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Monday, June 05, 2006

Carry on London

Summer has arrived in London. Good. Granny meanwhile, forced to stay here for a while, contemplates curiosities in the city where she has spent the greater part of her life.

Take this, for instance. In the 70's- she thinks - her local borough, Hammersmith and Fulham, opened, with loud fanfares, two big swimming pool complexes. And very nice they were too, a long way from the image of municipal baths with their fearsome attendants, wooden floors and gloomy bathrooms used by the homeless/bathroomless. The White City version was much frequented by Granny in the early days of marriage no 2. She belonged to an early morning swimming club, and used to swim up and down there, along with - at the time she didn't realise it - the likes of Victoria Wood, and other such, busy making their latest series of programmes at the BBC Television Centre, just round the corner. In those days Granny hadn't learned to put her head under water while swimming- nor had VW and a number of other ladies of a certain age. Subsequently VW immortalised Granny and the rest of them in a song called 'Swimming up and down at the Shepherd's Bush Pool.' By the time she sang it, alas, the early morning swimming club had been closed because of a shortage of members - 20 or so wasn't enough. Even when added to, by other non-members.

Granny remembers, all too vividly, the morning the place was invaded by a bunch of screaming and mostly over-weight yobboes, jumping in and out of the pool on top of the sedate, head-up swimmers. She protested. So did some of her fellow members. 'You'll have to put up with it,' said the lugubrious man behind a desk. 'That lot,' he said, 'is the police swimming team. We let them in for free, they keep an eye on us. ' He gestured towards the estate, no more or less notorious then as now, 'We need that here.'

They've slightly cleaned-up the police since then. Their image as male chauvinists etc is being addressed, at least. Remembering that lot, Granny suspects it is hard work.

Granny didn't swim there much thereafter. Her life changed over the years. But so did the pools. Sometime in the 90's, she heard to her surprise that the pool was closed. She couldn't imagine why - 20 years lifespan for such a place, didn't seem much. The old municipal versions went on for 100 years at least. Some of them are still going,

Then, just up the road from the new site, they opened a leisure centre called after the first female - and black - mayor of Hammersmith (a wonderful woman, who alas only lasted 6 months in the job, dying of cancer at the age of 4o odd, What a waste.) And in January this year, to equally loud fanfares they opened a swimming pool alongside, also named after the dead mayor. Granny, before they operated on her, went swimming there several times, and very nice it is too, even fancier than the last only a little bit shorter, and lacking the wave machine much loved by children, if not by those trying to swim. The site where the old pool was remains boarded up, a wasteland. All very mysterious.

The other pool opened in the 70's down in Fulham, suffered a similar fate; in that case, however, the replacement was built by the expensive fitness centre business called Holmes Place, with two pools one for the hoi polloi - Granny eg -the other for the people who can afford their fees. Such a business as Holmes Place would never set itself up alongside the White City Estate, its line of shops even more depressed now than the one Granny remembers from 20 years ago. But what both schemes do have in common is that they are financed on a public/private basis. Granny's Beloved Oldest Friend, a cynical journalist, thinks this may at least partially explain the mystery: why two perfectly decent, recent and well-functioning outfits were pulled down and replaced by others. Someone somewhere, inside the council or out, must have benefited somehow, financially most likely. The rest of us, council tax payers all, paid for it. Thankyou M Thatcher in other words. Your tentacles still have a stranglehold.


Granny will be curious to see what happens to the boarded-up space in due course. Maybe they're waiting till the area ceases to be so run down and someone can make out a packet out of non-affordable housing. We will see.

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