YOUNGSTERS learn to swim these days in heated, indoor pools, but it wasn’t always like that, as many Memory Lane readers will testify.
Bob Hounslow recalls the days when he learned to swim in the chilly waters of Tumbling Bay, off Botley Road, Oxford.
He writes: “It was a long walk for us from Leckford Road along the canal towpath.
“We didn’t have a bathroom at home, just a cold water tap in the scullery and an outside toilet, so the nearest I usually got to water was a quick rub round with a wet flannel.
“The thought of immersing my whole body in cold water wasn’t one I relished.
“However, Tumbling Bay was a good place to learn to swim, as the weight of the water from the upper level, cascading over a weir into the lower pool, made for a strong current at its shallow end, where the water flowed onwards over a low weir.
“Our instructor took advantage of this fact and ordered us, pale-skinned, scrawny young boys, to stand in a line in the water at a short distance from this weir, flinching as the icy water swirled maliciously round our sensitive parts.
“Then he ordered us to dive forwards, arms outstretched in front of us, heads in the water, and glide along until we bumped into the weir.
“Having given ourselves a moment to realise we hadn’t drowned, we repeated this process at increasing distances from the end of the pool, trying to incorporate the swimming strokes we had learned on dry land, lying on our little straw mats in the school playground.
“Finally, we reached a point where we couldn’t do this in a single breath, or our little lungs would have burst, and we had to learn to breathe at the same time as swimming.
“That was the hard part. We will all remember sniffing water up our noses and frantically hoping our flailing feet could still find the muddy bottom.
“Eventually we struggled across the width of the pool, and later, the length, to gain our 10 and 25 yards swimming certificates – the only qualifications I ever gained at school.”
Once Mr Hounslow, now of Squires Close, Brize Norton, and his friends had learned to swim, they could enjoy the long hot summer days, swimming or sunbathing at the outdoor pools at Hinksey.
“They were individual pools of varying depths, each with a muddy bottom, as they had been formed from the filter beds of the defunct waterworks there.
“Sometimes we’d return to Tumbling Bay, or try Long Bridges, off Abingdon Road, or when we were older, just swim in the river as it meandered through Port Meadow.
“It must have been a more benevolent sun that shone down on the halcyon days of our youth, for although we swam in river water and spent hours out in the sunshine, it never did us any harm.
“How I wish the youngsters of today could have the days of innocent pleasures we once knew – devoid of dark temptations they face today.”
Any other readers with memories of learning to swim? Let us know.