Baths and Bladders

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blog-baths-and-bladersThe author remembers school swimming lessons at Joseph Street Baths at Hunlet, Leeds and School Football training on Snake Lane in East Leeds 

    BATHS AND BLADDERS

 

                                                 Pete Wood

In the Course of the week we had two sports lessons at St Hilda’s. The first was swimming on Monday mornings. Pupils of Ellerby Lane and Victoria schools tell that they attended York Road Baths but we had our swimming lessons at Joseph Street Baths in Hunslet.  We didn’t set off until after playtime, so it would be approaching eleven o’clock already and we had to be in and out of the bath by twelve! Note: I said ‘playtime’ not break or recess – good old playtime – that’s what we had. How often have you heard someone say: ‘You’ve had it now – I’ll get you at playtime!’ Anyway we’d set off walking in a crocodile, no school buses for us. We had our trunks rolled inside towels and under our arms – you were a ‘geek’ if you had a shoulder bag! Then we were off down South Accomm, Atkinson Street, Goodman Street, across Hunslet lane and so the baths. You changed two to a tiny cubicle, it was a bit of a tight squeeze, and you were lucky if you managed to get your own socks on at the end of the lesson. Then we were through the slipper baths and lined up along the side of the pool.

Those who were training for certificates were allowed in first – first class certificate candidates had to execute life saving procedures, diving for the brick and a neat dive in addition to the actual swimming. Then it was the turn of those taking the second-class certificate – three lengths breaststroke and one length backstoke. Finally, the last of the certificate takers had their chance – those who were going for the third class certificate, which was just the one length of the bath. There was also the advanced ‘bronze medallion’ but I cannot remember any of our lot attempting that one although Pat Brown who lived next-door to us and attended Mount St Mary’s was successful in achieving such a medallion.

There was also a seldom attempted fourth certificate, if my memory serves me correctly this was a speed certificate which necessitated completing four lengths of the bath (100 yards) in under 110 seconds. There was just one lad at our school capable of achieving this: Norman Gibbs. Norman was a great lad but somehow or other he always seemed to have a note from his mother excusing him from the swimming lesson, which meant we hardly ever saw him at Joseph Street, making it all the more extraordinary that he was an absolute fish when he actually managed to get into the water. I can only remember being privileged to see him swim a couple of times in all the years we attended swimming lessons but when we did it was an absolute treat, he would churn up and down that pool – over arm crawl – just like a motor boat. As he hardly ever seemed to go to the baths it was a puzzle as to how he managed to be the best swimmer among us!

By the time we ‘gash hands’ were allowed to have our thrash about in the pool it was time to come out and make the long crocodile trip back to school. 

            Our other physical training lesson – the one we all liked – was football practice on Wednesday afternoons. We didn’t get set free on Snake Lane until after ‘playtime’ for that either. But as the footballs needed to be prepared – they had invariably deflated from the previous week – a couple of lucky lads would be given the task of making sure the balls were ready for action; it was a bit of a ‘skive’ that we carried out in a cloakroom away from the classroom. The leather footballs we had then could not be re-inflated, merely by sticking in an adaptor and blowing them up, for us it was a work of art. First the lace had to be removed and the neck of the bladder fished out from under its protective piece of leather. The neck had then to be untied and the ball re-inflated, then the neck had to be doubled over and retied with string, this completed the neck of the bladder had to be tucked back in beneath its leather protection and the ball re-laced. There was a special tool to facilitate the re-lacing of the ball, which had to be carried with the expertise of a surgeon as the ball had to remain perfectly spherical even though it had a neck and the lace must be so neat that it did not pose a danger when the ball was headed. The whole ball then had to be covered in ‘Dubbin’ to protect the leather.  With a bit of guile you could make the job spin out for the whole of the first period if it were a lesson you didn’t fancy. School footballs were only supposed to be size four (normal men’s footballs are size five) but we had to make our footballs last and as they were leather they tended to stretch and get bigger, so by the time we had worn them out they were probably size six! There was as bonus with our footballs though: if they sustained a puncture you could pull out the bladder and mend it like a bike inner tube and you were up and running again. Today if they burst they have to be sent away for a panel removing the puncture mending and than the panel stitched up again, as you can imagine it all costs a bob or two and you can be without a ball for weeks; plus the balls cost twenty times more to buy in the first place! I see them kicking those modern plastic balls they can tickle them in from the corner flag or to the half way line from a goal kick and they bend and swerve all over the place, you had to give our footballs a real ‘thwack’ to get them moving but if you hit one right they went as straight as a canon ball; when Alfie Duckworth hit the woodwork with one of his shots on Snake Lane you could hear the noise Easy Road!

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