Monday, 23 April 2012


Golden Lane Sport & Fitness
Fann Street 
London, EC1Y 0SH

020 7250 1464
Positive points for: the new revamp
Negative points for: size. 

I love the Barbican. Sometimes I think I’d like to live there when I’m old, next door to Mr Scargill* if he's still alive by then (ahem) but, where would I swim? I’ve eyed up the posh pond and deemed it long enough, but too shallow.  I thought today I might have found the answer on Golden Lane Estate, which is either beside, behind or in front of the Barbican depending where you are; and as part of being at the Barbican is not knowing where you are, that’s entirely appropriate.  A board tells me I’m in Cripplegate, which sounds like some Ricky Gervais-inspired Twitter storm but is actually an olde name for this bit of the city. Golden Lane is what we used to call a ‘council estate’ (for younger viewers, that’s social housing exclusively owned by the council, rented cheaply to people in need.) Now it’s Corbusier-influenced Grade II-listed 1950s tower blocks, probably a mix of private and council owned, which is not the same thing at all.  Although it’s not-quite-the-Barbican (Barbican’t, maybe), I do like to perpetuate a cliché, so I got lost on my way in, going up the down steps and round the wrong corner so I could see the pool from a walkway above but, not having the gift of flight, not how to get there.

As you (eventually) approach you see a modernist box beside a tennis courtyard between the high rises. It’s a style I particularly like: unfussy, and elegant; the fresh white paint on the concrete sills and roofs and walkways is very crisp, broken up by thick black window frames, and a lot of glass. There’s a  view right into the pool and right through to the other side and I could see that the water was empty apart from one gentleman going up and down. I could also see it was very small, the kind of size you’d be surprised to see in a hotel but disappointed to see in a leisure centre.  Going in feels like entering a smart arched cave, and it’s been revamped, so the contemporary colour scheme is unscuffed, no trainer marks on the lino. The corridor to the changing room has original 50’s round light wells cut in to the deep ceiling. It’s groovy.

The changing room feels like an exercise in making the most of the space available. It’s not capacious, but it’s neat; again, very clean and new. Muted slate blacks and greys and a very particular greenish blue tile, almost crackle-glazed, kind of referencing the 50s without being naffly retro, and plenty of frosted glass. Utilitarian swish, but not pretentious; there’s not enough space for pretentious. I was there alone but I suspect if it was busy and cramped you might touch bums with other swimmers as you change. It’s up to you, if you see that as a bonus or not.

I wanted to try something out before I got changed. When I was in Australia recently, I took pics of all the pools I swam in, always with permission readily granted with a shrug and a ‘yeah, sure’. In one pool, the life guard said yes  and I responded ‘you wouldn’t be allowed to do that in the UK’. ‘Well’ he said ‘you don’t look like you’re going to take dirty pictures’. In my mind, I said to him ‘what does someone who takes dirty photos look like, then?’ but outwardly I smiled and took my photos.  And you know, a little bit of me was sad that I didn’t look like a sexual predator. A little bit of me mourned silently and inwardly for the loss of my ‘dirty photo’ days. Scroll forward. I brandished my phone – can I take a pic? I asked the lifeguard. Sure, she replied, long as he doesn’t mind, pointing to the older gentleman puffing up and down. He was out of shot anyway, but I asked him. ‘Long as you’re not a pervert’ he quipped with his rough and ready humour. ‘Do I look like a pervert?’ I shot back, and as I said it, I knew I’d come round in a circle.

I know I’m niche, market-place wise. But that man was well niche, and now he had to swim with someone he thought might be a pervert.  Poor bugger. No wonder he kept right to the other side of the pool.

The pool surrounds are dead simple. The tiles are nice white squares, the grouting is white white (I know, what have I come to, reviewing grouting?), too new to have attracted horrid black flecky mould.  And of course much glass (we’ve established that it’s a glass box jutting in between the towers) so from the water you can see the flats glaring in reminding you it’s urban. It’s all done with minimal fuss, apart from a funny tiled bit at the end which looks like very uncomfortable seating. The pool itself is *sigh* 20 metres. The lower limits of what I’ll term a pool – any smaller is a puddle. The only way to deal with this, I decided, is to pretend that I’m teeny tiny, a fairy person. Oooh goodie, role play, what fun! That lasts about three seconds. ‘Teeny tiny fairy person’ is too much of a stretch even for a woman of my talents.

There’s only me and the fat man (ten extra points if you correctly identify the literary reference) in the water. I get in – nice temperature, not baking. I notice silly things; the tiles in the pool are not as clean as the ones outside; the bottom is a bit grubby, like they haven’t done the builders clean yet, the grouting is grey dirty (shoot me now). Did they refurb around the pool, but not the pool itself?  Whichever, they put the wrong stuff on the guttering - it feels gummy; it’s been painted over with the wrong stuff that clagged a bit, is my guess.

To start with, having a pool almost to yourself is quite fun, it matters less that it’s short; I don’t even think about counting lengths because I know it’ll drive me mad, so I start playing. Odd strokes. Underwater. How far can I go without breathing. That sort of thing. I do some backstroke, which I rarely do as I’m so directionally challenged, because I reckon that if the gent sees me looming towards him on my back it’ll add a little pervy frisson to the proceedings. Then I get bored. I’m not good, bored. Then another swimmer got in. And how pathetic is this: suddenly, I start swimming ‘properly’. Wearing a ‘swimtrek’ swim hat carries responsibilities, I think. I raced him a bit. He was dead fast, but kept stopping; I’m slower, but didn’t stop.  I wonder if he realized we had a tortoise/hare thing going on.

In conclusion, dear reader: I give the exterior and surrounds of this pool higher marks (for architectural interest and a nice refurb) than I give the pool itself. Length lets it down. On this I pass no shabby comment. An overall 7/10. If it’s all you’ve got, have fun in it. Again, no comment. Restrained, huh.

*Mr Scargill: Arthur Scargill. You remember. You don't? How old are you? Go ask your mummy or daddy about the miners strike, then come back to me. (But yes, I confess, I DID have to google, to check he was still alive...) 


  1. I thought you'd be up for a Ballardian bit of wild swimming in that huge courtyard pool, with the 'outlet' water feature, but...

    While it does make Tooting Bec Lido look like Lake Superior by comparison, a very enjoyable read. Hadn't heard 'Cripplegate' since the golden age of Rock Organ Records (Rick Wakeman & Jack Nitszche both recorded albums in St. Giles' church, notable for its fantastic organ sound).

    Now, back to looking at last weeks fantastic Lido cake; I hope it had a hint of Bovril & crisps flavour in it.

    1. Believe me, I've been tempted. Thank you for your fantastic comment, I've nominated you for the prize for Comment of the Year. Kind AND informative! Other commenters can look on in awe.

      I'm trying to work out who you are, do I know you? I don't know many people who are keen on fantastic organ sounds, and Fr Jr doesn't give me many clues. Prepared to reveal yourself, Fr?