Archive for February, 2013

It feels bizarre to say that I’m happy we’re able to stop going to a big, well equipped swimming pool every weekend, but that’s the way it is.

Cambridge has two main public indoor swimming pools plus quite a few quietly tucked away in sports centres, colleges, gyms etc. The larger is Parkside Pool, the other is Abbey Pool. There are also at least two outdoor pools and some paddling pools in playgrounds that are filled during the summer.

Parkside and Abbey are both council-owned and – inevitably – outsourced to a specialist leisure services company. They are “Sports Leisure Management” but they have the same ad agency as the “Dave” TV channel and since 2008 call themselves “Everyone Active“. The closer one to our house is Parkside Pool, which is slap bang in the centre of Cambridge, overlooking Parker’s Piece.

Parkside Pool Cambridge

Parkside Pool Cambridge

Parkside  has the distinction of winning one architecture journal’s “Building of the Century” award, although it’s not clear how strong the competition was. It is a fairly spectacular edifice.

Parkside Pool Cambridge - 1

Inside are three pools: a 25m lane pool, a diving / family pool (the pool floor is depth-adjustable as a young woman found to her cost a few years ago) and a young childrens pool that also doubles as a jacuzzi for users of the health suites in the same building, assuming they like small children.

There are also two flume tubes: a larger one for going down in inflatable boats and a smaller one for bodies only. There is a large amount of spectator seating and a fairly run of the mill cafe, which I’m amazed has not been outsourced to Costa or similar.

It should be a lovely place to visit but I’m looking forward to abandoning it. My rant – for that’s all it is – is as follows, in no particular priority order. Dear “Everyone Active”, please can you…

  • Implement a snake queueing system, so that at busy times there are not people queuing out of the doors and thus bringing January temperatures into the building.
  • Develop and publicly disclose a pricing structure whereby if you are going to charge children for having a general swim after their swimming lesson, only charge them half of the normal one hour full-swim rate.
  • Develop and publicly disclose a pricing structure whereby you can support restricting access to the child and family pools at busy times (i.e. “Main Pool Only” costing slightly less than “Access All Pools”), as opposed to simply issuing people with “Main Pool Only” armbands unless they specifically ask to swim in the family pools.
  • Not issue a “Main Pool Only” arm band and then not tell the purchaser – with their kids in tow – that they cannot use the family pools until they are climbing in. This did not happen to me but I’ve seen it happen twice.
  • Have the wit not to sell “Main Pool Only” armbands to parents with small children in tow, especially as non-swimmers are not allowed in 66% of the 25m pool.
  • Try and correct the original architect’s error in not having a wall between the pool zone and the cafe / reception / outside world zone, i.e. implement an airlock (see earlier point about queuing out of the front door and its effect on temperatures).
  • Try and correct the error made last year when attempting to implement an airlock by building an internal wall between the pool area and the cafe, whereby the automatic door in that wall is sited right next to the main toilets so that every time the toilet door opens, it trips the internal wall’s automatic door’s sensor, which opens and whoosh goes the airlock.
  • Not wedge open the non-automatic doors in the internal wall.
  • If you manage busy periods by asking people to wait in the cafe before selling them tickets, maybe give them a number as they arrive so that when you resume selling tickets, the people waiting longest get to buy them first rather than the people who have just that second turned up and started queuing.
  • Operate a “blue shoe zone” where at least one of the blue overshoe dispensers actually has blue overshoes (plastic bags) in it at all times. Especially at 09:15 in the morning.
  • Genuinely try and keep outside shoe dirt out of the wet areas by employing someone to monitor the area and stop people tramping mulch all the way in to the changing rooms. They do this in the Scandinavian countries, it’s not hard.
  • Instruct the poolside staff (sometimes called life guards but generally just bored students) that in summer, whilst they may be warm and want to open various doors to get a breeze through whilst cooling down with a slushy, the wet children in the swimming costumes might not appreciate the breeze.
  • Provide adequate space near the family pools for towels and bags to be placed. I believe they are now banned from where they used to be placed (i.e. for the last 6 years) because of some just noticed fire safety / evacuation route concerns. Fire safety is obviously very important in a swimming pool.
  • Allow children to go down the flume tubes if they are tall enough, rather than make them wait until an arbitrary birthday. The flume tube in Banbridge – completely in the dark – is much scarier than the translucent ones in Cambridge, yet there is simply a height restriction.
  • Do not ask people to hold their locker key wristbands in their hands as they go down the flume tubes, given that they can just as easily be worn: “wrist-band”,  clue’s in the name. This is especially true if you also don’t allow people to put them in their shorts pockets. Let’s face it, if you are trying to stay in an overtoppling inflatable ring your first priority is to hang on so that you don’t fall out and get run over by the inflatable boat or your ride partner, not worry about holding on to anything else. Yes sharp objects can scratch the inside of the tubes but at the moment I’d be more concerned about the leaking water from the tubes, TBH…
  • Find some way of publicising pool closures other than a sheet of paper next to the reception till, which is particularly good if you’ve just parked the car in the multi-storey next door. Let’s see, some way of publicising information to a wide community in the city of Cambridge, home of Microsoft, Autonomy, RedGate… think think think…
  • When imposing an unrealistically low “maximum number of bathers” limit on a big family pool, maybe have a way of controlling access to and from it, rather than letting anyone jump in and out from any point along the sides if they can get away with it. Makes it easier for the bored students to count the heads.
  • Maybe have more than one coat hook in each family changing room.
  • After giving people paper armbands with a pull-off tab covering the adhesive strip, have a small bin in each changing cubicle that can be used to throw the tabs and later the armbands away without them littering the floor and degenerating into sludge.
  • Maybe clean the pool once in a while? Tidemarks and grit on the bottom are not appealing.
  • I’m not sure why the life guard watching the small children’s pool has to permanently carrying a life ring. Whilst there is a need for a life ring across the pools – e.g. a very heavy person collapses and goes under – shouldn’t it be carried by the bored student watching the 1.8m deep 25m pool rather than the 0.5 m deep small children’s pool? Even more so given that the ring is too big for any child.


Whenever I see the lifeguard carrying that thing I am reminded of the Pixar move “Up”:


  • When making announcements about which bands are timed to come out of the pool, have this done by people in the pool area rather than the remote reception staff who are often busy doing other things and forget to do it at the right time.
  • Have a visual cue showing which bands are supposed to be out of the pool, given that announcements from a speaker 10m above your heads are usually not audible by people who have water in their ears and are amongst splashing children.

All pretty minor. So why are we abandoning this wonderful place?

Alex – who used to love swimming – cannot stand her swimming teacher.

I’ve always been wary of parents complaining about teachers because teachers have a fairly difficult job in the first place, have to manage a group rather than our precious individuals and normally I would trust people who have had some training over the opinions of amateurs who aren’t there all the time.

In the case of Alex’s swimming teacher I’m mixed. The teacher looks like they don’t care, doesn’t offer anything in the way of encouragement to the children and tends to stand at one end and shout rather than move with the children as they traverse the length of the pool. The children are still of an age / standard where they would benefit from having someone in the pool with them to show them how to do the strokes, i.e. actually move their arms and legs so that they get the hang of it. Then ending the lesson by making wet, tired children get out of the pool and stand shivering, waiting to jump into the much colder main pool, into water deeper than themselves, is also not winning any friends. Maybe do this shock therapy at the start of the lesson and then get the children straight into the warmth of the teaching pool?

Against this, I remember that when she was about three years old, Alex used to be resistant to putting her ears in the water and would not go on her back. We did not want to force her into this, being non-torturing sorts of people, however Alex’s (Portugese) swimming teacher basically told us we were making a mistake. “You are just teaching her to say no, not to swim.” We started forcing her and after initial hysterics all was fine. There’s an element of that at the moment, but sadly I think that the damage has been done.

Anyway, having had tears before leaving on most Sunday mornings and a distinct reluctance to get out of bed, we’ve admitted defeat and are looking for an alternative venue. The Abbey Pool is smaller, harder to get to, not so well equipped for very young children or accompanying adults but probably a better place to learn to swim. Let’s see what we can do.

For Parkside, the management seems to be suffering from extreme piclophobia. There used to be a single poolside sign with the rules on, which were almost literally “have fun and don’t do anything that would annoy others”. Now we have “don’t do the following…” signs all over the place: they’ve got a laminator and they’re not afraid to use it.

Ideally they should re-brand themselves “Everybody Anal”, I think, and that may certainly help traffic to their website.  Sadly, owing to the growth of Cambridge they’re not going to have a problem filling the place and really don’t have to try too hard. Just sit back, employ as few people as possible and rake in the profit.

Thanks, Cambridge City Council.

*Piclophobia: Fear of Personal Injury Claim Lawyers. Also known as “The Madness of ‘king Health and Safety” by the Daily Mail


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The nearest coffee shop to our house is Hot Numbers. I’m told that this is the go-to venue for the  coffeescenti of Cambridge, a group that would not usually include myself.

I went a couple of times just after it first opened and was under-impressed by the prices, selection of food and once the attitude of one of the serving staff.  Since then, the major thing that has changed has been myself, in that I no longer drink buckets of foamy espresso-tainted milk laced with sugary additives designed to make them taste like anything except coffee. Anybody seen Caffe Ritazza’s Caffe Tiramisu, for example? I couldn’t find a link for their latest, which is Apple Pie flavoured latte.

Anyway, Stephanie’s granny took her to Hot Numbers recently and Stephanie was enthused by the babychino [sic] offerring so asked to go and visit it today.

Flyer 2

I found it an interesting place to visit, although it’s still pricey. I didn’t actually see any prices displayed so cannot confirm the true whack and I have a slight suspicion that the server double-charged me for one coffee, but roughly “50% on top of Costa prices for a similar order” would not be far off.  The food selection had improved and the Chelsea buns were tasty, sourced from Fitzbillies (who made our wedding cake, back in the day but have since gone out of business and re-opened). It would be good if they could look at sourcing buns etc from The Norfolk Street Bakery as well.

Fitzbillies Chelsea Buns

Entering the place just ahead of us was a family who had collected their teen daughter from some sporting event and had parked the large new BMW outside. She was dressed in Perse School kit, which gave a hint as to their affluence as if the enormous BMW had not Earwigging on their conversation I was struck by the fact that they had actually driven to Hot Numbers specifically, so the place is doing not too badly. I also noticed that the cafe had a pair of NACSound Sonance Omni speakers out front (along with brochure). These speakers actually retail for more than the value of my car, although you’d be hard pressed to find a price quoted for them. Somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000 depending on the source.

Serious Audio

Comfortably settled inside…

Service for Steph

… I noted many more similarly well heeled looking people discussing businesses, plans and so on. There are a few little businesses clustering in this area now and we also have the Microsoft research lab just opened about 5 minutes walk away, down by the station. Lloyds of London started through people meeting in places like this (although presumably with less impressive audio hardware). There’s hope for us yet.

Coffee House Cambridge

Speaking as a reasonably affluent middle class individual, we’re well served for food in this odd little micro-domain within 10 minutes or so walk of our house. This has also been recognised by the Guardian. I made a map based on our own eating out experiences.

Sometimes it’s nice to live around here.

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