Trip down memory lane at Commonwealth Pool

An aerial view of the Commonwealth Games swimming pool

An aerial view of the Commonwealth Games swimming pool

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THERE was the icy cold blast that seemed to whip through the changing rooms, causing teeth to chatter and giving goosebumps to bare arms and legs.

The sheer terror of the Stingray flume, a near-death experience that sometimes also involved the additional horror of emerging from the water wearing less swimwear than had been in place at the top. The diving board disasters, the exhausting, lung-bursting trawl up and down each length, the warm caress of the baby pool. Throw in a bag of steaming hot chips from Bratisanni’s chippy nearby and a day out to the Royal Commonwealth Pool was complete.

celebrating the pool's five millionth visitor in 1976

celebrating the pool's five millionth visitor in 1976

Such memories are long gone, of course. The Royal Commonwealth Pool – or the Commie, for short – has been closed for two-and-a-half years while undergoing a £37 million refurbishment. Now, finally, the wrappers will be removed.

The new-look, revamped pool will be reopened today by swim star David Wilkie MBE, who will test out the water with a group of young Evening News competition winners, heralding a chance for a new generation to make their own Commie Pool memories. While the future looks bright for them, what better time to pause for a moment and reflect on the way it was for the rest of us?

KIRSTY BALFOUR, 28 2006 Commonwealth Games 200m breaststroke silver medallist

Kirsty almost lived at the Commie as she ploughed up and down its Olympic-size lanes in a bid to reach the highest level of her sport. As a little girl growing up in Fairmilehead, she’d already enjoyed playing in the water. “My special memory of the Royal Commonwealth Pool is as a child and thinking that sharks were going to swim out from the underwater viewing windows. I think I got that idea from a James Bond movie which I probably shouldn’t have been watching in the first place!” she laughs.

A penguin in the diving pool in 1989

A penguin in the diving pool in 1989

“Then the Commie became ‘home from home’ as I trained there daily with the City of Edinburgh Swimming Club from 2000 to 2008. The hours spent slogging up and down that pool helped me towards a silver medal at the 2006 World Championships, silver and bronze medals in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and I had the honour of representing my country at two Olympic Games – Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.”

DAVID WILKIE, 58 1976 Olympic 200m breaststroke gold medallist

“It is a great privilege to be back to open the Royal Commonwealth Pool, considering that it is where I did a lot of my training when I was a schoolboy in Edinburgh. It’s also the pool where I won my first international cap for Great Britain and won my first major international medal at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.

“I have some fond memories of the place. It’s great to see the ‘old lady’ reformed in all her old glory and to play a part in her reopening.”

BOBBIE STOREY, 54 From Newtongrange

“My dad, Bert, was supervisor at Glenogle Swim Centre and he got tickets for him, my mum and me to go to the opening ceremony of the pool in 1970. They were beautiful tickets, very posh. Princess Anne was there but we didn’t really see her. It was just very exciting.

“I was 13 and the pool was so much bigger than any other pool I’d ever seen, twice the length of typical baths. Everything was state of the art, there was all this glass and the diving boards.

“I kept two of the tickets from the opening day – they are still in their original envelope. Later on I got a poster of the Commonwealth Games which I kept too. I remember my dad, who died not long afterwards, telling me to keep them, that they were a bit of history.”

KEITH COOK, 30 Fencer

Keith, who hopes to represent Team GB at this summer’s Olympic Games, had his first taste of the sport at the Royal Commonwealth Pool. “I started my fencing career with professional fencer Norman Miller at the Commie Pool when I was 13,” recalls Keith, from Currie. “My grandad taught me and my sister, Louise, how to swim at the Commonwealth Pool. It brings back some fantastic memories from when I was younger.”

CAROL MAIR, 48 From Craigleith

Carol has a special memory of being a steward at the Commonwealth Games at the pool in 1986 and, in particular, the bright red tracksuit from BhS she had to wear. “The top was fine, but the bottoms were hideous,” she groans. “But it was absolutely brilliant. Because the athletes village was at Pollock Halls of Residence, there was a real buzz around that part of town. We got to go to the opening and closing ceremonies and to mix with the athletes. The party at the end of it all was amazing.”

LESLEY MILLAR, 39 From Oxgangs

A lifeguard training coordinator with Edinburgh Leisure, Lesley was pool supervisor at the Commie and has many memories, including being asked to simulate CPR on rugby legend Gavin Hastings for a photoshoot in 2003. “Unfortunately, he was fully clothed at the time,” she says.

“Probably one of the most vivid memories was of an Irish chap who’d been drinking and had decided it would be good to go for a swim. He did a dead man’s dive, where you dive in head first, hands by your side. Unfortunately, it was the shallow end. He cracked his forehead off the tiles and had a 4cm gash. I was going to give him some butterfly stitches but his hair was stuck to the wound, so he put his hand up to pull his fringe back.

“When he did it, he pulled the cut skin back too and I was left staring at the white bone of his skull. I nearly passed out.”

VIVIEN SMITH, 53 From Colinton

Now a business manager with Edinburgh University, in 1969 Vivien was 11 and one of the first youngsters to enjoy a dip in the new pool. She recalls: “A group of children was needed to go to the pool before it opened so some photographs could be taken for the official brochure. We spent the afternoon playing and the photo of us outside the pool was used for the front of the brochure.”

Years later, Vivien would make a thrilling return to the pool during the Commonwealth Games, when she snared a job as a venue accountant, enjoying the privilege of viewing the swimming from the VIP section. “A security guard took me downstairs to a window that looked out on the diving pool from below, so I watched the synchronised swimmers from beneath the water, their feet and legs flapping like mad.”

SCOTT HASTINGS, 48 Former Scotland rugby international

Scott will be at the pool today for the reopening ceremony. He recalls childhood days spent splashing in the 50m pool, playing tig.

He says: “With our skin turning like prunes we’d end up shivering but, at that point, we’d head into the toddlers’ pool which was always a good place to warm up.

“The diving pool was always a place to egg each other on. We would run the length of the board before hurling ourselves into the blue void below. Upstairs, a hot chocolate and a packet of Quavers would be the final instalment.”

SARA SHERIDAN, 44 Author

Sara was one of the select few to master the diving boards, but knew her limitations.

She says: “I remember being nervous standing on a diving board that was too high for me and then slowly climbing down to something I felt I could manage. I loved diving! I was eight or nine and it was fun to be in such a big place.”

GRAEME SOUTAR, 38 From Meadowbank

Dad-of-three Graeme says he will be a regular at the pool with children Lewis, 11, Amber, eight, and baby Jake, eight months, even though one of his earliest memories of the pool involved a “dunking” from, of all people, his swim instructor.

“I was about seven and had never dived before, so my instructor picked me up and threw me straight into the diving pool. It was one way of getting over your fears. I never looked back after that.

“We’re all looking forward to it reopening. Clambers, the soft play area, will be fantastic and the pool’s just great for all ages. We can’t wait.”

GARY HAMILTON, 46

From Penicuik

Electrician Gary recalls the Stingray flume managing to eat many a pair of swimming trunks and, three decades on, the memories are still vivid. “It was a sheer drop – you paid £1 for a shot. Come to think of it, you should have got a refund for losing your shorts on the way,” he grins. “I remember coming off and feeling a bit warm around the bum where a hole had been ripped out of my trunks.

“My mate, Jim, was worse. He jumped off the diving board and the velocity tore his trunks right off. He didn’t realise until he was getting out of the water. His shorts were floating off in the middle of the pool.”

n To find out opening times and more about the facilities, including more memories, visit www.thecommiepool.co.uk. Don’t forget to buy the Evening News every Saturday for more readers’ memories and nostalgia.

sdick@edinburghnews.com