CHELSEA LEISURE CENTRE
Chelsea Manor Street Chelsea London SW3 5PL
020 7352 6985
Added bonus: I didn’t use a cliché about not wanting to go to Chelsea in the title.
Negative: the crappy pic. Sorry.
I was pondering on the nature of ‘luck’ on my way here, about how our perception of it alters our experience of it, about it being essentially the same as religion – if I choose to believe in ‘luck’, which is about as abstract a notion as ‘god’, it’ll give me solace in bleak times, won’t it? The idea that I may in the future get lucky?
I was also wondering if I could get to this pool without engaging in the nonsense that is the King’s Rd. I couldn’t. The horribly poncy big car/big hair/sunglasses on a cloudy day combo put more than a crimp in my mood as I trudged in, miserable rain dripping through my crappy cagoule, at the arse end of a Sunday ‘summer’ afternoon.
A Victorian building on a side street, red-brick off-set with cream plaster surrounds. An unprepossessing entrance. Inside, walls are thick, with rounded corners, doors have graph-paper windows, paint is crackled – it made me think of To Sir With Love, or prisons in 60s films. Random associations. There is a little black iron fireplace in the hall, also from times gone. And a notice board at which I did a double take – this pool raised nine thousand quid on their swimathon. I’ll run that by you again: NINE THOUSAND QUID! I wandered through to the changing room, where sat a small girl, can’t have been more than 11, talking on her gold-encased iPhone. The penny dropped. Nine grand’s worth of pennies dropped. Bloody hell. And no, I don’t want a gold-encrusted iPhone but yes, today my fuel was bitterness.
Being as we’re just off the King’s Road, I thought I should make an effort and put on my new expensive costume all the way from America. They clearly have shorter bodies in America, because it cuts me up in the wrong places, and chafing does not improve the mood/luck ratio. The changing rooms are not bad, same thick walls and clunking prison doors, with newer additions. Standard lockers, benches, enough space. And quite clean, though I saw evidence that the person with long black hair who is following me round the pools of London has also been here, shedding. Surely her hair will run out soon; it’s clogging up so many municipal drains. The changing rooms were, apart from the girl on an inappropriate phone for her age, empty. Hah. How delusional that proved to be.
The pool was rammed. So so busy. Only two lanes, one slow one fast; it was all conspiring against the mid-speed long-bodied swimmer. In the rest of the pool were lessons, and family groups with their irritating fun. The water was churning and creamy, I could SEE it was too warm, heated by the enjoyment of others. I didn’t really want to get in. But I found a space on the production line and got going. The pace was too slow, even in ‘Fast’ – it’s amazing what carnage one very VERY slow old gentleman can cause, weaving his way up and down. (I admit, carnage may be stretching it.) I had to do breast stroke so as not to keep going up the bum of the person in front; and the lanes were so narrow we were all kicking each other - I hurt my foot so hard on someone I had to stop and apologise. For the first time in ages, I thought, what’s the least I can do before I get out?
The space itself is quaintly typical of Victorian swimming pools, you’ll find it familiar. It even looks sepia-tinted, like an original photo might, with the mellow earthiness of brown and cream brick tiles. A fancy iron-balustraded balcony is kept up by thin blue spindles. A blurred skylight runs right along the ceiling. Beside the main pool there’s a tiny teaching pool, looking even hotter and creamier and giving off the acrid smell of ammonia. There’s no floor tiles at the bottom of the pool, they were ripped out some time ago – it’s just plain, a bit pumice-like on the feet and dull. A shame to lose original tiling. And there’s a mural that would have failed an art GCSE on the whole wall at the deep end – a trompe l’oeil of a Victorian couple in their finery, standing on a balcony looking down on a man in a modest bathing suit as he approaches a winner's plinth. Huh, I thought, they’re looking down on us, that sums it up. (Bitter, you see.)
After my minimal swim, I got chatting in the changing rooms to a woman who had been teaching poolside. We talked about the showers – quite good, a little shelf for your shampoo, more long black hair – and our favourite pools (she’d never been to Tooting, but intended to go this summer, and we waxed on about Marshall St). I moaned a bit about how busy this pool was. Oh, she said, you’ve just come at the wrong time. If you come back after 8 o’clock tonight when the clubs are finished, there’ll only be one or two people in. Then, she said, ah, then it’s lovely, the same kind of really peaceful vibe you get at Marshall St. Typical of my luck, I said, to come at the wrong time. And she said, this is the cleanest pool I work in. Always clean. In the sixteen years I’ve worked here, this pool’s never made me sick.
On the way home, my ear began to hum. The god of luck has deserted me, again.