CLAPHAM MANOR LEISURE CENTRE
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).
Fresh start. Here we go. It’s a massive box with a glass first layer and as I walk to the entrance I can see an army of running machines staring resentfully at me through the glass. I can’t help looking in, like I can’t help looking into people’s houses before they snatch the curtains shut (I don't recognise anyone running, though I have been glared at before). The reception area, very light, high, clear glass and tastefully pale blues, is big enough for a party, though it seems like the entry turnstiles don’t work properly yet and the receptionists have to nip about pressing a button manually. I don’t get the popularity of these entry systems, two bits of glass that slide apart. They seem tricksy - I’ve spent long enough sliding my bar-coded receipt over the reader at Crystal Palace pool to know how annoyingly dilettante they can be. I can see the water from here. I go past a little Christmas tree with parcels underneath, and momentarily misread the ‘Lambeth’ labels as my own surname, but fortunately stop myself ripping them open in time to avoid a scene; through large grey doors to the changing area. I wonder if it needs signposting? I hope they don't. It's fairly obvious, and we need to keep our brains engaged. It's door sudoku.
It is GREAT coming into a changing area when it’s new, and I refuse to let the parked buggies make my teeth hurt. It's for us all it's for us all I silently chant. Everything’s so fresh, and the colour scheme is pastel clean, light retro blues and teals (I’m reminded of the word ‘teal’ because I watched a Modern Family ep yesterday in which ‘teal’ featured). (I would really really recommend Modern Family if this was a ‘what to watch’ blog, instead of ‘where to swim’.) The communal layout is not fabulous for those of us who like nudity pre- or post-swim; standard cubicles, small lockers. And guess what, I chose the one locker that doesn’t work, and had to drag everything out and start again, but let's not focus on the negative…
... until, right, this sign. I know, it's a picky point, but that's what I'm here for. On the sign, arrows point to showers, toilets and ‘pre-cleanse’. I’ll leave that with you a minute. ‘Pre-cleanse’. What the fuck is pre-cleanse? If there was ever a phrase that said ‘written by council committee’, it is ‘pre-cleanse’. It bugs me. About as much as ‘pre-order’ bugs me, which is a lot. I’m pre-cleansing right now. I’m pre-ordering, too. Until I make my next coffee, I’m both pre-coffee and post-coffee. I’m pre-everything, except writing this blog. Can we just ban the random and illogical use of pre? In my logical head I know what pre-cleanse means - the open showers that you use before swimming. But swimming isn't cleansing, is it. (Yes, I know it is for some people, but no pool is working to positively attract that attitude.) Why not ‘pre swim’ if they are contractually obliged to use ‘pre’? Someone call another meeting...
The loos are poolside (Jackie didn't like that, I don't mind) and are pleasing, effective contemporary design. It all feels nicely chunky and aesthetic; I love a satisfyingly oversized door. Then I turn my attention to the pool area itself. It is fab. They done good. Light and high, our modish church. I saw a photo of it beforehand and was a bit sniffy – one huge barn-like wall of beige tiles? Yuck. But on sight, it doesn’t appear like that at all. It feels clean, simple, uncluttered. It is a galleried space, spectators up high, with an elegant domed ceiling like a modern wooden barrel: pale wood slats and white metal rafters. There’s a lot of glass in here too – through to (I think) the teaching pool, and along one whole external wall, though all of that has blinds or frosting. I don’t quite get why architects fill space with glass that then has to be covered, particularly with blinds that we all know will break and sag in time. But there's plenty of light getting through so the space feels very open. The pool itself looks inviting – a crisp, infinity design, white with dark blue stripes. There are racing starts at the deep end; this is going to be a well-used local pool. And boy is it hot in the room. I’m keen to get in.
The water feels quite cool; apparently the aim was that it should be heated enough for swimmers, not hot enough for a play area. This is new water, I think as I go, does it feel ... newer? No, is the obvious answer, you can't feel a qualitative difference. In places it looks like the builders left in a hurry; they didn’t, for instance, get to polish up the first section of blue tiled lines, so for the first five meters they are covered with a misty blur, then get shiny for the second five metres. Maybe they'll be buffed by our feet over time. And ooh, a tiny flash of disappointment that it’s only 25m; just a moment missing the 7m lost when they knocked down instead of refurbing … The lanes are too narrow for overtaking and it's busy, and now I see why I’m flashbacking: that’s how it always was. It was always busy, I always hit this pool at the wrong time. It’s not possible to zone out; I’m doing that thing, at the end of every length, that discreet head nod to the others – can I go? Are you going? Shall I …?
I’m curious - the floor changes two thirds down, from the hard clean tile lines to the softer look of plastic; I ask the lifeguard what it is. Apparently that part of the floor is moveable, down and up; there will be times when there’s a boom raised so the pool splits into two, for classes etc. Now that will be VERY ANNOYING if you want to length swim. It’ll give us about an 18m pool, if that. So I do strongly advise getting a timetable or ringing ahead. Going to be a bit of trial and error for local swimmers, I think, sussing out when the best time to get whole quiet pool. Oh, and where's the clock? You need a clock otherwise you might just keep swimming on and on. (Jackie noticed that, I didn't. I don't keep swimming on and on. She does. But then, she was in her school netball team, and I was hockey. It all stems from that.)
I go through and ‘post-cleanse’. Cubicle showers, pretty basic, they’re OK. And I mull away at what I think. I think this: we’re not lucky to have a pool, we should have a pool. But we’re lucky it’s nice. We’re not lucky it’s short, we lost a longer pool. But we’re lucky it’s nice. I expect some individuals worked hard on our behalf; they've done their job well. We’re not lucky to have them, that’s what they’re there for, but thanks for the hard work. And we are, definitely, lucky it’s nice.