Monday, 25 April 2011

Up the wall

Seymour Place
London W1H 5TJ
020 7723 8019
Added bonus: I got married up the road (Admittedly, that’s only a bonus for Mr Landreth, on good days). Also, there is a climbing wall here…
Negative points: Water’s a bit hot. The pic looks nicer than it is. 

I used this pool a lot when I lived nearby – what the hell was I thinking,  wasting my twenties swimming when I should have been too busy smoking and drinking to think about such nonsense.  However, I have almost no memory of swimming here, and maybe it’s because I was actually drunk.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A proper little oasis

32 Endell St, City of London WC2H 9AG

020 7831 1804 ‎
Added bonus: Nearly naked, right in the middle of town.
Negative point: Wandering round Covent Garden with goggle marks on your face

What better thing to do on a beautiful spring morn than down a quick macchiato on Endell St then head for Oasis Pools? That’s what I thought, and it was nice of so many people to join me. (Irony.) On a street fugged by noise and fumes,I go up the steps into a chi-chi little entrance area with a chi-chi little cafĂ© area, and straight away get a view on to the reason people come here -  the outdoor pool.

It takes approximately three steps for chi-chi to give way to old school scruffy (by which I mean as scruffy as an old school, rather than some back-ref to the 90s). I managed to miss the sign and went wandering  down corridors with utilitarian carpet probably made of recycled car tyres, searching for changing rooms, finding only squash courts. Eventually I find a MASSIVE changing area, a funny old place with thousands of lockers, a few half-benches with pink metal hole-punched dividers, and traffic cones on broken bits of the floor. It’s a mish-mash of money badly spent – you can see where they’ve had tiny injections of cash in things like a few newer shower cubicles but overall, it’s grimy, a bit smelly, and in all that space, there’s practically nowhere to put your bag.
*In the interests of veracity, for what are we without it, I thought I should update this entry after a recent visit on a September morning of 2012. The women's changing rooms have been updated. They are now a massive space, big enough for a party, cleaner and nicer with the ubiqitous dark plywood beloved only of municipal designers. But there are still only three toilets and a couple of showers. Well, six: three in cubicles and three open. So if you ARE there for a party, you'll end up queueing for the loo. We always do, don't we *beleagured feminist holding it in face*. 

Monday, 11 April 2011

Feel the vibes

Marshall St
London W1F 7EL
07801 477 750
Added points for: The vibe from dead people.
Negative points for: pricy, even with added vibe.

I was coming out of this pool once, and a man introduced himself to me as Sharky Marky, and told me how many swimming pools he’d swum in round the world (it was a lot, obviously;  ‘I’ve swum in three pools’ would never be a great line).  I said to him ‘I love this pool, the vibe is so excellent.’ (Yes, I do talk like that. I’m a bit of a wanker.) That was enough encouragement for him to tell me the following: in the olden days, he said, this whole area used to be closed-off, where people with the plague lived in isolation, to avoid the spread of the disease; and a necessary part of that were mass burial grounds. So many souls beneath us, he said, created this great vibe. 

Right, I said, uncharmed, wishing I’d never said ‘vibes’.  I went home and looked online, and indeed, the area round Marshall and Carnaby streets was known as Pesthouse Close, with plague pits and burial grounds. The first public baths were built in 1851/2, in all probability right on top of mass graves. Hundreds of dead bodies, right right down, beneath the foundations of the pool. Obviously, you have to be at a certain point on the faith/stupidity vortex to connect (ahem) spirits of the dead with a nice swim. Thanks, the dead. But regardless, it is a great bit of London history,  passed from Sharky to me to you.

Monday, 4 April 2011

London Fields: a eulogy

London Fields
London E8 3EU
020 7254 9038
Added bonus:  Coffee after in Broadway market.
Negative points: Teeny changing rooms.

I love the power of people, particularly unceasing, intransigent, consistent people who carry on and on until something gets done. So, to those who campaigned for 18 years to get this place reinstated: truly, my heartfelt thanks. They’ve given us such a great pool that surely even the most hardened cold water people can forgive it for being heated. The pool has history of the kind I love, and I have history with this pool. It was here I had an inspiring hour with an Olympian, c/o Outdoor Swimming Society, and it’s here I escape with my mate Jackie, when we fancy a long swim and it’s too cold at Tooting Lido. (This eulogy has a tiny codicil, which is that crossing London Fields on a busy day can be like Dutch skipping with Staffies. I once heard a man calling his dog. ‘Ian. IAN’ he yelled. What kind of a man calls his dog Ian? I thought, looking round. Oh. That kind.)