I am no longer afraid of sharks. This was not a fear I ever expected to conquer, and certainly not one I thought I’d beat in London.
It was early on a Monday morning in Hackney, and I was clutching my coat shut and stumbling towards the bus stop in a daze. As I waited, a pitiless gray sky pelted me with icy spittle. Shelter came in the form of a big red bus bound for the dead center of the Smoke -- specifically, the London Aquarium. There was a lot of traffic and I was running late, so I opted to ditch early and hoof it across Waterloo Bridge.
The Aquarium is in County Hall, which is right on the Thames and directly across the river from Parliament. The rambling Neo-Baroque building formerly served as HQ for the Greater London Council, until Margaret Thatcher abolished the GLC in 1986 and it vacated the premises. Today, County Hall remains mostly empty. The exception is on the first floor, which is where I’m headed to swim with sharks a stone’s throw from Big Ben.
For anyone in London to do the same is easy. The aquarium hosts three dives into their shark tank a day, seven days a week: at 11.30am, 13.30pm and 15.30pm. No diving experience is required, nor is there a minimum age. You only have to be at least 1.3 metres tall, book it a few weeks in advance, and bring your own towel and swimsuit. As many as four of your friends can join you.
As I approached the London Aquarium myself, shuffling past the graffiti-scrawled skatepark on Southbank, I started to get “The Fear.”