“What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.”
I was never sure where the expression came from, sometimes it would just be shortened to “swings and roundabouts.” It was a way of expressing a belief that things would balance themselves out in the end. It was a reassurance that losses would be redressed and that there would be fairness in the workings of the world. “What goes around comes around,” a friend would say, suggesting that fortune’s wheel might turn away, but would inexorably return. Perhaps people now would say it was “karma,” if there appeared to be some justice in the way that events turned out. However, in the days before The Beatles went off to see the Maharishi Yogi, items found in children’s play parks provided more useful analogies than Eastern spirituality.
Perhaps “swings and roundabouts” would seem an odd term now to a generation whose parks are devoid of the old roundabouts that were enjoyed in the past. Yes, they could be hideously dangerous. People could fall from them. People could get limbs trapped. People could become completely disorientated by a roundabout being turned at speed. Yet, roundabouts were tremendous fun.
Working as a volunteer houseparent in a school for boys with learning disabilities in 1980 to 1981, many lunchtime breaks were passed on the swings and roundabouts. The roundabout was a big old-fashioned one, with a board all the way around it on which to stand and bars from the centre to the circumference which divided the roundabout into six segments and which were pushed by those responsible for getting the roundabout to spin. Among the boys, there were those who delighted in the roundabout spinning at a furious rate. Some would lie with their head at the centre and their feet at the edge, staring at the sky as they span around and around and around. A boy called Neil could pass his lunchbreak lying looking skyward.
Perhaps roundabouts provided our own opportunities of meditation, the world disappearing as we looked at the turning sky overhead, but we would never have thought about such things, it was just a fun thing to do. The houseparent generally responsible for getting the roundabout spinning would have been tired by the time of afternoon school. The boys would have shouted and laughed at the dizzying turns.
What goes around doesn’t always come around, in our proper desire to make things safer, we have lost a little bit of delight.