I’m very sorry to hear that a Ryton icon has died. I’ve mentioned Ernie Brodrick before in this blog, and talked about my belief that over the time span of a couple of decades, from the early sixties onwards, he must have taught every child in Ryton to swim. If you’re younger than me and you don’t remember Ryton Pool, I’m guessing that you will still know Ernie because you’ll have seen him buzzing about Ryton on his souped up mobility scooter. You know the one…. it had lots of additions to make it look like a high-powered motorbike, and it sported more bling than a Premiership footballer in a nightclub.
For the benefit of anyone reading this who is under twenty-five, Ferndene Park used to have an open air swimming pool situated on the area of land below the bowling green opposite to the tennis court. During the winter months the park was deserted and depressing. Everything was locked up and the pool was drained, but it would all leap back to life again at around about Easter, awakening simultaneously with the spring blooms. I liked to go and watch the pool being refilled, a process which seemed to take several days. At first the water would be a stagnant looking green, but once the filtering system and chlorine had taken hold it became as clear and as blue as a glacier mint (or grey depending on the sky) but in my mind’s eye it’s permanently blue.
When the weather was hot it was a welter of splashing bodies. Trips would be bussed in from Scotswood most Sundays, the pitch & putt and the tennis courts were permanently occupied, and the bowling green exuded the comforting sounds of bowling balls tapping together and polite clapping. It was a contented world of salt n’ vinegar Tudor crisps (on sale in the little shop there) and Pooh sticks in the stream.
The swimming baths served a serious purpose too. When I was a child many families, including mine, didn’t have car, and the next nearest pool was in Whickham which was difficult to get to by bus. We could walk to Ryton pool, and because it was there, and because Ernie Brodrick was such a dedicated teacher, I was an extremely competent swimmer by the time I was five. This wasn’t unusual; all of my friends had been taught by Ernie too. When I was in my early teens I accidentally fell into a deep canal. I kicked off my shoes and swam to the side to await help. No real harm done, but had I not known Ernie that minor accident could have had a very different outcome. I dare say that by that time someone else would have taught me to swim, but I would have been nowhere near as good. Many of my more talented peers went on to represent our county in national swimming competitions. They’d had the facilities and expert tuition from a young age.
Ernie was my idea of what an adult should be like. He always seemed to have plenty of time, and he was never grumpy or impatient. He was also incredibly good looking and sported fantastic sun tans. I loved the fine days when he would produce a rather cumbersome record player, set it up outside, and blast out his favourite hits. Whenever I want to transport myself back to those halcyon times, I just need to hear, “It’s Impossible”, by Andy Williams, or Keith West’s “Excerpt from a Teenage Opera”, and there I am.
Have you ever parked your car in Marks and Spencer’s at the Metrocentre, and then emerged from the shops three hours later completely unable to remember where you’ve left it? Come on now I’ll bet you have. I do this every single time, and I consistently fail to learn anything from the repetition. I carry on neglecting to look at those huge green numbers, so clearly displayed at the end of each row before I do my shopping, and then I have to waste a quarter of an hour searching for the car when I get back.
I was asked at work last week if I could run an errand. I did my twisty face and launched into a general whinge, but then I was told it was to go down to Wetherby in North Yorkshire. I hastily changed my attitude. “Oh yes, nowt’s a bother, of course I will. Did I say I didn’t have time? No no, you must have misheard me. I didn’t say that at all, yes I did say I was really busy, I mean I’m always busy, but of course I can fit it in seeing as it’s you. If you just sort me out a car please and pop the keys on my desk Many thanks.”
So a pleasant little jaunt to Wetherby. I fixed up the job I’d been given to do, and then I repaired to Asda to take the meal break I was entitled to before driving back to Gateshead. Suitably refreshed with coffee and cheesecake I returned to the car park 40 minutes later thinking; ‘Now then, where did I put it?’ Then it dawned upon me, with creeping concern, that there was a second part to this conundrum. What kind of car is it? What does the bloody thing look like? I gathered from the keys that it was a VW, but what kind of VW? A security guard saw me looking baffled and apparently guessed my dilemma. “
What colour is your car?” he enquired helpfully.
“Err.” I couldn’t remember that either. A car is a car. There are loads of the damn things at work and I hadn’t troubled to look at the one I’d been given the keys to. Neither had I looked at the oil or the tyre pressures, or any of the other things we’re supposed to go over before driving away. The only thing I’d bothered checking was whether or not it had a functioning CD player. One hour and five minutes later…. I left Wetherby.
On my eventual return to work I just pretended I’d been stuck in the traffic.
Another local amenity we so take for granted is the peaceful Chopwell Woods. Heather and I had a walk in there on Sunday. Doesn’t it look lovely? The Lane Head was also glowing in the late winter sunshine.