Thursday, 24 November 2011

Swim clockwise round the island

1 Macdonald Road,
London N19 5DD
020 7263 0613
Opening times: Definitely shut Weds mornings, which is the time I first visited.
Added bonus: if you like wallowing in ennui
Negative points: milky milky milky

Something has occurred to me (it probably occurred to some of you a while back, but I’m a bit slow). It is this: for the purposes of a blog I chose to start, I’m paying money to visit, on a weekly basis, the shit holes of this city, and then I spend time moaning about them - again, through choice. What a fucking idiot. I could stop doing this blog, but leaving it unfinished would just add a sense of bloody failure to the whole pointless escapade. And one  annoying extra about the whole process is that the worse the area the pool is in, the worse the pool. That seems to me to be the wrong way round. Shit areas should have nice pools, cool gold plated ones where you can swim in natural water and be wafted dry by gods, they deserve it as a respite from life’s rubbish.

On this wash of ennui, I return to Archway Pool. I say return, because I turned up the week before to find it shuts on Wednesday mornings and I wasn’t even allowed to peek in, because ‘the manager was there’. Obviously the manager is a gorgon, and the advice was for my own good. The outside was not promising, so I hadn’t returned with high hopes. Jaded dirty paint and a half-hearted attempt at a wavy logo on a shitty street just past a McDonalds, 80s metal doors in horrid peeling primary paint and a crappy reception, beyond which the hum of light from a big white space calls promisingly…

I go into the changing rooms which are not great, but I’m not yet fully disheartened. Two minutes later, poolside, and I am.

Alarm bell 1:  there’s a beach. A beach, in this context, is not good. It means the floor slopes gradually into the pool so you can just meander in tra la la. Who wants to do that? Kids who can’t swim, is who.
Alarm bell 2: There’s a tiny little pool, the overflow of which trickles across said beach, bleaching it a lovely white instead of the dirty grey beige it’s become. If the water is doing that to the floor, what’s it going to do to my skin? I hop across this trickle to get to the side of the pool I need.
Alarm bell 3: Where the hell can I actually swim? I have to go up a bit, down a bit, along a bit, down some steps until the lifeguard points out my choice: either one narrow lane, or a deep box where two ladies are already paddling to and fro. I chose the lane.
Alarm bell 4: The signs. ‘Deep water. No diving’. What’s the point of deep water then? Also ‘swim clockwise round the island’. Yep, it’s a fun pool, there are islands, there’s a great big metal flume pipe hanging overhead. I wonder how to get in to it – from where I’m swimming, it looks like you have to climb SpiderMan-style up the outside of the huge window.  I hope this is not a carrot danging over the heads of Archway children.
Alarm bell 5: went off before I’d even got on the tube here. The website says the gym has a ‘view over the pool’.  ‘View’ is usually suggestive of something good. This is a view purely for someone who has never seen a tree. Or a hill. The website also says the water is kept at a ‘tropical 30 degrees’. That’s not tropical. That’s boil-in-a-bag.

Despite my head positively ringing with bells, I get in to my little lane. It’s like getting into 5% fat milk. Eurch. I genuinely can’t see two metres ahead of me. I swim head up for a while, because it’s so disorienting swimming in semi-skimmed. I take a look around. It is a big space, cut up into pieces with bits and levels and slopes and ledges and bridges and little odd ladders from one pointless bit to the next pointless bit. There’s a ‘spa pool’ where the flume ends but it’s roped off, and there’s other roped off bits. There’s a massive first floor glass brick wall (behind which one presumes is the gym with its view), twisty stairs, and huge windows out to Archway with tatty broken plastic venetian blinds hanging down. All this glamour under a very high white-ridged ceiling  - it reminded me exactly of the tube that comes out of a tumble dryer. That's what it felt like, too. Obviously the architects had been drying their smalls when ‘inspiration’ struck.

I can’t bear it for long, partly because of the ‘tropical’ heat, and partly because the other person swimming in the lane is a constant surprise, looming through the milky gloom. On my way out, I ask the lifeguard if the flume works. He says yes, pointing to stairs that lead up and outside, adding ‘but you can’t have a go now, it’s shut’.

The changing rooms are OK. There is a tight semi-circle of open showers, and cubicles with new-looking dark blue plastic curtains, which obviously don’t quite close, as teachers have thrown themselves across them,  pinned them shut in an attempt to protect their pupils, who are taking all the cubicles, thanks so much. I change quickly. The water which nicely bleached the floor has nicely bought me out in a rash (see box ‘and another thing’).

As I’m leaving, the helpful lifeguard sees me and points to a door. ‘You can use the sauna, if you want’, in compensation for my lack of fluming. ‘No thanks’ I say. ‘I’m hot enough as it is’. It takes his smile to make me realise what I’ve said. He chuckles, and in a random act of kindness says ‘yeah, I think you are’. Inside, I’m now boiling. But instead of my normal blustering ‘oh, no, I didn’t mean I think I’m hot, I don’t think I’m hot, I’m not hot, I meant the water was hot so now I’m hot in temperature’ I smile and say ‘see you’ and stroll confidently away, like I was hot. 


  1. Excellent reading . . . and entertaining. A useful reminder - in event that I am tempted to visit. JP

  2. F**king hilarious

  3. very funny thanks brigtened my day, sorry about the semi skimmed swim! Sally (friend of Jackie's)

  4. yep, that captures the charm of the place ...
    at least you got called hot

  5. used to be alovely little pool at hornsey road....

  6. Sadly you missed the fun of the fun swim. Archway pool has several alarms which do indeed ring out in turn 1, 2, 3 and so on. but rather than listing your concerns they mark the changing FUN activities on offer. Bell 1, the wave machine starts, creating strong waves a foot or so high! Bell 2, the flume slide opens and kids skater to join the queue! Bell 3, the hot tub bubbles if it's not too hot for you! Bell 4, by far the best, there is a huge tap shaped fountain as big as your head which dumps countless litres of water from 8 foot above, not high pressure like a shower but heavy with volume and unlike anything I've experienced in london for relaxing the neck and shoulders! As this treat is on a timed rotation, along with all the other FUN activities on offer, you may have to wait turn for a decent showering but for the few moments i have had to enjoy it, it's like being a kid under a giants bath tap, and a true respite from the glum and grey of Archway outside!

    1. You're right, I completely missed the fun of that, and it sounds like you love it. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Other swimmers can read it and decide if they want to join in the crazy fun. Sadly I'm busy elsewhere ;)