In the east of Londres, not far from the Tamesis, is a sweet swimming spot in an old dock, beside some thriving lime trees and a thirty seconds walk to the nearest pub. People have enjoyed swimming here for some years, their enjoyment not at all affected by the signs up around the dock saying ‘No swimming’. It is true that there has been one death there from a man jumping in from the side, but this is widely known, and people still choose to swim there.
Choice in Londres, however, is for shopping. Choosing your own risks is not permitted. The local Mayor has lately taken an interest in the swimming spot, by which I mean he has tried to shut it down. There are now fences around the pontoons where people used to sunbathe. Police have been reported instructing people to leave the water. There are new cameras up. So another common space, free to all, has come under attack.
Today I went to the dock knowing this and wondering if I would be able to swim there. Perhaps it would be surrounded by guards on all sides to prevent people enjoying themselves in an unpaid manner. But what I found instead was more people there than ever. The appearance of the swimming spot in the local news appeared to have alerted more people to its existence. To the usual alternative middle class demographic was added working class teenagers arriving on their bicycles. The effect of the fence around the pontoon has been to scatter the sunbathers around various parts of the dock. Now anywhere with a ladder is considered a suitable spot from which to swim.
It gave me, I have to admit, considerable pleasure to see the quiet authoritarianism that governs much of British life backfire so badly. I’m all for informing people better so that they don’t disturb the bird pontoon in the middle of the dock, but in the city of my dreams, adults will largely be allowed to take their own risks.