Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Disintegrated Confusion: Gorgie/Dalry Community Park

Today we visited Gorgie/Dalry Community Park. I have cycled past here a couple of times, and noted it seemed a little desolate, but I never really stopped. This evening I took Lilliputian with me to investigate.
Swirling Round device in Gorgie/Dalry Community Park
Roundabout in Gorgie/Dalry Community Park
We stood around feeling somewhat perplexed. Lilliputian ventured that perhaps if we were children we would understand how to use everything.

 The playpark featured woodchip and five items of equipment, none of them particularly resembling items from other playparks in Edinburgh. The silver roundabout is the most familiar item, with a very simple design. If spinning round is your thing you are also catered for by another piece of apparatus where there is space for three people to spin around with rests for your feet and handles for your hands.

Once you are feeling suitable dizzy you can try and balance on a sort of log thing which spins around when you try to balance on it. Or perhaps you might need to sit down. I thought the orange and blue piece of equipment might be a bench, but the "seat" was too high and slanted to sit on. Can anyone enlighten me?
Balancing device in Gorgie/Dalry Community ParkSeating area in Gorgie/Dalry Community Park?
Swing in Gorgie/Dalry Community ParkDisintegrated swing seat in Gorgie/Dalry Community Park

Lastly there is the swing . There were two seats on either side which seemed connected to each other like some sort of see-saw. This might have been fun once, but the seats seem to have disintegrated.

Next to the playpark was a large empty area, mostly covered by sand. Did there used to be something here? It could be a good sandpit, if it wasn't for the bit of broken glass I spotted.

Empty space in Gorgie/Dalry Community Park
Empty area with a person
A lot of the playparks in Edinburgh seem to be designed along similar lines. At least this one was different. My attempts at googling the history of the playpark have not turned up much but I wonder if it was designed in a less recent decade to some of the other parks we have been visiting.

Overall do I recommend this playpark for adults? Not really. We went for a walk to the Union Canal afterwards. I recommend that.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The man with the countdown is coming for you.

 There was nothing for it.  We grabbed what alcohol there was left, and we took to the woods.

Enduring what little supplies we had, we endured agonising moments, suspended from tree branches, hidden in gorse thickets and climbing through the undergrowth.

Some of us surrendered, beaten back by the terrible heat and the thirst for wine...

Before sundown our supplies were out. 

Wine and Seek: Competitive concealement on an Edinburgh hill-top

On Sunday, we rounded up a gang of fun-loving folk for the inaugural game of Wine and Seek, which is exactly what the name implies: a grown-up version of hide and seek, made better by the addition of alcohol.  The day was surprisingly warm and sunny, which called for a crisp, cool pinot grigio or perhaps a rosé... I foolishly purchased a bottle of rioja ahead of time, which - although a poor pairing with the heat and haziness - was nevertheless quite drinkable.  Wine, is there anything it can't improve?  Ah, but I've strayed from the point, which I think was about a game...

Anyway.  After carefully considering several options, we chose Easter Craiglockhart Hill for our stomping ground.  We needed a place that was big enough, and out-of-the-way enough, to accommodate our mischief without too many onlookers or passers-by.  

view of the Pentlands
After a strong first round (of drinks), we proceeded to our first round of play.  Our initial set of boundaries included most of the top of the hill, and surrounding bushes.  This proved to be convenient for Joe, our first "It," because it wasn't too big a space to search.  However, it was a bit prickly for the hiders due to the extraordinarily large number of gorse bushes adorning the area.  Oddly, many people chose to battle the thorns in order to achieve a hiding spot.
ouchy, prickly, sticky, pokey
seekers circling the nexus of horror

 Although some chose gorse, one participant elected to be a roaming hider, which proved an excellent strategy.  He was observed darting from place to place, carefully avoiding Joe and any other found players who became seekers as well.  I chose to hide in a tree; although I enjoy climbing and high places, I was found before I even had a chance to nap (one of my typical tree-climbing pastimes).

We convened at the top of the hill, where KT had appeared with a water bottle.  This precious water was greedily set upon by several desperate and dehydrated participants, who unfortunately forgot about the thirst-quenching properties of wine. For our next round we decided to expand our boundaries to include the forested part of the hill, and the grounds of the Napier University Craighouse buildings.

Our second round was decidedly more difficult for our hapless "It."  He very gamely traipsed around the varied landscape, searching in vain for each carefully concealed individual.  He found one or two within a reasonable time frame, but it took quite a while to discover everyone else. 
a few rather impressive edifices belonging to Napier Uni
After about a half-hour in a leafy tunnel, watching seekers scramble by periodically, I unfolded my stiff limbs and clambered out to join the rest of the group.  Another participant had been discovered by a small child (who did what small children do - pointed and yelled).  Joe spent the second round happily hiding in another tree, communicating with the squirrels.

Our third and final round had a very sensible 30 minute time limit.  As one of the seekers, I found myself circling aimlessly around a huge area, without discovering anyone.  I also had to constantly remind myself that I was supposed to be seeking, not looking for nice trees to climb - this did not bode well for my progress.  My resourceful co-seeker managed to procure a rather large, dangerous-looking metal pole, which made an excellent bushwhacker.  Fortunately, our hiders had abandoned the gorse by this point, so no-one was injured.  When the 30 minutes was up, we were summoned back to the top of the hill by the sonorous bellowing of one of our more vocally gifted participants.

the view from Marianne's hiding place
Afterwards, we decamped to the pub for some much-deserved food, and further drink.  General consensus held the event to be be a success, and our second game will be happening very soon.  Next time we may try another arena, possibly Calton Hill.  Stay tuned for details, intrepid adventurers, and keep playing!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

In which we fail at playing.

Morningside Public Park
The playpark at Morningside

Today after work dusk was approaching as Lilliputian and I assembled at Morningside Public Park. Here the crucial flaw in our plan to visit playparks became apparent: we simply don't know how to play on them. We half heartedly sat on the swings, and climbed on the apparatus, but mostly we talked about our plans for the weekend, work and boring adult dramas.

In contrast the wee boy who was playing by himself as I was waiting for Lilliputian to arrive was having a great time. He ran up the spiral slide, sat and spinned himself round in the metal cup thing, and went backwards and forwards on his scooter, totally absorbed in his own world.

We evaluated the playpark mostly as logical(ish) adults. One of the slides wasn't slippy enough, another wasn't wide enough. The metal frames of the climbing frame were cold and slightly damp. What were the weird toadstood things for? Was this yellow spiral part of the climbing frame for climbing up, or sliding down?
Weird toadstool things
As playgrounds go, Morningside Public Park is fairly typical for its size with several climbing frames, a choice of slides, and some swings.These follow a colour theme with primary colours and orange.

I was more excited by the discovery of a public tennis court, and basketball court next to the playpark, than the playpark itself. My mind turned to wondering if I could find a group of people to play tennis or  basketball (or badminton) with for free.

Why can't I spend self absorbed hours going backwards and forwards up and down a slide, spinning round and round? What can be done about this situation? Can I learn how to play? Do I want to learn how to play?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Wobbly Coffee on the Union Canal

Harrison Park with tree in bloom and playpark in background
Harrison Park East
Today's outing did not involve playparks, unless walking past them counts. Nor did it involve the other activities this blog is about. However it did involve drinking hot chocolate on a narrowboat.

We headed to Harrison Park, next to the Union Canal in Merchiston/Polwarth, Edinburgh. It was a sunny day and a loud distant roar filled the park, which I have since worked out was coming from the Hearts/Hibs Derby at Tynecastle. Harrison Park contains two playparks, one in 'Harrison Park West' and the other in 'Harrison Park East'. Unsurprisingly on a Sunday afternoon, these were crammed with small people, so we did not stop at either.

Zazou Narrowboat Cafe Board outside the boat
Zazou cafe board at the Union Canal
H was suffering from caffeine withdrawal (a very adult syndrome), so we headed to the nearest cafe. Zazou is Edinburgh's only floating cafe, set in a narrowboat moored at the Union Canal. The seating space inside in extremely narrow, but somehow they have managed to cram in 4 rows of tables for 2. It's slightly surreal to go to a cafe that wobbles and slants, especially as people clamber in and out. The place is friendly and reasonably priced. Myself and J had hot chocolate, and H had her much needed fix of coffee.

However I have digressed into reviewing a cafe. In future we should endeavour to seek out emptier playparks in the weekends and evenings. Can anyone recommend somewhere that isn't too desolate? Hide and seek and kite flying are also in the pipeline for the coming weeks.
Boat moored at Union Canal
Zazou: floating cafe

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Old enough to know better

Left:  Unimpressed toddler in the park.  We had to wait our turn until she'd gone on practically EVERYTHING before we got our turn.

Because a bunch of grown, tax-paying adults pushing infront of a child to go on the helter-skelter smacks of a society not at peace with itself...

It's inter-generational WAR.


Right: Sketches of some flying toddlers, becoming airborne and then being told to 'come home, mummy's leaving without you'. 


Monday, 12 March 2012

'Why does this mud puddle have a bridge over it?' - a comprehensive analysis of Meadowfield Park

This weekend we embarked upon the latest in our investigative series on playgrounds, this time an excursion to Meadowfield Park in Duddingston.  The website, along with this highly informative article by Edinburgh & the Lothians Greenspace Trust, suggests a dynamic facility boasting the latest in play equipment, including a flying fox, a space net, balancing beam, and something called a 'biodiverse wetland area with viewing platform.' (More on that later).

After an hour-long walk circumnavigating Arthur's seat into Duddingston, our anticipation was palpable.  We rounded the last corner and approached the hillside, craning to catch a first glimpse of what I imagined would be a colourful jumble of innovative contraptions; a futuristic play-village teeming with all things shiny, whirly, and slippery.  The reality was altogether different.  Indeed, all individual elements described by the article were there - flying fox, slides, space net, etc - but as a composite entity, they were altogether underwhelming, and a bit difficult to see, because they were

It was a bit like hall dinners.  You read the menu: 'Ah, carpaccio of sea trout.  Lovely.  Pea and herb salad with citrus dressing, and - mmmh! lemon tart for dessert.'  You end up with mush-mush on a plate.  The taste and quality of the meal is beside the point: the foodlike shapes in front of you do not resemble the image conjured by the eloquent description that so whetted your appetite.  You feel jipped.

some of the features of Meadowfield Park.  the rest were a bit scattered.
 Aside from lacking in overall punch, however, this playground has quite a lot going for it.  Case in point: the flying fox.  Now, this was a tricky thing to test, because although there were not many children at this park, there were one or two who proved quite territorial.  A separate study on the behaviour patterns of this strange, squeaking species may have to be carried out at a later date.
'I like the sensation of travelling through the air.'   - Marianne
The flying fox proved excellent; Marianne, Joe and I all tested it and reached the same conclusion.  I found that a running jump gave extra momentum and resulted in a satisfying ricochet effect at the structure's terminus.  Also, fast things are fun.

Another very good element is the 'space net' or rope climbing frame.  This pyramidal, pylonesque structure was reasonably high, and had great bounce to it.  I tested this by climbing to the top and then bouncing.
a bug's eye view of my climbing prowess.
There was also an excellent circular swing, and the entire park boasted beautiful views across the sea. However, there were a few duds in the mix.  One such flop was an unusual inverted dome structure (not pictured). Remarked Marianne, 'the weird metally cup thing made me feel queasy. I was offered a spin and it was not in any way enjoyable whatsoever.'  Another disappointment, a slide, looked very promising but proved to lack the sufficient quantity of slip to make it truly effective.

not slippery enough to be called a slide - more like 'tube-on-stilts.'
 One thing that made not one whit of sense was what appeared to be a large, intentional mud-puddle, choked with weeds and adorned with a wooden bridge.  This, it seems, was the biodiverse wetland area with bonus observation platform.  In the course of our exploration I observed the following things: mud, weeds, muddy water, logs, mud, and mud.  See for yourself:
the logs were not terribly diverse either.
 As a whole, this was a very worthwhile expedition, made more so by a post-play visit to the very good Sheep's Heid pub in Duddingston village.  The quality of some of the individual playground apparatuses was superb, and the picturesque location added to the experience.  I could muse on the sociological and psychological implications of a structurally segregated playspace, or offer a scathing critique aimed at the misappropriation of ecological terminology, but that sort of pseudo-intellectual gibbering is the domain of idiot adults, not us.  Bounce, bounce, swoop, fly.  Until next time, folks.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

China and Old Swingers: The Outdoor Gym and Playparks for Pensioners

When I mentioned my discovery of an outdoor gym in Westerhailes to a friend who lived  in China for a few years she warned me that an invasion had begun. Outdoor gyms are all the rage in China. Since 1998 the Chinese government has installed over 37 million square metres of outdoor gym space across China. They have been widely hailed as a success in improving the fitness of local people, and are especially popular with the over 60s. Whilst they are designed for exercise they strongly resemble playparks with bright, garish colours.

This video shows some women "playing" on an outdoor gym in China.

People Exercising
Gulin in China, 2005.
Let's get physical
Beijing in China, 2006. This looks like it has just been plonked on the pavement.

In 2007 a 'Pensioners Playground' was opened in Berlin, Germany, and was inspired by the omnipresent gyms in China. In 2008 the UK's first 'Play Area for Pensioners' was opened on the Dam Head Estate in Blackley, Manchester. It was set up by the local housing association. A video of the pensioners playing is available here.

It would be going too far to say that outdoor gyms are as widespread in the UK as in , but there clearly has been further enthusiasm for the idea in some parts of the country. The first in Scotland opened in Cromarty, Black Isle in 2008.

 In 2009 a group of pensioners from Torry in Aberdeen had raised £28000 to build their own playpark. In 2010 a pensioners' playground designed to provide gentle exercise for pensioners opened up in Hyde Park, London. There are many other examples, usually funded by local groups and local councils.

What about us non-pensioners? We blog contributors (so far, anyway) are still a few decades away from free bus passes. It is clearly not only pensioners that are leading the way in demand for outdoor gyms. The gym in Hailes Quarry Park is aimed at locals, and passers-by on the Canal rather than any particular age group. The Great Outdoor Gym Company who supplied the equipment report that in 2011 they installed their 250th outdoor gym. Their equipment is clearly aimed at all age groups, although I note they do not mention the words "play" or "playground" in their advertising.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Thoughts on being a grown-up

When I was a kid, I liked doing lots of things: playing cowboys and indians, rolling down hills, capturing frogs and snakes, digging igloos, et cetera.  Some of these were pointless pursuits (slopping in a mud-hole, throwing rocks at a empty barrel), others were more constructive and creative (building forts, unearthing artifacts by our barn).  Never once was I made to feel as if I ought to explain my reason for doing something, unless it was along the lines of 'Why did you track mud all over the house?!?' or 'When are you planning on filling in all those holes?'  Most of the time I was just told to be careful I didn't put someone's eye out, and then sent on my way. 

How dismaying it is to find that these sorts of activities are somewhat frowned upon in the grown-up world.  If I were to spend two hours, as I used to, throwing a ball from a second-storey window down to my brother in the backyard - back, forth, trying to avoid the gutter - it would be met with confusion and considered a waste of time.  I can't carry around my beaver-stick bows and arrows without looking like an oddball.  Forget spending hours meandering from field to woods, constructing forts and battling invisible enemies; now, we are obligated to mete out such activity - measure it, quantify it, categorise it as exercise.  No longer are acts and activities accepted for their own inherent value, and the whole concept of playing disappears entirely once you reach adulthood.  If I said I wanted to spend an afternoon chucking rocks, other grown-ups would invariably ask me why. 

Why have we fallen into this trap?  Do grown-ups truly derive enjoyment from running on a hyped-up hamster wheel, or lifting large metal objects up over their heads repeatedly, or making endless punching and kicking motions along to a pumped-up soundtrack? I find this hard to believe. I think I'd rather go play.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Letter from the Front

Send reinforcements, madness and delirium have broken out in the colonies, mayday mayday!

Spotted worker asleep at post.  Shot him before he woke; lessens the paperwork and the hassle of a courtmartial.  The cappucino option on the coffee machine is OOO (out of order), we need backup.  Every two minutes the siren goes off, people freeze in their seats, heads swivel to the offending blasts of C flat; a brave volunteer plucks up the courage and seizes the offending instrument before it  gives away our location: 'hello, pensions, Standard Life, Anne Marie speaking, how may we help you?' Another crisis... narrowly averted... thanks to the courageous efforst of our volunteers to come in every day and man the screens, operate the blasting gadgets and give up theri waking hours for the Glory that comes with being able to pay taxes and lodge legitimate complaints at the powers That Be in London over where our tax money goes.

Oh another blast has just gone off! Brave girl runs up from her position, quickly puts on the headset and smashes her finger down on the trigger... 'Good afternoon, Standard Life, can i help you?.... no he's not in right now, can i take a message?'

And why do these worthy souls do it?  Day after day, for a series of days in rows of 5 (occasionally 6 for the less inhibited), sane minded people with so many years ahead of them volunteer their daylight hours to man the machines. In return for what, you ask? Let me tell you! No these souls don’t waste time on the self-indulgent urges to duty, honour or dignity. They do it for a more worthy cause: MONEY. Yes my dear friend; we are the vanguard of the taxpaying wealthiest nation in Scotland.  We are crusaders of a new kind. We sacrifice all so that our wallets may bulge gratuitously, so that our livers may ache and groan with the sweet intake of alcopops every weekend night and our wardrobes will creak and heave with all the riff-raff of current fashions.

Yes! This is what we fight for! This is what we do on level 2; oh if only you were here too to smell the wonderful smell of plastic coffee, to watch the blasphemous blue skies hurtling above beyond the safe confines of glass and sandstone!  Oh if only our forefathers could see what we've now become!
How History wll remember us.

We must fight to preserve this way of life.  The office is quiet with the sweet chitter chatter of farm animals.  All is quiet on the western front. Sanity is restored.

I think iv (presently) typed all the insanity out.

No. 45321

Sunday, 4 March 2012

We went up a hill today. Let me tell you about it.

Now that my fingers finally have blood circulating, I can regale you with the story of a trek into the unknown, far beyond the safe confines of our usual playpark haunts.  It all started with a perhaps foolhardy notion that the weather was turning springwards; well, it certainly looked and smelled this way up until the moment I was shivering on the banks of a reservoir in the Pentland hills - ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The name of the game was wild swimming.  Yes, apparently there is a specific terminology for what I normally just call swimming, but after lots of internet searching it seems indoor pools are the only places normal Edinburgh folk get their butterfly kicks.  Pay money to get crowded by geezers and grubblers while bobbing in an over-chlorinated bathtub?  No thanks. 

It took about an hour and forty-five minutes to reach the reservoir on foot; the more sensible among us took bicycles and managed it quicker.  At the top of the first ridge, amidst flashes of sun, the view was spectacular. The city below crouched under shadow, pummelled by rain and sleet (I found this out via text from some less fortunate friends).  I pulled out my little-used digital camera and attempted to take some photos to post here.  The blasted thing refused to work, and I remembered that it was little-used because it was a piece of crap.  After several minutes of blunt force trauma, I angrily stuffed it back into the rucksack and decided to try reasoning with it once we got to the reservoir.

My camera never did manage a photo, so I drew you a picture in MS Paint.  Beautiful.

 The track twisted along, trod by families, dog walkers, runners, and the occasional hardcore mountain biker.  Once everyone was convened at the reservoir we had an enjoyable ramble around its perimeter, stopping to climb onto a dock-like metal and wood structure with an easily surmountable locked gate.  Roughly half the reservoir is bordered by trees, and it was here that we stopped to eat late lunch (with bonus cake provided by Joe) and to attempt the swim.
Photo provided by Marianne.  Don't let that sun fool you - I could have died.
Reader, it did not go well.  I regret to report that I committed a sin known in layman's terms as 'wimping out', after stripping off my clothes and standing knee-deep in the frozen depths, with my rapidly numbing feet squelching in mud.  I thought I might lose a toe.  My fingers were so numb it was difficult to tie my laces.  I recalled that on the way up, I had seen snow on the tops of the larger hills.  Snow.  From somewhere in the dwindling flickers of my brain, the survival instinct kicked in.  'I CHOOSE LIFE!' I roared, charging back to-
... well, that might be an exaggeration.  I didn't want to call attention to myself.  Frankly, the whole situation was highly embarrassing.  On the upside, I made it out alive (though there was a dicey moment when, trying to use a touch screen phone to take a picture, it failed to register my fingertips and I thought my number was up.)  To sum up the experience, I made a little list below:

Hours walked: 4
Fun had: lots
Fingers or toes lost: 0
Lessons learned: don't be an idiot, go back again when it's warmer

And there you have it.  Have fun, but don't be an idiot.  Unless being sensible infringes on your fun.

Impromptu Visit in Darkness

This evening myself, Lilliputian and our friend KT were sat inside on comfy sofas and armchairs enjoying the luxury of a well heated living room, when someone commented that Falcon Road Park was nearby, and suggested we visit. So we did. 

Falcon Road Park is tucked away beside a primary school in Morningside.  Lilliputian had fun going down the slides, which were slightly wider than many slides providing ample room for adult bottoms to fit. I, on the other hand, am a bit more of a wuss than Lilliputian and was put off by my bottom getting wet the one time I went down. I failed at the monkey bars (as I did when a child). There was a rope bridge which seems like it would be very easy for a child to fall off.

Lilliputian - " I find the plastic slides are often slipperier than the metal ones. Slipperier equals better"
Disembodied swinging experience.
Pretty playpark
This seems dangerous.
She's the king of the castle and we're the dirty rascals...

Overall this is a great wee park with interesting quirks and features, and a good place to spend 15 minutes in during the evening. We give it a rating of 7/10.

 Thanks to KT for taking most of these photos.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Outdoor Gym is "open"

The outdoor gym in Hailes Quarry Park in Westerhailes we discovered a few weeks ago has now been officially declared "open", according to the Edinburgh Evening News. It was set up by the City Council and Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust with some funding from Fields in Trust. A couple of people have already commented on the article that it won't last long and will be destroyed within the week (admittedly the first thought that crossed my mind on finding it). Let's hope not.

Piece of equipment at Outdoor gym, Hailes Quarry Park, Westerhailes, Edinburgh
I think this exercise machine looks strangely like a pair of hair straighteners from a distance.