Sunday, 9 January 2011

water of love

Well. it's Sunday and a little bit of a ramble seems traditional now.  No, I'm not talking about walking - I'm just rambling  generally. . .

I thought I had some work to do  - well, as a teacher I always DO have work to do.  However, at weekends there is a tendency to figure out whether or not I can do it later in the week.  I decided this afternoon that I needed to make some bread rather than mark a few essays.  The results are here for you to see.  Just prior to putting the (red onion and rosemary foccacio) loaf into the oven - and JUST before putting the Sunday roast chicken into the oven - our son came down and announced that he would be unable to eat dinner as  he was "not up to it".  A birthday party of a friend who had just reached the magical age of 18 was obviously the reason why.

I must admit that I personally can't take on the moral high ground here - I'm sure I spoilt one or two family Sunday dinners for exactly the same reason back in the day.  I'm sure it was only one or two.  Actually, I suppose I am happy in a way that my own poor behaviour is being echoed as it means that it makes my own poor behaviour seem somehow normal.

Anyhow, my good friend John assures me that my sudden interest in finding bread to bake or diaries to fill in with coloured stickers is "classic delaying tactics" and I'm sure he's right.  Well, I have, indeed, filled in my diary recently and baked bread.  I have still managed to avoid doing anything that seems remotely like work.

I have also had a great soak - I have always preferred baths to showers.  I'm sure this is a part of my upbringing.  We didn't have a shower, as such, while I was growing up.  A rubber attachment that allowed you to wash your hair was the nearest thing.  This device usually managed to crack along the tube fairly soon after starting to use it which meant that water was soon spurting out inconveniently everywhere across the bathroom but nowhere near your hair whilst leaning over the bathroom sink.  Showers were something one avoided because usually they were a cold concrete room of fixed shower heads resembling Nazi Concentration camps that involved many sweaty schoolboys having just finished a cross-country (and I mean a genuine cross-country - a mud-fuelled run around the fields and churchyards of Old Stevenage) run with a barking mad PE teacher bellowing at you and watching you (possibly a little too attentively). Well, somehow I have managed to grow up feeling that showers are okay - I suppose it's because you can close the door and there's only one shower, not a row of the damned things with a group of sweaty boys - all of who seemed to have reached puberty ten years ahead of you - making fun of you for appearing to be a complete throwback to our rather more aquatic days some 100 thousand years before (er, "dolphinesque" shall we say?*),

Ah well, that brings me to my reminiscences of lidos . . .

I remember having open air swimming pools when I was growing up. There was certainly one in Hitchin.  We also had open air paddling pools - I fondly remember one in Bedford  next to the Great Ouse.  Mind you, I remember my mother telling a story (often) about me falling in to the river at Bedford. Maybe that explains my lack of interest in swimming.  According to Roger Deakin, that's why Desmond Morris refused to accept that mankind had any real affinity with water, because he'd nearly drowned when he was about 7.  I said I was going to ramble . . . we're talking Manwatching here.

We had a paddling pool right next to my infant school - close to our home.  It was in the play area at a park at Letchmore Road in Stevenage.  The Letchmore Road pool was always full of broken glass because all the bully boys lived in the road that lead up from it -Whitesmead Avenue.  They were nasty boys that came from "rough families" and thought it hilarious to throw glass into the pool.  Even now it astounds me - they had younger brothers and sisters, for Christ's sake - why was that such a good laugh?

I remember swimming often in the Hitchin open air pool - bloody freezing -  and also the Stevenage Town pool had large glass doors that were opened to allow sunbathing.  Another part of the lido phenomenon was its inclusion of sunbathing opportunities.

I am currently reading Waterlog by Roger Deakin which, in part, takes account of the phenomenon that took Britain, nay, Europe by storm.  It seems to have been a bit of a fascist phenomena but let us not talk falsely now - at least (altogether now) Hitler got the trains running on time.  All joking aside, in our current climate where I see newspapers and every other magazine trying to get people to "become healthy", it would seem that back in the 1930s and up until the late 1960s ( and beyond - oh, economics I guess . . .) councils felt it their responsibility to help improve the health of their tax-payers. I'm sure I'm not the only one with similar memories.  Britain appeared to be a place that allowed such freedom in those days.

I think that my experience in the Letchmore/Whitesmead Road paddling pool may have been typical for many of us.  An early shot across the bows of what was to come.  I can't imagine having such pools open to the public now - the vandal factor - but for a brief while, growing up in Britain during the 1960s seems like quite an idyllic place now.

So, no phones and open air swimming pools appear to be indicative of a better Britian?  Well, okay, maybe not but we were much more unrestricted then.  More of that another time. Anybody have any reminiscences of those times? Unrestricted swimming?

* hairless, slimline . . .etc


Mike C. said...

Argh, cross country runs through the ploughed fields behind St. Nicholas, muddy grave of lost plimsolls... I was explaining the full horror of this just the other day to my son. And the "Mug's Race", of course.

In our 1st year we had one guy whose puberty was already so advanced that the normal shower situation was reversed -- he was the figure of fun. After a couple of years we realised that that hairy freak was also hung like a donkey. Then the pendulum swung the other way, so to speak.


Brendini said...

Our cross country runs started and ended on a cattle track. it wasn't just mud, you know.

Dave Leeke said...

This came up as a discussion at school today too. Were we ever actually supervised? Or did the PE teacher have a basically, "free" lesson? Sitting in the office with a cup of tea, reading the "Sporting Life" or whatever?

I'm thinking here that we were duped into believing we were being watched in that Jeremy Bentham Panopticon way.

An acquaintance at our school went to Eton and reckons they had to run cross countries, go rowing etc with no supervision at all. This, of course, couldn't happen now.

Mike C. said...

"it wasn't just mud, you know"

Well, neither was the Somme, but it's the mud that sticks in the mind (the indiscriminate shelling and the gas attacks seem to have faded from my mind).

Of course we weren't supervised... How the hell would you supervise a cross-country run without helicopters and sniffer dogs? At least one of my classmates used cross-country as a "cigarette opportunity", hiding out in the Avenue.

It is the great lesson of maturity that "no-one will be watching us" but to choose not to do it in the road. The other great lesson is that running is overrated and actually quite dangerous to health as a mode of transport.


Dave Leeke said...

But I'm sure we all really believed that they WERE watching us. It was enough then. We all came back to school - nobody kept running.

I must admit that I tended to wander off and have a surreptitious fag during those endless afternoon games of cricket having being taken for a duck or whatever the ridiculous term was . . . This quite possibly explains why I don't understand the rules. But it does put an alternative take on "The Ashes", I suppose!

However, to take your point, Mike, about gas attacks - they tended to be saved for Assemblies, and certainly in one unforgettable instance, Arthur Grisley's absolutely palpable fart at a "Founder's Day" service at the afore-mentioned St Nicholas church:

"Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea . . ." we were drowning.

And trying to stop crying with laughter at such an auspicious occasion . . !