MORDEN PARK POOLS
London Road Morden Surrey SM4 5HE
020 8640 6727
Question I asked: is this really in London?
Answer I found: Yes, it’s the London Borough of Merton. (And I’ve done other non-London-seeming postcodes, like Hampton Court, so it counts. But I will forever draw the line at Bromley.)
Question 2: Why is it called pools (plural)?
Answer: Because there’s a little paddling pool by the car park.
Morden Park is a high point - not in anyone’s life, I hope, just on the Morden OS map - and from it, you get a tremendous view down across wherever this is. Outskirts. I've no idea why you'd want to look down on them, but you may be odd. The Park looks like it and its trees has been there forever. Them as knows me know I love an old tree. And Wikipedia confirms, it actually has been there forever, there’s even an ancient burial mound on it somewhere, but fortunately, I'm here alone so I don't have to go trekking off to find it and be 'interested'. Right at the toppermost point, beside the car park, is a square Georgian house in which people can get married. I think that’s a first for this blog: a place that doubles as swimming and wedding venue. I do, but only if your front crawl is up to scratch. I'd certainly like to see the Speedo wedding dress - I wonder if you'd go racer back, or endurance?
I could have put money on these pools having been built in 1967, and they were. It is an utterly 60s build, almost utterly '67 somehow, and the modern bits of tutt screwed on over the top don’t diguise that. But age is starting to take its toll. The changing rooms are charmless and sagging, the floor is grey blue concrete embedded with glitter, there are narrow pink lockers (are the men’s lockers blue? Do tell, gents) with a few dark cubicles. There are big tiles on the ceiling surrounded by what looks like dirty popcorn. I changed quickly, looking forward to swimming in a 33m pool, the reason I’d specially wanted to come here.
Here’s a idea: why not make the entrance fee slightly less when you can’t swim the whole length because there are school parties in the pool?
Still, I take a look around. The floor is made of bobbly tiles that they use on pavements, to let you know you’re by a pedestrian crossing. Apart from that …actually, this is a great sized space. It makes SUCH a difference, that extra 7m, I’ve gone on about that before in this blog. It looks properly substantial. The surroundings show their age. There’s a seating gallery along one length, and high glass along the other - not a modern glass wall, the way it’s broken up by frames definitely dates it. But it suits me particularly well today, because it lets in a bright blue sky and a bright orange lowball sun through old bare trees, whose shadows into the pool break up the bright ripples in the water. There’s a concrete diving board at one end, plus a spring board. The horror of nowadays pools is the eternal shallow end, but this pool being of a decent age, the shallow end is not too shallow, and it tilts away to a good (diving necessary) depth. I like that, it's a decent body of water, not a thin puddle.
Getting in, I can feel my very cold hands sting in the warmth of the water – 28 degrees according to the thermometer in reception. There’s a bit of orange rope across the shallow end, I duck under it and begin my demi-lengths. There’s two troubles with this kind of arrangement: the obvious one, you can’t swim lengths and therefore get no push off, it’s kinda hard to get purchase on the bottom every time you have to turn; the second is that a bit of orange rope across the pool is hard to see, and I keep bashing across it. The pool is white square-tiled (now it’s usually brick or mosaic tiles) with guttering at the ends; they’re all looking a bit sad. Very out of mode. But, you know, for all that lack of modern shine … I really like it. It's a swimmers pool. It’s not unclean, it is shabby. Things starting to wear and crack and mould up. But it’s evocative: I’m practically making a 60s film as I swim up and down. It features the scabby-kneed scamps and scoundrels of Morden who would uv gathered here for whole long summer days of harmless bombing, in a time when their mums only expected them back for their teas. After endless hours of leaping off that top board and driving a poor lifeguard completely mad, they'd uv shared a quick Number 6 on the eventual bus home, all the while shouting back at me ‘Who the fuck do you think you are? Allan Sillitoe?’
The showers are shit. Little pathetic dribbles, and the shower curtains are not the ‘quality bathware’ the label suggests. The facilities remind me of swimming in Lake Bled last summer; we used the facilities where they’d held the 2010 Winter Swimming Championships; they were so basic and freezing – in July - I felt really sorry for the cold water swimmers coming out of a freezing lake to use them.
I go through to dress and there’s a bunch of little girls standing in a line, the quick changers. They nudge each other and giggle behind hands as I go in wrapped in my towel. I was indeed NOOOD under that towel. There’s nowhere but right in front of them to dress. But for once, I feel self-conscious, them-conscious. They’re so lovely, they’re passing round a pair of glasses and speaking dead teachery when they put them on. I don’t want to ruin their day with the sight of how bodies turn out. But I tell you what, it’s bloomin hard getting dressed trying not to show your bits.
Right behind the girls are two signs. I really hope they don’t turn round and see these, either, because neither my body nor these posters is going to make them gleefully leap towards adulthood. The first ‘positively’ forbids smoking in the dressing room. S’fine, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we wasn’t so inclined. The second is a poster I’ve not seen before. It says ‘Does your boyfriend tell you you’re PRETTY? Pretty ugly, pretty stupid, pretty frigid’. Pretty please, I think, don’t let these 7yr olds see this, even if only to save the teacher having to explain ‘frigid’. But they scamper off; and as I leave, I take a closer look -the poster is issued by the Home Office; it’s governmental advice on what constitutes abuse. Good lord, I think to myself. There’s a turn up. I wonder how effective the Home Office are being, raising the self esteem of girls, via a poster? Then I remember that ultimate teen girl role model Theresa May is Home Secretary and I harrumph back out into the cold.