And so to Westminster Bridge, to take part in the Annual Parliamentary Duck Race, sponsored by Thames Water. MPs who enter this contest present themselves to the lady from Thames Water, who allocates the Member a large yellow plastic duck with a black number on its back.
At a given moment, these ducks are hurled into the Thames to float up past the Houses of Parliament with the tide. An employee of Thames Water with keen eyesight and no political leanings is located at the winning post at the far end of the House of Lords Terrace. He identifies the winning duck,whose owner wins some money for a nominated charity of his or her choice.
I have lived or worked near the Thames nearly all my life. Three years at County Hall, gazing out on the river. Twenty-six years at the House of Commons, gazing out on the river – when not working for my constituents. Five years at Eton College, three at Oxford.
I have observed that the river does not flow evenly. There are eddies and currents, and the wind adds further unpredictability. While the colleagues were talking to each other, I was staring into the muddy waters, analysing the flows. “Don’t jump, George” called a friend.
Yes, one section of the river appeared to be moving faster than the others. We had to wait for a boatload of tourists to pass before we started, otherwise they would have been bombed by 50 plastic ducks, launched by the country’s legislators.
At the off, my duck was hurled into a commanding lead and stayed ahead for as far as the eye could see. We repaired inside to await the result.
My duck came fourth, beaten by the one owned by the Minister for Sport. My request for a drug test on the winning three ducks was turned down. But I won £500 to share between Andover MIND and Andover Mencap.