BALHAM LEISURE CENTRE
London SW17 8AN
020 8772 9577
Opening times: many
Added value: if you join the gym you can do a Zumba class, a ‘dynamic Latin-hip hop fusion exercise fitness system’. Some of us would sooner eat a dog than do this. (Me.)
Disclaimer 1: I have sat for many hours in the reception of this gym/pool combo watching my child’s swim lesson through plate-glass windows, doing that thumbs-up ‘I am watching, I’m watching THROUGH the newspaper’ thing. I have sometimes used her lesson time to swim, but you have to be a bit desperate, and I’m rarely that.
Disclaimer 2: Child loves it when they put all the inflatables in (weekends, avoid avoid avoid), it’s our local pool, it’s a well-used place that I would fight to keep open.
‘Busy, popular, well used’ doesn’t quite convey the sense of just-about-controlled chaos as you walk in. The phones are going, the air-con is on, the radio is on, the drinks machines are noisy, there are damp kids bustling round screeching for chocolate, busy people are selling membership deals to young professionals buy three months get two classes free but not on Tuesdays … Let me be clear: the staff are friendly and hard-working, and though I’ve never had cause to test their life-saving abilities I’m sure they’re top notch. But the temptation to ask ‘is your mum in?’ is great.
The entry system is not well thought out and it’s all a mess, layout wise. The changing cubicles are manky and badly sized, and you need a padlock for the lockers (yea, I know, I should always have one handy) though you can also put a basket on the side or benches. It’s unisex changing, the showers are pathetic, the corridor is so narrow that if someone is getting their stuff out the locker you have to squeeze past, trying not to have bare skin contact with a damp or sweaty stranger. But I can see how that might be a bonus for some people.
Have you ever booked into a hotel ‘with pool’, swanked down there in your racing-back cozzie, casually snapping your hat on with a certain elan, then seen the glorified hot trough and felt your heart sink? Have you ever sat in a small room with a tumble dryer on for three days, all exits sealed, the condensation on the walls building up while you suffocate in that particular cloying heat? That. This pool is hot and small, and like everything else, feels cramped and stressy. There’s people trying to do serious swimming right next to ladies who don’t want to get their hair wet, and that’s an uneasy combination. One man doing energetic butterfly stroke can overwhelm the whole pool, and there is always a man doing just that. Someone should have a word. There must be a time in the day when it’s restful, but I’ve never found it. It’s 25 metres, two narrow lanes – you’re either fast or slow, nothing in between, and though a few swimmers try to battle on in the un-laned bit where children learn and play, that is really not fun. The water is choppy and it feels over-chlorinated. There are rows of benches down one side, and inevitably there’s a parent sitting reading One Day. The roof is high and arched and right up top is a row of small windows cleverly designed to let no light in. It feels dark, a bit miserable, under-designed. I’m quite sure that my tiny bit of residual affection for the place is about my kids, and not about the pool.
I did, however, see a great sign here once. It read: “Due to unforeseen technical issues, the swimming pool will no longer be closed throughout November. Apologies for any inconvenience caused’. It's probably the only time I’ve seen a pool apologise for not closing. And in all those many many hours I’ve sat in reception, staring at the PEPSI and LUCOZADE machines, wondering if I want a NESTLE multi-snack (I don’t) never once have I been tempted to try the machine that could tell me my BMI.
I feel a bit bad, being negative about my local pool, when we need it for our children to learn to swim, really, we do. But if you think this review is bad, wait til I go to the Latchmere…