The University Parks in Oxford are looking particularly lovely this year, after several years of intensive work. Not a thing jars or looks out of place…. until you reach Rainbow Bridge, or High Bridge as it is properly known.
There you find that Health & Safety have been at one of their job creation schemes. A garish red and white notice, adorned with little prohibition symbols, proclaims that there must be:
No Diving or Swimming
One can imagine the horror with which some gormless little Jobsworth at Elfin Safety discovered that people are in the habit of swimming here. In a river! An untamed, natural river, without life-guards and railings and rules!
People have swum here, drunk and sober, clothed and unclothed, for generations. Some have drowned here – not just here, but up- and down-stream from here, and acquired the occasional bout of illness from the water. But it is fun, a simple pleasure, with a modest degree of risk.
This place is not to be confused with the lower stretch a few hundred yards down where the bottom shelves abruptly and where notices were erected last year after a boy drowned. Even I would concede the need for a notice there because the danger is concealed.
This is in fact a fitting spot for a Health & Safety officer to interfere. High Bridge was build in 1923 – 1924 as part of a scheme of relief for people who could not find work. Most of the work of Health & Safety officers is of the same kind – occupation for people who would otherwise be unemployable.