A woman walks up to a bar.
"Can I have a glass of water, please."
A questioning look from the barman.
"Could I see some proof of age, Madam?"
No, it’s not some Orwellian union betwixt ID card legislation and the new drinking laws - not yet, anyway. Rather, it’s an exchange that’s sure to be heard this week on the South Bank, where over-18s are being offered the chance to drink the river Thames.
Not all of it, of course. And only after several rounds of filtering and straining. But Thameswater nevertheless.
It’s all thanks to a demonstration purification plant that’s been set up near the Oxo Tower. A three stage process removes all the brown chewy bits and zaps anything whose name begins with Escherichia or Staphylococcus. The eluted water is clean, safe to drink and supposedly purer than tap or mineral water. (Though giving it an 18 certificate doesn’t increase our confidence.)
Despite our jibes, the tide is turning, and Old Father Thames is beginning to shake off his phogie reputation for smelling a bit like piss and shit. The river, so the experts say, is one of the world’s cleanest metropolitan waterways and is now flourishing with wildlife.
“More than 100 species of fish, including bream, barbell, brown trout and carp, has [sic] returned to the river that was devoid of life from the 1950s to the 1970s.”
And, of course, crocodiles.
The event might be tarnished somewhat if the current weather lasts. This time last year, an estimated 100 000 fish (dare we say it?) had their chips, when London’s creaking Victorian sewer system overflowed into the Thames after heavy rain.
Well, Londonist will swallow any drink put in front of us, so we’ll be along tomorrow to give it a try. But what do you think? Would you go with the flow and imbibe a sample of health-giving Thames waters, or wouldn’t you touch it with somebody else’s bargepole? Do let us know.
For more watery insights, splash out on this week’s Time Out for an excellent series of articles investigating all aspects of the life aquatic in London (and they have fewer puns than us). Better than that, click through to Diamond Geezer’s fluid writing on the subterranean course of the River Fleet.
The water purification installation can be found between the Oxo Tower and the National Theatre between 9am and 7pm this Saturday.