Thursday, 27 February 2014

THE AQUATIC CENTRE


Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Stratford
London E20 2AQ
Info at: http://www.better.org.uk/leisure/london-aquatics-centre

Open to the public from Sat March 1st.



(Not to be confused with London Aquatic Centre on the Roman Rd, an aquarium and pond supplies shop. If you DO try swimming here please let me know how it went, once you’re out of custody.)

Last time I was here, this place was a building site and I was a vision in hi-vis. I was granted a post-Olympic backstage visit because I was writing a book about the best places to swim in London (to be published on May 1st by Aurum Press – link at the end, you know it.) It was quite a hoo-ha getting on site – it’s probably easier to get into the pool in Buckingham Palace (looks to camera. Small ‘idea’ light goes on above head). I gave up my first born, my passport, my shoe, hat n body size. Sized up, dressed up, I signed in. And I was stunned – even through all sorts of scaffolding and clattery hard-hat mess it was clear this is an utterly beautiful bit of modern architecture. I was lucky enough to go deep into the bowels of the building to the filter room (yeah, I know how odd that sounds) and I thought then, good golly if an episode of Dr Who isn’t filmed here before very long then I am a catfish.

I managed to resist jumping in at the time, and I’ve been wanting to get into that water since. I know ‘that water’ will have been changed, I know I’m not getting homeopathic Adlington. But I loved the pool then and I love it now. This is why:

I love the doors at the main entrance. They lean away from you as you go in, and therefore towards you as you leave. You want them to make the Star Trek noise, which they don’t, so make it yourself.

I love the stairs. Take the stairs down to the pool, not the lift, and see how it curls round like a snail shell, with the fixing circles in plain sight, and inset strips of clouded light. Beautiful.

I love the concrete that's everywhere. It's imperfect, and I love imperfect, it suits me. It’s curved and shaped and blocky and though it’s hard, it’s warm, mellow. Like a living thing. It’s turning me into some sort of concrete hippy. Do those exist?  

I love the wide wide corridors and the minimal bright signage to the changing areas. Beautiful bit of design. Very modern and spacey.

I love the training pool, which we never saw during the Olympics because there was a bloody great wall in the way, hiding their cool-down sessions from us. The bits where they all cried about being losers. It’s a different vibe to the main pool – there’s a low, carved ceiling like a middle eastern potato waffle, the light glows. It feels safe, ambient, enclosed.

I love the bright lemon yellow chunky lockers. I love them. I want everything in my house to be them.

I love the view from the main pool, through massive windows (new windows that replace the banks of Olympic seating, the 'ray wing' seats). Through one, you can see the massive Helter Skelter. You also get to see the sky, so there’s an ever-changing view. It’s absolutely swamped with light, but it seems self-evident to state that windows let light in.

I love the main pool. I really love it. There’s plenty technical details around – like on here - it's enough for me to say, its 50m, 3m deep throughout and deck-edged, so fast. Fabulous. There's filming windows down both sides, you can see the moveable floor; underwater, the sides are quite 'busy' with all that. With the tech spec and lineage, it’s clear that this is NOT a play pool, people. ALTHOUGH, wait for it, I have learned that they have adult-size soft play stuff – like a kinda Total Wipeout set up? I mean, THAT IS COOL, huh? For a birthday party?

I love the ceiling. It waves like water at the swell. It reminds me of the underside of a whale, with lights like barnacles.

I love the concrete. I mentioned the concrete already, didn’t I? I love concrete. It’s because I’m from the Midlands, and from the 60s. I am brutalist through and through.

I love that pool.

I love the diving boards. They look like mammoth tusks forcing their way out of the ground. They are beautiful, curved monoliths. Put your hand on them, no go on, do it. You're touching HISTORY, man. HISTORY. 

I love that there's no clock, no digital timing boards nagging away. But I bet there's a clock by now. I bet it goes into that big gap behind the diving boards, that clock-shaped gap. 

I loved the showers, how they whip you like a horse’s tail. Yep, said that. I even loved the fact that I couldn’t quite work out the system to make them go on. Just have fun randomly waving bits of yourself around. They go on and off when you do that. OUCH.

I love that there are separate female changing rooms and a changing village. That suits people like me who hate the changing village, and people not like me who hate the separate changing rooms. We’re all happy. 

I love that this pool is going to be priced in line with other local facilities. So it really will be legacy, because THAT’s what counts for people in the borough.

I love, REALLY love, that we are SWIMMING in this extraordinary piece of architecture. It’s not a gallery, it’s not private, it’s not exclusive. It’s OURS. For SWIMMING IN. I mean, blimey. What an utter GIFT that is. I can’t quite believe it.

As I swum along, relishing the fact that I was alone in a lane for probably the only time ever, I was asked by the man  in the next lane what I thought of the pool, from a swimmers point of view. I told him (it was some of the above, condensed) and he put my words here. Please continue to believe I was tumble turning. What I didn't say was that I thought the water was a bit warm - four lengths in, and I was itching to rip that hat from my head. It felt warmer than training temperature - maybe pandering to its public? I'm prepared to concede I might be wrong - at this time of year everything feels warm to me.  

What didn’t I love?

Nothing. I didn’t not love anything. Well, I didn’t love the set up from Stratford tube, because you have to walk through the piped music HELL that is Westfield. It feels stranded, a tad blasted heath-ish. But you can’t blame the pool for that, and it’s momentary. As soon as you see the massive ray, beached out there on the gravel, all that will be forgiven.

Oh, and I don't love the Better website. It's not better, it's strange and difficult. Good luck perusing it. 

And if you get in - ENJOY. It’s OURS! I think I said that already. But WOW, eh! WOW.





BOOK LINK: I’m putting the Amazon link up because you can see the lovely cover. IF you feel inclined to buy it, and I hope you do, you can do so through HIVE, who are here. Or just at a bookshop. Thank you please.




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  2. The aquatic centre looking amazing during the Olympics and glad it is still so. Well worth a journey across town to have a swim

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  4. It looks and sounds fabulous but as noted in the introduction to your book, for the remaining 60 million residents of the UK who live outside the M25 envelope it is likely to remain little more than the hollow, unfulfilled words 'Olympic Legacy'.

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  5. I have to say as a swimming and Olympics enthusiast, I really am looking forward to swimming at such a prestigious venue! although recently I did find another great swimming venue through http://mylocalpitch.com/ called Tooting Bec Lido. This venue has a 91metre outdoor pool and really is perfect for the hot weather we have been having recently!

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  6. Looks impressive, I can't wait to getting the tube all that way and getting my feet wet. thanks for the info on this pool

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