Monday, 31 October 2011

Nearly-night swimming

Caird Street
London W10 4RR
020 8960 9629
Interesting to note: One of my fave UK lidos – Penzance - is also called Jubilee. YAAAWWNNN. 
Added bonus: Indoor sunbathing
Negative (for me): Men’s changing is better than women’s.

I’ll clarify that negative immediately before you start getting ideas: I went to this pool with my friend Adam, who took the task of assessing the men’s changing rooms very seriously. ‘I tried out the hairdryer on your behalf’ he said ‘and I think your readers will be pleased to know it works’. Adam reported that the men’s changing area was extremely nice, very well tiled, clean, and with plenty of ‘gunk’ in the showers. I think he meant shower gel. I hope he meant shower gel. Adam reckons that of all the local authority pools he’s visited, these changing rooms are the best; however, he recommends you (men) wait a few weeks before visiting, until they have the lockers sorted, as he had to carry his work suit round after swimming and it got wet. Fortunately it was dark when we walked back to the tube so no one could see his damp bits.

The women’s changing rooms were not so good. Right by the door is a stack of small metal cages of the sort they keep laboratory animals in. Then, a complete higgle piggle of bits of room and steps and wall and benches and small lockers (only take a narrow bag). The showers seemed relatively new, in that bluey-green frosted glass of about five years ago, but the door to mine kept swinging open. The loos – it was the end of the day – looked like a party of school children had been in there and none of them knew how to flush. Nothing too stinky, just a bit … meh.

I wasn’t expecting much from the pool itself. It was a Monday night, Queen’s Park, slap bang in the middle of a toast rack of terraced houses, changing rooms bit naff so on so on. But actually, I was … pleasantly surprised. The proportions of the room are generous, the pool is only 25m long but nicely wide; great swathes of sunny yellow tiles, windows etched with a recurring wave, and a pine top half and ceiling in a series of V shapes. All that wood could have looked too 70s in the wrong light, but they had it down nice and mellow. Low key. Low level. The whole had a very nice ambience (pronounced in an Abigails Party way). I can imagine that if they’d blasted the place with full-on floodlights and nrg beats, it would have been a completely different atmosphere, but tonight, they matched mood with hour exactly right. The calm it induced soaked through to the swimmers, everyone soporifically bobbing, voices lowered. We were the noisiest laughiest people there. We probably ruined it for everyone else. Soz, n that. 

The pool has the classic white tile gutter arrangement, and I’m telling you this for a reason. I do love the design and cool feel, exactly fit for purpose. However… I got in the water, it was SO SHALLOW it was barely up to my bum. And I have short legs. Poor Adam, considerably taller, it was practically only up to his knees. It renders the first fifteen foot of the pool way too shallow, you could finger creep down if it wasn’t slippy. Adam’s suggestion was that the pool be filled right up past the height of the gutter, turned into an infinity pool, then it might have been a workable depth.

Both of us had been on swim trek hols this summer (his hot, mine fucking freezing) so spent our time swapping the various tips different coaches had given us, to the point where I was so overloaded with what I ‘should’ be doing I almost forgot how to swim altogether. Adam was bemused by one swimmer until I pointed out she had a float under her belly which is how come she so resembled a floating turtle. Most weirdly, though, were the guys doing indoor sunbathing on green plastic loungers arrayed at the deep end. I couldn’t work out what the hell was going on, it looked like a weird game of swapsies.  One guy came out, lay on lounger. Surveyed pool. Second guy came out, first guy gets up, they mutter, first guy slaps second guy on arm, goes off. Second guy lies down on lounger and so on… Odd. Then it clicked -  and I really should have read the clues that all that pine was giving me -  they were going in and out of a sauna at that end of the pool. Dur.

The water got a bit warm and sneezy, it had always been a little cloudy, like poached egg water. Time to get out. Adam padded back to luxury, me to economy class.   On our way home, we decided we’d both be happy if this was our local indoor pool; en route to the tube we spotted some tacky religious iconography, the best sort, on a couple of  terraced houses: stained glass windows, statues, crosses Hail Mary engraved in plaster, the lot. Like Lourdes, W10. Small pleasures.

(Funny sight of the evening: on the entrance turnstile, a note:’Fast track entry to the gym’, right next to an open gate.)

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