A place that forged me no longer exists. Stafford Leisure Centre was razed to the ground long ago, but I have such potent memories of it. Of the sparkly Blackcurrent drink that the vending machine spewed out for 35p. The inexplicable tannoy announcements of ‘211140 to Z2’, and the sillhouettes of folks walking to the Squash courts above the seating gallery. More than anything though, I recall the diving pool. Tucked in to the corner next to the main pool, it was a zone of fascination and horror for me. I can remember it brick and tile.
There were two diving boards jutting above the cavernous waters beneath. Waters always eerily flat and without a ripple. A central brown-bricked plinth formed the spine of the boards, with near-vertical chrome steps leading up to the ‘high board’. Despite all of the water and movement, the top of the plinth was always thick with grey dust, which always made me feel that few people ventured up there (though of course they did). Walking or running along that top board was both exhilarating and terrifying. The board itself would tremble like my legs, and the ceiling looked far too near. Even the side of the pool seemed to yawn towards my feet, with its sloping floor promising shattered bones and death. At least it seemed so, when I was Six.
Mint green and bobbly, the diving boards themselves are what I remember most keenly. Long and black-tipped, they bent alarmingly when jumped on, and thwacked the jumper in to the blue waters. I always felt that they looked minty, and should taste like Aero chocolate bars. An off-white cheesecake-like wheel allowed you to make the board more rigid, and I was always horrified by the oily cogs that promised crushed finger bones. Nevertheless, it always felt superb to give the wheel a spin just after a person jumped, making the board thump back down resoundingly. I don’t know what I loved most about this profoundly odd place. Perhaps that it was directly behind the lifeguard tower, and so usually unobserved. That was probably it. I was an awkward kid.
I think it was more than that, though. The water itself had a kind of dreadful seduction to it. Once off the board, one could swim to the side and face the boards. The tiles sloped downwards from there, and with a breathing out it was possible to slowly sink slowly down to the bottom of the pool, feeling the pressure build on the eardrums. Once there, it was possible to watch the blossoming spray of air bubbles as somebody jumped off the board. There were always things to see down there too. Rust-coloured swirling flecks, and sometimes a forlorn elastoplast waltzing in the current. I enjoyed being down there, even when my lungs screamed at me to surface again.
Memories are a strange thing. I haven’t thought about the diving pool for a long, long time, and yet I dreamed it up with incredible clarity last night. Perhaps I smelt something akin to the chlorinated smell of the place, or heard a tannoy that took me back to Sunday evening swimming club. Whatever it was, I am glad that it did so. It has reminded me that though places may change and vanish, they resonate long, long after in memory.
Copyright Tom Tide 2017