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Ha Ha I'm Drowning
By Alan Metcalfe
Have you noticed how some people have the most irrational fears? You see them on these shit programmes, on 'Living', being hypnotised by some would-be Paul McKenna or Ali Bongo. "When you wake up, you will no longer believe that Steve Wright is stalking you via the medium of 'Top of the Pops 2'". Back in the room, my arse. Get a grip, weirdos. But before I dismiss those who will drive 30 miles out of their way to avoid turning right at a junction, or getting on the 10A Bus - through Dovecot - after 8pm, maybe I need to conquer my own demon; that which has haunted me for nigh on (whatever that means) 40 years. Public Swimming Baths.
Like the whole of Liverpool, we were poor as the proverbial church mice in the 1960's and 1970's. Our one 'treat', out of my nan's pension, was to go to the baths - usually on a Sunday morning, but every school holiday without fail. When me nan and granddad came with us, it was sound, as me and our kid could leave our clobber with them, and swim along quite happily under their watchful benign eye. When we reached 'maturity', though - which, in those less dangerous times was when you were about 9 years of age - nanna decided that she would save a couple of shillin' by letting us go on our own. Fair enough, we thought, what could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot actually, as every time we went - and every fucking pool we visited - we ended up in some bullying-related nightmare or other. Check this out:
There I was, swimming along quite happily, when some complete twat grabbed my foot in the deep end. I went under, and panicked. Came up, went under, came up, went under, and it wasn't until some girls realised that I wasn't trying to impress them, that they summonsed the assistance of the Fenn Street gang-alike lifeguard who fished me out.
We had to give Margy the swerve, but didn't want to stop going for our swim. So, off we went on the 14c to the then comparatively rural Nogsy. In our innocence, though, we didn't realise that you had to put your gear in a big fuck-off basket and give it to a bloke behind the counter. I returned to the changies about an hour later - after a stress free splash - to find my undies floating in the shower, and a load of bigger boys laughing like drains (whatever that means). Understudying Billy Casper, I put my strides back on, and had the discomfort of my tiny knob chaffing all the way home.
Our other gran, the narky one, lived near Kirkby townie, so we tried out the local pool there. We spent two hours on the smoke-filled 15d bus, and we'd only been in the water for 5 minutes when some little shitehawk comes over and says, "see that lad there? He wants you out". Shit, I couldn't punch my way out of a wet Echo, and what had I done to upset this emaciated consumptive? Me and our kid pretended to go for a piss, and fled, still dripping wet. A four-hour round trip, from and to Kensington, for the quickest swim ever.
We had to get away from that whole Liverpool aquatic scene, and a lad we knew in Birkenhead said that New Ferry baths was boss. Unlike New Brighton, it wasn't freezing cold salt water, and the trip over on the boat was pleasant enough. It was a scorching afternoon, Summer of '76, and me and my minor were in heaven. This is what we had been looking for - a nice pool, lots of staff on hand, and the majority of bathers being residents of the Wirral Peninsula. We swam away to our hearts content, and went to get our stuff from the communal locker area. It was too good to be true. A gang of girls - yes! - were stopping hapless victims for a 'loosie' or their 'odds'. The unmistakable scouse tones were givin' it, "just give us 30 pence and you can go, or we'll stub this ciggie out on yer". I looked around desperately for salvation, but saw none. We bit the bullet, and gave them the £1 note we had. Luckily, we had return tickets, but still had to walk home from the Pier Head, and explain to our nan where all the dosh had gone.
There were loads of other incidents, at other baths - Southport, Westminster Road, Knotty Ash and even Boundary Road in St Helens. All with the same outcomes: extortion, threats of violence, and minimal swimming opportunities. We eventually gave up, and started playing footie in Grant Gardens opposite Brougham Terrace Registry Office (where, one day, we all stopped to watch Souness get hitched). That, in itself, though, brought its own problems, as the vicious Gleave Square bastards used to come down and rob the ball. But that's a story for another day. Over time, I sort of gradually lost my phobia of public swimming baths, but have never really ventured back (other than to take my daughter to Peter Lloyd, in Tuebrook, when she was little). Now, I'm in a well known Liverpool gym, nice pool, sauna, Jacuzzi etc, and its great. Yeah, it's home to a load of gangland types, and lads who shower wearing an electronic tag, but they don't bother me, and I don't bother them. And at least you get to go home with your undies intact.
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