SWISS COTTAGE LEISURE CENTRE
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.
The reception area in which we queue feels like checking in at a Travelodge ... from the future! Again, everything feels oversized, even the bright colours; big walls and big stairs up to the library, big ballpark, people playing big squash with massive outsized rackets in primary colours. We paid our money (not too big) and went down a curling metal staircase by a big yellow wall with big block holes. This is going to be a BIG POOL, I think, and all BRIGHTY MODERN.
The futuristic feel to the reception area definitely continues poolside. The weighty door from the changing area is like a portal from one world to another. One side is a huge wall of window, looking out today over a grey concrete sky; there's two walls of interior windows, one leaning energetically forward over the pool; behind these are gym floors, exercise machine after exercise machine. From down here by the water, you can just see ranks of bodies doing repetitive running movements, right up to the high ceiling. It’s all a bit Metropoolis (which I think is possibly the best and worst joke I’ve ever made, by the way) The colour scheme continues its relentlessly trendy march. One wall is a great big matt blue, as is the ceiling, with added massive circles of white, making it slightly kickback to the 60s. There’s a huge digital display reminding you where you are and when. I wish my cozzie was a bit more fashion forward. (I don’t.)
The pool itself is 25m, wide, one play lane then lots of narrow swimming lanes. And very. very. busy. I started in the slow lane but kept wanting to overtake. I moved to medium, but kept wanting to overtake. There’s no way I was going in ‘fast’, which was full of the kind of swimmers who do stretching exercises before they start. Yikes. It was thrashy and a bit competitive and too narrow to move and I really wasn’t enjoying it one bit so you know what …
… I went and played, instead.
With my girl child, in the deep end, we played touch the bottom of the pool with your feet, your knees, your hands and your bum. I could not get my bum to touch the floor. ‘I’m too buoyant’ I said and she laughed a bit too hard. I went under water with her and watched her blow mercurial bubbles in greeting. It was lovely.
There was a elderly man with a float contraption strapped round his belly, doing power walking in the water. He looked like the future of being elderly, which was entirely fitting in this pool.
I went through to change.
That portal I mentioned earlier? It takes you from this modern sleek pool, to a really horrid changing room. I’m used to horrid changing rooms but given the surroundings, this strikes a really discordant note. It’s like they are relics from another time, carefully renovated around. It’s the showers, really. The showers are really shitty. We have to queue, as two of them don’t work, and then when I finally get in, the floor is covered in matted hair and dirt, and I can’t make the bloody thing work, waving my hand around in front of a sensor that senses my frustration and decides to play nasty. You know how those things go: you get them to work, and quickly lather your hair. They stop. You then spend a couple of minutes waving, sliding, and ultimately banging the fucking thing in frustration until somehow, it works again, and you can’t figure out which movement you made was the right one. Then the changing benches are very mean, everything precariously balanced, and definitely not room for an actual arse to sit on them.
In the great scheme of things, crappy showers are not so bad. Generally this would be a great pool, it would make you feel like a real swimmer, lean and efficient and a bit from the future, if it was empty. Sunday lunchtime it made me exasperated. I'd be happy to have such a huge resource on my doorstep, as well as nearby Parliament Hill lido, and Hampstead Ponds. These Swiss cottagers are jammy buggers, I think. Then I think again - and decide that next time, maybe a more careful use of words would be better.