Monday, 26 November 2012


1 Norman Street, EC1V 3AA
0203 642 5520
Why? Because it’s really great.
Why not? Why? Why not? etc.*

I occasionally wish I lived in less sarcastic times. I accept that is entirely of my own making; if it was merely habit, I’d have broke it, but it’s ingrained I think, part of me. Life would be so much nicer – supernice, even – if I could use ‘super’ in that way without my teeth hurting. I really want to, it seems to me like a symbol of inner happiness.  Because this is super exciting! I was there on the first morning they opened this pool to the public. I wouldn’t have missed it, I was super-ready! It was supercool! (There. I’m done. I’ve super-overdosed. Back to the safety of sarcasm.)

To say that I’ve waiting 17 years to swim here suggests that’s how long it’s been shut for, which is not true. Actually I’ve waited two, with building delays, but the last time I swam here I was heavily pregnant with my first child who I left at home this morning engaged solely in the task of growing his facial hair for Movember. Yeah. Exactly. I came looking for memories. I came thinking I could key right back to that time, before him, when I worked round the corner at Spitting Image and went swimming at lunchtimes with my PA. And times have changed.  Now he has a scraggy beard, there is no Spitting Image and I have to carry my own bag. Can you imagine how difficult that is for me? 

I came looking for memories, scrabbling backwards through my tired brain. I can just barely recall the feeling of swimming pregnant – try strapping a bowling ball to your belly in some loose netting if you want to experience it. Getting in water makes it feel lighter, but you are inexorably caught in the sensation that it wants to drag you down to the bottom. Hmmmm. Hop up on my couch, and let’s talk about that, shall we.

But from the minute I saw the building, I could feel my grasp on those memories slide away; I couldn’t grab them. I didn’t recognise the outside even - there’s a beautiful carved piece of light stone declaring IRONMONGER ROW BATHS across the new entrance doors with massive 'happy swimmer' film posters underneath. (I love that they still call it ‘Baths’ rather than rebranding to Leisure Centre. Baths is solid, reliable, built to last. Leisure Centre is mimsy.) The reception is spanking: lots of natty leather sofa-ettes and chairs beside a slot of a window lending a view of the pool. (I didn't peep in, I wanted to save it.) Huge simple letters point to the various areas – I like that; I like that they solved the problem of arty signeage being hard to spot, by going MASSIVE. None of this, though, is part of my past. I’m looking for something to hold on to. Then as I was getting changed, I realised that if I spent my time snuffling down into that muddy past, I’d miss what was there. So I stopped looking back, and started looking forward. Onwards and upwards, folks. Onwards and upwards. Because this is now the future, and really, it is SUPER FABULOUS!

The changing rooms are clean – well, this is Day One – with a polar blue theme on the lockers and block benches. It’s thoughtful about what it offers: there are a few enormo-lockers for people with inordinate amounts of stuff (hello), good disabled facilities and plenty of space for changing babies. (Not into anything else, though wow, that would be brilliant.) But I’m scurrying, because I want into that pool. I go through to the wetside showers and get my first proper look. I’m stunned. It’s really good. I think I freak the lifeguard out because I’m just stood there, taking mental pics. This is what I see:

A beautiful room, beautifully restored.  One of the long walls has huge flat Georgian windows, though their modern frames look just a teeny tad plastickly pvc; one end has another huge window with over-size, easy-to-see clocks underneath. The other end has a wall of glass dividing the main pool from a teaching one. To the left, the spectator gallery is stunning: what look like wooden church pews in rows: I think they're originals but that's from old pics not memory; I wasn't paying attention then. They’ve been perfectly restored with some lovely detailing, like the chunky metal catches on the ends of rows, for instance. Under the gallery, we're on the other side of that long lego brick of a window, now looking at the reception area; you can see people milling and form-filling and they can critique your stroke. There's a low wrapround stripe of beige tiling, the painted plaster up high is a Hail Mary blue (showing my cultural Catholicism here). It all sits under a coolly curved ceiling with a flat glass strip running the length, crinkled like an icecream wafer. Actually, the plain unobtrusiveness of the design better suits a low church analogy; it’s not the fancy bells and smells I was raised in, there’s no drama, it’s more modest and protestant than that. Simple, unassuming, modest.  Bloody lovely.

And finally, oh blessed relief! They have kept the original 30m (100ft) pool! Thank goodness they didn’t replace it, as they did at Clapham Manor (see my review here) with a poxy 25m–size pool. Yes, I do get grumpy about losing those precious 5m. It’s deck-edged (meaning the water spills over the edge into side drainage) and re-tiled in sparkly white with black lines. There are easy steps in at one side, and recessed steps on the other. Underwater, you can see how it slopes down, a ledge, a ledge, then a drop into the deep end. Everything so clean, oh if only all pools could be like on their first day. It’s over a metre at the shallow end so there’s no knee-scrapage on each turn. Lovely. A real swimmers pool, if a tad warm  as I discussed in the changing area with another swimmer afterwards; but it's hard to find anywhere indoors with mixed use that isn't. 

Once you’ve swum, it’s worth having a nose round the rest of the building. There’s an achingly-nice marble staircase up to the gallery, a ‘cardio zone’, and beside it, an original slipper bath, with a working tap - old and new, slotting perfectly together. Again, the detailing is superb. There’s boards everywhere that tell the history of the building but not, ho ho, in a dry way – they include local stories and some great pics, right up to date. Down an original staircase into a vestibule that is more in the tone of the old building, only with fresh heritage colours. Downstairs, they’ve remarketed the Turkish Baths as a ‘spa’. Nobody knows what Turkish Baths are, any more. But they’ve included a modern community laundry space, as per the old building. I love that. On the walls there are more boards that tell the story, more of the smiling faces that have swum in this place for ever.

I come out and think about what's gone. So I can't really remember that pool I swam in, before him. Turns out, it doesn't matter in the least. There is masses of past here, and they've built something new on it, with it, with great care. They've moved it forward, and I'm a looking forward person, after all. All that is good.  I love this new place. I think it’s straight in at No. 3 indoor pool (after Crystal Palace and Marshall St). It just pips Kentish Town, similarly newly restored.  I super recommend it. I superly do. Hello. My name is Jenny and I’m addicted to ‘super’.

PS * That 'why not, why, why not' thing at the top? I was shown round by a man who reminded me of a likeable Chuckle Brother. I'd seen him before, at Kentish Town. So it's a bit of a play on their hilarious 'to me, to you, to me' riff. (Sarcasm is fully restored, by the way.) 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


I hope I haven't off pissed you by using such a cliched header, but this is not about swimming round London. Or even skiing.  But please don’t turn over, this *is* still about swimming, and heritage, a campaign and the need for all of us, swimmers or no, just to make a little mark that could make a difference.

I say ‘swimmers or no’ because I don’t think the campaign you can read about here, which is about saving and restoring Kings Meadow Open Air Baths in Reading, is just for people who like swimming, or indeed would use this pool.  The libraries campaign isn't just for people who use them - their presence improves life for everyone on some level. And we all have to do things that may not benefit us directly. The on-shore element of tax from people whose kids go to private schools, funds state schools. (I get particular satisfaction from that.) The tax from people who have Bupa helps pay for Bupa nurses to be trained. The tax from people who hate nuclear weapons goes to pay for nucle… oh god I’m really fucking up my argument here.  What I mean is: I personally am unlikely  to go to Kings Meadow more than once or twice. It’s not going to be a local pool for me, and since when was ‘going to Reading’ a treat? But that doesn't stop me selflessly promoting this campaign, not only because I'm a little angel but also because I see the bigger picture.  

I am very sceptical about e-petitions. They have become a pointless salve: look how engaged I am, how amazing, I’m re-tweeting a petition, an act that cost miliseconds I could have spent looking at kittens crammed into jars. There's so many petitions of variable quality or purpose it's sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. (I signed that one. I like trees.) But in this case, the council have SPECIFICALLY said they want to see evidence that the campaign has support. I think a petition is a good way for us to give them that message, and probably easier than all going round the council's house for tea. It would get too crowded.

I fully accept – this is not life or death, it’s not Hillsborough or trees or libraries. IT’S MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT. Only joking. But it is still important. If I can get over-dramatic for a moment,  this is about people over profit. Yeah, that old chestnut. I know. Rolls eyes. How dull. But it is. And sometimes the little stories are microcosms of the bigger ones. (The defeat of profiteers who would happily ransack and ruin every last inch of loveliness left to their own devices, is just a nice little side benefit.) It’s about history over pointless concrete; about something for all rather than something for money. It's about retaining something old rather than going to Primark for a cheap and shiny replacement. All the stuff we purport to care about. Don’t we? Well I do, and it's not just me, I know it. But more than that: this space somewhere for people to enjoy for no reason at all. Just … because.  (Well, for you to enjoy. Not me. It’s too far to travel. I told you, ever unselfish.) 


I’ll leave you with a link to the petition. Here.  Have a look. Then sign it. It’s just local people trying to help local people. And we’re all local people, aren’t we? So do it for yourself, if no one else. Please.

Monday, 24 September 2012


Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, SE23 3HZ
Tel: 020 8291 8730
Pros: It’s a brand new pool
Cons: I’ll admit, I’m hard pushed to find one. I could nit pick, it would be a strange day if I didn’t. I could moan about Forest Hill, but why, when it also has the Horniman Museum. You're never too old to snigger about that. 
(Pics: before and after. When I find a better 'after' pic, I'll change it.) 

I started my life in London living in a shared flat in Forest Hill, found through an ad in the Guardian. Then, my life was full of smokers and dopers and wannabe actors, it was odds and sods and cash-in-hand and slow trains to London Bridge. I would have no more gone for a swim than I would have nailed my foot to the floor.  Now I still live in a shared house but they’re my family, my life is full of school runs and jokers and dog walkers, and I’m coming back to Forest Hill Pool for a swim with a friend who just did an Ironman race*. It’s not always ‘funny’, how life turns out, but it is certainly unexpected.

And if sometimes life hands me little bits of synchronicity, I’d be remiss to ignore them; they’re writerly flavour. This was today’s: I moved to Forest Hill in the month that my father was dying. I was 21, graduating from uni. My dad, generally a classical man, had embraced Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and Focus - he played the Focus LP over and over and over.** And on my car radio on the journey here? A Focus track, ‘Sylvia’. (I put up a link so you could hear what was inflicted on me throughout my formative years.) I knew every breath of it, it was imprinted somewhere beyond my control, I couldn’t have forgotten it if I’d tried. If my life was a film, that in the car, then, was the moment for a flashback.

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?). 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Blows own very small trumpet

Now* available in book form.

I'm pleased to tell you I've been commissioned by Aurum Press to write a book – Swimming London – about the history of the gerbil as a family pet.

D’oh. JAPES! Always with the japes. Never gets tiresome, does it...

Swimming London will be a guide to the 50 best swimming places in London. It’ll be published in 2014 because swimming takes AGES the way I do it, and finding good places takes even longer; this blog is testimony to that. It’ll be different from the blog, because, er, books are different from the interwebs. Different in tone, too: for a start it'll be positive, which is going to be a fucking nightmare for me, and with no swearing, ditto. 

I’m currently compiling the list of pools -  some of the places will be very familiar to regular readers and swimmers. The usual suspects. But I want to cast my net wide, as wide as within the M25; but there are over 280 public pools alone in London, and then there's lakes, river swims, hotels, clubs, great gym pools etc -  so I could do with some help. I would love to hear recommendations, if you know somewhere excellent that might not be on my radar, or have good reason to nominate your local pool.

While ‘it’s not shit!’ would be a cause for major celebration on this blog, it isn’t a strong enough reason for a pool to be in the top 50. But it would be great to document all the hidden gems out there; I’m sure there are loads. If you can help me find them, that would be SO GREAT. THANKS! 

*soon. Ish. Soonish available in book form. 

(The photo, I hear you all clamour. Who IS that amazing diver in the photo? It's me! doing my third ever dive in Majorca, this June. Since then it's all been downhill in the diving department. I have peaked at dive no. 3.  Still, no one took any pics of the shit dives, they took a pic of the good dive, so please, let this be your abiding image of me.) 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


or: What I did on my holiday.

For six days this summer, I went to Embra to embrace (ooooh she’s clever) the festival. I say Embra as if I was Irvine Welsh. It probably makes me look like a knob, but I’ll live.  I love this city. I’ve only ever had good times here, in and out of festival time. I’ve had love, fun, shouting, dancing, happy crying, and a lot of lager shandies. I’ve stayed up all night and stayed in bed all day. The only thing I’ve never done here before is heroin. NO NO, I meant ‘go swimming’. I’ve never gone swimming here.  It was mentioning Irvine Welsh made me think of heroin. I blame him. Let’s never mention heroin again.

ANYWAY. Heroi … SWIMMING. (Mutters darkly: ‘focus woman. Focus’.) I was mid-festival, mid-Olympics and there was actual warmth from the sun, so most of my time was spent watching shows, sobbing at amazing sports people or sitting in cafés saying obnoxiously loudly ‘oh my gosh in all my days I’ve never been warm outside in Edinburgh before’ until frankly, if I'd heard me I would have stabbed me with a little traditional knife from down my sock. In the inbetween bits, I managed three pools which come on, is not bad.

The first was Warrender Swim Centre above (formerly known as Warrender Baths, which tells you plenty about its provenance) just up the road from where we were staying. I loved being piped across the Meadows by a practising band, though I don’t think they’re a fixture. This part of the city is huge houses and greenery but down one wide residential road we came to a low red-brick Victorian building with a twiddly stepped gable and little steeples. It was cute.  Up the steps and through the glazed doors to the 25m pool and at first sight – it is fabulous. Beautifully restored in 2005, look at that ceiling! At the other end, there's a beautiful tiled arch. Oh, even the colours I love and blimey those Victorian builders had a good sense of style. As the picture  shows it has changing cubicles down each side, though they’re plastic now rather than the original wood. There are little round steps to get in at each corner, and it curls up at the edges too, so it feels like swimming in an old quilted bag. It’s very hot, the water’s 29degrees. You have to shower in your costume, and as it turns out, this is the same in the other two pools.

The second pool is modern: The Royal Commonwealth Pool. I’ve arranged to swim with someone I met off Twitter, which sounds like one of those things we warn our children against. Fortunately, I’m a grown up and I’ve done a full impact self defence course (I’ll tell you about that one day. Amazing) so I had no qualms waiting for @Shequeen – apart from one. You know that thing when you’re waiting for someone, you spot each other from miles off and wave, then you have to stand awkwardly, waving a bit more, grinning, looking at a very interesting cloud, maybe you start walking towards them or not, do you? you're not sure, they start to hurry, it’s a bit … awkward. I was worried about that. Oh, and you know when you have an online conversation and people say ‘oh we must meet’ and you think ‘CHRIST. I’ll be found out. This version of me is MUCH better than the real thing’.  That, also. Fortunately Shelagh just appeared, and had no intention of abducting me, so I didn't need to employ that trick where you split someone's nose in half via the nostrils. And I ensured I wasn't dull in real life by only speaking in sentences of less than 140 characters so it was like I was on TwitterLive. Threw in the odd hashtag, too. 

This pool is also fabulous. Normally 50m, today it was split and there was a seniors aquafit class, things that would normally ENRAGE me. Today, look at me, on holiday from rage, you could have added a nursery swimming lesson to the mix and I'd have grinned and with a jaunty wave said 'hey kids, jump in, the water's lovely!" The design is typical contemporary pool school:  lots of smooth dark wood, walls of glass, a beautiful diving area and masses of space, including in the water. The changing area is a village and look at me some more! So busy swopping knitting patterns with the lovely @shequeen that I don’t even complain! And I start using too many exclamation marks! Maybe I’m … (ohmygod) happy!

For the third pool I went back to the old, to a pool someone told me was ‘quirky’, and it was. Glenogle Swim Centre on the other side of town,  cottages and bridges and down all the hill and very sweet, then you come face to face with a huge red building that puts it all in the shade. It’s another saved Baths and bloody hell, I take my swimming hat off to the folk of this city who have campaigned to keep their glorious Baths heritage. Again, this is a total treat. On the way in, the tills were not working so they said ‘pay on your way out’, trusting that I would. I did. The stairs up are in a yellow green brown chunky brick Victorian tile, and again, a stunning pool with cubicles down the side and shared ‘no nudity’ showers. This gorgeous sun we're experiencing shining right in the beautiful skylight windows. We (me and my daughter) swim on our own until two little scamps join us. We are seriously practising our new breaststroke learned off the telly, heads bobbing right up there, and they are mostly finding us amusing. And when we do some diving practice, they get out to show us how it's done in that rather lovely loose way that scamps have, as opposed to my rather nervous and laboured thigh-stinging slaps.

If I’d had more time, I’d have gone to Portobello Baths, and for a sea swim there. But if I’d had more time I’d also have undoubtedly found some pools I hated, so let’s be glad I stopped there, eh.

But I’ve learned things.  Edinburghers are never naked in their public swimming facilities, unless it's behind locked cubicle doors. They have machines to spin your costume dry, I like those. And *swaying gently to a guitar-picking hippy* I’ve learned that on holiday, I’m a pushover. In my real life, I would have picked the 50m serious training Commonwealth Pool every day. In holiday mode, I LOVED those beautiful Victorian pools. In a contest of head v heart, heart won. It never does. Happy times.

(On the train home, I discovered that Ian Thorpe was giving swim tips at Tooting Lido. Rage returned: IT’S SO UNFAIR! I’VE PUT IN THE HOURS IN THAT POOL. And when I explained to my son that Thorpedo was at the pool, his raised eyebrow and questioning 'You WHAT?’ told me that Ian Thorpe needs to work on getting a new nickname.)

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


Hornfair Park, Shooters Hill Road
London SE18 4LX
There’s no phone number. You have to email if you have a query or if you want to book in advance. Yes, book in advance, you read that right; it seems odd to me. 

It’s a little known fact that Charlton was named after Charlton Heston, hence the large golden chariot statue in the shopping centre, and their on-going commitment to gun crime,  or ‘homage crime’ as they call it round there.

Ha ha. Obviously that’s a joke. They don’t have a shopping centre in Charlton.

It’s another bloody miserable summer’s day in London, the grey skies pissing endless down on us as we wend our way through the traffic of South East London. ‘We’ is me and Kate, and Kate is lovely Kate from Tooting Lido* whose ability to withstand cold water combined with superb baking skills make her a total catch. That's all my priorities, right there. Oh yea, and she’s completely lovely, which counts too, I hear. (She's already caught, in case you were wondering and also, I'm not running some kind of water/cake-related dating service, however good an idea that is.) We hadn’t, see above, booked in advance. The pool is newly re-opened but we felt that the weather - great weather for swimming outdoors actually - would probably put most fools off.  Kate, being efficient, had looked at the booking system and seen there were plenty of spaces left, so we felt able to risk in. She did try to explain the system to me but as I can’t really see the point of it  I didn’t listen very intently; she works with children  so I think she recognised that 'I stopped listening look. (I'm sure there is a point to the online booking service, if Better** feel like adding a comment?)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Everything but.

Winchmore Hill Road, Southgate, London N14 6AD
020 8882 7963
Sometimes, it's about everything but the pool. This is one of those times.  

Today, people, I will be attempting a very difficult trick. It is extremely dangerous and I have been training for it for years. Highly skilled personnel are standing by ready to assist me, should my trick fail. Do not try this at home. Today *drum roll*

I will be diving off the top board wearing only a variety of sandwich spreads painted on my body in an edible replica of the Olympic logo.

Don’t worry! It’s a joke! *serious face* I don’t have official permission to replicate the Olympic logo. 

But today, actually, I am doing something a little different. I would call this a ‘blog mash-up’ if using that phrase didn’t make me sound like a middle-aged* Glee fan in a retro Adidas tracksuit who had reluctantly torn herself away from Fifty Shades to get to Pop Choir on time. But I am swimming with another blogger, writer Wendy Lee, who has an eversoslightly different perspective on swimming, and her take on our experience is here. Not so much a mash-up, more a friendly collision. 

Monday, 9 July 2012


Or: In Which It Turns Out I’m An Utter Arse

40 Hyde Rd London N1 5GU
020 7729 4485

and then... 

39 Lower Clapton Road, London E5 0NU
020 8985 2158

This is quite long. Settle yourselves in.

I know about hipsters.  I have sat amongst them admiringly as they drank their old skool tea and listened to them chitter-chatter in gentle mellifluous tones about open access functionality and creative end-use digitality; I’ve watched them ungroom each other, watched how they raise their young. (They mostly don’t have young, but those that do raise them very hipsterishly, a beautiful if randomly dressed sight.) I’m in awe of the hipster, so it’s surprising that I haven’t been to this pool before, being as it’s in the middle of hipster Hoxton. (Try saying that.) I’m glad I’m not one though, it looks hard work and a bit self conscious.  I couldn’t be, anyway, as I have peanut butter on my skinny jeans. Sad face.

For me, the important question has always been: what does a hipster wear for swimming? I glide up to the Brittania leisure centre in eager anticipation. My quest for this answer will at last be found. Alas. It is not to be. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Wrong side of the Gherkin

190 Burdett Road, Mile End
London E3 4HL
020 8709 4420
Housekeeping note: Please stick with this. I do get to the swimming, eventually ...

The colour of sport in Mile End is yellow. You may be expecting a smart ‘who knew?’ at this point. But I knew. Because I'm a yellow. I shall explain. 

Let’s start with some semantics. There is a seemingly innocuous question that can be particularly revealing about the askers background. It’s this: ‘where were you at school?’ If you get asked that, or the even shorter ‘where were you?’ rather than ‘where did you go to school’ the assumption is that you were ‘somewhere’. By ‘somewhere, they mean ‘somewhere we consider important’ (where ‘important’ means practically in the Cabinet already, and ‘they/we’ means ‘people who need to perpetuate myths about what is best, and then do their utmost to keep them out of people’s reach’.)  If your answer is ‘up the road’ rather than one of the acceptable private names, it shows that you were, in fact,  ‘nowhere’. I went to school ‘nowhere’ though at the time it looked pretty somewhere to me, with all its buildings, teachers, pupils, books etc.

And now, on to statistics. ‘What house were you in?’ is equally revealing. If you went ‘somewhere’, your house was probably named after an Old Boy or (for the more radical establishment) Old Girl whose families had owned whole areas of Surrey or estates in Northumberland.  The rest of us, educated nowhere, split into four easy Houses: Reds, Yellows, Blues and Greens. Around 7% of the UK is privately educated; of the remaining percentage, I suggest we knock off 3% for home educators, because if they were asked which house they were in they would just say ‘my own’. Divide 90 by 4, and we can conclude that 22.5% of us were Yellows.  That’s a lot of Yellows!  I was a Yellow, I probably still am as I never officially signed out; I passed that Yellow birthright down to my own Yellow  children (it was that, or the shooting rights on my little place in Scotland). And in their paint and décor choices, Mile End Park Leisure Centre  has identified itself with the Yellows, has come down not just on the side of the Best of Fellows, but on the whole house colour system. They’re saying proudly: we’re anti-elitist. We, Mile End Park Leisure Centre, are sport for the people. Looking round the area, I’d say they made the right choice.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


261 Lewisham High Street London SE13 6NJ
0208 690 2123
*Or it might be. A bit. In a good way. You’ll thank me.

I was changing in the lilac and purple cubicles of Ladywell Leisure Centre wondering if it was me or the changing room that smelled of wee. Costume on, hat ready, I got my goggles out of the bag but before I could apply my usual anti-fog spray, I noticed they were covered in fine Majorcan sand. I took them to the sink and prodded and poked and waved my hand randomly over the tap before I realised that this was one of those taps you actually had to turn ON. A relic. Sadly I rinsed the sand off the goggles, listening to a couple of women chatting in the shower about how sorry they would be when this pool was gone. The pool was doomed. To be honest, for me it was doomed well before that point. I’m sorry, Ladywell, but I wasn’t swimming on a level playing field. 

Monday, 28 May 2012

When the going gets hot.

I said right at the start of this blog that the main thing wrong with it is that time spent swimming elsewhere is time that could be spent swimming at Tooting Lido.

I  ♥ Tooting Lido. Some people who live in my house think I go on about it too much, but I don’t care. I ♥ it in winter and in summer and in all the bits in between. And the bits in between this year have dragged on, and on, and on. The water was stuck for weeks at 10 degrees. Which is fine, but I’m not some kind of idiot, I don’t want cold cold all year round. I love winter swimming, in winter. I do NOT love winter swimming in the middle of May.

And in winter, I can do a dip in Tooting, then a proper swim elsewhere. May and June are usually GLORIOUS, water heating up, those of us acclimatised gradually upping our lengths. But now it's blazing hot? Now I shall avoid it like the plague until a small cloud creeps across the sky and the masses run away.  Now - it's for everyone else. So now, I magnanimously give you the creamy warm water, the dodging between lilos and people chatting as they go and grrrrr, the triathletes with no pool etiquette. Other people's children. Instead, shall I tube for hours across the wastelands of London to slog up and down some shitty dive and be caustic about the cleanliness? Nah. I'll rig up an outdoor shower in my garden and dream about an empty pool in the summer rain. 

 Go in the rain. Go under the cloud. The added peace is worth it. The crisp wash of cold water against your skin, the bliss of a long length, the flash of sun in your goggles. I’m not a hippy (fuck it, I am) but there is zen-like transcendence about getting lost in your thoughts while your arms mechanically churn over and over. Go for a swim, sort a problem out; now that is magic.  I know people who say ‘I can’t swim in cold water’ meaning, I’m made of more delicate material than you, you great clodding peasant. But give it a go. Yes, it’ll feel cold when you get in, even/especially on a hot day. But if you get out at that point, you’re just doing the hard bit. Stay in. Do the first length slowly, breaststroke. Put your face in gradually. Don’t fight it. Relax. You'll enjoy it, I absolutely promise, or I'll give you all the money you've spent on my blog back. 

Here are our outdoor London pools, almost in order of my preference. Try Tooting or nearby Brockwell, a surprisingly nice pool at Uxbridge or the steely cold bliss of Parliament Hill. Try Crouch End Lido, even, or for the nature try Hampstead Ponds or the Serpentine. If you need your water warm (which I understand less and less as the air heats up) try London Fields or Hampton Court. The lido at Charlton is heated minimally, and while it may be surrounded by a building site, the pool is lovely.  Richmond Pool and the Oasis both have outdoor bits, the first cold, the latter positively hot. 

Also, breaking the self-imposed boundaries of my own blog, there is a pool within daytrip distance that I highly recommend. Pells Pool in Lewes (all the info is here) is spring-fed, and sometimes manages to be warmer than other places (don’t ask me, it’s physics, innit. Or, er, chemistry, I don't flippin know). It’s a very appealing space, as mellow and warm as the old high brick wall down one side of it; and a nice big pool so room for all sorts, whether you’re a triathlete or 5. (Are you 5? Wow. You're gifted, but wasting your childhood reading this. Go and do Lego.) Lots of sunbathing space, too and some history, and there’s a lovely homemade chocolate shop by Lewes station. 

We also have Arundel, which I haven't tested so can't endorse, and Saltdean Lido, currently shut. Saltdean has a different vibe. A potentially beautiful Art Deco building right by the coast, it’s less cosy than Pells; there’s a bit of the ‘blasted heath’ feel to it. Sometimes the sea can blow a salty unkind wind across, cutting through the harshest of suns. And here, campaigners have fought the cold wind of destruction, and having cleared the first hurdle, now wait for permissions etc to move into the next phase - being open. They had a terrible fight with the previous owner who we shall refer to as ‘some arsehole’, and who wanted to demolish this listed treasure and put up flats. The arsehole didn't look after the pool,  in the hope, I suspect, that it might spontaneously fall down.  But regardless of some arsehole, the pool is substantial, and very nice for a proper trainy kind of cold swim, with kid pools and a picnic lawn if you have to bring small people along. There is a brilliant campaign (here)  that we should all support, in gratitude for a group of people who worked extremely hard. I wish them happy swimming, eventually. And I'll shout, when the gates open again. 

And if after any one of those you don’t prefer swimming outdoors, you cannot say I haven't tried. 

* PS If you see me at Tooting Lido, please say hello. I’m the one in tinted goggles and with a hunch (costume too short).

* If you have any other suggestions in easy day trip distance, let us know, via the comments section below, PLEASE! 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Nobody said it was easy.

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.