OASIS SWIMMING POOLS
32 Endell St, City of London WC2H 9AG
020 7831 1804
Added bonus: Nearly naked, right in the middle of town.
Negative point: Wandering round Covent Garden with goggle marks on your face
What better thing to do on a beautiful spring morn than down a quick macchiato on Endell St then head for Oasis Pools? That’s what I thought, and it was nice of so many people to join me. (Irony.) On a street fugged by noise and fumes,I go up the steps into a chi-chi little entrance area with a chi-chi little café area, and straight away get a view on to the reason people come here - the outdoor pool.
It takes approximately three steps for chi-chi to give way to old school scruffy (by which I mean as scruffy as an old school, rather than some back-ref to the 90s). I managed to miss the sign and went wandering down corridors with utilitarian carpet probably made of recycled car tyres, searching for changing rooms, finding only squash courts. Eventually I find a MASSIVE changing area, a funny old place with thousands of lockers, a few half-benches with pink metal hole-punched dividers, and traffic cones on broken bits of the floor. It’s a mish-mash of money badly spent – you can see where they’ve had tiny injections of cash in things like a few newer shower cubicles but overall, it’s grimy, a bit smelly, and in all that space, there’s practically nowhere to put your bag.*In the interests of veracity, for what are we without it, I thought I should update this entry after a recent visit on a September morning of 2012. The women's changing rooms have been updated. They are now a massive space, big enough for a party, cleaner and nicer with the ubiqitous dark plywood beloved only of municipal designers. But there are still only three toilets and a couple of showers. Well, six: three in cubicles and three open. So if you ARE there for a party, you'll end up queueing for the loo. We always do, don't we *beleagured feminist holding it in face*.
First stop (note, Oasis Pools, plural) is the outdoor pool, a tiny little square surrounded by buildings on three sides – on one side are the brick walkways of a council block, and if I lived there, I would definitely get a little rope ladder and shimmy down for a night swim. These high buildings must create a noise barrier, it’s suddenly peaceful out here, lovely; it probably looks best in an aerial shot, a dot of blue in the concrete. The water looks inviting; it’s 27m long (?), three-laned and the shallow end is a real little hot spot, overheated any way and exacerbated by the sunshine; it cools into the shade, with a definite cold spot as you hit the deep slope of the pool. At the deep end are three huge cone lamps set under water; they must have been hi-tec once, and now look about as trendy as Madonna. In the very shallow end, I banged my knees on the floor on practically every length turn.
This is a busy pool, where you take your place on the hamster wheel and stick to it; they seem to favour nose-to-heel breast stroke. The lanes are JUST wide enough to overtake, if you breathe in and sprint. Also, recalibrate your view of what constitutes ‘fast’. A couple of people practically vertical in the slow lane bumps the slows into the medium lane, meaning you can’t get much beyond crawling pace (that’s a swimming joke). It’s clearly well used by locals and workers (which used to be me, early eves, when I worked in an office round the corner) and honestly, in this little well-named oasis in the middle of town, you can’t blame them even if you’re silently wishing they’d speed up a bit. And even when it doesn’t look like there’s much nature around in this bit of town, it still gets in, so the pool floor doesn’t have a crisp, sterile look. It’s a bit mucky.
Mind you, it looks like ‘nature’ messed up the indoor pool too. I can guess the provenance of cotton wool and plasters, but how do indoor pools get sand clumping on the bottom? (Please don’t explain.) It isn’t clean. I wouldn’t normally do this, I wear my Outdoor Swimming Society swimming hat with pride, but there are two pools here, so for the purposes of this blog and after a slow stretch in the sun, I head to the smaller (by 2 metres) indoor one. It’s like going into a cave, dark and cool, light overspilling from outside. The water is consistent, unruffled and silky - and it’s quieter, without the people and outside air, so you can crack along for a few speedy lengths.
A pin-sharp shower in short over-hot bursts, and I’m sneezing out again onto the streets. A motor bike raced past and woke me up; I had genuinely forgotten how busy this bit of town is, so successfully does this pool live up to its name, in being a refuge from the noise, at least.