By popular demand we once again recount herein the story of Cookridge Street Swimming Baths and the day of the big poo…
When I was ten years old our school decided that all of us young oiks needed to learn to swim, fair enough we thought, and once a week we would be loaded onto a bus and transported into Leeds to partake of free swimming lessons at the Victorian Cookridge Street swimming baths – a beautiful building in the style of a turkish emporium of steam and water (a similar, restored building remains at Bramley in Leeds) which was demolished in the late 1960’s and replaced by a shite concrete block of a swimming pool which leaked from day one, outlived its useful life within 30 years and is now a car park.
I digress, the crime …
So we’d troop off the bus every week and split into two groups – those who could swim and those who couldn’t swim. those who could would go to the large adults swimming pool at one end of the building, whilst those who couldn’t (including me) would shuffle embarrassed to another room which held a smaller, learner pool.
In the style of all of those victorian bathing establishments the pool was surrounded on all four sides by wrought iron stachions and a balcony on which were perched the small changing cubicles, and so we’d stomp up the iron stairs and as there weren’t enough changing cubicles for all of us we’d have to share with a friend – it had to be a close friend because even though we were only children at the time you were hard pushed to fit two of us into one cubicle.
Anyhoo – I shared with my best friend Christopher Rhodes, who I hope now lives in some far flung outpost of the empire where they cannot recieve t’interweb coverage and therefore he will never read this – or he’ll sue.
On the fateful day Chris Rhodes didn’t look all that well on the way to Cookridge Street, but we got changed in the cramped cubicles, being careful that our bums didn’t touch when we dropped our pants as that was the sure sign that you’d both be “puffs” when you grew up – and we gathered around the pool downstairs for our usual lesson of torture from a fat lady in a bulging swimming costume who really couldn’t care less whether we learned to swim or drown in the process – she didn’t care so much that about halfway through the lesson and without explanation Chris Rhodes climbed out of the swimming pool and went back up the iron stairs to the changing cubicle.
At the end of the lesson I went back to the cubicle and found that I couldn’t get in, the door was jammed by Chris Rhodes standing behind it holding it shut.
“I need to come in, let me in” I told him
“Can’t you get changed somewhere else” he whispered through the door
“No, all the cubicles are full” I whispered back, “anyway my clothes are in this one”
“Find another cubicle and I’ll pass your clothes over the door” he hissed
“Just let me in” I implored “Crawfords coming” and indeed she was, our fat lady teacher was patrolling the balcony banging on each door to hurry us kids up.
The door opened by a crack and I squeezed through the narrow gap to find Chris Rhodes squashed into the corner behind the door, staring at the floor…
…at a huge big turd.
A long curly turd, freshly laid, all curled up with a Mr Whippy flourish on the top, steaming.
“Don’t step in it” Chris Rhodes fortuitously told me.
“Where did that come from ?” I stupidly asked
“I couldn’t help it” he offered as some sort of explanation
“What do we do now” I gasped, the air in the cubicle was growing distinctly foul
“Get changed quick and don’t say a word” he offered as a solution, “don’t step in it” he reminded me as an afterthought.
I changed on tiptoe, holding my nose against the stench, surely by now the kids in the neighbouring cubicles would have noticed and would be enquiring of their sharing friends whether or not they had dropped their guts ?
I dressed in record time and Chris Rhodes opened the door a crack again and shove me out onto the balcony, he intended to stay in the cubicle until the last second before the bus left to ensure that no-one came looking in there.
And his plan worked, we got away on the bus and spent the next week laughing about him taking a shit in the cubicle rather than use the toilet which he’d actually had to walk past first.
And then the following week we had to return.
And there, waiting for us was the manager of the swimming pool.
He was a big man, he was a huge man, he must have easily weighed well over twenty stone and clearly didn’t make much use of the exercise facilities that he was in charge of – and he was a friend of my dad and had spent many a sunday afternoon after a lunchtime session in the pub fast asloeep in one of our chairs at home while his wife sat there apologising to our mum and dad while she waited for him to sleep off his skinfull – our house was often used as a temporary refuge for my dads drunken friends after a lunchtime session.
He stood there blocking our way and we could tell that he was annoyed, he was very annoyed.
He told us to go to the exact same changing cubicle that we had used the week before and to stay there until he managed to climb the iron stairs and join us.
I looked at Chris Rhodes in a “what do we do now” sort of way
He looked at the floor,
We were doomed – there were no spare cubicles for us to claim, we’d have to stand outside the shitty one.
It was too late to run away, we trudged up the iron staircase and hung back from the crowd as everyone dashed to their own cubicles, leaving the shitty one in the corner.
And then there was a moment of divine intervention.
Right in the very corner of the balcony, right next to the shitty cubicle, was a small wedge shaped cubicle that was useless to change in and so was used by the cleaning staff to store mops and buckets, and God had made sure that today the cleaners were out with the mops and buckets and the tiny storeroom was empty – we dived in there and claimed it as our own, it had no bench to sit on and no hooks to hang your school blazer on, it looked so much unlike a changing cubicle that I knew we wouldn’t get away with it, but Chris Rhodes was grasping at any alibi and this was as good an alibi as he had.
The huge fat manager finally made it up the iron stairs and wheezing and gasping for breath he made his way straight to the shitty cubicle and flung open the door only to cry out “WHAT !!!” when he found it to be empty.
“WHO USED THIS CUBICLE LAST WEEK ?” he bellowed out and we stood behind the cleaners cubicle door trying not to laugh.
A few seconds later the door of our newfound refuge was flung open and there he stood, red faced, extremely annoyed, appoplectic actually – “WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING IN THE CLEANERS CUPBOARD” he demanded of us.
“We always get changed in here” Chris Rhodes lied extremely well, “theres more room in here” and at this I turned and with a wave of my hand demonstrated that indeed there was more room in here – the fact that there wasn’t more room in here was patently obvious to all, but when you are in the middle of a blatent lie you have to see it through, no matter how outrageous.
“ARE YOU SURE ?” the manager demanded and turned to Crawford our teacher , “ARE THEY SURE ?” he asked of her, she shrugged her shoulders and gave him a look that read “Well they are both stupid enough to get changed in a cleaners cupboard”
He could do nothing, he knew that we’d used the shitty cubicle last week and he knew we were both lying but he had no proof, and more than that I’m sure that he recognised me from one of his sunday afternoon drunken stupours, he turned form us and gave everyone on the balcony a huge bollacking for letting one of our number befoul his beloved victorian swimming emporium by shitting in a cubicle, then he buggered off.
We got away with it.
But after that, every week we had to get changed in the cleaners cupboard and most weeks that involved climbing over steel buckets, mops and industrial solvents , to the tune of Crawford standing outside shouting “Why don’t you two use this empty cubicle next door” while we assured her that no, we were alright in here and there was loads of room for us, standing in this bucket of Vim like I was.
I didn’t learn to swim at all at Cookridge Street baths.