Et in Arcadia ego (Heathsnatches in peril)
This was pinned up on the changing room notice-board. In his Evening Standard article the popular historian and novelist A N Wilson points out how the free swimming in the Highgate Ponds depends on a subsidy from the City of London Corporation. Wilson argues that this is somehow paradoxical because most of the swimmers are Hampstead Liberals while the Corporation gets its filthy lucre from the bankers in their square mile bastion of Capitalism. The fear is that the Corporation will finally get its way and charge entry (at the moment it’s a voluntary fee).
I am happy to pay but I don’t want to. In fact I would gladly make a donation to some other Corporation facility or charity if they kept this as it is. There is no real logic to my position. You have to pay to swim in the Lido, about half a mile away on the Heath, so why not the Ponds?
At heart I am as Romantic as Keats and Constable who used to walk these slopes. It used to be where the country met the capital and the Fleet River began its (rather polluted) journey to the Thames. It is now a large haven of real nature amidst the suburbs rising up to Highgate Hill. I don’t want better facilities and I don’t want any sense that this is a commercial transaction. My bi-weekly dips through the year are for health but they are also a ritual as important to me as any church-goer. It would be like charging me to attend Mass.
The Heath ponds are already threatened by a crazy multi-million pound scheme to dig them out and make them safe from a one in a million chance of flooding. All the swimmers I know (and they don’t seem terribly Left Wing to me by the way Mr Wilson) fear that some idiot at the Corporation will use this as a chance to ‘improve’ facilities and bring in charging.
Technically, they might own this unique piece of British landscape but in truth this is a national treasure. And part of its value is the eccentric, open culture it fosters such as free wild swimming in the heart of London.
It seems odd that a Corporation with so much wealth, run by people (bankers) with such a bad public reputation, would want to court unpopularity with their charging plan when the income would be so little.
But then I may be a romantic, but they sure as hell aren’t.