Saturday, 18 February 2012

Give 'em enough rope

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a garden which had some trees.  Nowadays I’d like them for the associated wildlife and a natural comfort that they might bring – I’d love to have them watching over me like gentle guardians, keeping the secrets of past decades safe in their silent, living presence.  But when I was a nipper there was really only one good reason why I liked our trees.  Well, one tree in particular.  And that was for the ‘Tarzan Rope’ suspended from it.

I don’t know whose idea it was to hang this rope from the huge central tree – mine was a family with no boys  – but my dad naturally got the job of climbing a ladder and fixing a chain to a high bough, from which he then attached a very strong piece of broad, long cord. This hung down at double thickness and was then knotted in several places.  The specially adapted piece of kit to go with it was a section of a broom-handle, just over a foot long I reckon.  All you had to do was position this wooden bar into one of the gaps between two knots (choosing the most convenient one according to your height), place your hands either side, lift your feet from the ground and….off you went…. Hours of free entertainment would ensue.

There were several different manoevres that my big sister and I invented and soon became experts at.  One was to walk back as far as you could in a straight line and simply swing back and forth.   A better one was to start off close to the tree trunk, run a short distance outwardly from it and then lift your feet off the ground so that you could swing around the tree in an almost complete circle, touching down again at the opposite side of the trunk.  A slightly dodgy and less popular variation was to position the bar so low down that you could hook your legs over it, effectively sitting on it and hanging on to just the rope.  This wasn’t much fun though because you couldn’t really go anywhere on it.  You’d just hang there in a highly uncomfortable sitting position trying not to look bored and ungainly. Not to mention the risk of getting rope-burn in a most undesirable place.

The best, and most impressive move of all was ‘twizzling’.  This was when you did the circular swing around the tree but incorporated some mini 360 degree spins, or ‘twizzles’ as we called them, along the way.  Thinking about it now this must have taken both bravery (stupidity?) and skill and I can’t imagine for a second that I would have enough of either to do that now – but in the relative safety of my own garden I was lithe and fearless and became a bit of a twizzling champion, sometimes managing to spin repeatedly from start to finish.  It’s funny how I didn’t seem to get so dizzy in those days.  Now I only have to turn around too quickly in the shower and I need a sit-down and a cuppa to help me regain my balance.

As this was chiefly a summer activity I would usually be found throwing myself around this solid old tree dressed in my pink shorts and yellow T-shirt, barefoot and bare-headed.  No crash helmets, no safety harness, no knee-pads.  The big old branch so many feet above sometimes creaked ominously, and I frequently got my planned trajectories hopelessly wrong, ending up slammed against the trunk with nothing to protect me from the blow except my epidermis.  I hit my head countless times, got blisters on my palms and grazes on my knees, but still I loved that Tarzan Rope. 

Unfortunately it was responsible for more casualties than just my bruises and temporary braining.  I was the lucky one.  My sister fell off and fractured a toe.  My cousin misjudged things too, came off the rope and landed on a stone which embedded itself very painfully in her gluteus maximus region.  And a neighbour’s awkward tumble resulted in a huge gash to her arm.  I remember my mum running out to give her a small glass of brandy.  I’ve no idea what her parents must have thought when she was delivered home to them, oozing blood and smelling lightly of alcohol - but this was the Seventies after all.  It’s funny how I can still remember the way the trail of blood drips led from the tree, down our garden path, all around the house and to her front door over the road.  Those dark claret stains stayed on the pavings for several weeks that hot, dry summer.  I think her scar lasted some time longer. 

Eventually we just grew too big for such shenanigans and my parents may have started fretting about our unfortunate, injured friends and family, even though I don’t remember them ever expressing anything outwardly other than genuine sympathy to the victims.  The Tarzan Rope was left to slowly rot away and the little girl who used to swing on it like a deranged whirling dervish learned that there were even better things to spin: little black slabs of vinyl that twizzled at 45rpm.

I'm sure you get the tenuous connections...


  1. I read this to Martha while she was getting supper together...we both had to stop what we we're doing when your friend was sent home bleeding smelling of brandy. That is the funniest thing I've heard in weeks.

    We had a tire swing hangin from a huge live oak when I was a kid. You could really get some air on that thing but you had to have somebody to push you.

  2. We had a metal swing like you get in playgrounds, set in a concrete square... right in the middle of the one treeless area of our garden... not so much fun. I did spend a lot of time up the old trees though, with an entourage of live cats and stuffed bears, reading and generally avoiding the rest of my family.

    My brother and I were discussing Slade the other day, we decided it must be mortifying being the two members of the band where no-one remembers your name, when that band contains Dave Hill!

  3. Good to know you both had similar things too - you've gotta have something to swing on, I say!

    Many thanks for that, e.f - glad it made you both laugh. I think that was the only reason we had brandy in the house, in case of accidents or shocks (there must have been a few...) I don't remember anyone ever drinking it at any other time!

    Your tree refuge sounds enviable, Yve! I liked the idea of having a treehouse, but it was never to be. Mind you we did have a small climbing frame for a while and we used to cover it in old 'dressing-up' sheets and pretend it was a wigwam - that was a nice retreat... Love your Slade comment - brilliant!

  4. My friend up the road had one of those 'handy' dads who helped him construct a marvellous little treehouse complete with roof, trap-door and rope ladder. I was very impressed and inspired to build my own. My dad, on the other hand, was definitely not the d-i-y type so I made do with hoisting an old door into a tree and nailing it to a branch. Nevertheless, many hours of fun up there (don't know what we did - eat sweets and drink pop probably) until the day my cousin was laughing so hard he leaned back and suddenly disappeared....!

    The brandy anecdote made me laugh too - must have been good fun round your house. And I had no idea there was such a varied repertoire of moves on those old tree-swings!

  5. You had a Tarzan rope? I'm jealous as hell! I wanted one so badly, but the ancient lilac tree in our garden was just too crumbly and old to be trusted with such a thing.

    Some boys would set one up in the park nearby, from time to time, but they were 'rough boys' and you'd never dare ask them for a go. To this day, I have never twizzled.

  6. I fully admire your ingenuity with the old door nailed to a branch, A! And it's amazing how many long hours one could happily spend eating sherbet fountains and drinking Tizer ('pop'! - love it...), no doubt vastly enhanced in your case from being suitably elevated!

    Sorry to hear you were deprived of the Tarzan rope experience, ISBW! There's nothing quite like a good twizzle. If your 'rough boys' were anything like the ones in my locality, they rode chopper bikes too..?


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