THE heady scent of chlorine, cafeteria cooking and bleach is one which I will forever associate with the Royal Commonwealth Pool.
It was a glorious aroma which promised at least an hour of watery fun – depending on how strict the sessions were being attended – and a poke of chips from Bratissani’s afterwards to satisfy ravenous after-swimming appetites on the long bus journey home, sooking the brown sauce out of the paper so as to let nothing go to waste.
I hope it’s still there despite the multi-million refit of the place, which threw open its regal doors to the common people once again this week. Things which I hope have changed are the cracked tiles on the changing room floors which were brilliant incubators for athlete’s foot, the ridiculously small cubicles and hairdryers which only seemed to accept coins from Estonia for a two-minute burst of hot air, leaving you exiting the place looking as though your were “channelling” the locks of Limahl.
Despite such issues, I’ve always loved the Royal Commonwealth Pool. It’s the place where I learned to swim, taken by coach with my class from Burdiehouse Primary once a week in P5. It’s the place where “quality time” – before such a phrase ever existed – was spent with my parents. It was a place where I had to dress in pyjamas and pretend to float like a mushroom to gain a Watermanship badge. The usefulness of this has still never become apparent.
I never learned to dive, though, despite the hours my father spent encouraging me to psyche myself into believing I was an arrow to slice through the water below – cue another bellyflop – and I certainly never went near the diving pool. Far. Too. Scary.
But for me there was always a real sense of awe about going to the Commie. This was a pool which was built for real swimmers, for athletes who won medals, and it was absolutely huge. The idea of swimming a length seemed utterly fantastical. Furthermore, you had to go under the ground to even get to the changing rooms. Could it get any more exciting for a seven-year-old with a rolled towel under her arm?
It was also the epitome of public monies being put to the best use possible. Built for a mere £3 million back at the end of the 1960s for the Commonwealth Games in 1970, it was a marvellous feat of architecture and, once the athletes were gone, it was ours. They might have butterflied their way from one end to the other, broken records and had the spectators in the orange plastic chairs cheering with delight, but they didn’t own the pool. Nor did the Queen, despite the monicker. It was Edinburgh’s people’s pool. It was the Commie, as it soon became affectionately known, for the commoners.
People were proud that Edinburgh had been chosen to host the Games, and even more proud that the city had managed to construct two astounding sporting arenas in Meadowbank and the Commie. Of course, the city had Victorian baths in Stockbridge and Infirmary Street, Warrender, Dalry and Portobello, but this was a real pool, an Olympic-sized pool, and so became a draw for everyone in Edinburgh.
As a child of the 1970s, my generation probably had the best of it, before the cracked tiles began to appear. Latterly, in an era where the council had built new pools in the outer reaches of the city and private sports clubs boasted beautiful facilities, the Commie seemed outdated and rundown.
But now it’s back to its glorious beginnings in time for another Commonwealth Games swimming competition – the third it will host, even if the rest of the Games are in Glasgow. Because they don’t have a Commie. We do and we should still be proud.
And if ever there’s a medal for how many pairs of your pals’ legs you could swim through in one breath, I’ll be a contender.
Name of the game
WHAT is in a name? It’s a subject all parents seriously contemplate when it comes to giving one to their child – unless your surname is Geldof, in which case you randomly select words as if you’re a blindfolded toddler at the pick ‘n’ mix section of Woolies.
However, it would appear that for one councillor, Labour’s Norma Hart, her name is of such significance that she would risk the mockery of her opponents and the anger of her colleagues by changing it.
She’s getting married so she’s changing her name on the ballot paper when she stands for re-election in May.
Fair enough, you might think, until you realise that she’s not adopting her new husband’s surname. Instead, she’s affixing her maiden name to her previous husband’s name to become Norma Austin-Hart.
And why? So she’s at the beginning of the alphabet and therefore can be at the top of the voting paper, leapfrogging her fellow Labour candidate, Bill Cook, by two places in the hope that she’ll get more votes.
She obviously doesn’t put much faith in her electorate, or believes they are so stupid they just tick the first box they see.
Or perhaps the fact is that she’s not done enough locally for people to remember her in her ward? Changing her name won’t help with that.