Monday, 14 March 2011

My spiritual home


 Tooting Common London SW17
Phone: 020 8871 7198

Opening times:  open all year round to SLSC members; end of May to end of Sept to public.
Unheated outdoor. 
Showers: don’t rely on them to warm you up. 
Added value: will the ducks be there?
Posing potential: high, but undermined by no one giving a shit.

I declare this is to be my home pool, the one I would swim in above all others (one reason not to do this blog is because there will be days I won’t swim here). Tooting Lido’s history is well documented; it’s an iconic pool, over 100 years old; it’s huge, and it’s cold even in the middle of summer. But big and unheated has advantages, not least that even on the sunniest days, when every square inch of ground is covered in bodies, there is often enough room in the 90 metre un-laned pool to get a decent swim in (if you can ignore the milky quality of water +suncream that reduces visibility and tastes like swimming in someone else’s Impulse). I swim here year round, even on snowy days when it’s more accurate to say I get in, shriek, do two or three pathetic little breaststrokes trying not to let the water go in my hat, and get out acting like I’ve done something majestic.

When you walk in, there laid out before you, is a massive blue slab of water, bigger than any you’ve ever seen, unless you’ve seen a bigger one. So big it reflects the sky, so big it has its own weather system. Tip #1: don’t put your hands in to feel the water temperature. Trust me, it’s cold.  There are two choices to change: either privately in one of the little outdoor cubicles, when you can hang your hoodie over knot holes in the wood. (You’ll want to take pics, they look cute, I don’t think you’re allowed.) Or communally, in a concrete bunker where the floor is perennially cold and wet. (You won’t want to take pics in here, it’s a bit grim.)

I guarantee that when you get in the water, you’ll do shrieking, pull your stomach in and stretch your arms up, as if making yourself thinner and taller warms the water. It’s un-laned, so requires a little bit of swimming etiquette and vigilance –there have been times when the only two people in the water still manage to crash into each other (sorry bout that). The width of the pool – 30m – is as long as some pools get, and  the deep end can look  forebodingly distant. The water is fully chlorinated, but doesn’t feel or smell like it, something to do with the fumes escaping into the air of Tooting, maybe.

Along each side of the pool are afore-mentioned cubicles, and a shaky wooden structure that offers a bit of cover if it’s raining. There’s a few sun-trap benches that get quickly colonised by wise people who know which way the sun moves. (Yeah, sure, everyone knows which way the sun moves, but not everyone is quick enough to grab a bench.) There’s a big fountain at the shallow end (not architecturally uplifting, but reminiscent of the seaside in the 1950s even if that’s way before your time)  and a café that isn’t great (how difficult would it be to serve porridge? I don’t even like porridge, but cold water swimming makes you disproportionately hungry.) There’s a big grassy bit at the back that gets clogged with double buggies and well-spread territory-marking blankets on a sunny day, and a paddling pool full of women standing ankle-deep in children pee, staring into space wishing they could be in the big pool. Apple trees have been espaliered along the back fence, a nice touch which echoes the community-minded ethos of the pool.

You can get leaves down your costume, but you don’t pay extra for that. You can get tan lines swimming, and you don’t pay extra for that, either. The train rattles past sometimes, the clouds scuttle, the wind ruffles the water. Lovely, lovely, recommended, be bold, go, and I apologise in advance if I bump into you. 


  1. You can't take pictures during the public season but it's okay during the winter. I take a picture of what's going on at Tooting most days you can see some here
    Look forward to more posts.

  2. Really like your (often funny) blog. Can I recommend you try Guildford Lido, you may find you prefer it to really!

    1. I ACCEPT your challenge. Will report back on this blog fully and frankly. Thanks for bothering to comment, it's appreciated.

  3. Love your blog. This is MY favourite and my local.