Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A-Z Day 19

Copyright ©2015 Mark Kelly.
S is for Swimming Pool.

As a kid growing up a big part of my childhood was spent playing on the street with my best friend; this involved kick about with a football (soccer ball to those in the US), climbing into a local orchard to swipe freshly fallen apples, made all the more exciting because of the wild stories told about the owner and his vicious 'guard dog', and just generally doing what kids do (or used to) best: enjoy life.

At the age of twelve my uncle decided he didn't want me playing on street corners and promptly enrolled me in the City of Cardiff Swimming Club. My first lessons were held at a council run baths - a Victorian building that housed three individual pools: Mens, Womens and Mixed. All were 25 yards in length and after each session my vision was blurred by brilliant rainbows around lights due to the chlorine affecting my now bloodshot eyes.
So began my 'second life' and my extended family of friends for the next five-and-a-half years.

I never attained the pinnacle of swimming in A squad, the club's top squad, but languished in B squad, which I loved. We trained six days a week, twice a day. Our Monday, Wednesday, Friday pool was the Cardiff Empire Pool. Built in 1958 when Cardiff was chosen as host to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games and was completed two months before the games were started, at a cost of £650,000.
Boxing held at the Empire Pool during the Commonwealth Games 1958.

At the shallow end it was three foot, and the deep end was sixteen foot to accomodate highboard diving, and had an overall length of 50m. We would plough up and down that pool for two hours to a distance varying between a mile and two miles a session, depending on summer (light training) or winter (heavy training in preparation for summer gala season).
I used to love being the first on the pool side in the morning sessions, as the water was so still the surface looked like glass and due to there being zero turbulance in the water it would be the fastest length you could ever swim. You really felt like you were gliding over the surface. During the summer holidays, the diagonal shafts of sunlight gave the underwater view of the pool an almost Cathedral-like appearance, so serene and massive. What I also enjoyed was when our coach, for fun, would have us march down to the deep end and swim the 50 metres underwater, climb out and march down and do it again. This would be done several times. Such a giggle and never a strain for us to do.

View from outside the Empire Pool
Inside Empire Pool, view from the deep end - diving boards to the far left.

I do, however, have a confession: sometimes if I felt a little tired/lazy I'd hang back at the end of the line and sink down to the bottom of 16 foot and sit in the corner out of sight and wait for the line to come swim back to the deep end, whereupon I would glide up and rejoin the back of the line.

Races at the Empire Pool during the Commonwealth Games 1958.
Sadly, the pool is no more, having been demolished in 1998 to make way for the Cardiff Millennium Stadium. Such a great loss. I urge you to take a look at the empire Pool link to read more about this amazing facility Cardiff  'threw away' (in my eyes, at least). Now all the pools I knew and swam in as a teen are gone: Guilford Crescent Baths (25yds), the National Sports Centre (25m) Pool and the Empire Pool (50m) - these are places etched in my memory that I will always look back on with warmth, fondness and a little sadness, from my first struggling strokes to some of my most memorable wins in competition in the 100m Breastroke, the 200m Team Medley Relay and 200m Freestyle Team Relay.

Where the Cardiff Empire Pool used to be.
The Cardiff Empire Pool original location.

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