WHETHER he’s pulling off the cover to get the pool ready first thing early in the morning, giving a child the confidence to take that first nervous swim unaided or pelting some youngster with a water-logged sponge as part of his legendary weekend ‘wipeout’ sessions, Jim Currie has been a constant throughout the near-40-year history of Kelso Swimming Pool.
Jim started at the pool the same year it was opened and two years later, in 1975, was promoted to pool manager. But in six months, he will signal the end of an era when he calls time on a career that spans 44 years and has seen countless thousands of youngsters taught to swim.
This week, TheSouthern managed to persuade Jim to sit down for half an hour and talk about himself – no easy feat for a man ever on alert for a customer with a question.
Born in Oxnam and educated in Jedburgh, Jim was always a keen swimmer. Leaving school, he tried his hand in the bakery trade in Hawick before he donned a butcher’s apron.
“I switched to butchery because of the early starts. You had to get up at 4am and travel to Hawick and I wasn’t up for that,” he laughed. “So I tried the butchery for about 10 months and then I spotted an advert for a job at Jed baths.”
Jim applied for the post of leisure assistant and was successful. It was 1968 and the die was cast. After a short spell at the Duns pool, he transferred to the Kelso facility.
As well as all those taught to swim by Jim and his staff, many were coached to competition success during his three decades as a coach for the town’s swimming club, while his holiday ‘boot camps’ and weekend ‘wipeouts’ for the kids have become famous with youngsters – and a godsend to parents.
Under his tenure, the pool has hosted activities as diverse as canoeing and snorkelling to aquarobics and ante-natal sessions. As well as young swimmers and their families, those with disabilities have been made to feel just as welcome, as have triathletes using the pool to train and local scuba divers keeping their skills up to speed.
For his efforts he won the ‘Best Borderer’ award in 2004 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Ex-Kelso Laddies’ Club in 2009.
Jim told us: “I just thought if I got the chance to retire now I would. It means I’ll be able to spend more time with my three grandbairns – and more time catching up on my reading.
“The thing I’ll miss most about the job is the kids and meeting folk. I’ll miss the craic with the staff too – but I’ll not miss the paperwork. That’s the bit I have loved the best – teaching the kids and dealing with the public.”
Nowadays on a Saturday morning or during the school holidays, you are liable to find the pool filled by hundreds of screaming youngsters clambering over the massive inflatable island or riding water scooters.
But it’s not just because of inflatables that Kelso pool is such a swimming success story for the Borders.
Jim said: “You have to build it up. It’s pretty much the same thing we were doing 40 years ago, but we just keep adapting it.
“Nowadays, the big thing is our ‘secret mission’ sessions, where you don’t let on to folk what’s going to be happening – it adds an element of surprise.”
In just over a week, Kelso pool will close for a 12-week refurbishment that will see more than £452,000 spent on the first major refurbishment in its history.
And it is fitting that Jim will be on hand to keep an eye on things as he has always done.
He knows it’s going to be a hard link to break come September 4.
Jim added: “I’ll miss the kids and I’ll miss the patter. So I imagine I might still come in for a ‘nose’ to see how things are going and for a bit of a paddle!”