This year I seem to be visiting more hotel pools than ‘real’ swimming pools (and circumstances mean my opportunities for wild swimming are a bit limited). Hotel spa pools have a generally well-deserved poor reputation: cramped and overheated, too small to really swim in and usually located in a claustrophobic basement. Really the only advantage is that you can walk down in pretty much just your cozzie if you’re staying in the hotel. I visited the Piccadilly Health Club at Le Meridien hotel on a girly spa day so, to be honest, a fantastic swimming experience would have been a bonus. However, the pool really is quite a decent size and physically, one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a hotel. It was a pleasure just to lounge around the poolside and soak up the elegant period setting (editing out the children’s squeals of course).
Actually swimming wasn’t quite as good. It’s not a bad size, but it’s perfectly square, which somehow makes it seem smaller. There’s also a massive pillar in the middle which, while lovely and everything, really does reduce the swimming space. I started out doing circuits of the pillar, but it made me feel a bit dizzy, so I changed to doing lengths (or were they widths?) and had that familiar hotel pool experience of ‘how can I be at the end, I’ve only just kicked off’. I don’t want to seem too grumpy, as it really was quite lovely, it’s just probably better for a ten minute splash about, rather than 30 minutes’ Proper Exercise. But it is funny that health clubs in particular have such small pools whereas links to some of the best athletic pools I’ve been in are to be found under the ‘leisure’ section of the council website.
I’m reading Iain Sinclair’s ‘Hackney, that rose-red empire’ at the moment and among the most maligned of his local targets is the Clissold Pool which, at least as far as this grumpy old Hackney resident is concerned, is a useless white elephant and a waste of his council tax. Now, I’m not a Hackney council tax payer and I don’t know the history of the pool’s building (although I can imagine), but I love the Clissold Pool. In fact, I think it’s the perfect example of an indoor pool (sorry Outdoor Swimming Friend, there is such a thing):
- It’s a really good size both length and width – I’ve never felt crowded in there
- Lots of lanes – including really wide ones for the more ‘interpretable’ categories of ‘slow’ and ‘medium’
- Natural light – loads of it
- A good temperature – not too scarily cold but cool enough not to be uncomfortable when you’re swimming at speed
- High ceiling so you don’t feel claustrophobic
- It’s very clean
- Good use of shower space: 3 in cubicles, 3 open plan – I’ve never queued
The only thing wrong with it really is the changing rooms themselves. There’s only one, small, communal area (which seems to get very full between 7.30 and 8.30am) and the cubicles are just ridiculous – I’m not a big person, and I’m constantly banging into things – there’s walls and partitions just *everywhere*. Of course you need both cubicles and open areas, it took me a few years before I really could not give a stuff about getting changed in the open, but the balance is skewed at the Clissold. And why do they prop the door open? The only bin is right by the door, which means that I have to be dressed in order to use it (I’m not *that* nonchalant).
Oh and one more thing. That sign. ‘Pre-shower before you swim’. No, no, no!
Umbrella, the librarianship conference held at the University of Hertfordshire, that is and handily onsite for the ‘Hertfordshire Sports Village’ (it’s not a village) and its 25 metre pool. Except that by the time I got there, the bottom 5 metres had been sectioned off for width swimming. This caused a little problem for me as at one point I wanted to adjust my goggles and kept swimming up and down trying to find the shallow end before I realised that the shallow end was actually beyond the plastic barrier and there was no part of the pool available in which I could stand up.
Still, it was a very nice pool, lots of natural light, loads of different lanes – including ‘medium slow’ as well as ‘medium fast’ – genius! I started off in ‘medium slow’, but then felt a bit silly as I was sharing the lane, whereas ‘medium fast’ was empty. Except that my companion noticed the same thing and moved to ‘slow’. So I moved back to ‘medium slow’. And so did he. We could have gone on for hours, but somehow worked out that I was best off in ‘medium fast’ and he in ‘medium slow’. Anyway, after ten minutes most of the lanes were removed to allow for swimming lessons in half the pool but it really wasn’t busy so it wasn’t a problem.
What was a little disconcerting was the number of little boys in the ladies’ changing room. One of them was told ‘you’re too old to behave like that, you’re nine years old’. You can hardly blame him for behaving younger than his age when he isn’t considered old enough to get dressed on his own. Anyway, he didn’t seem remotely interested in the female nakedness around him so I just got on with changing. And I had the hairdrying and make-up area to myself.
When I read that Burleigh Court Hotel had a ‘large swimming pool’ I was expecting something athletic and outdoor, appropriate to hotel on the campus of Loughborough University. When I saw in the brochure that it was actually 15 metres I was disappointed, although this is partly because I never quite know how long a metre is, ironically since I was there attending a conference on statistical analysis methods for PhD students. Actually it’s quite long really – for a hotel pool – and had it been twice the width would have been a bit like swimming in my former Usual Pool on a day when the plumbing had sent the temperature up a bit (as is normal with hotel pools).
My visit didn’t start well. I came out of my pre-swim shower to find a middle aged man about to take off his trunks. Yes, I’d gone into the gents and had undressed and showered without even noticing (luckily, staying in the hotel meant I was wearing my cozzie underneath my clothes). He was pretty good-humoured about it however. Actually he said ‘I don’t mind’ which isn’t quite the same, but I did ask for it. Having made my way to the right changing room I discovered that I didn’t have the required pound coin needed for the locker and spent the first 5 minutes of my swim fretting about my library books being nicked from my hotel room before I remembered that I’d only brought an unmarked keycard to the leisure centre and could barely remember the room number myself. But the swim was pleasant, if a little hot. I often hear outdoor swimmers say how much they hate swimming indoors and think they’re exaggerating, but I have to say that I did start to think ‘this would be so much nicer in the open air…’. Being a spa whore I of course had a sauna, steam and rather underpowered jacuzzi and did actually begin to understand what hotel spas mean by that objectionable jargon word ‘wellness’.
I was the only conference delegate who’d opted to pay twice as much to stay in the hotel rather than University Lodge and I did wonder if I’d just paid for a rather overpriced spa visit and maybe could have arranged to swim in the pool currently being used by the British Olympic swimming pool for training. But the spa, added to breakfast in bed and a very comfy night’s sleep made it worth every penny.
Earlier this week, unusually for me, I went to London Fields Lido on a weekday evening. If anything, it’s busier than at a weekend and could have been the Oasis on a warm Wednesday at 6pm. About ten minutes in, an announcement was made but by the time I’d pulled my head out of the water and dutifully strained my ears it was over and it was only a vague memory of checking the opening times that made me realise that this was the intended to clear the pool of men before the weekly all-female hour. Bizarrely enough this is my first ever experience of all-female swimming outside of the ponds and… well it wasn’t much different. London Fields has four lanes: non-specific, slow, medium and fast. After a few warm-up lengths in non-specific, I felt a bit guilty about occupying space really intended for those not really doing lengths, I moved to medium and lasted about 2 lengths. Almost everyone was doing crawl and I was taken over 3 times in 5 minutes. So, I moved to slow and was on the fast side, but I could hardly complain about being stuck behind someone doing a ladylike high-head breaststroke when I was in the slow lane. Why don’t fast swimmers swim in the fast lane? I just don’t understand it myself, as the usual complaints I hear – from the likes of Outdoor Swimming Friend – are of being held up by those with an inflated sense of their own speed. Anyway, I can categorically tell you that all female swimming does not engender a gynocratic utopia of politeness and each-to-their-needs-and-abilities. It’s just like when men are there too.