Friday, 4 November 2016


October 31st - 4th November 2016

Since Monday I've tried to freshen up my lunchtime London dips.

I decided to go to pools and places I'd never normally frequent. 
It's been an eye-opening experience and thoroughly enjoyable.
I've been amazed at the diversity of pools out there and the cost.
Sometimes for as little as £4.
It's made me appreciate once again what a brilliant City this is.
And how much I love splashing around in it.

Day 1

Student Central

University of London Union, Malet St, London WC1E 7HY 

For central London where you can't move for corporate wanker pools & gyms, this place is an oasis for real swimmers. The refreshing 33m pool perfect for laps. And couldn't be more central, off Tottenham Court Road. The decor is like something from an East German spy film. However the attendants couldn't be more friendly - esp the chatty bald fella who's full of knowledge. Apparently the vast deep end - 3.40m - a result of diving boards sadly cut off a few years ago. Overlooking it all is the vewing gallery. Now enclosed by windows. Apparently jovial students would leap off into the water in the 60s. Rumoured that the Beatles had a photo shoot here too. Rok 'n roll 'n front crawl
All good. Tomorrow we head East..

Day 2

York Hall

5 Old Ford Rd, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PJ

This is a long (33m) cool water pool in deepest Bethnal Green. Very well kept with brilliantly shiny floor tiles. Lovely fresh clean water. Not a plaster or poo in sight. We timed our run spectacularly badly and were with 2 lots of school kids. However their diving techniques were to be much admired. As were the refurbished diving boards standing above the 3.6m deep end. Next door to the pool is the infamous York Hall boxing gym. We tried to sneak in and have a look but there was a live fight on, not open to the public. Maybe it's Idris Elba punching (and kicking) for Madge. Tomorrow it's lido time brrrrr.

Day 3

London Fields Lido

London Fields West Side, London E8 3EU

This is a belter. In today's sunshine - a pleasant 12C - you can see why people rave about it. In such moments swimming al fresco cannot be beaten. Best of the week by far. There's a lot of swimmers here. But because the place is massive - a whopping 50m long and very wide - there's room for all. Huge mix of people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages. A melting pot of London life, all splashing in the sunlight that covers the entire surface of the pool. And sunlight that also pierces beneath the surface, making the air bubbles off my hands appear like trippy mercury spheres bleeding off my hand like something from a trippy pop promo. I glance down to more wonderment with the Hockney-esque reflections from the bottom of the pool momentarily taking me to LA. Am I going to make a bigger splash in 2017? This sun drenched underwater world is suddenly crashed by a massive autumnal leaf, reminding me it's Hackney and not Hockney, but I'm still having the morning of my life.

Day 4

Marshall St, Soho

15 Marshall St, Soho, London W1F 7EL

A classic with a twist. Paul Smith would approve. Just 2 mins from Oxford Circus this is slap bang central London. But it still feels secret, hidden in the labyrinthine streets off Carnaby St. Today I jumped in around 11.30am with a quiet respectful bunch. Apart from one irritant who insisted on doing fast front crawl, then slow breast stroke to mess with lane etiquette. Have a word Mr Lifeguard. As the clock ticked on it became more busy. And the pool started to fill...with testosterone. At one point there were 30 pumped (mostly bald) alpha males and not a single woman. I gently slipped into the slow lane. But like fast/slow man, this was only a minor quibble. It's a great pool. The refurbishment carried out in 1997 a huge success. Retaining wonderful period features, but with a necessary modern edge. The real story is the roof. A single graceful arc that curves over the pool, cocooning the swimmers from the world outside. The smoothness of the curve bringing much needed serenity for those alpha males. The curves continue underwater where the 1930s tiled floor stretches in parabolic style towards the deep end. Like an enormous pregnant woman has imprinted her belly on the bottom of the pool. Female inspiration as ever bringing a little calm to the world.

Day 5

Golden Lane Sport & Fitness 

Golden Lane Estate, London EC1Y 0SH

And so to Friday and the last pool of the week. This is the baby of the bunch at just 20m. Small but perfectly formed. Surrounded by floor to ceiling glass windows on three sides, giving a wonderful open aspect to the swim. On one side it's architectural brutalism with a heavy duty Barbican tower, silhouetted against the concrete sky, bringing a sense of apocalyptic doom to proceedings. However directly ahead the window gives you a peek into something altogether more positive - a dance class where a woman in a shimmering leotard is strutting her stuff, which I view in silence, every few seconds, as I come up to air. Pretty surreal. And on the 3rd side all is calm. Carefully planted trees and shrubs block out more brutalism of nearby flats, instead showcasing autumnal leaves of every imaginable colour.
It's busy. And male dominated (why is this?!) but very calm. These are different animals to Soho. A special note for the receptionist who not only had a fantastic tattoo, but lent me a lock for the changing room.
So that's it for this week at least.
It's been great.
A week long rush of endorphins.
Bit tired now.
Anyone fancy a pint?

Day 6

Fitness First, Highbury 

Spoiler alert. This ain't gonna be pretty.

Two years of corporate pool pain about to be unleashed.
But let's start with the positives. It was open today. 

And there was water in the pool. Err that's about it.

It's quite staggering how many of the basics they can't get right. 

Water: Hot. So hot it's like a bath. After 3 lengths you're sweating. Not good sweating. But a disturbing, chlorinated fug of perspiration. Yuk. 

Size: Small. Like tiny. At 18m I have to do close to 100 lengths to get anywhere near a decent workout. I'm all for a rest between lengths, but this is like being in the bath again. 

Fellow swimmers: Kids. Kids swimming lessons to be precise. I've got kids. Love 'em dearly. Best thing that's ever happened to me. And meeting Rach obv. But I pay £70 a month to swim in a private club away from the little buggers. When they're in, it leaves only two lanes. And two lanes of a postage stamp pool is two lanes of f*** all. They are also proper loud, so there is no chance for the corporate Enya soundtrack to even have a chance. (Maybe this is a positive?!)

Floor: Slippy. Like falling on your arse embarrassing but painful slippy. The sign that says - "careful slippy floor" - the ultimate proof they don't give a shit. Rather than fix the problem, just whack up a little warning and that'll cover our arse (not your's) for a legal case. You'll prob first read it laying prostrate holding your coccyx. 

And of course the coup de grace, they shut the pool without warning. No text or call. Or even a sorry sign at reception. So you only find out as you walk across the slippy floor. Ouch. 

And all of this I get for £70 a month.

Apologies for this negative review. But it's from the heart of my soggy speedos. Which as a final note, never get dried, cos the sodding swimsuit drier is out of order. Tomorrow will be better.

Day 7

Fitness First, Baker St

Ok. So I went back.
Everyone deserves another chance.
Esp after yesterday's over heated debacle.

Can it be redeemed? Or are Fitness First going to come last in the rankings?!
I approached with trepidation. And a suitcase.

I was on the way to Oxford to visit my super sister and mega mum.
I was prepared to be in more hot water for forgetting my fitness first pass.

However the woman in reception couldn't have been more charming:
"Of course sir just leave your suitcase behind reception."
Wow. All of yesterday's negativity blown away in a flash.

Fitness First how can you ever forgive me?

Baker St is suddenly light years away from Highbury. Or at least a couple of tube rides.
Cool temperature water filled to the normal level, and no kids swimming or screaming.

A moody Bond-esque sunken pool. 20m of deep blues and soft underwater lighting making me think Jacqueline Bissett is going to show up at any moment and take me to the deep end. Or at least show me where my front crawl breathing is out.
The pool is small but much like Golden Lanes perfectly formed. Great showers and huge changing rooms as I watch "Escape to the country" on the mandatory TV. I go upstairs get my case. Nothing bad has happened. I'm worried. I get to the coach stop. And wait 35 mins for a ride to Oxford and the bossum of family. Feeling massively positive about Fitness First and how we always need to give things a 2nd chance.

Day 8

Highbury Pool 

This pool is close to my heart, scene of my first swimathon for Marie Curie a couple of years ago.
It's busy - a mix of kids, teens, parents, serious swimmers, oldies and some who just want to talk to you (or themselves) in the shallow end. It has all of life here.
It wins the award for chilliest pool. So once you're in, you're swimming. No messing. Unless that bloke in the shallow end gets you. It's very wide so plenty room for all. And at 25m it's a good length.
The whole place had a makeover a few years back. The kids pool adjacent to the main pool is now thankfully bereft of the algae of piss and other substances that would cling to you as you got out. And is now often home to parents who luxuriate in the warm waters, a welcome juxtaposition to the chilly main event.
The steam and sauna rooms are also much improved. Although in a strange way I miss the old set up. One time I was in the sauna and three Polish lads came in with tins of Stella and a beat box. And had a sauna party. When the biggest one stood on the bench and started to gyrate his groin quite close to my nose I made my excuses and left. Miss those guys.

Day 9

Oasis pool, Holborn

An oasis in central London?
Well if you scrunch your eyes and ignore the 60s tower block looming over the shallow end

it could be. Throw in the palm trees and sunshine glinting off the rubbery Google building and you're getting close. However today it was just pissing down. So I got my head down.

More Noasis than Oasis. But there is beauty in everything and the droplets of rain splashing onto the warm (ish) water is a thing to behold - you'd never get that indoor.

Granted you need to be made of stern stuff to brace the outdoors on days like today.

But "tough" is my middle name. After Gregory. Which also means "man of steel".

It's a perverse 27m long. Never seen that length before. Good width and massively deep.

They supply aqualung on reception if you fancy touching the bottom. The deep end houses three massive lights which appear like shimmering underwater woks, lighting the way.

Winter is for your hard core swimmer here.

But come summer it's rammed with anything but.

Sun worshippers aplenty adorned in thongs and factor 50. And that's just the fellas.

Maybe I'll give it a go...

Day 10 

Legard Road leisure centre

Well this was a curious way to wrap up the series of pools I've been frequenting these past two weeks.
At 1.85m long it's the shortest of all the pools. I can literally touch both ends at the same time.

My Mum always said I had long legs but this is surreal. And at 0.75m deep it's a bit of a joke.

I can sit on the bottom and still have my head above the surface.

There's very few actual swimmers in today. In fact I'm on my own.

Apart from a cat that visits and licks the water. I suppose that's better than licking my nether regions. But still. There should be a policy on animals.
A table adjacent to the pool (I say pool, but it feels more like a bath tbh) is useful for my towel.

A very pretty woman (fully dressed) came in and gave me a cookie. She was pretty relaxed considering I was fully naked. I could be in there. She murmured something about hurrying up and getting the girls to ballet.
The water was very warm. And had a strange aroma. A strangely relaxing lavender aura that actually made me feel a bit too relaxed to swim at all. I'm starting to think this isn't a pool at all....

Day 10

Ironmonger Row Baths

Ok. So I was planning on taking the week off.

But after a day off yesterday and builders arriving in the house today, I think the God of swimming decided to push me back in. And what better way to return than in this incredible Grade II listed building. The cleanest water ever. And coldest. Not quite Lido level. But certainly what my father would call "bracing". Everything about this is good. It's had the makeover of all makeovers. £16m. But it's worth every bean. The pool is magnificent. 30.5m long. Another weird length. Super deep at 3.7m. A great mix of modern design while retaining many original features. Changing rooms are big. It's cheap at £4.50 and there is a good mix of swimmers. I actually spotted a man in proper old skool stringy pants. Which makes me think of dad for the second time in this post. Dating back to 1931, it was originally a public wash house. I'm told there is still a laundry facility in the building today. Nice one. I got to say many of the pools I've enjoyed are from Better Leisure Group. Well done whoever is in charge. A big watery thumbs up. And thanks to the lifeguard for taking this photo featuring me leaving the pool. I've ditched the speedos for a while... #betterleisure

Day 11

YMCA pool, Tottenham Court Road 

Ok I'm going to try and get through this without any lame gags or word play. Bear with.
So I'm welcomed at the desk by a charming young man dressed as a builder. Wtf. Maybe it's fancy dress today. "I'm not a member." "That's ok" he says "you can still hang out with all the boys." £15. Wow. I know I'm not short of dough but is this the place I want to go? It's a day pass. You can do swim, gym and play badminton. And yes. Hang out with all the boys. Go on then. The pool is lovely. Sleek dark blue tiles on the floor give an intimate moody vibe. The low roof adding to the feeling of intensity, made more surreal by the sight of the lifeguard dressed as a Red Indian. Def some kind of event going on here today. The free sauna was festive with
Xmas lights adorning the ceiling reminding me we're only 40 days away from the birth of Jesus. I was approached by a man dressed as a cowboy who told me to uncross my legs. Seriously? "It's bad for your circulation". And there's me just trying to relax. But that apart there's a nice village-y feel here. Good people. It's fun to stay Showers are great. You can get yourself clean. Upstairs a good meal. You can basically do whatever you feel...
Altogether now "Y-M-C-A"
A demain x