We try and go swimming at least twice a week with our sprog, and have found a decent local pool which is very clean, relatively unchlorinated, has mixed changing areas with large family-sized cubicles and is kept at an almost bath like temperature. For this, we have to pay not far off eight quid for admission, but you get what you pay for.
Actually, it's what you don't get that's more important. Athlete's foot and pubes in your goggles, namely.
In my childhood, swimming pools were all called "The Lido" and had foot baths of concentrated TCP, the sky as their ceiling and water that was so soiled it had a crust.
Being an outdoors pool in the UK, The Lido was usable for about three days a year, so mostly it was an unoccupied, untended, unheated trap used to drown wandering hedgehogs. For those three days however, it became the centre of the universe for children from a ten mile radius, who would flock like spawning salmon returning to the waters of their youth, maybe to breed and die, but mostly to dive-bomb their siblings and have a secret wee.
On these days, the pool would become packed full of little blue kids in yellow (and often woollen) swimming costumes, me included, screaming at the merest touch of the icy water that still retained its wintry temperature, screaming at the presence of their mates who they hadn't seen since lunch time, screaming at the very novelty of it all.
There was lots of screaming, is what I'm trying to get across here.
Actually, most of the screaming came from three things.
The first was the sheer expectancy of death every time you entered the water, as those knitted trunks dragged you down to the unseen, algae-obscured abyss of the deep end, which in those days, if memory serves was about eighty feet under, forcing you to power crawl you way to the relative safety of the crowded poolside. We are all pretty damn good swimmers as a result of this though. Like those little Amazonian kids who swim with piranhas and so become as lithe as otters in that great river. We'd have laughed at piranhas.
The second was the insects, usually wasps and ladybirds, which chose to spend their dying moments searching for your open, gasping mouth in which to messily expire.
Well, the third was Elastoplasts.
Oh god the Elastoplasts.
We called them plasters in them far off days (before Elastoplast did a Hoover) and they were awful. Little pink plastic strips of slimy nastiness on one side, presumably designed to look a bit like Caucasian skin but in reality suited no one of any ethnic background, for no one had skin of such a hue, unless dramatically scarred from some boiling acid incident, which in the seventies wasn't that uncommon. The other side was a white, medicated pad that always, always had a yellow stain in the middle, at the centre of which was a small spot of congealed blood.
No-one ever admitted having one that then came off, so presumably there was was some necrotic, mange-ridden child with chronic impetigo who used them by the bucketful just to keep his skin on, who would sneak into the unguarded pool at night for a swim under the cover of darkness, and then shed soiled plasters like a reptile sloughing off old scales.
Plasters didn't just float about on the surface so they were easily avoidable, but drifted as though part of the very water itself. You would dive through the murky emerald depths when, at the last moment, one would appear wraith-like in front of you, making you scramble about like a diver encountering a Portuguese man-o-war, (the jellyfish, not the ship), desperately attempting to avoid it contacting you with it's lurgy-ridden extremities.
Occasionally, and I retch to recall this, occasionally, it would touch your tender young, water wrinkled epidermis.
It was like the mangy touch of disease personified, kissing you gently on the stomach with calloused lips made from solidified wart exudate, or stroking you on the back like a dead kitten's rotting paw.
The inevitable result was your inelegant eruption from the pool like a tiny Trident missile, crocheted trunks halfway down your arse, clawing your way up the ladder which swung like a door in a gale on it's remaining rusty bolt, before enacting a frantic dance in front of your highly amused mates, trying to look at every square inch of your own body for the leech like attachments of discarded plasters. If you found one, you would then have to approach one of your chums and utter the Chant of Removal, which was done in a voice not unlike Joe Pesci on helium, and went thus:
Ah, The Lido.
There was always a warning sign in pools which gave you a list of things you weren't' allowed to do. Simple drawings of people doing the very things that were verboten, and thus having the exact opposite effect of making you want to do them even more. They were; No running. No diving. No bombing. No Heavy Petting.
Obviously, we all did the first three as often as possible, and would have done the last if we'd known what it was. The picture was of a couple cuddling, waste deep in the water, smiling at one another. Thinking back it was quite a romantic little cartoon they'd used to depict it, full of innocent love and new desire. The fact that one of the chap's hands was under the water just added to the mystery.
Obviously, we all grew up (relatively speaking), and heavy petting became something of an all-consuming ambition for us when we discovered what it was. Mind you, even as a fourteen year old boy, with the hormone addled brain that resulted in an erection if you so much as thought about paving stones for too long, the idea of heavy petting in The Lido wasn't particularly appealing. Who knows where the plaster would've ended up.
Now, things have changed. Flash forward to the present and, in our local pool, there are no signs forbidding heavy petting. You could pet as heavily as an elephant if the notion took you and there would be no warning whistle. In fact, at my local pool they positively encourage sex. Look what I found in the gents:
Not only are condoms sold in hilariously apt "columns", but they also supply Nurofen in case one of you has got a headache.
Now that's thoughtful.