Monday, 7 November 2011

Stating the obvious (x2)

High Street
Hampton, Middlesex TW12 2ST
020 8255 1116
I found this pic on Flickr - it's by Luca Patriccioli. Hope he doesn't mind the borrow.
Added bonus: hot outdoor steam
Negative points: You’d have to be hard-pushed or very pernickety to find something negative about this pool. Fortunately,  I am both of those things. Narrow lanes.

I was going to save this pool for the Xmas/New Year break, as if I was giving you all a little gift, because we swim here then en famille* – as an escape from that ‘oh god if we just keep eating we’re going to die’ feeling. Lots of other families do the same, which tells you two things. 1: it’s very very busy with small people at that time and 2, we are not the only ones who need the momentary escape from en famille* that being underwater brings. No one can ask you for more cake underwater. But you’ve all been so good this year you can have it early.

I don’t want to upset anyone, so I'm going to tread carefully. (Ha ha ha, I don't care about upsetting anyone, couldn't actually give a shit, this is my blog and if you get upset, I look forward to reading about it on your blog.) There is much that is positive about this place, so I can understand why it inspires the pool love. And outdoor pools have much more loyal fans than their poor indoor relations can muster. But I am worried they might fight me if I'm mean, with their strong swimmy arms.  If someone came on here and started being mean about Tooting Lido I might offer them outside (chorus: you already are outside, you loon). Bearing all that in mind, I’m putting on an armour-plated swim hat.

You arrive at the long, low pool building via a carpark so scrubby and pot-holed I’m convinced they run illegal dog fights here after hours. The  notice on the female changing room door states that no boys over the age of 6 can use it; those kind of notices always hide a story, and this is one I'm not keen to know. The changing rooms are pretty decent, the lockers and benches clean, newish, neat retro colour blocks. Be careful scampering naked twixt locker and loo – sometimes the frosted glass door to the pool is left open and (yells) everyone can see you. 

Stating the obvious 1: swimming pools are just holes in the ground filled with water. But some pools remind you of that provenance – and this one does, for me. I am trying to work out why, and the nearest I can come to is, I think, the perspective. The pool is set in a flat area of paving and grass, there is nothing higher than a house; the horizon beyond offers nothing of interest, just a few roofs, a couple of trees. The flatlands of Twickenham. There’s no visual contrast, nothing to ‘set’ the pool. It also reminds me almost exactly of being in a cheaply-landscaped pub garden off the A3, even down to the hanging baskets. There’s an white-painted brick building to one side, stacks of plastic chairs, link fencing, wooden trestle tables; the paving is a two-colour random pattern, some nasty gum-pink, some the fatty yellow of ice cream that melted then re-froze. The short fat slide into the pool looks tired, wheezing up to its next health and safety check but the landlord keeps it, ‘for the kiddies’.  I keep expecting someone to come out yelling ‘Scampi! Who ordered the scampi?’

To the left is a  small teaching pool where they boil babies , and some mummies have dressed them in enough neoprene to make the job much quicker. The main pool is 36m long (that must be something that makes sense in yards), three narrow swim lanes and a wider play bit that the squat slide deposits into, shaded today by a large tree. Steps in on either side. The water is 28 degrees, but that has an entirely different skin feel to 28 degrees inside, particularly when it starts to rain and sharp little rain pins punctuate the tepid wash down my back.  Stating the obvious 2:  the weather really makes a difference to an outdoor swim. Swimming in the ‘right’ rain can be fantastic. I think wind is bad, I don't like the chop, but someone told me they think it makes it exciting. In winter, grey cloud is like a blanket. Today, we picked a good un: a mix of gentle, end-of-season sun leavened by the odd rain cloud, the air warm and still.  The pool is nicely lined with tiny light blue and white mosaic tiles. 

The cool air contrast makes the warm water more bearable; but it’s still like getting into warm squash that’s been swum in by a lot of people wearing Lynx. It might be clean, but it feels like someone chucked in a bath bomb a few days ago and they’re still filtering out the bits.  It’s also very busy. I’ve never found a time it isn’t. Busy with serious swimmers – you can tell by the number of water bottles and plastic-wrapped training lists stacked up at the shallow end.  Because the lanes are so narrow and busy you can never zone out; I brush a lot of shoulders, bruise my arms down the lane dividers, and do static strokes towards the end of each length, waiting for a space to 'land'.  I even, and you'd be hard pushed to co-ordinate this, clicked fingernails mid-air with a swimmer overtaking me. (That's a strange sharp sensation.) If there's an aerobics class or teaching in one lane, swimmers are crammed into the two remaining lanes; but at  Xmas/New Year it’s the swimming equivalent of shopping in the sales; so packed you only have room to bob up and down aerobically; you pointlessly try to lose your family underwater and end up being annoyed by someone else's. 

Of course it’s GREAT that it’s such a well loved pool, it shows how many more we could do with. And if heated gets more bods in,  then heated it should be. It is a bit more sociable too, which is occasionally OK - I had three willing 11yr old companions for this swim, and I took the opportunity to sit in the late season sun waiting for them. 

There was a small boy – UNDER SIX I HOPE -  in the shower filling his trunks with hot water and staring down transfixed as it splashed vigorously on to his willy. It was like getting a little glimpse into his teenage years, I thought. The  café upstairs is famous for its morning porridge and bacon baguettes, and can also be the slowest café in Slowdom; to pass time in the queue I skimmed a copy of the Daily Mail that had been left out to read.  I became rabid. But to cap off our morning, we - me and three girls -  sat on the roof terrace in the wavering sun, hands round hot drinks, having a laugh. Recommended. 

PS *en famille: a carefully chosen phrase. I know it's a little obnoxious, it hurts my teeth as much as it hurts yours. But if you put 'swimming as a family' it seems more twee even. So en famille it is. 


  1. Jenny - 36m means nothing specially in yards - it's 39 yards. So you have to do 45 lengths for a mile. I went there back in April/May and it wasn't too busy - just three of us in the lane, but we had to swim slowly to avoid overheating. I like the idea of losing your family by going underwater. I'll have to invest in a long snorkel.

  2. just curious to know -was the deep end deep?? When I used to spend my summers here in the early 90s, it had a diving board and the last 10m or so was about 3m deep, with a wonderful underwater slope from deep to deeper...


  3. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!
    Filling a Swimming Pool