Saturday, July 31, 2010

Don't Try This At Home

On Tuesday, I interviewed Matthew Parris. He lives in a riverside flat in Limehouse, so we sat outside on the balcony and chatted away for an hour and a half. As we sat down and I switched on my tape recorder he looked over to the other side of the river and said "Tomorrow night I'm going to swim across the Thames." I looked at him incredulously. "You're mad, I said." "People die doing that." "No, it'll be fine, I've worked it out. At 3am, there won't be any tide." "I really think you ought to think about that again," I urged. "No, it'll be fine. There will be someone here holding a flashlight so I can see where to swim to." I shook my head. "I'm afraid it doesn't work like that. You'll end up half way round the Isle of Dogs."

I emailed Matthew on Thursday to ask how it had gone. "Read my column on Saturday," he replied. Well at least he wasn't dead and I didn't have to torture myself with the thought that had I been more vehement in my warnings he might not have gone through with it!

His column today describes the experience. Now The Times is behind the paywall I am not sure how much of it I am allowed to quote, but here's a taster...

In a couple of weeks I shall turn 61. London has been hot. Online tide tables said that there would be high tides, midweek, in the small hours. My partner (fiercely opposed) was away.

“Come on,” I thought. “Do it.” I told Jonathan, an LSE student who’s working for me. “I’ll come too,” he said. High tide, 03.35 on Thursday morning. Tom would be there on balcony duty. Supper, a few hours’ sleep, then . . .

Astonishing, how fearful I then became. How had I got myself into this? Why hadn’t I kept my mouth shut? Now I understood the subliminal reason I’d never done it before. All that thinking about it and boasting about it had scared me. At midnight, as I lay my head on the pillow, at first sleep would not come.

It’s being woken in the dark that’s worst. I donned trunks and an old singlet to swim in, and some discardable flip-flops. We stood on the balcony. The river was very black. We called a minicab just after 3am to take us under the nearby Rotherhithe Tunnel to the other side. We crept down the Globe Stairs wordlessly, so as not to alert any flat-dwellers, and undressed. Each wondered if he’d be going ahead if it wasn’t for the other...

...The water was choppy but not too cold, and I could feel no current. We swam silently, breaststroke, surprised at the ease. Except that across the water, perspectives were altering unaccountably. Then I saw trees moving behind the buildings on the other side. Why? When I turned to look for Globe Stairs behind us, they were far over to our right. We were being carried upstream. Fast. The tide was still coming in. Fast.

We were breathless, and getting cold. We could see the stilts of a riverside boardwalk some way away, near the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping... We pulled our way round to a little creek, plunged across and climbed a high iron ladder on to a road. We had been in the water for perhaps half an hour.

It's a great article about a very daring deed. I've done a few stuid things in my time, but none of them matches that!

9 comments:

Gallimaufry said...

The paywall must be working well if good journos like Parris have to risk their lives for a column. What next, Libby Purvis climbing Nelson's Column? The Sunday Times has already resorted to shockjockery by permitting A A Gill to refer to Clare Balding as a "dyke" in one of his dictated articles.

fyoc said...

Cyclists everywhere are disappointed that he didn't drown. Maybe we should have tied some piano wire around his neck before he set off?

Dick Puddlecote said...

What's more surprising is that he hasn't had Plod knocking at his door. I'm sure Labour must have come up with a law to ban swimming in her Maj's rivers at some point. ;)

Raedwald said...

Without wasting money on the paywall, I'd venture young Matthew took the time of slack water from the PLA's online tide tables. Which are always in GMT. He was an hour out, I'll bet.

And worthwhile checking the PLA's shipping arrivals as well, just to make sure a Type 45 hasn't chosen that same slack water to arrive at 'Belfast'.

Next time he wants to do this, if he asks one of us with a tender on the river to 'guard' him across I'm sure we'd be happy to oblige.

IanVisits said...

I live just round the corner from Mr Parris, also facing onto the river, and I am rather dumbfounded by what he tried to do.

Swimming at high tide? I'd go for low tide as there is a lot less of the river to cross.

More seriously - I wonder if there is any traction in the idea of an organised swim across the river - such as during the periodic barrier closures?

Hmm.

Dick the Prick said...

Didn't he do some dumb ass living off the land on an island for yonks thing a bit back? Fair play to the lad but surely it would have been easier to get a fancy sports car or something.

Steve said...

and we only dump 20 million tons of sewage into the Thames each year!

Still, there shouldn't have been any outflow for a few weeks, so at least it will be diluted :)

Paul Walter said...

He might be well advised to remember the old "throw a leaf or twig onto the water" trick to see if the tide is still coming in. It's not rocket science. But well done to him. I am just glad I didn't have to pay to read the skinny on it.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Readwald.

I do not think a Type 42 would be sailing at slack tide.