The Knap, Summer ‘76

Kath Wheeler gives us the insight on Cardiff teen sophistication

I remember the Long Hot Summer of 1976. The last rain was sometime in April, and we girls spent most lunchtimes out on the top field at school, sunbathing. Sleeves rolled up, blouses knotted at the waist and tucked into our bra’s, socks rolled down and skirts daringly mid-thigh, all of us in our little group duly anointed and smelling strongly of the olive oil and lemon juice salad dressing Julie had a sudden passion for. I was 13. By the time we finally broke up from school for the summer holiday, we were convinced the freak weather was sure to end any day.

Dried reservoir bedPeople were by now being urged to conserve water by any means possible, housebrick in the toilet cistern, watering the garden if essential with water saved from washing up and bathing, which should be done with a friend. Or as in our house, one after another in 2 inches of water until arguments broke out along the lines of ‘I’m not going in after …’ . Reservoirs were drying up, people walking on the cracked mud which should have been under several feet of water.

The Knap pool at www.welshman.co.ukI’m pretty sure they opened the pool early that year, I do know that we started going down on the bus straight from school, a distance of about 5 miles between school and the Baths. The Knap Lido swimming pool, bigger than Olympic sized, was an open-air pool on the headland between Watchtower Bay and Pebble Beach in Barry. There’s a Facebook group now The Royal Knap Lido Rememberance Club. The invading hordes that came every summer could keep The Island, The Baths, or ‘Bars’, as it was known to the cognoscente, was ours.

We queued for ages for our season tickets, the shuffling, excited mass of kids, teenagers, and the occasional parent stretching back through the park, alongside the harp-shaped boating lake, with its swans and always a few rowers whose performance was studied and criticised, with the odd helpful and polite suggestion to improve technique being shouted to the more inept. Well, they were grockles. The local lads put in a great deal of practice, as rowing on the Knap boating lake was almost a courtship display; muscles, strength, and general aesthetic appeal noted by a discerning audience.

Toward the end of summer, after the parade of floats and jazzbands, there used to be a raft race which took part mostly on, not in, the lake. It was made up of the most bizarre looking craft and crew in that lake, one lap around and sometimes less than half making it all the way before capsizing. Ah, the prized season ticket you’d been doing odd jobs to earn the money for, baby-sitting, running errands, you were nobody without one! For 50p, you could bypass the sweating queue to pay, and join the much shorter queue who merely waved the treasured ticket to an attendant at the gate, as many times as you liked for the whole season, usually June till September. 50p was 50p in those days, let me tell you!

making cut-off jeansWe couldn’t wait to be free, and we’d be there as soon as they opened, clutching towel, swimsuits and bum-smackers as we called the cut off jeans we painstakingly frayed and patched with embroidered patches. I had a huge apple made of sequins on the back pocket of mine. Also in the bag was enough food and drink to last us until they had to practically come in after us to get us out of the water at 7 o’clock. Crisps, but no pop for me, I preferred a flask of tea. I usually had a book with me, and often a small transistor radio. Whenever I hear The Boys are Back in Town, or Seasons in the Sun, I can almost hear the distant shrieks and splashes, smell chlorine and suntan lotion, and feel the roughness of the towel over the slab paving beneath me while the sun blazed down.

Position was important, too. On one side were the chalet community, an elite group who sat on folding chairs on the grass! Too close to the changing rooms – actually a crescent shaped double row of precast concrete cubicles, with bench along the back, and wooden saloon doors opening to the space between, and flat low roofs that the boys used to run along until shouted down – and you were a close enough target for them to flick at you with rolled towels. Too close to the pool, and you’d be trampled all day and your stuff kicked about when you left it, belongings innocently tucked under the towel, when you went in the water. Finding a prime spot in between was one of the reasons for coming so early.

The diving boards at the end were closed off when it was windy, otherwise there was a constant parade of yet more local lads, who had more competition here than at rowing, of both sexes. Personally, I wouldn’t go near them, although I wore the bum-smackers which were meant as protection from the infamous Bomb – jumping in from top board with knees clasped tight. I used to watch though, course I did. The peg-legs, and bombs, and even the practiced grace of the odd clean dive. The participants would often announce what their next would be, egged on by their friends and watched openly or shyly by the crowd below.

My friend was a much better swimmer than I, and I wouldn’t go in if the water was too cold, but that year, I have a vivid memory of a line of about six of us, holding hands and running from the edge of the paddling pool with its concrete dolphin we’d all stubbed our toes on sometime or other, and down into the steps in the shallow end, till we were waist deep, then sitting on the bottom. It was like running into a warm bath. I used to like to swim lengths, then. Push myself to see how many I could do, then float for a while, in the sun, before hauling myself out to go and bask on my towel, running the gauntlet of all the other cliques: sporty, bitchy, popular, daredevils, would-be Casanovas and admiring girls. And the odd girl who had a certain devil-may-care, rebellious, presence that fascinated and confused me. But that’s a whole other story!

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One Response

  1. What a summer!!!!!

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