If it was quiet I would go for a swim in the Viccy Baths, either the oval or the ladies’ pool. It wasn’t always full of ladies but it was called the ladies pool. It was very nice but my favourite was the oval with the springboard in the corner.
I’d go to the Turkish baths in the Victoria Leisure centre during the eighties and nineties – it was great value for money. I used to go very early in the morning – you could have cheese on toast, a cup of tea and even a Mars Bar if you were really lashing out! You would have your own bed space with a curtain round it. Once I had a massage there and it nearly killed me, so I decided that I’d skip massages from then on and opt for the gentler therapy of dozing away in the corner! It was a great place to hang out and read a book and do some writing, but also a great place for meetings. There’s nothing like a meeting with men in towels to focus the mind on what you’re trying to do. It was a very good way of going out and coming home and saying you’d done a really hard day’s work. It was brilliant.
It’s fair to say that a lot of the local gangsters were regulars at the baths – the bigger your belly, the more likely you were to be there, but I never asked anyone straight out what their private profession was. There were men of all different cultures and I gather the women’s area was equally as exciting. Short of the tinker’s pubs, if you wanted to meet a wider cross section of the community that was the place to go and have a chat – I really liked it.
I remember my dad taking me down to the oval swimming bath when I was seven, throwing me in the deep end, and then going off for a pint! I couldn’t swim and had to be dragged out of the water, utterly distressed that my dad had tried to drown me! He was deaf and he didn’t say much, but we finally got out of him that I was lucky, because his father threw him in the Trent! Dad’s pastime with his brothers was to jump off the suspension bridge and swim down to the railway bridge and back again – a feat that I did not decide to copy. I remember my mother saying to me, “You either give in, or you get back on the horse.” So I taught myself to swim. After a year, I was good enough for my junior school to put me in a swimming contest at Jesse Boot. Their pool was long and narrow, not an oval bath and nobody had told me that you had to dive in. So I was the school’s representative and I dived in, doing the biggest belly flop ever. I came last in the race and this nice middle-class woman who was upstairs with my mum said, “Tell him he’s got a beautiful stroke.” I look back and think that kept me swimming – otherwise I would’ve given up. So I have fond memories of those two spaces, drowning in one, swimming in the other!