The Swing and the Pink Gravel
By R J Dent
My sister had been pestering my father for a garden swing for months.
– All my friends have got one.
– Use theirs then.
– It’s not the same, my sister wailed.
– Why don’t I just tie a length of rope around one of the plum tree’s branches? my father said. You can swing on that.
– Very funny, my sister said, flouncing out of the room.
Her constant carping and pleading obviously prompted my father to do something about it, because a swing (of sorts) arrived one Saturday morning.
I was first aware of it when my father carried an armful of long red metal tubes into the back garden. He unceremoniously dropped them onto a rectangular piece of mud, went off, and then returned with an armful of long blue metal tubes, which he dropped next to the red ones. He then went off and returned with two lengths of chain, a rectangle of wood and a plastic bag of things that jangled.
He opened the plastic bag, took out some short pieces of straight and curved tubing and started to join the red tubes together. Once he’d done that, he did the same with the blue tubes and it soon became clear that he was constructing a large tubular steel double A-frame structure, joined at the bottom by two parallel lengths of tubular steel, and at the top by one piece of tubular steel.
I guessed it was a swing frame. I guessed this from the shape, not the size, for size-wise it was a swing most likely designed for someone over seven feet tall. I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who was that tall, so I surmised that my father (thinking perhaps that she’d grow into it) had decided to build (rather than buy) my sister a garden swing.
When my father heaved the twin A-frame structure upright it must have reached up at least twelve feet into the air. My father stood back to look at his handiwork, then stared at the chains and wooden rectangle he’d left on the ground.
– Damn and blast it, he muttered, and when he kicked the chains, I realised he’d forgotten to attach them to the swing’s frame.
I watched as he tried to loop the chain onto one of the hooks on the uppermost horizontal blue bar, using the lasso or lariat technique. He held one end of the chain in his left hand and swung a length of it around in his right hand. The chain spun in a circle above his head. He looked like a human helicopter, or like a human version of that flying machine sketch by Leonardo.
The chain hummed in the air and he let it go.
It’s likely he should have held onto the end with his left hand because I don’t think the chain was supposed to fly upwards and coil itself snugly around the horizontal bar, with no ends trailing handily within reach.
I could tell my father was angry because he bent down and picked up a stone which he hurled at the offending chain. The stone hit the chain with a clang, rebounded and nearly hit my father in the face. If he hadn’t jerked his head out of the way, it would have hit him. As it was, it sailed past him and landed amongst the lavender.
He walked away and disappeared behind the shed. He came back carrying a ladder, which he leaned up against the swing. He climbed up the ladder and reached for the errant chain, only to clutch at the ladder as his weight on the ladder started to tip the A-frame over.
With a cry of alarm, my father jumped off the ladder and landed quite gracefully as the A-frame and the ladder crashed to the ground.
My father looked around, to see if anyone had seen what had happened. He didn’t see me. Pleased he’d been unobserved, he inspected the toppled swing frame and then moved the ladder out of the way.
– That’s got it, my father said, with evident satisfaction, as he quickly hooked the chain’s ends to the metal hooks.
He then heaved the A-frame upright again. Once he had set it straight and square on the mud patch, he took some metal hooked pegs out of the plastic bag and used them to secure the swing frame base to the ground. He then attached the wooden rectangle to the ends of the dangling chains. The swing seat hung suspended about two feet off the ground.
My father stood back and contemplated his work.
The swing was ready.
It loomed there, gigantic and gleaming in the morning light. My sister would see it very soon.
2: Pink Gravel
I don’t know where it came from or how it got there, but one morning there was a huge pile of pink gravel on the drive. And I do mean huge. It was about ten feet high.
I walked around it twice and then tried to clamber up it. I slid back down. It was like trying to climb quicksand. Heavy quicksand. Heavy pink quicksand. Quinksand? Picksand? I picked up a few pieces and inspected them. They looked like rounded pieces of quartz.
My brother walked in through the gate from his paper round.
I held up a piece of the gravel; he looked at it for less than a second.
– It’s probably Staffordshire pink pea gravel because it’s rounded, angular quartzite stone with a subtle pink overtone, and no piece is generally bigger than a pea in size.
I nodded and waited. He sighed.
– It’s normally used as decorative gravel for driveways or footpaths. Some people use it to augment their home security features due to the noise it makes when it’s walked on.
I just stared at the boy genius as he walked along the path.
– Thank you would be nice, he said.
– Thanks, I called and he raised a hand in acknowledgement as he rounded the corner of the house and was gone from sight.
I could see a picture starting to emerge from the facts; a heap of Staffordshire pink gravel for driveways (and home security) was piled on our drive, which was made of scruffy looking (unlevel) concrete.
The gravel was for our drive. It was exactly what our drive needed.
I had an idea – I’d spread the pink gravel out evenly over the drive. My father would be pleased because it’d save him doing it.
I fetched a shovel and a rake from the shed and started work, filling the shovel full of gravel and putting it carefully on the drive, then doing the same again until I’d fifty or sixty small piles of pink gravel dotted around the drive. Then I raked them flat and spread out the gravel. Once I’d finished, there was still a three foot high pile of pink gravel left. I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
I was saved from finding a solution by the arrival of my father home from work.
He opened the front gate and walked in. He looked at my handiwork.
– It looks good, doesn’t it? I asked.
– Yes, it does. It’s a pity you’ll have to shovel it all up again.
I looked to see if he was joking, but he was being serious.
– Someone’s coming to collect that gravel this afternoon.
Having delivered the message, he walked away.
I surveyed my handiwork – and saw a vast expanse of raked flat pink gravel – and groaned.
My brother came out of the house and stood looking at the level gravel drive.
– So you’ve got to re-heap it, eh?
– Before you start, I just need to do something.
He lay down on the drive, his back on my beautifully-raked gravel, looking up at the sky. He put his arms out ninety degrees from his body.
– What are you doing?
He moved his arms up and down in the gravel. Then he scissored his legs a few times.
– Look, he said, getting to his feet. A gravel angel.
I looked at the imprint of where he’d been lying and sure enough, there was the shape of an angel in the gravel. It was the stony equivalent of a snow angel.
– Very nice, I said, and then very slowly got to work shovelling around the gravel angel, shovelling, shovelling it all back into a big heap of pink bleugh…!
It took over an hour.
My brother left after the first minute.
No one collected it that afternoon. When I asked my father about this, he said:
– They changed their minds. They decided they didn’t want it, after all. Still, I liked how you’d spread it out. You made the drive look quite nice. Feel free to do that again if you want.
The pile of pink gravel stood on the drive all through the winter.
3: Pink Gravel and Swing
One morning, I got up and looked out of the bedroom window and saw that the pile of pink gravel had been moved.
It had been dumped on my sister’s swing. The only part of the swing that was visible was the tubular bar at the top of the A-frame and the top few inches of the two swing chains – all the rest was swallowed by the pile of small pink stones
I wondered if my sister had seen it yet. She hated the swing, but she’d hate it being covered in pink gravel more.
I made my way downstairs where I found her and my brother eating their breakfasts.
I wondered if my brother knew about the gravel-covered swing. I didn’t wonder for long.
– Can I have a go on your swing, sis? My brother asked.
– Oh well, neither can you. But thanks for thinking it over.
She looked at him suspiciously.
I prudently stayed silent and nonchalantly went about getting my own breakfast, pretending disinterest.
– What do you mean, neither can I?
My brother, who knew lots of science stuff, looked up from his breakfast.
– It’s physics, he said. Solid objects won’t pass through each other because the electrons in one solid object interact with electrons in the other solid object.
My sister looked puzzled.
– What are you talking about?
– I’m answering your question, he said evenly. Electrons don’t like to be squeezed too closely together, and to squeeze two solids into occupying the same space would take a ridiculously large amount of energy. That much energy would probably blow both solids apart, he added, with an evil chuckle.
My sister got up, exasperated.
– You’re not making any sense, she said. I’m going out to play – and you’re NOT going on my swing.
– I know, he said, but he was talking to himself; she had gone.
– I’ve a bit of a sore throat, my brother said, apropos of nothing. My voice is gravelly.
– Kidney stones? I asked.
We heard a blood-curdling wail from outside and we started laughing.
The door banged open and our sister stomped in.
– Who did that? she demanded, glaring at us.
– Someone boulder than us, I said.
– So let’s have less of the stony looks?
We both laughed.
– I hate you both! my sister yelled. She ran back outside.
– Don’t know why she shingled us out, my brother quipped.
– Mood swings.
My brother laughed and sprayed milk all over the table.
– Regurgitated milk’s always nice, I said. Especially when launched via the nostrils.
My brother laughed again.
– Past yer eyes, he gasped, and then started coughing and laughing simultaneously. Drowning.
I got up and thumped him on the back. He stopped coughing.
– No need to beat me up, he whined as my sister came back into the room and looked at us.
– There’s every need to beat you up, I said to my brother. How else will you learn not to die during breakfast? It’s not allowed.
– Where does it say that in the Breakfast Etiquette Guide?
– In the what? my sister asked.
We ignored her.
– You’ve got to help me dig my swing out, my sister said.
– Got to? I said.
– Got to? my brother echoed.
– All right. Will you help me dig my swing out?
– Why not?
– You’re not making any sense, my brother said, imitating my sister’s irritating voice perfectly. I’m going out to play – and you’re NOT going on my swing.
– I hate you both! I said, imitating my sister’s irritating voice with a little less accuracy than my brother had.
– I didn’t mean that!
– Of course you didn’t, said my brother. Not now you want us to do some work for you.
– The answer’s no, I said. If YOU want to use YOUR swing, YOU’LL have to dig it out YOURSELF.
Without another word, my sister turned and went back outside. We followed after a few minutes. She’d got hold of a trowel and was scooping out stones and flinging them to the left and right. It would take her days to clear away enough stones so that she could use her swing.
I was right; it took days.
Less than a week later, I went and checked on the progress my sister had made clearing the pink gravel away from her swing.
She’d done quite a good job. She’d just cleared enough gravel for her swing to swing backwards and forwards. She’d dug a tiny channel in the gravel, too narrow for her to put her elbows out past the swing chains, and with sheer sides of the pink gravel towering on each side of her. If we had an earthquake, or even a mild tremor, it’d collapse and she’d be buried alive.
My brother and I watched her swing back and forth, her arms tucked in carefully so she didn’t scrape them on the pitted pink walls.
– That looks fun.
– Yes it is, thank you very much.
– It doesn’t look cramped and restrictive at all.
– That’s because it isn’t.
– That’s a relief.
– Are you doing an impression of Moses?
– What are you talking about?
– It’s who, not what. Moses. Religious leader, lawgiver, prophet, probable author of the Torah.
– Also called Moshe Rabbenu in Hebrew, my brother said.
I stared at him in surprise.
– And I thought you were Mr. Rational. Mr. Science-Geek.
My brother smiled.
– Know your enemies well, he said cryptically.
– Why are you talking about Moses? my sister asked.
– Red sea parted, he walked; pink gravel parted, you swing.
My sister looked puzzled.
– You may know about Moses, she said, but you’re not going on my swing.
– We know.
– It’s for girls only.
– Where does it say that in the Guide to Gender and Swings?
– In the what?
We wandered off, leaving her to her constricted swinging between twin walls of pink gravel.
The Swing and the Pink Gravel
by R J Dent
Copyright © R J Dent (2014)