KENSINGTON LEISURE CENTRE
Walmer Road London W11 4PQ
020 7727 9747
Added bonus: a kiln
Negative: Changing area. As usual.
Some days, I fancy a bit of posh. Oh come on, we all do. This was such a day, so I trilled off the tube at Holland Park and gaily skipped along wisteria-laden roads, past houses with front gardens hewn from white marble with olive trees and lavender bushes to the sounds of a man up some scaffolding singing ‘Heathcliffe, it’s me, Kathy’ in a rather beautiful falsetto. I was excited. This was going to be dead posh.
(En route, I found a funny old building, with a blue plaque, which said it was the only remaining kiln from the time when this area, then known as ‘Potteries and Piggeries’, was famous for brick making and being slummy. This kind of thing makes me happy – bits of slummy history where you have no idea you’ll find them. I barely need to add, it’s not slummy any more).
As I got further up the road, the fancy houses gave way to an estate, and I realised that this pool was not going to be so posh after all. Of course: no self-respecting Porsche-driving W11 resident was going to swim in public. What a waste of time that Brazilian blow-dry proved to be*. This was a pool for STAFF, not their employers. Oh well. I bid farewell to my dreams of ladies puffing talc on me as they draped me in thick white towels. I got to the pool, and the main frontage is pretty nice. As the pic shows, it’s definitely of a type, a large glass ‘wave’ structure, but seemingly bolted on to more typical leisure centre design, as I discovered immediately beyond reception.
Any hopes of posh were now crushed under the sensible heel of municipal mediocrity. I do not like a communal changing rooms. I want segregation. I’m not some mad exhibitionist, but I like to potter from the shower in the nude, I don’t want to scurry round clutching my towel in case I accidentally flash a man, and then try to dress in a tiny box. And oh god. Here we go again. Changed, ready to go … where are the toilets? Couldn’t find them. Meandered around, kept opening doors with the lady sign - showers. There seemed to be no logic or design to it. Eventually, I found the loo, so I tried to remember where the showers were, for later. It’s not complicated, so why can't they make it obvious, for idiots like me.
Onto the poolside, and it’s nice enough, for staff. There’s a huge mural at one end across the width of the space, standard multicultural guff, all water blues and bodies in a carefully co-ordinated range of skin colour, with, in the centre, the international symbol for annoying man: a swimmer doing butterfly. The walls combine blocks of dark blue brick tiles with lighter blue/white mosaics, a clean enough look; there’s two pools (one teaching) in the same room, which increases the sense of space, improved again by the glass wall separating the baby pool. The main pool is 33 metres long, and wide enough for six decent lanes, but it’s not deep - and there is something disappointing about a shallow pool, something literally flat; deep water is more of a tempting, visual draw. Two of the six lanes had adult lessons going on and three were designated: ‘Keep it slow’ ‘Getting faster’ and ‘Fast and furious’. Hey, those say, we’ve got a sense of humour, though actually I don’t care if you can do witty, I care if you can do mouth-to-mouth when I’m drowning. At the time of my visit, half the floor tiles were off the bottom of the pool, and there was no rail or grip in the deep end. But it was perfectly clean and well filtered. When I got in, the water felt not too warm, though there were random hot and cold spots, like a badly-mixed cake needs swirling round better. And quiet, only a couple of swimmers in each lane, and only one of those furious.
With that combination of OK temperature, 33m and quiet, I swam a relaxed mile and only got mild skin rash, so I can report that the chlorine in Kensington & Chelsea is less irritating than most of the residents. And guess what. I couldn’t find the showers again. They’d moved from where I left them. In the end, I found one in what looked like a changing cubicle. How silly. Lose one mark.
* A Brazilian blow dry differs in several key ways from a Brazilian wax. 1) It’s up, not down and 2) it’s a very expensive way of drying your hair so it stays looking perfect for three months. I’ve never done it. Make of that what you will.