Swimming can be a problem.
Fürth has a really good indoor pool (Hallenbad), renovated a few years ago. It used to have a shallow end, but nowadays the shallower end is still too deep to stand in, so non-swimmers go to the smaller children’s pool. But unfortunately the renovation was subject to agreement that schools should have priority. So it opens only at 14.00 three days a week and closes at 13.00 or so at weekends, unlike in other more civilized places. On top of that, even when it’s open it’s been known for all lanes to be booked by clubs, or children’s swimming competitions have taken it over without announcement.
A sauna establishment called Fürthermare, which you can’t seriously swim in, optimistically described as a thermal bath, opened a few years ago (Bad Fürth was a spa at the turn of the twentieth century and Quelle was named after this). It looked as if you could use the indoor pool adjoining during opening hours, but no, it still opened only at 14.00, although I see that it can be used on Saturday and Sunday evenings only by the Fürthermare guests. It would be too expensive to open the Hallenbad entrance. So how about paying extra for Fürthermare and using the Hallenbad through that? Well, at first you had to take the sauna option, and in the sauna you could only change in public, not in a cubicle, after which you had to walk for miles to reach the pool. The system was slightly changed, but it drives me to Kristall Palm Beach (!) or the Nordostbad in Nuremberg.
Then in summer there is a huge demand for the open-air baths, as long as it is hot. Every year they complain about not enough takings because the weather was too cold. The indoor pool closes and the outdoor pool opens. This may be OK for young and fit people, but not so good for us beached whales. First of all, the padlocks for the wire cages for clothes storage run out (could take my own). Then, to swim every morning at 8 would be too cold, because the system of stainless-steel pools relies on being heated by the sun (if available). If it’s raining it’s unpleasant to swim, and on top of that there’s nowhere near the pool to leave a towel out of the rain. It’s a long way to the pool. On sunny days it’s full of young girls in bikinis and one hesitates to strip off in the showers. But lots of Germans like fresh air and abominate indoor pools.
The system in Havering seems better. At Hornchurch, they have ‘adults only’ (unfortunate that the timetable currently displayed omits this). But even in the Swim4all times, two lanes are kept free for lane swimming, clockwise without stopping (well, you can stop briefly at the ends, but there are no toeholes at the deep end). The water is about 28° and the pool 33m long. It was first opened when I was at grammar school and was supposed to be long enough for Olympic competitions, but there was a planning error so the length was wrong. I learnt to swim there and remember going back to school after a hot blackcurrant drink and arrowroot biscuits.
Hornchurch Swimming Pool is just at the edge of Harrow Lodge Park. It was built in 1956. It was the first swimming pool to be built in Britain after the Second World War. This was because all building materials were being used to replace bomb-damaged property. It was built to a new design with the changing rooms away from the poolside and a spectator gallery along one side. This design is still used for most swimming pools today.
An additional pool was built alongside the main pool in 1981 for learners and disabled swimmers with toilet and special changing
It is interesting that more people have swimming lessons at Hornchurch Swimming Pool than at any other pool in Britain.
You could read Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton:
As a teenager, Leanne Shapton trained for the Olympic swimming trials; now an artist, she is still drawn inexorably to swimming, in pools and on beaches across the world. What do you with an all-absorbing activity once it’s past its relevance, and yet you can’t quite give it up? Is it possible to find a new purpose for its rigors and focus?
But there is also Pond Life by Al Alvarez, which I have been dipping into, so to speak. I associated Alvarez with the 60s, with Sylvia Plath and suicide, but he is an old arthritic man who dealt with his arthritis over years by swimming daily in Hampstead ponds, negotiating Canada geese and other obstacles and in very low temperatures.
Tuesday 7 May. 55°F
A dark morning, windless and silent, and soft rain, the kind that soaks you without your noticing. Since I prefer not to get soaked and want to buy bread at Rumbolds, I decide to drive round to Highgate for my swim. A mistake. The car is coated with cherry blossom, the radio is nowhere to be found, the traffic is dreadful. But the swimming is beautiful, the pond like glass with a single swan floating on its own image. By midday, the clouds have lifted, the sun is out, the air is hot and it feels as if summer is finally on the way.