TOOTING LEISURE CENTRE
Greaves Place, off Garratt Lane
Greaves Place, off Garratt Lane
London SW17 ONE
0208 333 7555
Added points for: little seating areas
Negative: my own stupidity.
Oooh, I thought in reception, look at all this design: a big crèche, a café with a kiddie ball park, little seating areas with fabric bucket chairs arranged round plastic plants, where you could have a meeting, maybe, about ‘going forward’ or ‘toploading’; all very Premier Inn, I thought. The receptionist gave me a paper bracelet to wear and directions to the changing rooms, so I wandered off and found ‘female changing’. I got my stuff out, and realised I’d left my nice costume at home and had to wear my baggy old one, by which time I’d lost my paper bracelet. Then I couldn’t find signs to the pool. I was in the wrong changing rooms, someone told me, and helpfully pointed me across the café area. I was not negotiating a path through the buggies in my baggy costume, so I dressed again, and went to ‘Changing Village’. Exasperated sigh. Changing doesn’t need a village, it needs benches, a bit of privacy and a few lockers. I needed a padlock for the lockers, which I could have hired or bought here, but I’m glad I didn’t; having got the wrong place and costume and lost my bracelet, what were the chances of me remembering a lock combination?
I hoiked my bag pool side, and my heart sank. I’d got the time wrong, too. Either end of the pool was laned off for school lessons, and we public were left with about 15m square across the middle of the pool. Another exasperated sigh. CHECK before you go (the number is above). Still, I was here now, so I got in and started to do tiny widths, as satisfactory as a warm stubby of beer on a hot day, when you can see long chilled bottles just out of reach. (You can tell I got bored, because I know it took me 9 strokes to get across.) After a while, the children left, and for about two minutes, the pool was open unlaned anarchy. The madness. Without being told, which way should we go? Some people still swam across, others started going along, people were in each others way, all of us dodging lane ropes being dragged along the water.
Then, the lane markers were put out, and calm reigned. Breathe. Suddenly, this turned into a proper pool. And actually, it’s nice. Why have I never been here before?
The pool is 33m, and that extra 7m really makes a difference (maybe more so this time because I’d been doing such tiddly widths). The less often you turn, the more you … feel happy? Push harder? I don’t know, but it only takes that 7m to say this is a place for swimming, not messing about. This is a successful mix of serious and accessible (underlined by the baby pool being somewhere else in the building) and to get that in a mixed-use leisure centre is not bad. Get the timing right (ahem) and your world can briefly comprise people not wanting to make eye contact. Result. The depth is good, too, deep enough for a diving board; I glided off at the shallow end and got a great underwater view right down a very nicely proportioned pool, people in the distance suspended in deep blue, like hippos filmed underwater in a nature documentary. The three lanes were a generous size (they put more in when its busy, apparently), with a pool floor marked by stylish black tile lines and turning T’s. One whole long wall is floor to ceiling glass, letting in lots of light and creating a good sense of space, the other side a modern viewing gallery. A large abstract piece on the furthest wall, pastel blue bubbles and lines from the Ikea Water range, give it as contemporary a feel as you’re going to get in a public space, in Tooting.
I wend my way through the maze back to the small changing area, to see the sign in the shower: No shaving. No spitting. And I thought, no matter how well designed a place, or successful a pool, there’ll always be a few hairy spitters in the crowd. But here, at least, they won’t spoil it for the rest of us.