Written after a visit to an adventure playground with my eldest grandson.
What had been intended as a treat almost came to a sudden end in tears. The abrupt change in direction halfway down wasn't any kind of danger as the slide was constructed like a long silver tube, but it had alarmed both the two-and-a-half-year-old and his grandfather. However, by the time they stood up in the sandpit where they'd landed and Jim had brushed the little boy down, the shock was forgotten.
'Well, we certainly didn't expect that, did we, Tommy?' But the little boy had already started running to the next attraction.
Coming to the adventure playground had been a good idea after all. Christine, as Jim's second wife only an honorary 'Grandma', had advised him to go later in the afternoon, when children from the nearby kindergarten and primary school would also be there. But somehow, what with the fine weather and the lack of toys for Tommy – after thirty years one tends to forget what small children need – the three-roomed apartment seemed to be getting smaller every minute. It was almost a half hour's walk to the playground and Tommy had had enough after five minutes and demanded to be pushed in the stroller. Twenty minutes later he was showing distinct signs of nodding off, but as soon as the playground came in sight he jumped out to run the last thirty yards.
The adventure playground really lived up to its name. There were several climbing frames, each with a varying number of levels and some covering remarkably large areas of the sandy soil. Steps and rope ladders connected the levels, and in the case of the central frame it didn't seem an exaggeration to talk about a multi-storey clamberer's paradise, with the steel roof of the integral slide crowning the whole structure and gleaming in the sun like the beacon of a lighthouse. Possibly because of the almost total lack of other children – or mothers or grandparents sitting on the benches on the perimeter – Jim found it rather surrealistic and could imagine that in cloudy weather the playground would seem even menacing. But now the sun was shining and the lack of playmates didn't seem to bother Tommy. He was an active child and Jim was much in demand to help him climb the steeper steps and to jump over various parts of the brook running through the whole area. It was a warm June day and their T-shirts were soon sticking to their skin.
After a while Jim mentioned the magic words 'apple juice' and they went back to the bench where he'd left the rucksack with all the things he might need on grandfathering duty – drinking bottle, first-aid kit, some fresh fruit and a sun hat. After the first swig from the bottle Tommy looked up with a big smile to say, 'nice playground'. This sounded so much like an official rating Jim had to chuckle. Tommy found this highly amusing and managed to copy the way Jim chuckled quite well. Perhaps it was this or just the effect of relaxing on the bench but, whatever it was, Jim suddenly saw Peter, his son and Tommy's father, at about the same age. But the scene he recalled was much less serene than today's.
It had started off badly. It was a Saturday afternoon Jim wanted desperately to finish an important report by Monday morning, and as visitors were expected for most of the day Sunday, every hour counted. Jean, his wife, was not in an understanding mood.