The past is another country

A little while ago I mentioned going back to my old school on a reunion. Thinking about this brought back a memory which seems unreal with the distance of time. When I was at school we undertook a weekly activity that is probably illegal now.

The school in question was the Manchester Grammar School. Without doubt a great school. Yet when our helpful sixth former took us on a tour, he visibly winced at one point. He had obviously heard a certain story too many times from old boys. He was, no doubt, suppressing a smile. The location this reminiscence took place was the swimming pool.

I was never a very good swimmer, andI really didn't like swimming lessons. I honestly can't remember if this probably-now-illegal aspect was part of the reason I didn't like them. I suspect it was more because I found swimming so hard. But a psychoanalyst would have a field day. A whole generation of output from this school, she would deduce, was scarred. Why? Because when we made that trip to the outfitters and bought the expensive school uniform (you had to go to a particular shop in Manchester that had one of those wonderful tube setups at the till, where the money whizzes away in a cylinder), said uniform did not include swimming trunks. Swimming lessons were undertaken in the nude.

I don't remember this ever being justified at the time, though I presume it was explained to our parents - I can't imagine modern parents going along with it, but there was more respect for authority back then. I seem to remember reading since that it originated in fabric shortages in the war. Apparently, because of this, the standard issue school swimming trunks were made out of wool, which soon became sodden, like swimming in lead. Doing without them was a welcome release - one that continued into the 1960s and 70s.

The mind utterly boggles, trying to see this practice from really not very long ago through modern eyes. The past truly is another country.


  1. Lamson Paragon was the name of the tubey things; high tech and leading edge when introduced. See the attached for some further info

    In a slightly modified form a number of supermarkets still use them for delivering cash direct from the tills to their cashier's department.


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