Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Swimming Pond

I have mentioned the swimming pond in passing in earlier blog posts, but this wonderful Czech institution deserves a post in its own right. At the bottom of the hill close to the local station you will find our local swimming pond. The pond is a man-made creation, which diverts water from a local stream into a large open-air pond for the summer. The water is heated only by the sun's rays, which given that the temperature here recently has been regularly around 30 degrees is quite enough to warm the water. Indeed given the heat the sight of the swimming pond as I traipse past on my way home is extremely appealing. Were it not for the fact that I am often carrying a rucksack full of “stuff” and always a handbag containing money, I would happily do a Colin Firth and leap in to cool myself down. Readers of this blog who are not acquainted with the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice will not know the reference to the scene which had the women of Great Britain joining Elizabeth Bennett in cries of “Mr Darcy!” I will now leave that to your imagination.

At the weekends there are usually families and youngsters camped on the grass by the pond for the day, playing and splashing. Teenagers, such as my two nieces, amuse themselves playing on the makeshift raft and swimming. But you share the pond with wildlife – a family of ducks have made their home there, swallows skim insects off the water's surface, blue and yellow damselflies dart around you and larger dragonflies cruise the still air at the waters' edge looking for prey. There is something wonderfully natural about the pond – there is not a lifeguard to be seen and not a whiff of chlorine. And yet the pond is managed - there are two water slides, jetties, and a rope swing to pass the time. In the Winter the pond is drained and cleaned.

It reminds me of another summer's day in my late childhood when we rode our bikes to the village of Stanton. Stanton was a real village then, before it became a preserved jewel. There we swam at the last of the Cotswold open-air swimming ponds, the water came from a spring I think and was warm with the sun, grass cuttings floated around us and I loved it. Our town of Winchcombe too had had its own swimming pond, where the Beesmoor Brook had been dammed by the local lady of the manor, but even by the time of my childhood this had fallen in to disrepair and disuse. I did explore it once with my friend Paul. Among the rubble of collapsed walls of cut Cotswold stone I ventured into the water up to my knees, but did not have the courage to do more.

It seems to me, looking at the Czech version, that the loss of the English swimming ponds is a great one. I know the health and safety bods would have a lot to say on the matter, that these Czech ponds must break every rule in the book. But still it seems to me that the Czechs have a better understanding of what makes a healthy childhood than we do and that the swimming ponds are just a good example of this.

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