NEWHAM LEISURE CENTRE
281 Prince Regent Lane, Plaistow
London E13 8SD
London E13 8SD
020 7511 4477
Happy that: we’re in Ian Dury territory
Sad that: I still can’t pronounce Plaistow however many times I’m told.
A warning: This is the very nadir of grumpiness and sarcasm. However, that means things cannot actually get worse (cue song) (and book).
I try quite often to persuade members of my family to move far far away. This is not as mean as it sounds, I just think it’d be nice to visit them somewhere nice. If I could be in charge, some would live in Sydney, some in San Francisco and some on Skiathos, and I’d visit regularly. Instead, my choices include Oxford, Erdington and Essex, which is not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.
But as this leisure centre is conveniently situated on our route through to Essex, I can kill two birds to everyone else’s one. It’s a shitty rainy Sunday, which perfectly suits the A13, surely one of the most dismal roads in the country. Just when you think it can’t get worse, there’s Dagenham.
We drive up a sweeping lane to be greeted by a huge glass building with red plastic ‘accents’; it’s the shape and style of an out-of-town hypermarket where you can get faux leather sofas and tin foil barbecues at knockdown prices. It was opened in 1990, and may have looked amazing, on paper, in the 80s, though I doubt it. Through the automatic doors, there’s a meagre of balloons strung across the entrance. Whoo hoo. Party time.
The changing rooms are a grey square with grey cubicles and dark beige square floor tiles. The sink surround – black marble-lite – are the same as I’d seen at last week’s establishment, so GLL (who run many pools) obviously bought a job lot, probably from a building that looked a lot like this one. GLL, by the way, have re-branded as ‘Better’. Yep. Better. Not worse. Not As Good. Not even Best. Better. If there was ever a better reason to sack an advertising agency, I’d like to see one.
I’m struggling. Even though I’ve given this review a jolly title, one of the best songs in the world, I can barely muster a merry quip I’m so bored and depressed by shit holes like this. My dull mood is lightened by the presence of my lovely girl child who is still young enough to skip, and her father, who isn’t.
On the way through to the pool it says ‘please hand your ticket to the Recreation Assistant’. Oh goodie, someone under 18 is going to assist with my recreation. What’s wrong with ‘lifeguard’? When did they become Recreation Assistants? Does this mean they won’t be making any attempt to save my life if I drown, but will try and distract the other swimmers from the unfolding tragedy by making balloon animals as I go under for the third time?
The pool sits under a vast sloping ceiling of massive moulding tiles and flaky white-painted air ducting. There’s a small teaching pool at one end - not the deep end, there is no deep end. The deep end is in the middle, which has been the design flaw of choice for lots of public pools. There's a sign at what I shall call 'the getting in end'. It says 'Absolutely bugger all diving in this pool. Diving no. Not. Forbidden.' (I paraphrase). It’s a pointless sign. Because who would try and dive here, smashing headlong into this shallow puddle? Idiots. Can idiots read? Maybe. Rephrase the question. DO idiots read? No. So the sign is, effectively, aimed at people who don't need the sign. Christ I'm unpleasantly pedantic, even with lovely girl child in tow.
This is a pool of two halves. The bottom half has been smartly re-tiled, in tiles of many colours. It looks like they couldn't get enough of the colours they wanted, so they made do. ‘Nah, sorry, we’ve only got three yellers. Can do you five purples, though? And a coupla greens? End of a job mate, end of a job.’ The tile designs were odd too. On one side, it looked like a tile representation of Braille swearing. On the other, someone had seen the sonic pattern of a scream, and decided to replicate that in tiles, with peaks and troughs in different colours. Strange, but to me at least, it made some kind of sense. The pool was shallow, as I’ve said, and my daughter whispered to me ‘the water’s green’. And cloudy. And the Recreation Assistant had blocked off a whole lane to give a rather lovely young woman some assistance with recreation.
The top half, however, was a different matter. It looked like painted breeze blocks up to the ceiling which was covered in huge tea-brown circles of damp, and splodges as if someone had chucked something brown and sticky up there and it had stuck for a while before plopping back down. Husband and I met eyes: we were thinking of the same brown sticky stuff. Great. Smile and carry on.
But finally I found a reason to be cheerful – my new invention. To make this pool OK, you need to only see the bottom half. I therefore propose (da da da daaaaaa) the swim hat with visor. (I’ve copyrighted it.) I’m not sure how it would affect your stroke, I’m going to try it out by sellotaping a normal cap to my own swim hat and see how we get on. An added benefit is head protection, if any unpleasant brown stuff falls from the ceiling during your swim. If it works, I'm in business and it's ta ta swimming blog. Nice to have met you all.
I have a shower, which is best suited to a 7’ person. ‘I found bubblegum in my cubicle’ says my girl child, and I establish she means used gum, stuck to the seat. Back in the car, heading off to Essex, my husband, as if somehow knowing that I write a swimming blog and might need a positive note to end on, volunteers that ‘there is something appealing about his pool’. I stare at him, which is dangerous as I’m driving. ‘Which is?’ I ask, sharply. ‘It’s not as shit as you think it’ll be, given the area’ he replies, happily. He is such a positive spirit. There; I found another reason to be cheerful.