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). 

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.


  1. Not that I ever go swimming, or even live in London, but I just wanted to leave a note to let you know that I enjoyed reading this review, and I think your writing is high quality. Writing something that holds the interest of someone without an interest in your subject matter is surely a sign of a quality writer.

  2. Thank you so much, what a lovely thing to say, I'm positively blushing! Really appreciate it!

  3. I was also a regular swimmer in the old Clapham pool and went for my first swim in the new one last week. As a reasonable swimmer who covers 100m in about 90s, here's my thoughts...

    6 lanes! So maybe, just maybe, when I'm in there trying to swim semi-quickly I'll get a quiet lane or at least one moving at a similar speed.
    It's brand new and clean (I had moved to swimming at Oasis Leisure Centre (also GLL operated) in Covent Garden, and it's truly filthy. It's great if you love pubic hair in the showers and dead mice in the fast lane (seriously!)
    It's a Very Nice Place To Be (see above, but also the communal space is nice, airy and modern). Super.
    Lane swimming til 10pm during the week. Bravo.

    Narrow lanes, as you point out.
    The old 32m pool was massive in comparison (but now I get to record proper 100m increment laps)
    I fear it's going to get very busy with LOTS of kids given it's a Nice Place To Be
    Lanes not specified as slow, medium, fast... it was chaos when I went (although the lifeguard said this was being sorted)
    Finally, my pet hate... the pool only opens at 7am during the week. Which is tricky for those of us that want to get a 60+ min swim in before work. 6am would be just splendid, but instead the pool will be rammed 7-8am. I guess the flip side is it's open late.

    I'll reserve judgment until I've got my regular swimming schedule sorted and see what works for me. It'll be a deathmatch between 7am swimming v 9pm swimming. I want 7am to be a better experience, but I fear it'll be much better in there at 9pm.

  4. Blimey Paul B, thanks for your considered thoughts. You after my gig? ;) Didn't have 6 lanes when I went, half the pool was for kids but maybe that's because it was still school hols. General feedback in the communa'ee pretty good thus far, and I think at this early stage they are listening to public opinion so maybe you could campaign for 6am start? (I quite liked doing the maths when I did my 32m lengths.)

  5. Actually... your gig seems rather good. I'll take it if available!

    Back to the lanes... I think it's 6 lanes when 'Swimfit' is on (early AM and late PM), and 3 lanes at all other times. Which is a big plus for us lane swimmers... even if the kids are going mental, we can swim (albeit in a busy lane). Unlike Balham Leisure Centre, my old haunt... utter carnage at most times of day. Horrible.

    32 times tables are fun, but my coach is incapable, so 100s is spot on

    Also I will take your advice and ask about an earlier start! See you in the lanes some time...

  6. Thanks Jenny Its great to have our pool back! yes its well nice, a shame its shorter but hey us swimmers now have choice in South London now, Long, outside or just local and we are now lucky! Mel x

  7. Lovely to be in the new pool. Shame it is so SHORT and SHALLOW. Went tonight 7-8pm.

    Three chunks to the pool. 33% 'aerobics', 33% for 3 *narrow* lanes, 33% for one child having a lesson. Luckily we came to lane swim.

    NO opportunities for mucking about or diving in the water. But then I am 48 so I guess that's probably appropriate. When I was 7-13 and in the formative years of learning to get old this would have been CRAP.

    At least no-one can drown if they don't bother getting in the water.

    toodle pip

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  9. Stumbled back upon this... having been a regular 2-3 times a week since January I'm really, really pleased! 3 favourite things are 1) bright, clean and new, 2) heated floor in the changing area is blissful, 3) showers are great.

    My only bugbear is the toilets poolside. That's it.
    Oh, and it's not that busy in the morning. Halleluiah!

  10. Really good pool. Very happy with it.

    Only issue being the designated lanes are rarely adhered to - breastroke in the fast line? Really?

    1. Yeah, I was just there watching kids, it was LANE SPEED ANARCHY. Don't worry, Anonymous, one day I'll be in charge and all that will be behind us. :)

      Also, I sat in spectator area watching, and it has THE most uncomfortable chairs I've ever sat on.

  11. It is difficult to be balanced when writing about this swimming pool. Residents waited so long for this pool to be built it is almost easy to forget that the old pool was so spacious and deep and the locker rooms were separated by sex and also spacious.
    What replaced it is basically a large paddling pool, shallow, cold, and not very big.
    The changing areas are unisex with little box like cubicles so that the ladies and gentleman do not embarrass each other by displays of indecency. The floor between the lockers and the cubicles are filthy because people track in from the street and on the way to the school children changing area, which is fortunately in separate rooms.
    The swimming lanes are narrow. The children’s swimming area is made out of the big pool hence the ludicrous asseveration that the new pool is larger than the old pool. Not a good experience.

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