A novelist writes about the mind, body and soul.

The Park Club – Acton

If you want to be healthy, you do really have to do some exercise, we all know this and yet it can be really hard to commit.  I am not a gym bunny and in fact I don’t like any form of high-octane exercise. I’d rather go for a walk than  a run, or swim and sit in the steam room rather than an aerobics class and I don’t live near a lovely beach, which is just inviting me to walk down it. In fact I live between two busy London Streets, filled with noise, people and traffic.  I attempt to keep active by swimming and  going to pilates classes; sometimes I think about getting a small, well-behaved dog, which would force me to take long walks in the park.

I have been a member of various health clubs for the last twenty years, it’s a luxury but a really worthwhile one. My first club was adults only and it suited me fine at the time, as I was single and carefree. The second one I joined after getting married and having babies. The rule stated that children were allowed children in on a Wednesday afternoon to swim, which was not very satisfactory, but I kept going in a rather selfish way, because I was addicted to one particular yoga class taught by one particular teacher.  About four years ago, I gave in, wrenched myself away and joined a family friendly club – the Park Club in Acton.  I now can’t imagine my life without it.

I interviewed my children yesterday to find out what they thought about it. My daughter who is nearly 8 said she loved the cafe there, “which has nice cookies, lollipops, crisps and water for free! So you don’t have to waste time queuing when you’re hot.” They serve healthy food too, but she’s not at all interested in that. She loves their assault course, which is tucked away in one part of the 27 acres of land.  “They have giant viking boats that go really high, a giant swing, a wobbly thing you have to stand on, and a standing see-saw.” She also likes the pool (there is an indoor and outdoor one) “because you can learn to swim and have fun.” And she also added to my surprise that, “the rules are really sensible, like children are not allowed in the jacuzzi, or in the gym, because they could hurt themselves.” My ten-year old son, says he likes the fact that you can just turn up and find someone to play football with and he says, “there is brilliant coaching.” So all in all a success. It’s particularly comforting to sit on their terrace on a sunny Sunday, sipping tea, reading newspapers and not worrying that the children have met some pervert in a public park. (I kid you not, a park policeman once warned me about a man who had been arrested in our local park for spying on children behind a tree!)

I absolutely love it at the Park Club,  and it’s great in the school holidays. The children could actually spend all day there, running around, or going to a holiday camp  and they have a certain amount of freedom to roam.  I was depressed recently, when I went to see Swallow and Amazons and was once again reminded about the level of freedom kids were given in those days – 1929. The children were allowed to go to an island and camp out on their own. Who would let their children do that now? The Park Club, admittedly is not an island but it does feel like a welcome oasis in a busy, urban, sometimes scary world.


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