That Reminds Me - Bletchley Leisure Centre (27 April 1973)
I took advantage of a week’s holiday recently to inspect one of the large properties I have had built. It was not yet complete and I thought I had better see where all that money was going before it went too far.
Others who had built it along with me, mainly ladies within about 15 years of my own age, had told me it looked very nice inside, but that there was nothing in it for them and they didn’t think they would go again. Which I thought a lamentable state of affairs, if true.
What they meant was that the Leisure Centre had been mis-named. It should have been called the sports centre or the games centre, and they were a bit too old for that sort of caper now. They had paid a shilling (5p) to go in and walk round. They had watched youngsters playing games they themselves knew nothing about. Then they had paid another shilling for a cup of tea – “Would you believe it?” – and had made it last as long as possible before saying farewell to the centre for ever.
I suppose some of them could have tried their hand at bowls. But who wants to do that if there is a possibility of spoiling someone else’s game nearby? And that brilliant green surface doesn’t look as though it was meant for larking tyros, does it? In brief, they preferred a stroll through the old Central Gardens which the centre has displaced.
My own case is different. As a spectator, there is no activity at the centre which I don’t know, if not intimately. The only British sport I have never been able really to get interested in is horse-racing. I once missed getting a good sports writer’s job because of that.
So I went to see the centre for myself, having first been assured that parking nearby would be easy – a consideration which, alas, is now a major one for me.
Let me say at once that I was very favourably impressed. I felt that, much as I had formerly enjoyed the old Central Gardens – and nobody more so – I could well thole the transformation to this.
I approved the open plan, the general roominess and the whole appearance of the place having been purpose-built for the job.
Equally, I was pleased to see so many of the facilities actually in use at 2.30 on a Friday afternoon – a time which I judged would probably be one of the slackest of the week, apart from the fact that the schools were on holiday.
All the available squash courts were in use. The table tennis area was buzzing with activity. People were beginning to turn up for bowls. Several games of badminton were in progress in the main hall.
I also know of two young men who went for a game of badminton on Saturday morning and found that every court was booked until 4.30pm on Sunday.
Looking down on that main hall from a comfortable seat high above, I was puzzled at first by the futuristic maze of lines of different colours for the playing of various games, but I soon had them sorted out.
Inevitably my mind went back to the time nearly 50 years ago when a few of us made what we fondly called a tennis court in the corner of a pasture-cum-cricket field. It was the duty of the first arrival to clear the court of any cowpats.
There I learned the rules of a game that I enjoyed until I was aged 58. But you can imagine what sort of tennis was played. Far more aces were served than were deserved and every ground stroke was a last-split-second snatch. So for the rest of my playing time I was better at strokes that should not be played than those that should.
We hear a lot about how youngsters nowadays want everything “on a plate,” but after full consideration I firmly believe(d) from my own experience that they should have the best possible playing conditions from the start.
They get them at the centre. There are also tuition courses available. Provided that they or their parents can afford the prices, the rest is up to them.
One feature which interested me was what I suppose could be called the strengthening room and its equipment. My young weight-lifter friend Barry Craft tells me it is the best he has ever seen. Players of nearly all games can benefit from this.
Tony Clarke saw me nosing around and said “Aye aye. I know what you’re writing about this week.”
He was only wrong about the week.
I did not much like the look of the caterpillar way from the storeyed car park to the centre. It looked as if it might break loose and bite at any time.
And I deplored the prices being charged for beverages and especially for soft drinks. The department should be told that in a sports context this is not what is meant by a squash racket.
I reserve judgment about the medi-pool. Grannies could be very much attracted by the sight of kiddies splashing about. And if the worst came to the worst, a sort of miniature Kew Gardens could be made of it, with willow pattern bridges, water lil(l)ies, crucian carp, fairy lights and all the rest of it.
And then, dear ladies, you might think you really had got something down there for your many years of rate-paying.