There was a communal swimming pool on the gold mine where I grew up in the Eastern Transvaal Lowveld (now Mpumalanga). I have a vague recollection of my father swimming there with us when we were very small, but my memories are of carefree, unsupervised swimming. I know this isn’t true, yet I have felt as though I have always been able to swim.
The swimming pool was situated above the primary school and over the road (albeit at a higher level) from the tennis courts. While the area may have had a perimeter fence, I do not recall any gates and the pool itself was unfenced. There certainly were no lifeguards on duty. I spent hours in that pool every summer all through my years of schooling. There was no filtration and so the water was nearly always murky and my eyes burned from the chlorine that was added to the water.
Two diving boards graced the deep end of the pool. I became adept at diving, first from the lower board and later from the high diving board, each of which was covered with coconut fibre matting – which inevitably wore thin as each season neared its end. It wasn’t long before I learned how to do backflips with ease. One day I slipped on the wet board and scraped my back rather painfully on the edge of the diving board. I doubt if I dived after that.
During the summer months my then very blonde hair had a distinctly greenish tinge to it that no amount of shampooing would remove. My shins were bruised from me hauling myself out of the sides of the pool instead of swimming to the metal steps affixed to either end of the pool.
We all loved that pool, which was the meeting ground of young and old during the summer.
There was no such luxury on our farm, however, and so very occasionally my father would fill a section of a galvanised water tank for us to dip into when we were very young. This was a real treat as water was precious there and had to be pumped from a borehole near the house.
I recall visiting family on their Karoo farm when I was ten. In the searing summer heat we naturally made a beeline for one of the cement water reservoirs on the property. The fact that the water looked soupy with clumps of bubbling green algae floating on top proved to be no deterrent. My toes curl even now at the sensation of letting my feet touch the bottom and feeling the thick, ropey green algae down there. I tried to avoid it as best I could.
Although I could swim from an early age, I have never had swimming lessons and am not a strong swimmer at all: a slow breaststroke or even backstroke (of a sort) suits me. I was once nonetheless persuaded to join my ‘house’ team during my high school years. It was put to me that my mere presence in the pool would contribute towards points for my house (D’Artagnan – commonly known as Darts). It might have, but my lack of prowess in the water added no more to the tally. I ended up swimming the last lap of the race on my own to the accompaniment of loud slow-clapping from both the crowd and my fellow competitors. The bright side is that I persevered to the end.
The first time we had a pool of our own was when we installed a small portapool in the back yard of our home in Mmabatho, in the then Bophuthatswana. The temperatures could get hellishly hot there and so even this tiny pool proved to be refreshing for our young family.
There was no doubt in our minds that installing a ‘proper’ pool in the garden of our newly-built home in Mafikeng (now Mahikeng) was a necessity rather than a luxury. The weather was so hot there that we swam daily throughout the year. This pool was fenced as our children and their friends were still young – and I was always around to keep an eye on them.
The plunge pool on our Grahamstown property soon made way for a larger one closer to our house. This proved to be a boon while our children were growing up and later for our eldest grandchildren, who lived next door to us until a few years ago.
Now we keep it clean simply because it is there. I swim only on the hottest of days. Nonetheless, it is there for when our younger grandchildren visit in the summer …