In praise of leisure pools

The Guardian reports: With the rise of lane swimming, kids preferring to do handstands have been washed into a corner of the municipal facility. What became of the council-run places dedicated to splashing about?

Remember swimming widths? Probably not if you're under 20, or even 30, unless you have access to a private pool. But when I learned to swim back in the 1970s it was perfectly normal. Great, in fact, for any child unable to stand in the deep end, since it meant you could practise swimming in the shallows instead.

Today widths have been all but outlawed, with leisure centres across Britain introducing lane swimming, in many cases across most of their main pools. So you have fast, medium and slow, or fast, medium and private lessons. Or, if you're lucky and it's Saturday afternoon, fast, medium and casual swim – meaning one lane, or perhaps half the pool lengthways, is reserved for those wishing to do something other than lengths.

Before the comments thread rises up against me, I'd better write very fast that I have nothing against lane swimmers. But after a summer of getting wet with my children, in the sea as well as pools, I've become cross about the way swimming for fun – as in playing games, jumping in, doing handstands, diving for locker keys, racing each other – has been squeezed out of public pools.