WIMBLEDON LEISURE CENTRE
Latimer Road Wimbledon
London SW19 1EW
020 8542 1330
There are two Wimbledons: the tennis one, and the dogs one. Everything and everybody falls into one category or the other, except for me, who falls into neither. (No, you can't be both.) One, tennis, is a terrifically charming village (pron. vill-ahj); the other, dogs, has an indoor shopping centre called, amusingly*, Centre Court. The pool falls into the ‘dogs’ category, I suspect a pool belonging to the ‘tennis’ category would be more Phase Eight and Carluccios and less Morrisons. And be private.
As we know, I don’t approve of private stuff: schools, hospitals, thoughts, etc. They should all be in the realm of state provision. Also, as we're going there, when I’m in charge, there will be no such thing as ‘choice’, it’s a false illusion, you’ll just get what your given, and all will be well. TRUST ME. However. If ‘getting what you’re given’ means getting pools like this, I will change political tack in a heartbeat, and build my own swimming pool.
(Anyone watch Take Me Out? You know that sound, when they turn their lights off? I just heard that sound... )
The front of the building looks distinctly more Baths than leisure centre: a nice red-brick Victorian bit of fanciness from 1901 that the council has pretty much left alone; it's on a quite narrow residential street, you don't get to step far enough back and appreciate its historic solidity. It has big flag banners outside proclaiming a £2million refit, which is so exciting we forget how to read, and go in the exit. ‘We’ is me and my lovely friend Tara. She currently has no friendship places available, but when she does, get yourself in the queue. She is truly top. We go to the front desk, which has clearly benefited from some of the millions because it has a swanky queueing system in place, but we skip that, there’s no one else here. Tara is practically an investigative reporter compared to my recalcitrant self, and through her inquisition we discover that the new reception area is nice, but they forgot to put heating in, so the reception guy has a blow heater on, which makes him feel a bit drowsy.
You can’t say I don’t give full detail.
Because we can’t read, we wander off in the wrong direction down a corridor painted the most vile colour scheme it’s possible to imagine, and, turns out, describe and find a huge, beautiful, galleried area that is currently the gym. It MUST have been a pool, originally. MUST have. It has those twiddly barleystick poles holding up the gallery, a great skylight running the length of a high ceiling with metal painted struts as punctuation; the proportions are superb, it would make a great pool area. But hey ho, it’s full of running machines and power plates and all sorts of sorry malarkey like that. Why would you want a gallery, to look down on that? They don’t have gym galas, do they. What a waste.
Because we still can’t read, we can’t find the changing room until a lady points to a MASSIVE sign for Changing Village. We walk in, and really, it’s a dump. Not even a fiver of those bloomin millions has been spent on a tube of Ajax. What a shit village. Pokey cubicles, half with their doors off, poxy lockers, scrappy little after-thought half-benches, crappy floor with a drain running along it. Old plug holes sunk in to the concrete, all hair and gunky. Not dirty, I’m not saying dirty. I'm saying grim. Tara says ‘it’s all a bit Prisoner Cell Block H isn’t it’, so I look round for big women having lesbian sex, but she meant the general condition of the place.
We wander around into the pool. Tara doesn’t want to get her copious hair wet, so has borrowed a swim cap which promises comic possibilities as her head is, in her words, ‘so fucking big’. I’m a pin head, for the record. Sigh. The pool. What a horrid space, a Slovenian holiday camp pool, circa 1981. I’d been so hopeful. We'd had that little flag - money's been spent! Then with the huge gym, I’d thought - blimey, if this is the space they chose to convert, the actual pool will be SPECbloominTACULAR. What a shame; and what a stupid choice that was, somewhere back in the annals of this pool's history. Hope, in pool terms, is usually a mistake.
There's no natural light, and a strange confection of plastic slatted tiles on the ceiling, in a chequerboard pattern, big square dusty lights. It's placky tacky. Another horrid colour scheme, beige and bottle green tiles on the walls, tiny blues in mosaic on the pool floor. 25m long, and I can tell by looking it’s shallow all the way. (I’m right.) Not laned, so not for serious swimming, then. A couple of meters up, there's a tatty rope slung across that you could hang your elbows over and go to sleep on, if you were an Irish builder in the 1940s in London looking for work. A little plastic slide in, and wonky steps. Knackered seats along one side. I get in and do a couple of quick lengths, but it seems ridiculously over the top, like an Olympian in a paddling pool. Tara’s cap keeps popping off like an undersized condom. We do a few lengths like old ladies, chatting. Sometimes, ‘one’ has to go with what ‘one’s given (lemons, lemonade, etc)
Resigned to the fact that I’m not going to get a good swim here, we get out and shower. Well, I stand under a dribble of warm water in a fetid pit of despair. Then dress quickly, having twice accidentally chosen a cubicle with no door.
I don’t recommend this pool. It’s dogs, without being the dog's bollocks, if that’s not stretching a phrase a little too far.