The point of a council swimming pool is to teach youngsters how to swim, from flapping around in arm-bands and their mothers’ arms, to jumping and and larking about as teenagers. In that safe environment, they can learn how to cope when they go to Marbella with their mates, or fall off a boat, jump into a quarry or get swept away in a fast-flowing river. The whole point is to replicate everything about the experience except the actual danger of the open water.
The worst thing they will find at a council swimming pool is a dreary-voiced functionary telling them what not to do. Three boys were thrown out of Harlow pool last week because they were wearing the long shorts which are fashionable at the moment. The drag of the material could hamper their swimming apparently. But if that is what they are going to wear in real life, then surely that is what they should swim in at the council pool. Many dangerous situations in fact arise when they are fully clothed.
This cuts no ice with the dim little men of Harlow. They don’t much mind if the youths drown fully clothed in a quarry as long as there is not the slightest risk that they will do so on their patch. In fact, of course, boys who are driven out of swimming pools by this sort of attitude are very likely to go off to the quarry or the river next time, where they can swim in peace without being whined at by people like this.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth Borough Council has barred its pools from lending arm-bands and rubber rings to children. They might get an infection blowing them up, it seems, and the Council might be liable if they punctured. Better that the children drown uninfected but with the Council in the clear. Better that they risk swimming with no arm-bands (their own fault) than that the Council risks blame from the (much lower) risk that the supplied arm-bands might leak.
Council swimming pools are, in fact, the scene of the one solid achievement of Tessa Jowell. The former minister of football, drinking and gambling is said to have intervened to scrap a rule imposed by many councils which required an absurd ratio of adults to children. Jowell’s line was that people would stop taking their children swimming at all, resulting in a whole generation of non-swimmers (and empty pools, of course).
Ed Balls, the new Secretary of State for Education (I know, I know, but life is too short to look up and type out the full nonsense name of his department) has timidly suggested that conker fights should be allowed again. It seems unlikely that this initiative will grow and roll back the frontiers of stupid risk aversion. Ed Balls has lost the ability to think for himself after ten years as Voldemort Brown’s little helper, and is unlikely to do anything brave. Even if he did, it is unlikely that anyone will understand it – this needs a short, sharp directive, not the policy version of the Ring Cycle.
Tony Blair once said that the Government should get to grips with unthinking risk aversion, excessive Health & Safety concerns and the worst aspects of the compensation culture which lies at the root of this nonsense. But then Tony Blair promised a lot of things.
The people employed in local government seem to self-select into roles appropriate to their characters. The timid ones run places where the young should learn to be self-reliant. If football and Big Brother are your idea of relaxation, you get posted to the Culture Department. If you have no aesthetic sense and no cultural appreciation, you end up in the Planning Department. If you are just thick, you join the Highways Department.