Seven Islands Leisure Centre
100 Lower Road
Rotherhithe, London, SE16 2TU
0844 893 3888
Added bonus: Decathlon, two mins away, cheap sporting goods.
Negative: The photo says it.
Sounds romantic, Seven Islands. I imagined swimming from one pool to another, past waterfalls and jungly plants, floating cocktail bars with bamboo roofs, laughter, happiness, all for a meagre £4 entrance fee. Yeah, well. This is Rotherhithe and romance buggered off some time ago down the road to Canary Wharf, til it realized there were no yellow birds there and that these names were a con. Apparently, this concrete block of a building opened in 1965 ‘before it was finally completed’, and it might be nice if it’s ever finished. As it is, the words ‘hole’ and ‘shit’ spring to mind, not necessarily in that order. Still, I’m here to serve, so in it I swam.
The reception area makes Ikea look posh: it’s wonky low-to-no rent. To the right is a little salon area, nail gels and the like, with a strict sign: ‘Treatments in progress. No running, no ball games’. It’s nails, I thought, not open heart surgery, what happens? Do Rotherhithians randomly run at the nail technicians destroying their precious art? We got our tickets – I was swimming with friend Nicky – and were told we couldn’t go in til 10. We decided to dawdle, and went to the changing room down a long grotty corridor, chipped, cracked and smelly, with cheap ripped posters. If this is unfinished, the snagging list has got quite long since 1965. The changing rooms – god, horrid. The kind of colours that look dirty from the day they get put up, tiled floors designed to highlight the ingrained mank, a rank stinky loo, graffiti on a shower door. Another sign - that we were banned from shaving, waxing or dying our hair (there went my plans) and I was building up a picture of hirsute Rotherhithians and their uncontrollable ball games.
The lockers are quite new! (I’m scrabbling for positives, here...) But the 20p is unreturnable (…and undermining each positive as I find it).
We’d dawdled long enough for it to be a couple of minutes short of 10am, and were allowed into the pool. It was like the set off a bad BBC sitcom (with apologies to comedy purists for that oxymoron). Across the deep end and running down one side was a long slide that looked like a building site rubbish chute painted in gaudy, flaking red yellow and blue zigzags. The short walls had murals of hot air balloons and seagulls, all the same size in a failed attempt at perspective. Underneath were painted two olive green children with little discreet blue waves where genitals might be. The lane dividers were taken out, leaving only one lane, designated ‘fast’, which I headed towards. At the steps, tiny chewed-off nuggets of swimming noodle, like scraps of discarded confetti at a wedding, washed up.
As we got in to the warm bath, the tannoy crackled into life. ‘Can all staff please come to reception’ it buzzed. As the guards headed off, so did my confidence in my ability to swim unattended. But it all felt naffly funny, and I started to swim the 33m length chuckling at the Hi-de-Hi-ness of it all. The dull beige wall tiles were lightened with stripes of a 70s-reminiscent burnt orange and blue; two-thirds down, at one strip of orange, the pool dips away into a diving area. You’d be a fool not to take pleasure where you find it, and suddenly, in this drab run-down shit heap, for a brief moment you’re away into the deep. It’s good psychology to give swimmers this little pause of possibility where you enter the deep water, like the lift in a plane as you take off, even when you’re flying Easyjet. Nicky and I swum a half-hour plus, until I was so hot and sweaty I wanted to finish. Outside the fast lane, other women also swam in twos, but chatting, chin up, dry hair. As we went up the steps again, Nicky, untainted by my general pickiness, saw what I hadn’t and said ‘this water is so clear’. She’s right; it’s too hot, it’s naff and beige and broken, but hey, the water is clear. The staff were nice, too. One said ‘see you ladies’ as we went out.
As we left, I noticed another little pool behind glass, a plywood board blocking the way in; empty of water but full of broken stuff, just the head of an orange life-saver dummy visible above the edge. And more signs: don’t take your stuff poolside. Don’t wear cut-offs or t-shirts or shorts in the pool. Don’t take more than two kids in. Rotherhithians clearly need signs. Then into the shower cubicle, the central feature of which is a huge drain hole which you have to straddle to get under the water. Straddling a drain hole seemed like a fitting end to the whole experience. Read this sign: Not recommended.