An urban echo from Tooting (via Aldeburgh)

I am really pleased that Hilary Jennings has responded to my last post with an echo from Tooting.

I was returning on the night bus from my local drama group’s production of Julius Caesar.  It’s a modern adaptation (I’m operating the live twitter feed with characters and audience all feeding in) of a classic play.  We’re a thriving local group of 25 years standing, the latest in a long heritage of local amateur drama which sustains itself irrespective of (and to some extent oblivious to) the vagaries of government arts funding.

As the bus travelled down Tooting High Road I passed the Sikh Khalsa Centre housed in an old Victorian Social Security Building, the Hindu Temple in the one of the few remaining Co-operative buildings and three of Tooting’s once seven cinemas which now house an Islamic Centre, a Mercedes Showroom and a Bingo Hall.  City life is hugely transitory and the echos of Tooting’s earlier rural past are held lightly in street names like Fishponds and Beechcroft Road.  Known in the 11th century as Totinges at that time it boasted a church, two and a half ploughs and five acres of meadow – the 21st Century finds Tooting Broadway the busiest station on the Northern Line after Euston, with over 12 million passenger journeys starting or finishing there annually.

The high road is dominated by large low-budget chains like Primark and TK Maxx shipping high-volume,cut-price fashion from Asia and the Far East, alongside a plethora of small locally run businesses.  But unlike Aldeburgh these local businesses are trading goods from across the globe, saris and silks, exotic vegetables and spices from India and China, groceries from Poland and some of the best curries in London.  Which leaves you wondering what a localised resilient economy even looks like in somewhere like Tooting.

This morning I swam as usual in Tooting Bec Lido – built in 4 months in the spring of 1906 by unemployed soldiers returning from the Boer War and funded by local philanthropist Rev. Anderson (saying he hoped it would be ‘a benefit to the public for a long time to come’).   Over 100 years on (and despite several threats of closure) South London Swimming Club still race there every Sunday, a tradition begun that same year.  As I enjoy its icy waters I ponder a new art work in central London which I have yet to search out – Plunge – which imagines a time 1000 years in the future and a London submerged.

I still buy my regular take way coffee, enjoy the best locally made samosas in the world (official) and enjoy the warmth of the lido sauna.  But you’re right, nothing lasts for ever.

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