THORNTON HEATH POOL
100 The High Street,Thornton Heath
London CR7 8LF
0208 689 5300
Added bonus: Near Tooting Lido (by car)
Negative: I’ve accidentally come to Croydon ... (Added bonus II: ... not by racist tram.)
I have good conversations in Tooting Lido sauna, even when I’m in there on my own (b’dum tisch). It’s strangely personal but not, sitting, limbs fire red, nylon-to-nylon with swimmers you may or may not know. When it’s packed, I worry I might meld with the person next to me in some hot elastic bonding disaster. There’s a code of practice, unwritten of course, whereby the last person to come in is offered the hottest spot in the top corner. I was in there t’other day, talking about this blog to some poor trapped cold sods, one of whom took a slow revenge by recommending Charlton Lido, which has been shut for some time, I found out. Inez, however, recommended Thornton Heath pool, the current place-to-swim for refugees from the old Streatham pool. I thought I should give it a try.
The building and reception look promising. Swooshy and modern - nicely ‘appointed’, I think is the phrase. The changing rooms were a village, but I was determined to be positive, sick as I am of the sound of my own negative typing. Everything’s new, so that’s nice. The colour scheme is grey and purple. That’s alright, isn’t it? There’s a grid on top of my cubicle – to stop people chucking stuff over the top at me? Who knows. It’s probably thoughtful. And a sign telling me that I should change at the rear of the village, to protect children. I have no idea where the rear of the village is, or what risk I am to children, fully CRB’d as I am, twice. Still. La la la. Maybe I’m at risk of scaring them with my Movember legs. La la la. Positive thinking. (And just wait til Fanuary.)
I shower and go through to the pool. In size, it’s standard council 25m, but it’s new so straight off, it doesn’t automatically feel like shit. The colour scheme - different shades of greys, lilacs and plumminess - continues through, interrupted only and sharply by two GREEEEEN rows of spectator seats at the shallow end. The ceiling is a massive semi-circular dark grey corrugated metal hood, with lighter grey ducts running along it. It’s like swimming in a stylish but nonetheless industrial warehouse. The place needs its massive downlighters – there’s minimal natural light, as the floor-to-ceiling windows are half frosted, and half covered with a fancied-up version of anti-squatter shutters. So far, I love it. I know! The positive thinking is working!
Kids to the left of me, kids to the right, I’ve got a thin strip in the middle to swim in. There’s only me and one other woman in it though, so I’m sure we can accommodate each other. The water is warm and having seen loo roll all over the floor of the toilets – had someone let a puppy in? - I shouldn’t be surprised to see bits of it in here; it floats, slow ghosty shadows of its former self, down to the pool floor. It wasn’t me, I didn’t tread it in, it was the kids. As I push along my first few lengths I feel I’m in a huge 70s paperweight, swimming in smoked glass, the water having tangibly taken on the qualities of the colour scheme. And because the lighting needs to be so strong in this dark room, there’s a constant shifting pattern of bright reflection on the bottom of the pool – transitory flickering patterns, like those that snakes make as they skitter across sand. I like that. The pool is very shallow but dips away nicely; dark grey grouting outlines sharp new tiles. I swim. I notice two pupils sitting on the green chairs at the shallow end, Thornton Heath’s answer to Craig Revel Whatsit and Bruno Thingy. I await my Strickly Come Swimming score. None is forthcoming.
As the pool empties of one lot of kids, another throng of little brown, black and cream bodies wait at the side to jump in. There are a lot of children in Thornton Heath. But for about a moment, there’s only me and two other women in the pool. One starts to practice what looks like reverse parking. I reckon the other one is auditioning for River Dance.
There’s only two cubicle showers for that whole fancy new pool and I nab one of them quick quick. As I try to leave, I can’t open the shower door. Oh god. I pull and pull. Shit. I can hear lots of kids on the other side of the door, yabbering, skittering, being shouted at. Oh god let the door open. I twist the funny knob, twist it really hard. Pull pull. Sweating a bit in my towel. Finally, I give the door a big yank, and it jerks open. Oh thank Christ. Even awash as I am with positivity, I couldn't face calling out in a quavery voice 'hello? Can you help me?' to the swarming kids; the indignity of being the mad woman in a pink towel with ‘Property of Ace’ embroidered on it.
I dress hurriedly, trying to keep the warmth of the pool and shower on my skin. My face red hot, I hurry out barely combed and bomb along to Tooting Lido, where I strip again, feeling the warmth waft away as I peel off the layers, and jump into 8.5 degree water. Bliss. After a few lengths, I sit in the sauna, by myself, having a lovely conversation about pools in London.
PS: The pic today is a bit rubbish, and in the spirit of remaining positive I nearly didn’t post this one, the least inviting photo of a pool you'll ever see. But in that sense it's prizewinning so here it is.