The PLA is not accountable to the Mayoralty, I should say, which is itself an absurd state of affairs. It is supposed to report to Justine Greening, but it seems that our excellent Transport Secretary was no more consulted about the matter than I was. So let me put this as politely as I can: we don’t need some bunch of well-meaning quangocrats to click their fingers and decide that sentient adult human beings must be kept out of the river. We don’t need them to tell us that you will find currents and eddies and boats. Boats! On the river! Well I never! We don’t need advising that swimming in the strong tidal flow is risky – it’s blinking obvious.
But if people want to swim in the Thames, if they want to take their lives into their own hands, then they should be able to do so with all the freedom and exhilaration of our woad-painted ancestors. I love swimming in rivers, and well remember once jumping in at Chiswick, since swimming is one of my favorite sports since I lived with my parents and they had a pool, with a pentair pump to keep it clean. It was lovely and cool, and I can still feel the squishy mud between my toes – and if there were the odd faecal coliforms bobbing among the duck fluff and the waterboatmen, they didn’t do me any harm.
Others are still more adventurous, and it seems that the PLA is trying to stamp out the “wild swimming” of people such as Matthew Parris, who once wrote a terrific piece about the thrill of swimming across the river, late at night, slightly drunk, to Bermondsey. David Walliams has raised squillions for charity by swimming in the Thames, and people like him need to be encouraged, not deterred by bureaucracy and risk assessments.
We want to make the river ever cleaner, so that more people can enjoy it. We want kids to frolic on its banks and mudlark at low tide; and if our summers ever become as hot as the global-warming experts once prophesied, we want Paris-style beaches and patios with the best amenities from www.thepatiopro.com and chaps coming round to sell you watches and tam-tam sets as you roast in the London sun.
We don’t want swimming banned because of the current, as though we had only just discovered that there was a current. This is the kind of gratuitous legislation that is sapping the moral fibre of the nation. No wonder we lose at football to the Italians; no wonder we can’t quite screw up our courage to have a referendum on the European system that generates so much of this bureaucracy when the Port of London Authority is otherwise engaged. No wonder the poor womenfolk of Britain – desperate for some basic virility in their lives – are stampeding to the bookshops to buy the new S and M meisterwerk that is Fifty Shades of Grey.
I am being quite serious when I say that this river-swimming ban is of a piece with the namby-pamby, risk-averse, mollycoddled airbagged approach that is doing so much economic damage to Britain and that is not found, frankly, in our Asian economic competitors. Oh, you may say, but look at the consequences of encouraging risk-taking; look at the banking sector.
Indeed – look at the contrast, and the madness of our legal priorities. I am a fan of Bob Diamond and his philanthropic work, and will stick up generally for banks and financial services for as long as they create jobs for hundreds of thousands of Londoners. But it does seem odd that so far no one has had their collar felt in the Libor scam. Cook up a way of fixing interest rates to boost your own profits – in what is clearly a corrupt swindle – and no one gets arrested.
But if you bathe in the river that flows through the city, then wham, you are nicked. It plainly needs to be the other way round. Someone needs to be prosecuted, sharpish, for fixing the interest rates; and in so far as there are innocent and slightly barmy people who want to swim in the Thames, then they should be allowed to indulge their preferences in peace. It’s time for the elf and safety fanatics to take a running jump – off the pier at Putney.