Serendipity is a wonderful thing. A few posts ago, when I was writing about one of my favourite films, my ageing memory let me down yet again and I had to go online to remind myself of the names of the cinemas of my childhood. As I googled my home-town and the links came up, I was immediately distracted by a reference to the town’s swimming-baths and the memories came flooding back.
Sadly, the link led to a newspaper account of the almost complete demolition of the building I knew so well, to make way for the construction of a multi-million pound leisure centre which opened 2 years ago. Only the central part of the façade, with its pillars and steps, was retained to provide a link with the past.
|The impressive facade of the baths|
|The 'big plunge' drained ready for covering|
The large pool (always known to us as the ‘big plunge’) would be drained in the autumn and covered with wooden flooring, providing a very spacious area for dancing and other activities. I still vividly remember the New Year’s Eve dance that I attended with my next sister and how I left early and went home (walking at least half the 4 mile distance in the dark for lack of buses) because I was tired of sitting like a wallflower at the edge of the dance floor. It’s not always fun being a teenager.....
By the end of the 1960s life and leisure had changed so much that the dance-hall became financially unviable and after that the baths offered year-round swimming. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and the memories that really stick in my mind are of swimming there and, above all, of the weekly trips to the baths from my village primary school each summer term for those all-important swimming lessons.
My primary school was a small, two-teacher, Church of England school with about 50 pupils. Only the juniors in the ‘Big Class’ were eligible to go swimming, the infants in the ‘Little Class’ being considered too young. My memory isn’t at its clearest at this point, but I think Wednesday was our swimming afternoon, and as soon as lunch was over we got ready to catch the bus into town, accompanied by our teacher.
Primary school children always used the small pool or ‘plunge’ (I’m not sure I’d even heard the use of the word pool for swimming back then) and we only graduated to the big plunge when we went to senior school and could more or less swim. I freely admit to not having enjoyed the swimming lessons very much, mainly because I’m so short-sighted that without my glasses I couldn’t recognise the children in the pool with me, let alone see the teacher properly.
There is something more than a little disconcerting in trying to learn something when the world around you is a blur and when you only get to practice during one term out of three. However I persevered, and though I’m still a poor swimmer, I did manage to swim my ‘breadth’ and get the first certificate and was making good progress towards swimming my ‘length’ by the time I left for senior school in 1957.
The part of the afternoon I remember with most pleasure was after we had dried and dressed ourselves and were waiting for the bus home. We always had at least a quarter of an hour to wait for the bus and so our teacher would take us into the market hall next to the bus station and let us buy broken biscuits at the grocery stall there.
Those were the days when butter, sugar and biscuits were all sold loose and weighed out to order and the inevitable broken biscuits would be put to one side and sold cheaply by the two or four ounces to schoolchildren. As soon as we were given our bags, we would look eagerly to see what this week’s mixture consisted of and feel distinctly disappointed if there were too many rich tea biscuits and not enough custard creams. J
Some years later, in the early 1960s, I found myself behind that same grocery counter, weighing out the loose foodstuffs as I earned extra pocket money by working at a Saturday job. By then I could swim as well as I was ever going to and even enjoyed going swimming out of school, though my surrounding were still a blur.
So many memories conjured up by a single Google link. Serendipity indeed.....