Monday, 30 January 2012


2b Crystal Palace Road

Dulwich, London, SE22 9HB
0844 893 3888
Added bonus: Sweets, and painting.
Negative: .... clap your hands

Whichever way you look at it, this building has a nice frontage. On the main road is the original 1892 entrance to the Dulwich Public Baths which looks as grand as it sounds, you can imagine men with whiskers and frock coats swanning about there whipping things. There’s a good picture of it in my new favourite best book 'Great Lengths: The historic indoor swimming pools of Britain' by Dr Ian Gordon and Simon Inglis. This is like a companion piece to Janet Smith's superb lido book, 'Liquid Assets' - both published by English Heritage and essential, really, if you're going for the full swimming book library. I had no idea that I was going to an historic pool til I got this book, it made me much more keen to get to East Dulwich (a nice bit of branding for an area you might otherwise know as Camberwell or Peckham). And rather than botch up the fancy front, they've added a new  modern entrance on a side road. Properly accessible, nice, very zhoosy* with the obligatory dark wood and glass. Which do I prefer, old or new? Neither, they both have their place. Oh my, I must be in a good mood.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Ready steady don't go

Ruislip Road, East

W13 0AL
020 8998 3241
Added bonus:  I’m struggling with this category.
Negative: Mould.

Gurnell. It’s hard to say that word with a jaunty bounce.  I wonder if the Mr and Ms Gurnells of the world fold into a depressed slump every time they introduce themselves. It suits the day; just off the A40 I spot the low grey building perfectly matching a low grey sky. I came looking for a moan and then I found a moan: why do I have to pay to park my car here? That’s crap and money-grabbing. There’s a crow watching me as I push coins into the machine. It laughs. Caws. I resist the urge to throw something at it, but more because I’m shit at throwing.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Might be a cottage, might indeed be Swiss

Adelaide Rd,
London NW3 3NF
020 7974 2012
Added bonus: masses of other sport stuff that looks so trendy it makes you want to do it. Clever branding. Sport is FUN in NW3.
Negative points: Leisure Centre And Library. What folly. A wet book is essentially, a ruined book. They give with one hand, they take with the other.

Here’s a question that’s puzzled Londoners for centuries: what the hell IS Swiss Cottage?  a) It’s a difficult traffic junction if you’re coming into town via the M1. b) It’s a place for neutral gay sex  or c) It’s the name of a pub, but which came first, the place or Ye Olde Swiss Cottage?

I’ve arrived here on a Sunday lunchtime, in a cunning move to guarantee myself an empty pool. Ha ha, I thinks. I’m much smarter than all these lunch eaters, I thinks, as I sauntered up and joined the queue to get in. The building exterior is very impressive. This is leisuring on a major scale. The first thing you can’t miss is a huge rock-climbing wall. Have you got a tumble dryer? Because it reminded me of the thick sheet of dried fluff you get from the door filter. And of a jumper I was particularly fond of in my youth – creamy, with specks of red, blue, green. It’s indoor outdoor, the wall – with glass on the ground floor, and then a utilitiarian steel mesh up to the huge flying roof. It’s all VERY Kevin McCloud, but in a good way, where you see the unpretentious mechanics of a building, all the bits and bobs in utilitarian materials in very pleasing proportion. Chunkiness. Loving the chunkiness.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ...

141 Clapham Manor St, Clapham
London SW4 6DB
020 7627 7900
Added bonus: brand new!
Negative: No. My overwhelming gratitude for its actual existence counters any negativity (nearly).  

I’m very pleased to be reviewing this pool, because it’s been a long dry 18 months since the old beloved Clapham Manor pool shut, and some more cynical Clapham people (not me, obvs) wondered if we'd ever get a pool again, particularly as the council's initial promises that we wouldn’t be left without one were … altered substantially.  

And here I am, first day of  opening. There was a ‘soft opening’ (oo er) when my lovely swimming friend Jackie slipped in for a quick one (oh stop it) but I, being public, got in today. Everything about it is different, but I don't want this to be a comparison, I'm letting the past go (nearly).  It’s better that way, like it's better meeting a new person and not googling them beforehand (unless they have child protection issues). 

Sunday, 1 January 2012


Champions Way,
020 8457 9900

Added bonus: A patient family.
Negative points for: cafe

My family are pretty used to traipsing round on my missions, since I wrote a tree book and made them come with me to some of the more far-reaching sites. But ‘is this still London?’ asks Teen, from the back of the car. We’re going for lunch with friends in Mill Hill, and I’ve diverted, trying to make it sound accidental that we set out an hour early and I have my swims in the boot.  I’m glad we combined the two because if I’d brought them all this way without the offer of cheesecake at the other end, it might have led to watery insurrection. 

We turn off the main road, which has been miles  of chicken shops and Bewty Barz and 24/7 Kostless supermarkets nestling under flyovers and beside horrible traffic junctions that make me screech ‘which exit which exit’ as I pass the exit we need. I’m full of Dickens today, partly because I’m mid-way through Great Expectations on TV, and partly because one of our Mill HIll friends adapted the book as a play set in India, this year.  Nearly falling off the edge of suburbia, we creep down the empty, long speed-bumped service road, high trimmed hedges hiding the flatlands of very-north London; and as the massive stock-brick block of the leisure centre looms out of the rolling rainy gloom, I think that this is some kind of alt-Dickens vision of modern existence. That if he was writing now, this place, where rural meets suburban, is where Magwitch might loom, suddenly, out of the boggy fields behind the flickering floodlights of a Texaco garage, clambering across dumped shopping trolleys and past an illegally-tethered rotten-hooved pony to find a child like Pip chucking stones at crows before someone gives him an Asbo.

(Do stop me if I turn into a wanker.)