Every week a coach arrived at our little village school to take us to the swimming pool down the road in Brighouse.
"Eh up! Charra's 'ere."
We all piled on, clutching our swimming togs wrapped up in tightly rolled towels. It was about a fifteen minute journey to the pool. We turned right out of the school gates, travelled for a few hundred yards and then turned left past a pub called "The Malt Shovel" where my grandfather used to do his drinking. Then down past the church and on to Brookfoot which was an enormously steep hill with a very tight turn on to it. I used to wonder whether we'd make it safely, but we always seemed to manage. And so into Brighouse and the pool which smelled tinglingly of chlorine.
The changing rooms were small private cubicles. We'd go into them two by two, boys on one side, girls on the other. I usually shared with my best friend Jimmy Leadbetter. Once when the class was too slow getting dressed again after the swimming lesson was over, Miss Beaver (our teacher) walked along the line of cubicles and pulled all the curtains back, exposing rows of naked children.
"Hurry up!" she yelled.
We hurried up - it was too embarrassing to do anything else. People might point at us and laugh.
When we were ready for the water, we plodded through the disinfectant foot bath and into the pool. Many of the children already knew how to swim and they were left to their own devices, to splash and dive to their heart's content. The rest of us gathered in the shallow end where we were instructed in the arcane mysteries of the breast stroke. We practised all the arm actions as we stood in the water. Then we practised all the leg actions as we supported ourselves on the bars on the side of the pool.
"Now do them both together! Swim across the width of the pool."
I sank like a brick.
I'd always known that water couldn't support the human body. If it had been capable of supporting the body then I'd have been able to sit on top of the water when I took a bath. Much experimentation convinced me that I couldn't. No matter how hard I tried, I always sunk immediately to the porcelain bottom of the bathtub. I had a vague feeling that because I lived in a small and generally insignificant village it was likely that we got inferior water. Perhaps other places got water that would support people. Perhaps people in other places could sit on top when they took a bath. I felt quite jealous of them.
I got pulled up from the bottom of the pool.
"The water's too thin," I wailed. "I need thicker water."
Throughout the 1950s the British Government worked very hard to repair the battered infrastructure that the second world war had left in its wake. Eventually they got round to our insignificant little Yorkshire village and the water stopped being quite so inferior and it thickened up enough that I finally learned to swim in it. But I was deeply disappointed that it never quite reached a standard that allowed me sit on top of it. I always blamed Adolf Hitler for that.
My two cats Porgy and Bess have developed an inordinate fondness for water; the thicker the better. When Robin fetches the hosepipe to water the garden they go into paroxysms of joy. They chase the stream of water as it plays over the sweet peas, and they splash gaily in the mud pools it leaves behind. They drink delicately from the filthy puddles and then, muddy, soggy moggies, they leap lovingly into our arms and wriggle ecstatically. Old clothes are de rigueur in the Robson household these days.
Inside water is almost as much fun as outside water. They can hear a tap from half a house away and they always come running to take part. On emerging from the shower of a morning, it is not unusual to find a cat sitting in the washbasin, eagerly awaiting its turn. As you towel off your moisty bits, the cat will jump down into the shower stall where it will lick up the soapy residues before they can all gurgle away.
Porgy is particularly fond of watching me when I clean my teeth. He can sit in the washbasin while water is actually running! He taps delicately at the stream with a paw and then quickly shakes off the excess. But what he is really waiting for is the excitingly orgasmic moment when I spit.
The one thing that Porgy simply cannot resist is the sound of me walking into the toilet and lifting the seat. He knows exactly what this means and races in so as not to miss anything. He puts his front paws against the rim of the toilet bowl and stares up, eyes round with wonder and delight. When he can't resist the temptation any longer, he reaches out a tentative paw and plays pat-a-cake with the stream of urine. When I finish, he sits down and thoughtfully brushes his paw behind his ears, then he licks his paw and chews between his toes to ensure that none of the bouquet is missed. When I flush, he immediately climbs up again to enjoy the swirl and twirl and gurgle.
I have to confess that the unnervingly unswerving stare of a fascinated cat has a distinctly desiccating effect upon the Robson bladder and Porgy is currently banned from the toilet, much to his disgust.