Friday, 7 September 2012

A lido? In Crouch End?

NB: The details for this pool are now changed. Please see the comment at the bottom for an updated link. 

Park Road Leisure Centre

Park Road

 N8 8JN
020 8341 3567
Added bonus:  The pool website says that Simon Pegg and David Tennant live in Crouch End. Star-spotting. Hold me back. (SEE NOTE) 
Negative points: Seasonal. 

This review will mine the gap between ‘hidden gem’ and ‘never heard of it’.

I won’t ask this question to the queue stretching along the road on a beautiful summer day, but - how come so few people I know who swim in lidos have swum in this lido? Even my friends Wendy and John, who live three yards away, haven't swum in it - mind you, they’re not a litmus test, they’re private pool people. Hmm. I know. *purses lips, mean little nod.* It’s no more off the beaten track than, say, Uxbridge (dodges while people from Crouch End throw things) and it can’t be the North/South divide, because I've swum in Parliament Hill Lido.  Somehow, this one has slipped off my lido radar. Yours too?

There is a long list of negatives that might keep this pool out of ‘hidden gem’ category.  I’ve discounted ones that aren’t consistent (the cold, grey windy day, and the woman on the front desk whose Customer Service badge had disappeared up her own arse) and there’s still quite a list:
-  We had to yell to get the lido gate open.
-  The outdoor table and chair sets: four red moulded-plastic chairs bolted to tables - simultaneously ugly AND uncomfortable AND impossible to get in and out of.  (SEE NOTE)
-  Tiny changing rooms that look like festival loos. Too narrow to bend your elbows in, so you have to change straight-armed. Try it.
-  A naff sub-Disney mural on the (closed) snack booth, from which I extrapolated that the snacks would also be shit. If I’m wrong, I’ll amend this. (SEE NOTE)
-  Decoration: Made me think of Canvey Island in the 70s.  I've never been to Canvey Island but I have seen the 70s in magazines....(one of those things is not quite true). All the signs, lifeguard metal chairs etc in various old reds, mostly rusting or cracking.
- Signs hammered into the strip of lawn, like at a bad Butlins.
-  Manky conifers in half-barrels.
-  Suburban hedging. If Mike Leigh wrote a play about a lido.
-  The building: One long ugly wall that looked as if it was made of shipping containers. Might work on a docklands industrial estate, less good here. You want your pool to look like the kind of place where Guy Ritchie could drive through any moment with shoo’ers, and do random violence? 
-   Showers are outside, so you have to keep your cossie on.

And the piece de resistance for me - 
-  The fountain with a banner exhorting people to throw a penny in, for the defibrillator fund.  And because the people who swim here (myself now included) would obviously scrabble meanly for pennies in a fountain with no care for the heart conditions of others, it has an ugly cordon round it, the kind they use to keep people back on a demo, but painted in cheap white paint to soften the effect, and failing to. (SEE NOTE) 
The swim certainly has a lot of overcoming to do.  BUT (there had to be a but) sometimes, even if you have a long list of negatives, the overall result is positive. I get in via some ruddy tile steps that look slippy;  the unpretentious blue is familiar. The pool is 50m and the decision was made a few years back to warm the water (not heat it) but so minimally I could definitely feel the chill as I got in. ‘Ooh, bit cold’ I say as I reach waist deep. ‘You don’t say’ grumbled husband. The normal dirt on the bottom had been ‘enhanced’ by the wind, which had dumped half an autumn’s worth of dead leaves and blossomy bits, lying now in swirl and eddy patterns. The pool is a shallow at both ends and deeper in the middle, and I like that, it works. (All ends are equal, it's a utopian lido.) It played a little trick on my swimming brain: I didn’t feel, as I got tired, that I was schlepping uphill to the deep end, and back downhill. A slight mental recalibration, a tiny tilt in perception, and the swim feels like cycling on the flat. None of the hard work going up, but none of the freewheeling either; just regular going along.

And the water. It all comes down to the water. The water feels light, clean, clear. The warmth doesn’t make it feel ‘mulled’, but it takes that sharp edge off that can get you out of the pool before you want to.  As with all seasonal lidos, it definitely helped that there were only three other swimmers, one of whom I’m married to. I decided on my personal line, as did the others, and we stuck to them. As I pushed off and looked ahead, underwater, I could see no legs ahead, just my own clear way to the other end, well, that was lovely.

I got out smiling. The water wins it, trumping my (ahem) design sensibilities. There’s nothing cool, or trendy, or nicely put together. It could realistically be described as a bit of a dump. But I got out smiling. And the lifeguard smiled back.

NB: There are indoor pools on this site, and normally I’d have tried them. I didn’t, partly because there’s a whole separate entrance procedure, so it’s not a straight swap from one to t’other.  And in the end, there are far fewer lidos than indoor pools so I’m going to say it was in the interests of balance, rather than the lure of pavlova at Wendy and John’s.

NOTE: Added on 7th Sept 2012: David Tennant has moved. Other famous people have been bought in to fill the vortex but none succesfully, thus far. The cordon round the fountain is still up, but the defibrillator has obviously been bought, so feel free to have a heart attack in Crouch End safe in the knowledge. However: the horrible furniture is gone! In its place are some whicka-lite chairs. The mural is also gone! I feel SO POWERFUL!  I am woman, hear me roar (if that's OK?). 

1 comment:

  1. On my (one and only) visit here, the only food I saw being served was chips on polystyrene plate things. I also especially enjoyed the large amount of cigarette butts in the changing rooms mingling with said polystyrene containers.

    It sounds like they didn't have the pool divided into sections by ropes when you went there - when I visited it was divided into three, but width-ways instead of length-ways so you could only do little laps!

    The disappointment of finding a lido that you think is going to be a hidden gem that turns out to be unknown because it's a bit rubbish is a sad thing!

    Loving the blog though :)