Today is the 1st of September and that is the date that Spring supposedly starts back in South Africa. Here in the UK we are moving into Autumn and so Spring Day does not apply to me any longer. Being officially Spring also meant that summer school uniforms came out irrespective of how cold it still was, and it marked the opening of the public swimming pools in Johannesburg. Way back when I was young (last century sometime), we used to often grab our cossies (swimming costumes) and head off to the “goefies” for a “goef” (swimming baths, swim) even though the water temperature was still low. We were kids, we would not let something like cold water affect our enjoyment in spite of us turning a mild shade of blue once we entered that cold water.
Our local goefies was Mayfair Swimming Baths up in 9th Avenue, near the Battery Street footbridge over the railway lines. It was a very popular spot in a suburb that did not have pools in the backyards of houses.
2017 Google Maps Image of Mayfair Swimming Bath. The pool appears to be empty.
The entrance fee was minimal, but there were times when even that was beyond our means. Once inside the gate you handed over your money and were given a safety pin with a number on it that corresponded to a wire hanger/locker affair (see related image). Once you had changed into your cossie you then handed the wirehanger affair with your clothes in to the attendant who stashed it in the storage area. Theoretically you pinned the safety pin to your cossie until you needed it to retrieve your clothing again. Heaven help you if you lost that safety pin. There were occasions where kids had their pins taken away by bullies, and on some occasions even divested of their cossies!
The pool had the all pervading smell of chlorine and feet with a tinge of mowed grass and it was already busy on the first day of the season. Mayfair swimming baths had a large adults pool as well as a smaller “baby pool” adjoining it and it was surrounded by grass where swimmers would stake their claim by spreading out their towels. Naturally there were the usual stereotypes: The teenager trying to look like “the man” in front of his girlfriend in her skimpy bikini who was desperately trying to not get wet or ruin her fancy hairdo, and of course there was the dude that showed off his diving skill as well as his fake tan and ample muscles. Families would also spend an afternoon at the pool and of course proud parents would dip baby into the warmer water of the baby pool while chasing away those that splashed too much water in the general area. Oh, and then there were kids swimming, shouting, jumping, diving and in some cases almost drowning. Not to mention the occasional kid that used the pool as a public toilet. Floaters did appear on occasion and anybody taking a dump would be thrown out by the lifeguard.
When we finally left for home with our prunelike skin and the beginnings of bad sunburn we would not even consider having had a bad day. But that night your parents knew that the red hue would herald a sleepless night and ample dollops of camomile lotion. The blisters would eventually subside (or be burst) and then the peeling and itching would start and we would be ready to do it all over again. SPF? we had not heard of it way back in the 1960’s.
Incidentally, the pool was across the road from what was supposedly the most haunted house in Mayfair (aka “Die Spook Huis”), although conversations on a number of groups from people who lived there did not throw out any incidents that indicated that the house was haunted. As kids the house looked creepy to us and of course our overactive imaginations ran riot.
Villa Mayfair was built in 1898 for a Mr. Busat, a Johannesburg businessman. In 1901 a stable and coach house were added and the house was extended in 1931. It is over 120 years old and may be one of the oldest houses in the suburb.
I suppose that this brief peek into the past is really about the simplicity of our all too brief childhoods. When we looked again we would be in high school and if we were lucky (or unlucky) may even have been the swaggering teen trying to impress his girlfriend, and maybe in later years would hold the hands of our children as they took their first steps in that institution called the “Public Swimming Baths”. And of course do not assume that the first day of Spring was a pleasant one. In September 1981 it actually snowed in Johannesburg for the first time since the early 1960’s. Guess where I was? sweltering in 40 degrees back in what was then South West Africa.
Was the experience the same in the UK? I do not know, but it is likely that UK kids went through something similar when they were young. I have seen two “Swimming Baths” buildings in Reading and London, and our small town has a pool at the local leisure centre, although I suspect the list of rules to use it is very long.
The image below is of Camberwell Public Baths and Public Wash House that was built in 1901/02.
DRW © 2021. Created 01/09/2021