It was before the era of the new public baths
built in Bilston.....it was before the incident when my school chum
Mick and I got thrown out of Cubs too, on our first visit! But
I guess that's another story.
I learned to swim in Wolverhampton Public Baths...I say I learned to swim but in truth I didn't have any lessons. I remember going to the baths with a gang of boys and expecting, as we did to fool around in the shallow end since none of us could swim properly. To my surprise one of the boys brought along his big brother who had serious intentions of making sure that we all either swam or sank. To this day I vividly recall being pushed into 6 feet of water and I must have flailed around like a drowning boy (because that's exactly what I was!) yet I managed to 'swim' the five or so feet to the side and there hung on grimly shivering not so much with cold but with what I thought at the time was sheer terror.
Funnily enough though, from then on I took to water like a duck and became a strong if slow swimmer. Mick and I never regularly went again to Wolverhampton Baths but we did venture as often as we could to Darlaston. 'Darlo' Baths as they were then we found rarely crowded, the water always seemed 'warmer', (a very relative term!) and we got to go there on a Trolley Bus! Those of you who have read some of my recollections will know that I loved trolleys and Mick and I always went to the baths on the trolley, especially when we got lost trying to ride to Darlaston Baths on our small bikes! Our respective families together with the aid of the local police force made it very clear that we were not to attempt such an expedition again. One good thing came out of this escapade though, we always travelled in style on the top deck and right at the front where we could see everything.
Darlaston Baths was big, it had diving boards, it was cheap to get into, the water temperature was always 72 °...at least the indicator always said it was, although I had my doubts...and it was ours most of the time since there were never many people swimming. Mick and I spent hours, literally, in that pool trying everything a fertile young tearaway mind could think of. Pool attendants? Don't be daft! If you hurt yourself then it was your fault for fooling about, and after all water was a cushion wasn't it? It was fun, it exercised our imagination and we learned to swim well. There was one downside though. The chlorine. I don't suppose people were much less hygienic then than they are now but for some reason Darlo had chlorine like over concentrated orange squash. The effects didn't show at the time but the legacy later was red eyes, unintentional tears and a halo around everything you looked at for the next day or so!
Outside the baths, glowing with health, warm from the exercise and red-eyed from the chlorine there was one last treat that awaited us. It wasn't sweets, it wasn't toys and, surprise surprise, there was no element of mischief in it. I've always been a motorbike fan and I know precisely where I get that from. Just down the road from the baths and on the way to the trolley stop was a motorbike 'showroom'. Best of all the second-hand bikes were lined up outside where we could see, touch and even sit upon! The bloke who ran the shop often came out to talk and I think he saw in us motorcycle fans of the future ....he was quite right and I've owned several since despite dire warnings of being cut out of the will by my Mother! I remember so distinctly the Norton Dominator 99, the big twin BSAs and the Ariel Square 4. There was even once a Brough Superior! All marques that have long gone but were magic to us as kids at the time.
So it was home on the trolley back to Bilston,
off at the Town Hall and down Prouds Lane to Mick's place for
some tea. Then home, tired and still seeing halos.....but