BRIXTON RECREATION CENTRE
(aka Brixton Rec)
27 Brixton Station Rd
London SW9 8QQ
020 7926 9779
Added bonus: Market Row
Points off for: the pool.
If you noticed that the photo above is not pool-related, well done, take the rest of the day off. If you thought it was pool related, where the hell are you swimming? It’s a cup of coffee, of course, a flat white since you ask, more of which later.
You'll know by now that I don’t usually shy away from a bad joke, but I’m trying not to say ‘Brixton Wreck more like!’ partly because it’s so naff it makes my verrucas twinge* and partly because it’s not really true any more. Yes, faithful readers, I have history with this pool. I know, you’re patient, you’ve followed round all the pools I’ve been to before, and listened to me wiffling on about my swimming history, and I do thank you for that, I am grateful for your attentions. In brief, when Clapham Manor pool was open, it was often closed, and then in absolute desperation I’d come here, but only rarely because it was so shit - literally, there were always tales about turds in the water, though I never witnessed a floater myself.
But here I am again, in Brixton, chaining my bike up at the bottom of the stairs up to the depressing building which looms above the market stalls. The first thing you see is a big sign saying EXIT - I don’t know why they signpost the EXIT so prominently for people searching for the ENTRANCE. Past the reception desk, into an odd-shaped atrium with all sorts of rooms and spaces off it – I look over the balcony and see what I assume is an indoor basement crown green bowling area. Weird. It’s a mash up of crèches and play spaces and café chairs clustered round no apparent café. There’s an escalator up. An escalator! I find this bizarre. I imagine a council meeting where they discuss the implementation of a non-stationary floor elevation device, and wonder, what’s wrong with STAIRS?
The changing rooms are nice, and I only know this is a distinct improvement because I distinctly remember how dreadful they used to be. There’s a large nicely-done area, all the normal bench and cubicle gubbins and a floor that becomes extremely slippy when wet, which isn’t the best decision they’ve ever made. I find myself changing in a puddle, and move. It’s all a bit pubey. I put my stuff in the locker and go to the loo – the toilets open directly onto the changing area, which makes me a bit embarrassed (though later I find another lot behind a three-quarter wall, which are better) as if I’m the kind of person who can’t pee if someone’s listening.
Out to the pool, via a hot shower blast. This hasn’t changed. If you can imagine a pool decorated by Mike Leigh’s Abigail in about 1975, just without the cheap erotica of a winged-horse picture, this would be it. Huge glass windows at one end look out over the roofs and steeples of Brixton, but the glass is the colour of a nicotine stain. The ceiling is very high, an angular wood-panelled anti-confection; a cathedral of points and beams and slopes. There’s a mess of stuff and people and kids and life guards. To the left is a teaching pool, to the right, the main pool, a standard laned rectangle which extends via a swoosh into another little swimming area. It probably looked quite nice in an arial view, or on a plan. Standard red and blue bunting across the water. I slide in to the shallow end. Blimey, that is shallow. I inwardly ‘huh’ at the ‘Beware deep water’ sign. No chance of that here. As I glide under for my first length, I almost come up again – the water is kind of cloudy and there are white bits, as if the water was a solution, like too much suspended sugar that won’t quite dissolve, but the frantic feet of the many swimmers stop it from settling. I pretend it’s talc.
It’s way warm; I’m in a medium lane and almost congratulate myself on swimming as fast as someone in the fast lane, til I notice she’s doing some training stroke which only involves using one arm. It’s way busy, I dodge into the front crawl-only lane, where I bump into the lovely Alfonso. It’s way busy, Alfonso, I say. No, he says, this is very quiet. And Alfonso would know, he teaches here most days, though we both prefer Tooting Lido, which is where I know him from. I don’t last long, I leave him doing complicated dolphiny type leg movements which are very impressive.
The social scene in the changing rooms is complex and exclusive. There's even a hushed conversation going on in one of the loos. I remember stuff like that from school.
Which leads me on to the flat white. I really recommend that you swim just enough to warrant treating yourself to a bit of orange and pistachio cake or sausage rolls from Rosie’s Deli café on Market Row. In fact, fuck it, dodge the swim altogether and just head to Rosie’s. It’s dead cute, home made loveliness. Scrambled eggs with chilli jam. They were playing Johnny Cash. And on the table next to mine was a book of lido poems. I choose to see that as a sign I was in the right place.
*These are comedy verrucas. I don’t have real ones.