Monday, 27 February 2012

Enough Ham.

324 Barking Road 
East Ham


E6 2RT
020 8548 5850
Question: Is this place twinned with anywhere in Germany?
Answer: Why yes it is. Kaiserslautern, which translates as Chief Dump.

Why the hell did I choose East Ham? Because back in the mists of 2008, Time Out published a list of London’s best pools (once I have my archiving sorted, this blog is a far superior product) which included this one in the East section, under London Fields and a Virgin Active pool which, as it’s private, makes a nonsense of a publicly-published list, as far as I'm concerned.  Aaaaanyway, I thought, if it’s made a ‘best of’, I better get down there. So off I trogged, passing, on the way, my current favourite derelict pool building, Poplar Baths, on the A13. 
I’d love to get in there, one day. Maybe Time Out will do a ‘best derelict pools’ list? Or maybe I will … 

East Ham is a bit (a lot) out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t find the pool, but if you go round in smaller and smaller circles eventually you hit the target and THEN of course it’s bloody obvious:  a new glass building sandwiched between and behind two enormous red brick buildings, the Town Hall,  and an old college, currently unoccupied. I walked across Platz Kaiserslautern (this whole twinning business is too weird) towards a massive glass wall,  the entrance on the left; there’s a Ministry of Food to the right, which you can also access from the reception area. I don’t have a beef with Jamie Oliver, he sells his kids a bit more than might be polite, but I think he’s run some good campaigns, however aggrandising his motives may have been. For someone I suspect is a Tory, he’s not bad; this riled me less than seeing a Tarbucks or some other horrid chain profiting from being in a public building.

I stand in a long queue of East Ham men in Bench and Superdry, and I can see the pool across a glass corridor. Everything is very glass-modern. Clean, clear walls of it, paired with neutral floor tiles. There's no secrets here, everything out in the bright light. The new building reflects the old buildings around it, making a feature out of its enclosed position, rather than shutting them out, and that works really well. At some points, it’s hard to see whether a wall is part of an old building with its nose up to the glass, or part of the new, and again, that’s a successful bit of fandangling (architectural term). I could see, as I say, the pool through the glass as I wait, and I try not to assess it too early. From here, though, it looks a bit ‘fun’ for my misanthropic ways, but certainly as new and designy as the main areas. So I reserve full judgement.

You’d think, from all this, that the changing rooms would be lovely. You’d be wrong. They were clearly left-overs or left out of the new build. They are the secret. They feel shabby and cheap. There’s a gusset ‘in the interests of hygiene’ strip stuck to the door of one of the cubicles, which seems an appropriate graffiti form; but there’s graffiti too - on my cubicle door it says ‘this should be cleaned daily, not yearly’. I prefer a more sexually directional kind of graffiti, rather than domestic cleaning tips, but it is what it is.

I always choose the number of my locker carefully. Sometimes I try and find one that is my age. Or my birthday, or a pin number.  Today, I chose locker 157, because on a scale of 1 - 165 of not really looking forward to this swim, I was on 157, so that was easy enough to remember. 

Memo to council: If you want people to shower before going into the pool, put some specific pool-side showers for them to use.

It’s all change, environment-wise, when I go through to the pool area. It’s like wandering on to the set of a production of the Lion King in a Cotswolds theatre. Big rocks and trees litter the space. I bet you’re not allowed to climb on them, but I didn’t test that out - sorry, if you feel I’ve been derelict in my duty but I didn’t want to snag my costume on some faux-rockery. The Cotswolds feel comes from all the yellow of the brick. It says ‘YOU COULD BE ROMPING WITH WILD ANIMALS IN STOW ON THE WOLD’.  The ceiling is a massive circular windowed dome, really fab. There’s a couple of rows of spectator seats, and plenty of pool hoists, tick. There’s a short pool (25m), a teaching one and a tiny little puddle thing, for decorative purposes? I say short pool with a sigh. I don’t understand why they built a short pool, when they surely had the chance to do something bigger. I don’t understand why, when they’re designing this kind of thing, they don’t ask swimmers what makes a good pool. 'Short and shallow' will only ever be the answer to the question 'can you describe yourself in three words, Mr Cruise?'  I know all this has a cost implication, I’m not stupid, but what  they could have saved on the rockery, they’d gain in the water. I put myself forward for a focus group.  So, with a sigh, I swam. Light blue tiled floor, water not too warm. Clean enough. At about midday, the lifeguards started to change the lane ropes. 'What's going on?' I asked a swimmer, like an old bird who can't cope with change. 'It's midday' she replied. 'It's fitness swim, now'. I'm not sure what ‘fitness swim’ is, all I can confirm is that she, and I,  swam the same, regardless. 

My shower is one of those ‘wave your hands around and it will mysteriously turn on’ affairs. When I’d had enough, it wouldn’t turn off. I wrapped myself in my towel, and then couldn’t get out of the door without soaking my towel, so I ended up pressed against the shower wall trying to stay dry, waiting. Waiting. Waiting. A watched shower never goes off, or something.

On the way home, I drove past a sign for ‘Greenway’ which is a great walk in this bit of London, along the Northern Outfall Sewer (romantic, huh) with one of 'my' trees at the Stratford bit.  It made me feel momentarily affectionate for this bit of East London. Then I got a puncture, and I thought I might be stuck there forever. So (nodding sagely)  be careful what you think, OK? 

1 comment:

  1. I hate those sensor switched shower, tap and flush affairs. They react to me in exactly the same way as automated doors do, in as much as they don't react to me at all. I'm a vegetarian and I show up in photos and everything, so I'm fairly sure I'm not a vampire... I don't wander around in reflective clothing or a Predatoresque cloaking device... The bloody things can see me, they just choose to ignore me.