she can't always walk down to let him play here.
Maybe everyone has gone abroad, enjoying the golden beeches of Spain and Greece , and the kids are sunning themselves there. Perhaps computer and console games are to blame, with hundreds of kids entombed in darkened bedrooms taking on Mario's latest quest or Lara's next big adventure.
I tell you what, and I'm not being funny here, of the few kids that have come to the park, or are just passing through, so many look overweight and unfit. Their parents do too, even though some are making an effort and puffing and panting away on new mountain bikes. Of those Goth teenagers I mentioned earlier half of those are on the chunky side, so I guess we may have a problem with our kids.
So where are my musings leading? I'm not sure. I know the birth rate in the UK has dropped alarmingly in the last few years (apart from immigrants bringing it back up recently), but it doesn't bode well for the future. Maybe I'm just being a grumpy old man, but I'm missing the sheer energy (and noise!) that used to come from this "Park" and how we used to learn how to get along in big groups, cooperate together without grown-ups to organise games, and run around until tea time, when we'd rush home, re-fuel then dash back to play until it got dark. Were those better times? I'll let you decide.
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