Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Taking the pulse

10 Melon Road 
London, SE15 5QN
Tel: 0844 893 3888
Added bonus: there isn’t one. Oh yea, I parked for free because the machine was broken. Probably still is, but I can’t offer a guarantee.
Negative: You could say that.

Welcome to the Peckham Pulse Healthy Living Centre! This isn’t just swimming! This is HEALTHY LIVING, people! The whole thing, you know, all the healthy living stuff. Time to GET WITH THE PROGRAMME.

Or, better, go and look at the library next door (pic above) which was award-winningly architected, then hop a bus and go up the road to Camberwell Baths instead. 

Why? So, then, the details:

Queuing for a ticket felt like the old days of queuing in a benefit office in the 80s (bit of history for you there) with receptionists sheltered behind cloudy Plexiglas.  The colour scheme was reminiscent of one of those crazy Saturday morning kids TV shows from the same period. I fully expected Pepsi and Shirley to burst through in leggings and tutus any minute.

Ever been pulled over at customs for a full body search? Me neither. It’s odd when a place reminds you of something you’ve never experienced, but the corridor here felt like being ‘behind the scenes’ at an airport, the bits the public normally don’t see, so they haven’t bothered with the niceties of finishing or cleaning anything. Chamlessly crap. I looked for sociologists pronouncing ‘if you give people a shit environment, their behavior will match’, and waited for my behaviour to get shitty to match the walls. But it was stuck on grumpy as I went into the women’s changing room.

A warm damp stinky box. Three cubicles and a bench. Big lockers costing £1 (you get it back). Then through to the pool where you could see the job lots of stuff the council had lying around when they built it. Frosted glass bricks, quite a lot. Arched steel handrails. Metal dividers punched with little holes. A row of open showers to use if, like the man I saw, you’re convinced you left 20p hidden in amongst your bollocks which you could find if you only dug around hard enough. The entrance is through a green tiled circle where showers come on automatically as you walk through, the design objective being ‘if you don’t choose to shower, we’ll choose for you’.

Back to the airport analogy. I’ve never swum in an airport pool, I don’t know if such things exist, but if they do, they’d be like this.  I don’t mean the pool for pilots, or even crew.  I mean the pool for lowly staff. The pool to fulfill some old union requirement, barely. At Stansted.  One wall is massive windows, so at least the place is light. Another, more frosted bricks.  One half-glass wall looks into a ball pool, where people go to lose their children under a mass of plastic coloured balls and call it fun.

In the water, light flickered across two lanes perfectly illuminating all the bits in the water. It was hot, and very busy, people usefully spending that hour before their cheap flights. I hate that, when you have to time it just right joining in a swimming queue. Wait … wait …  GO – it reminds me of trying to join in a skipping game, waiting for the rope to be just at the right point in its arc before you leap in. Get it wrong and you’re rope-whipped right down the backs of your legs. And once you make the decision to GO, and take your place in the swim circle, you have to keep everyone else’s pace instead of making your own. The pace in ‘slow’ was waaaay tooooo slloooooow, so I dodged into ‘medium’. It wasn’t fun. There were three men in the shallow end, just standing there, not moving. God knows what they were doing above water, but below, nothing. Every time I approached, I could see three sets of black trunks, three firmly planted sets of hairy legs taking up the width of the lane. Lengths don’t count unless you touch the end, and I’ve got this thing where I like to use the edge to push off (I know, radical) but I didn’t want to put my hand out in case I touched … something. I was convinced they were looking at me. I never saw their faces. It was a bit shit.

As I got out, a man in the fast lane stopped for a second and snotted into the pool drain. There’s manners, I thought, using the drain.

The showers were stinky formica cubicles. The water didn’t last long, and every time it came to a stop, it made a funny squeak. It was a message. Squeak. ‘What’s that, Sweep?’ Squeak. ‘I should leave here and never come back?’ Squeak. ‘You’re right, those men were weird’. 


  1. I used to swim at the Pulse now and again. I quickly learnt to go in the public session in the afternoon, as this was the only time there were less than 10 people in the pool; and having spent 30 minutes in Tooting yesterday with just Kate for company; even that felt crowded. But needs must eh? Rarely did I queue for less than 5 minutes to get in; regularly I was witness to security being called; and on one occasion saw a man spray himself with deodorant before he got into the pool. Peckham...people love it - I did, I don't now.

  2. Carl, you've swum in as many pools as I have. Good job I started this blog first, eh ;)