I learned to swim in the Cut. On summer days, we lads would scale the canal wall adjacent to our terrace house, undress on the towpath, and with those of us able to boast a swimming costume hurriedly changing, the rest would jump or dive into the dark canal waters with whoops of delight. The centre of attraction was a huge submerged pipe on the far bank constantly discharging pleasantly hot water from the grimy rubber-works boiler room. This was known far and wide as the Scaldy, which, over many years attracted boys with its free entertainment. In addition to swimming, youths would bring along bars of soap, and enjoy an al fresco bath, though whether they emerged cleaner was doubtful.
Others would daub their bodies in bizarre patterns with the clay that surrounded the area, and after cavorting around in imitation war dances of Redskin Indians seen at the local movie matinee, they would then jump into the waters and emerge again as palefaces.
Older lads engaged recognised swimming styles, whilst we kids adopted what was known as ‘doggy’. I eventually learnt to dive, progressing from belly flops that left my stomach red and smarting, to an improved crab-like entry. At the bottom of the dive the water was inky black, and surfacing, it would change to a dark brown, then lighter brown, becoming clear only inches from the top. What a brew! Why we never came down with dreadful diseases, I’ll never understand. Another hazard was the neighbourhood rubbish that lay jettisoned on the bottom, old beds and bike wheels, ensuring great care had to be taken not to become entangled.... (more)