Monday, 21 March 2011

No gratuitous nudity

23 Vauxhall Bridge Road London SW1V 1EL
020 7630 5522
Plus points: quite near Victoria station.
Minus points: for being expensive - £5.15 for a swim!

Yep, when you think of sports, the first royal to spring to mind is the Queen Mother, though usually in a betting context; a Queen Mother  Commemorative Bookies might have been more appropriate. And when friend Becky told me that everyone swanned about in the nude here, a certain level of expectation was set. But as putting on a swimming costume inevitably involves some nudity (unless you have one of those towelling bric-a-brac tents to change under) I can report that there was no gratuitous nudity on the day I went, which is a shame/relief (delete as appropriate). 

Quell your internal Linda Barker - this is a naff and corporation-style homage to blue lino. That which is not covered in blue lino is covered in shades of blue paint. Blue walls, blue skirting, blue handrails, blue benches. I think it’s subliminal advertising by Tory Westminster Council; it didn’t work on me, but then, rendering the face of Dame Shirley Porter in a tile mosaic on the pool floor wouldn’t work on me.

Having read a review that suggested the lockers weren’t safe, I felt low-level anxiety in the changing rooms (assuaged by having absolutely nothing of worth) and yes, some scratched keyholes did look like someone had tried to jemmy them with a nail file. The (blue) benches were generously wide, and there are loads of lockers. As often in municipal spaces, the fetid drainy loo smell is not pleasant, and overall, it’s dated, but clean enough. Pool side is busy with notices and posters, but corporation-efficient, rather than messy. There are large plastic ad displays down one side (for a Captain Underpants book when I was there. How amusing, how apposite, but do I need to be sold stuff while I’m swimming?) below the small viewing gallery where hot bored adults sit eating Quavers.

The pool is only 25m long and shallow, but as it’s very wide, there are plenty of lanes with clear distinctions: slow, not so slow, a bit faster, really fast, so fast I’ll frighten you. That works well in a busy pool, and each lane is still wide enough for a careful overtake if needed. White tiles line the pool, and make this a light bright welcoming slab of water, and though it’s warm (probably too warm for serious training) that quality of light in the water, combined with the width and shallow depth, make the space look airy, like an easy, accessible swim, not an  imposing or tough challenge. (I don’t know how the psychology of space and light works, but if I find out, I’ll tell you.) Multiple lanes mean you really can make your own pace here, you can switch comfortably between leisure swim and hard ironman thrashing, That’s a positive; it can be as easy or challenging as you choose, or both in one swim; and you can be as removed from the uber-focus of the competitive types as you want, without having to compromise by getting stuck behind a real slowie. If you get your lane choice right, you can disappear into your own head a bit, rather than spending the whole swim slowing down, speeding up, waiting and dodging. You don’t often get to do that in public pools. And there’s obviously a bunch of regulars here; I like that too.

As well as this pool, there’s a mid-size flumey slide thing which opens during weekends and school hols, and a baby pool on the other side. It’s a good ‘offer’ to local residents and schools. 6/10. And you get your 20p back when open your locker; that they don’t take the opportunity of fleecing you a tiny bit more is a welcome surprise from a Tory council.


  1. I've had an idea! Rather then taking pictures yourself, you can always ask if people have their own pictures and if they could send it in.

    Looking beautiful.

  2. Thanks Nando, good idea. I'll include that on my next tweet-out.

  3. Loving this. That is some commitment to lidos. I was once told the lido is where you go to get polio, or to cottage - this has somewhat coloured my view of them ever since. Although did have a teenage snog at Bickley Lido once. Am guessing like my teen years this lido is merely a sketchy memory.

  4. Lockers at Westminster Pools are the only ones I know in London that give you your money back. I have to say though that the Queen Mum's has only one thing to recommend it, and that's location. Porchester and Seymour are both atmospheric and rarely get too crowded. As someone that works in Westminster I go to the Queen Mum's because sometimes it's my only opportunity for a swim! (PS my site is sfw, I just stupidly picked a bit of an oo missus name)

  5. hi. late to this blog but am really enjoying it so far. thanks! going to devour every entry. been using this place more than any other in the last year and this is spot on review. it's far from lovely as a building and overall experience (tatty, grubby and entirely unlovely) but i always find the pool bright, clean, clear, cool enough and with enough lanes and space (even at peak times) to be able to train for an hour or so without having to avoid plodders, splashers or doggy paddlers.

    it's almost unheard of to have four lanes clearly marked "slow", "medium", "fast" and "really fast" in a public session. what's more, the "really fast" lane is hardly ever full of splashy macho plonkers covered in gym muscle with no idea.

    i'll happily keep using it (among others) over more handsome and charming places as it's so convenient and as long as it retains the relative lack of rush hour crowding.

    totally agree with 6/10.