In at the deep end

Benjamin Mee takes the plunge at Brockwell lido
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The Independent Culture
"for evil to triumph, it is only necessary that good men do nothing," said Somerset Maugham. A diabolical inertia certainly stalked the corridors of Lambeth Council between 1991 to 1994 while the forces of darkness had a field day with Brockwell Lido. The clean-cut Thirties architecture hosted nearly 60 summers of healthy lounging before a single winter's vandalism coincided with the regular service bill and overstretched the imagination of the local authority. Rarely had a watering hole proved so popular without being a pub.

The atmosphere was idyllic. The high walls muffled all but a pleasing breeze, and much of this part of London sheltered from reality at some time or another within them. Heated only by the sun and the sapped warmth from hot bodies, the pool was a beautiful, living thing, in symbiosis with its bathers. But a few broken windows, left unmended, sent the wrong message to the wrongdoers, who persevered and came up with more serious damage. After three years, the pool seemed irrevocably possessed by a sinister black slime, and spiky brambles grew around the captured oasis. It was part of a wider pattern repeated across the capital. Of 47 lidos built this century, only 11 are in use today. The rest were systematically subducted by financial pressure from the government, and deliberately silted through ineptitude from the councils. But in an English tradition going back to St George, 5,000 citizens of Brockwell petitioned the authorities to do something about the evil presence on their patch.

Two champions were selected. Paddy Casteldine and Casey McGlue valiantly penetrated the forest of thorns, banished the black slime and awoke the sleeping pool with a kiss of capital and a lick of paint.

The gods were pleased, and delivered a long, hot summer to swell the swelterers sheltering once again within the trouble-muffling walls of the lido and this year it is once again a place to bask in ignorance and bliss.

Paddy and Casey have breathed more life into the place than was there before. Former storage rooms now house the whole gamut of polite alternative medical practices. Aromatherapy, shiatsu, reflexology, osteopathy and homeopathy can all be had by the poolside. Beauty therapy is also available, including electrolysis, sunbeds, facials and manicures. Yoga classes are held throughout the week, and Ai-CHI-do (moving meditation) instruction from a fifth Dan instructor takes place on Tuesdays and Fridays. And there's an under-fives music workshop for the kids. When the swimming stops at eight, the restaurant opens, offering a delicious mix of African, Mediterranean and English cuisine - the jerk fish is almost too good. The restaurant feels a bit as if it's been hastily converted from a busy refreshments area, which of course it has. But it's a cheerful place, where propped- up cardboard cut-out waves lap at the windows in the breeze, and the atmosphere is unmistakably "holiday". It's the perfect place to get away from it all, in the heart of south London, in the middle of the week.

Brockwell Lido, Brockwell Park, Dulwich Rd, SE24 (0171-274 3088) Mon- Fri 6.45am-10 am; noon-8pm. Weekends 10am-7pm

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