LATCHMERE LEISURE CENTRE
Burns Road, Battersea,
London SW11 5AD
020 7207 8004
Added bonus: I can cross Latchmere off my list
Negative: I realise my dentist is fallible.
I’m very obedient when it comes to my teeth, which may be explained by the fact that my dad was a dentist. My dentist now is the Action Man of the mouth, and I always do what he says. When he says floss, I floss. When he says rinse, I rinse. When he told me it was good at the Latchmere at around 7am, I went to the Latchmere at around 7am.
I have previous with this pool; I bought my babies here many many times. This is how it would go: I would try, tongue out in concentration, to manoeuvre my tiny car into the sliver of space between two huge Battersea tractors, the effort bringing me out in a sweat; I’d lug the small happy child and various bags to the pool. Either I’d undress the child first or myself, but either way was tricky, particularly in the days before they could walk (when you had to find some way to balance them) or in the days when they could walk (when they’d try to escape and bump their heads before we’d even start). Temperature at this point: very hot. We’d head to the water. Child stands on the edge, reluctantly. I encourage. Child falls over on slippy tiles. I get cross. Child goes in. We bob around. I get very cold. I have to decide - shoulders under to keep warm, or standing up ankle deep in kid piss. Child tries the big slide but gets scared at the top. I stand there saying ‘come on! There’s children waiting! Come on! It’s not so scary. OH FOR FUCK SAKE COME DOWN THE FUCKING SLIDE.’ I look at the clock - we’ve been here for three minutes. We bob some more. I try and invent games. The games are too scary. I try and make eye contact with other bobbing mummies. They are too busy making eye contact with their own children. While my attention is elsewhere, child slides underwater, and scrabbles at my costume to get head above water. Child cries. People stare. Child discovers they love the slide and go up and down up and down up and down a hundred times. I lie on the pool floor waiting. Time to get out! Child won’t get out. I drag them out by one arm. One of us is crying. Temperature at this point: catastrophic. Aaaah. Fun times.
And here I am, back at the Latchmere! No expectations! You may note that I try not to write negatively about receptionists because I don’t like punching down, so I’m not mentioning these two. I go through to change. It has that acid kick of old sick. It’s a bit early for that. I go through to the pool area. Are you ready?
This is a massive space. You come out under a galleried café area, which used to have railings round but is now enclosed, presumably to stop people throwing Monster Munch at the swimmers. There’s a mish-mash of floor materials but the walls are great brick facades; one has a kind of rusting metal mesh covering, the stuff they use on Grand Designs before they pour the concrete in. Shuttering? They’ve randomly hung things on it, sagging banners and signs. Plastic plants fail to give it a tropical feel. The ceiling is bright yellow with massive white ducts big enough for people to actually live in. There are windows up high, but nothing that lets you see outside, maybe to maintain the illusion of being in a tropical beach paradise. There’s a teaching pool and a ‘leisure pool’, with a sloping ‘beach’ that goes down into a deeper, laned area; at the deepest end there’s a badly-executed picture in the tiles – feebly-coloured parrots and splashes. I get flashbacks to the wave machine, but it’s not working today, or at least, not at 7am. To one side is a large grey elephant, its trunk split to form the slide; there's a smaller split seal slide in the baby pool, and there used to be a plastic turtle resting on the ‘shore’, but it’s gone. Admittedly, the turtle was a bit of a hazard, a hard lump of slidey ridged plastic that children weren’t allowed to climb on because when they (inevitably) fell off they’d land on the hard tiled floor, so there was a constant pip of whistles from lifeguards as persistent toddlers tried to clamber up the shell. In the shallows is a large round tiled ‘planter’, with one tragic plastic palm that looks like it's endured a hurricane; tinsel-wrapped, it still emits no sense of festive joy. Here’s a tip: if you’re buying plastic trees, choose ones that look alive. This one doesn’t provide verite. It provides a lingering sense of failure.
I wade down to the laned bit, demarcated by the floor tiles which go from blue to yellow and white, and start swimming.
Two problems. The water is hot, and grubby, but that’s not it. 1) The lane divider was a length of orange rope, without the usual bobbly floats. I couldn’t really see it properly, so kept scraping my arms on it. I’m normally perfectly capable of swimming in a straight line, which leads me on problem 2). The lanes go across the slope of the pool, not with it. I constantly felt like I was being pulled deeper. It was like trying to sleep on a sloping mattress and nearly rolling out of bed all night. Like swimming slightly drunk. I wasn’t. It’s a weird kind of effort, doing that. You know when you swim in the sea and you’re not quite sure of which way the tides are pulling you and it makes you a bit anxious? That, only with exasperation rather than anxiety. The only reason I kept swimming was the thought of facing that sick smell in the changing room again.
When I started itching, I got out. In the shower (which was meh, OK) a sticker on the door told me to have some ‘me’ time. I hate the concept of ‘me time’, a ghastly invention. We never used to have 'me' time, and we were fine. I blame Margaret Thatcher – no, really, I actually do. It was her who started this whole bloody me time thing, once she’d figured out a way to maximise profit from icecream and ruin our social housing stock. I’ve had ‘me time’. I discovered I prefer ‘anyone but me’ time. As I stripped, I noticed my skin was very blotchy red. Angry red. Right down my legs, like hives. The palms of my hands, even. Fire red! Never been that bad before. Bloody Latchmere. The sick smell had abated a bit though. I went home to brush my teeth with my dentist-recommended brush.
This morning, I have learned a valuable lesson. My dentist may know about teeth. I will follow his guidance on oral hygiene like a zealot. But I know about pools. And he’s wrong, this is not a swimmers pool. Not at 7am. Not at 7pm. Nor at any time in between.
Christ. Think I’ve just written the first part of a misery memoir.