CLISSOLD LEISURE CENTRE
63 Clissold Road Hackney
London N16 9EX
020 7254 5574
Warning: contains the C* bomb (oldplay)
Pic: Pool detail. If I was cooler, I’d have put the pics the other way round.
I made a deal. My whole parenting is based on deals; along with bribes, complex negotiation and begging, they comprise my whole technique. I say ‘technique’, it’s more ‘making it up as I go along’, and is mostly begging. The deal was, if girl child came to the pool with me, she could pick the music for the car. She chose Coldplay. So NOW who’s the winner, the triumphant glint in her eye taunted me. We hurtled towards N16 with me wittering nostalgically about my friends in the North London. The Scientist came on, and I gaily suggested it would be a good song for their school leavers ceremony (the lyrics kind of fit, it’s harmless, give me a break, they’re 11). She turned her face away, she couldn't speak, she was in tears. We sang it with feeling ‘NOBODY said it was EEEEAASSAAAAY’. Then I was in tears. Both of us, me for my nostalgia and for her; her for nostalgia that hadn’t even happened yet. NO ONE EVER SAID THAT IT WOULD BE THIS HARD.
The next track though, she wanted to skip, said it was a bit grumpy. Oooh, I said, I like grumpy. Grumpy suits me. Have we not met? That made her laugh, so me too. We got to the pool quite cheered up.
And what a building. If only I was an architect, I could wax on about its massive hangar-like construction, a great grey square with huge metal Y’s holding up a overhung roof; metal dark grey struts like open blinds covering the enormous glass of one wall. Grey, terracotta red, grey. And if only I could remember in full detail the controversy that RAGED around this pool for YEARS. How handy, then, that there’s an article, linked here, that details the full shebang. Debacle is probably a better word. Still, it’s open, we’re here, let’s see what they done.
On a large outdoor terrace above the entrance, there are running machines in use. I wanted to shout up through a cupped hand 'the street is also outside, if anyone wishes to avail themselves for free', but being in company stopped me. In reception you get a sense of the scale of the place. Floors and floors of exercise, wrapped in concrete and oversize slabs of flat-colour board. I love concrete. I love shiny indoor concrete. It makes stuff look architecty, and as I’m pretentious, I love that. I also love cake, so when I’m presented with indoor concrete and a strong bakery smell, I’m happy already. The smell was from Hoxton Beach café - such a cool name for a leisure centre cafe, which are never cool, they're the places that taste and health forgot. It baffles me, that: why people exercise, then shove their faces with all the shit they’ve had to work twice as hard to eradicate.
My first tip of the day: don’t wear tights here, you’ll end up with soggy tightfoot, because a big sign hangs out outside the changing rooms, telling us to take off our shoes. We do, and it feels strangely personal padding round with bare feet. You can put blue plastic bags on your shoes as an alternative, they look a bit surgical to me, and I think they’re wasteful, a product no one really needs, like plug-in air freshener. The changing rooms are separate men and women’s (apparently it was a Village at one point until there was an outcry about how that excluded the local Muslim population. You don’t have to be Muslim to hate Changing Villages) and we’ve ended up with quite a nice space which can be filed under ‘doing our best with the corridor available’. Choice of cubicles or an open area, lots of lockers, a gentle duck blue colour scheme, and a beautiful VERY slippery floor. I end up waddling, for safety.
Onto the main pool, which shares the massive galleried space with a tiny hot baby pool, replete with bright red mushroom fun thingy, the one naff touch in an otherwise clean and stylish look. There’s also a training pool but I was glad that girl child and I were swimming in the same pool as the two are a distance apart, with separate changing areas. It all feels like the wrong configuration: the main pool, being 2m deep throughout, is obviously aimed at more serious swimmers; why put the baby space here? I don't get the intended message, it's muddled. We'll put serious swimming here, keep it apart from the training pool, with all the lessons and splashy shouty kids having an annoying nice time. Yes, good, big tick. Then, we'll put the babies in the quiet serious space. No, cross, wrong. Instead of putting the babies in the creche, they've put them in church, right in the middle of mass. (You think I'm using a metaphor? I'm NOT.)
The space is … spacey. The ceiling is huge, rutted and grey, there is a massive glass wall with the grey blind slats we could see from outside. Up in the gallery the blonde plywood chairs have a pleasing almost sculptural uniformity. Under the gallery is a lot of what looks like ‘hidden storage’ – huge plyboard handle-less cupboards that probably slide open around each other is a designy way. How much do we love good storage? A lot. It’s very uncluttered pool side, I bet those cupboards are crammed full of floats and noodles and armbands and all the shit and it all falls out when you open a door (when you work out how to open one, that is). There’s a huge very official-looking time clock at one end, so it’s obviously well used for galas and the like. The pool itself is wide but only 25m, and as I said, 2m deep, so no shallow end. Everything is clean and serious; white and black pool tiles, nice pool ends, and, added bonus, chilly when you get in. It reminds me of Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre, reviewed here, a similar-feeling space, same clarity of purpose.
There's a lot to praise (I've put blinkers on, so I can't see the baby bit). Deep, dedicated pool, the temperature, no interference. The sleek modernity, just the odd touch of naffness. I did wonder if anyone's ever going to invent more trendy lane dividers, because the dead standard placcy red, blue and white floats on a bit of string really let a fashionable place down. Today had standard lane organisation, but really, Sunday morning people of N16, you need to get a grip on identifying your speeds. Never been in such a slow medium lane. That's where the 25m is a bind: you get no run-up to overtake, so if you do it, you really have to put a spurt on. I kept overtaking, until I came face to face with Jesus in goggles overtaking on the other side. Then I switched to the fast lane, because that’s not something you want to do twice.
I got showered, a funny spurty bit of water like when the tap at home is wrong, and found myself whistling: nobody said it was easy. I stopped pretty quickly. It’s one thing singing C*oldplay in the car, quite another in public. And as we walked out of the pool, I bumped into my old friend I’d been nostalging about in the car, earlier. A complete coincidence: what are the chances? Lucky me, that everything comes full circle.