12. Tooting Bec (Robert Lindsay and Wolfie Smith notwithstanding)

The traffic crawled along Trinity Road which is a major road linking Wandsworth Bridge to the southern suburbs of London and I must say I was very pleased about that for a while. The road passes through Wandsworth Common and this is not your average town park. It’s an enormous area, truly enormous, with a wild rugged look about it. None of your well-manicured lawns and rose gardens here. It covers as much ground as a small rural town in Queensland and I wouldn’t want to go walking in it at night – mainly because I’m a scaredy-cat in the dark.

Anyway I had plenty of time to admire the common and crane my neck looking for a loo coupled with somewhere to park. But having no luck I drove on, down to Tooting Bec where I used to live when I first stayed in London. My excitement grew as the traffic inched towards my old stamping ground.

I want to digress here (What!?…not again!) as I had to think twice about the use of ‘stamping ground’. So many people these days use ‘stomping ground’ – in error –  that I had to stop and make sure I was using the correct word. Nobody seems to care much any more and I know I’ll sound like an old fart for daring to mention the subject.

AND while I’m at it the correct phrase to describe a blunder is ‘Gosh, I put my foot in it ‘.

Foot in ‘it’.

NOT…..  ‘Gosh I put my foot in my mouth’.  What a bizarre sentence.

‘Put my foot in it’ refers to stepping in dog do-do or other unsavoury substances on the ground. Because the mis-step is a verbal one some people have confused the issue and completely fouled up the expression. Maybe there’s a touch of snobbery involved too…. perhaps it’s considered indelicate to make reference to nasties underfoot. Whatever the reason we should use the proper expression or not use it at all.

AND…. no….no…. I’m on a soap-box and a slippery slope at the same time…….must get back to safe ground…..want to mention ‘champing at the bit’…..not ‘chomping’……help…..get me outta here.!………………..

Umm…chomping…..stomping…..stamping…..that’s it! I was heading for my old stamping ground in Tooting Bec. I wondered about the house in Holderness Road.

Would it still look the same? Would there be someone home to let me have a look around? Should I go to the bakery and buy a few tasty nibbles in case they ask me in for a cuppa?

I turned into the street and was shocked by how small and narrow everything was. The street, the footpath, the houses – not how I remembered it at all. Why did it seem so different? No time to think about that now – there are cars with impatient drivers waiting for me to get a move on so I drive on conscious of the fact that I’m not too sure which house I used to live in.  Let’s face it; terraced houses all look the same sometimes. I didn’t actually have the house number in the car with me as I was quite sure I’d recognize the place. Now, I’ll have to pull over and walk back to get a good look as I know I’ve gone past it.

But – guess what – there’s nowhere to pull over – ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


I’ll have to find somewhere to u-turn and drive slowly past again.


The problem, I now realised, was that every skerrick of roadside was taken up with parked cars – both sides of every road. Londoners don’t take their cars to work – because there’s nowhere to park there either. Most don’t have front yards in which to park their cars. The cars stay parked on the side of the road all day and all night and that leaves a one-lane space down the middle of the road for anyone who actually wants to drive their car. If you meet a car coming the other way you have to back up to the nearest corner to let it through – and fast. Patience behind the wheel is sure in short supply here.

Anyway back to my old house. Having done the backing-up thing a couple of times and finally finding  a cross-road to u-turn I rather exhaustedly attempt to do my slow drive past (the thought of actually finding a parking spot and visiting the house is so daunting that it’s now gone by the board). As I near the house two things happen. Firstly, I realise with a sinking feeling that I can’t tell any of the houses apart – they all look depressingly terraced and grimy and identical. Secondly, a van has appeared on my tail and I know there’s no time to slow or stop in the middle of the road.

And of course, in case I hadn’t mentioned it, there’s nowhere to pull over. So I disappointedly drive past ‘the house’ at a moderate speed and a few seconds later come to a dead stop for quite some time waiting to join the awful traffic on Trinity road and resume my crawl south. Oh well! There are plenty more houses to visit.

A block or so further on is Tooting Bec Underground Station. Many’s the morning I waited for the tube here to go to work near Victoria Station but I don’t remember its looking so….well….filthy. I’m talking only about the outside as I was stopped at the traffic lights with plenty of time for a good look. As I sat in the car I was amazed by how dirty and ramshackle all the shops were. They looked the equivalent of derelict buildings back home. It was hard to believe it was a main shopping area. Broken and crumbling concrete walls, wires dangling out of walls, filth on the footpath and grime all over the shop fronts – unbelievable. And what’s more, I was to see lots of areas like this in London. I guess coal-fires are to blame for a lot of the grime but what about the rest of it? Is it so hard to put your rubbish in a bin?

A couple of friends from London who visited me in Brisbane were astounded by how clean the place looked. Whenever we drove anywhere they used to play ‘Spot the Litter’.  I was amazed by how impressed they were. I had forgotten London’s litter and I believe it’s a lot worse now than in the 1980’s.

The next station on the line is Tooting Broadway – the old stamping ground of Wolfie Smith and his comrades. If you’re old enough you might remember the TV comedy Citizen Smith (played by Robert Lyndsay – a marvellously versatile actor). I always enjoyed the show enormously and living at Tooting made it mandatory viewing at our place.

[I have no photos from this day trip but I want to include this gorgeous one from the Chelsea Flower Show to relieve the grim picture I seem to be painting of London. In spite of everything I say,  I love the place!]

English Rose

I pressed on past Tooting Bec Common, another lovely spot and instead of reaching Norbury in 15 minutes as in the past it now took me one and a half hours.

Driving in London traffic is appalling. The first thing I noticed is that patience is a thing of the past. No doubt that‘s the case all over the world but it’s scarier in London as it’s all so cramped. When you’re in a line of traffic there’s always – and when I say always that’s not poetic licence – I MEAN ALWAYS a car tail-gating you – very, very close. I think for them it’s called ‘driving’. I’m sure most drivers would say “Yes, I know there was only a hair’s breadth between the back of your car and the front of mine – so what?”

There’s really no answer to that.

I need a cuppa now to re-group. More traffic chaos to come.


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