I’ve had a pretty crazy year of travels this year, covering a couple of continents and 6 countries, its seen some amazing things but this Christmas its nice to be home. Seven years ago, my husband dragged me, under duress, outside of zone 2 to look at a flat that we could afford to buy. We’d been living in Battersea but couldn’t have bought so much as a wheely bin there! We’d been looking for four months, and I’d given up, it felt like a long way away but there was a tube that went directly in to town, and a high street right on the door step, so it couldn’t be that bad…it is, in fact, better than I could have imagined.
I live in Tooting, South West London, which was recently voted one of the top 10 coolest neighbourhoods on the planet. Lonely Planet is not wrong. Tooting is amazing, and as special and wonderful as anywhere I have been in the world. There is SO much to love here, but I’m going to give you a little intro to my home town with my ‘Seven Wonders of Tooting’…
1. The Great Pyramid & St George’s Hospital
Ok, so the pyramid is actually The Sir Joseph Hotung Centre, a specialist facility for research into muscular-skeletal disorders, but at Sunrise (I often see it as that time of day on my way to the Pool), it is as beautiful as the great pyramid at Giza. St George’s is one of the largest teaching hospitals in London, with a fantastic A&E department as seen on your TV as part of 24 Hours in A&E. A couple of years ago, I broke my toe in a ten pin bowling accident (it’s a terribly dangerous sport, I advise against it) and was treated there at about two in the morning by a brilliant team of doctors and nurses to whom I’m very grateful. There is also a helipad on top to receive air ambulances and some really lovely garden spaces. The Garden for First Touch, which was transported to the hospital from the Chelsea flower show in 2014, is actually a lovely place to sit and have a coffee in the summer, next to the Adrian Gray balanced stone sculpture. If you visit you should also pop into the main entrance and see the beautiful bronze sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon which is easy to miss (its quite small) but is really beautiful – especially if you like dragons.
2. Tooting Leisure Centre
Tooting is in the borough of Wandsworth, which has the best public pools in the whole of London. Tooting Leisure Centre is a very special place because it is the home of The Mermaid Marathon, the only long distance charity mermaid swim in the world, and the ‘Tails on Tuesdays’ mermaid swim group, yep, adults in mermaid tails, having a whale of a time! If you fancy giving mermaid swimming a go in London, get in touch with Just Mermaiding who run mermaid sessions at Tooting Leisure Centre. It is so very, very tooting, and a wonderful part of the community, even the changing room lockers are supportive, decorated with slogans encouraging you to swim. The amazing staff, deep pool, newly refurbished gym and spa area for beauty treatments make this leisure centre stand out as far as public facilities go. I love the place. I walk there but…free parking!
3.The Bingo Hall
Tooting Bingo Hall is a legendary place, for so many reasons. It’s the only grade I listed bingo hall in the country, and the Beatles and Frank Sinatra have played there. These days its is operated by Buzz Bingo, and the beautiful cathedral like interior is dotted with formica tables, with the stage hosting a fried food outlet next to the bingo caller’s chair, sounds odd but it actually makes for a great night out, the food and beer are cheap, and you might even win a few quid on the Bingo (don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re doing, friendly regulars will help you out), its all totally worth it to spend time in such a fantastic building.
4.The Local Police and their Instagram account
This may seem like an odd thing to include in a ‘wonders’ list but I’ve recently discovered it and I think it deserves a spot. Crime in London is scary if you listen to the mainstream media but, touch wood, in 7 years I’ve never had a terrible crime incident in Tooting. I’ve been attacked in Camden, and robbed in the West End, but in Tooting, you’ll get the told off by at least one local, and a dirty look from at least 10 others if you even dare to try and jump the queue anywhere, so its all a very different affair in this little pocket of politeness that is SW17. The majority of people here are no less friendly than the staff at Disneyland, and our local bobbies are no exception. They post images from all elements of their work, from tackling knife crime to rescuing dogs and visiting local primary schools. Its easy to see the uniform and not the person behind it. PCs Kneller, Watford and Starzyk won Police Team of the Year in 2017 for their excellent work and this Instagram account reminds us that our officers are part of our community too, they stay connected with us, and we stay happy and safe. Simples. Follow them on Instagram.
The Tooting Markets (Tooting Market and Broadway Market) are both a wonder and joy. In recent years, they’ve received some excellently managed love and care, to be transformed into hubs for some of the best food and drink in London and fantastic places to shop. There’s fabric, gifts, tacos, craft gin, po’ boys, craft beer, butchers, fine wines, fishmongers, hair and nails, a pet shop, home wares, caribbean groceries and michellin star food. Sounds like an odd mix, its actually pretty perfect. You need to get on the tube and go there.
6.Morleys Department Store
Tooting has A LOT of independent shops but to find an independent department store is rare. Morleys (‘technically’ a chain as they also have a store in Brixton and is owned by Morleys Group), is the closest thing you’ll still get to an independent department store, and it’s a joy. I’ve never liked department stores as I find them sprawling and soul-less but Morleys is different, its intimate and friendly but still has a brilliant and bafflingly large selection of saucepans. There seems to be sales on most of the time and if you’re ever stuck for the perfect fine china gift mug – you’ll find it here. At Christmas the baubles are arranged, in colour order on their own bauble wall surrounded by cute, strange, sparkly seasonal animals. This year alone I’ve had very specific items that I needed to buy: a seam ripper, a mug with a hedgehog on it, seaside themed toys appropriate to a toddler aged child, a new stick blender – Morleys had them all. I don’t need Oxford Street or Westfield – Tooting has every thing you need.
7.The Common and the Lido
When it comes to green spaces, we’re pretty spoiled with having Tooting Common on our doorstep. It simply is a massive public field, but it’s also so much more than that, there are people using it all of the time, for exercise all year round, picnicking when its warm and there’s a ridiculously brilliant Folk & Blues festival every August. Walking there just a couple of mornings ago I was able to stand in the morning sunshine and watch a magpie and a parakeet having, what seems like a bit of a slanging match in a tree, which felt terribly exotic at 8am – early mornings are certainly not boring in SW17! Slap bang in the middle there is the Lido, a fabulous icon and the jewel in Wandsworth’s swimming pool crown. This glorious historic pool (dating back to 1906) is the largest fresh water swimming pool (by surface area) in the UK being just over 90m long and 30m wide. In the summer, it is godsend in a heat wave, a sweet little stay-cation on your own doorstep, sure, there’s no wave machine like there is at Latchmere Leisure centre and no sun loungers, but you can sit on your towel and have an ice cream, and that’s good enough.