Tuesday, December 04, 2012

night wader

We can see the police cars on the promenade, their reflective decals glowing in the light from one of the lamps, but in case we hadn’t, it puts on its blue sparklers for a moment. There’s just enough room between the bollards at the end of the walkway to squeeze the ambulance through. Ahead of us, the vista through the windscreen is a graded banding of colour, black to light – to our right, the great mass of the sea, just a scattering of white points from distant ships; line upon line of creamy white waves moving in as the tide rises; the lighter grey of the empty promenade running on ahead of us, and then the city, piling up to our left, a hectic bank of brilliant whites and yellows. It’s so cold you can hear the stars. A golden moon, rounded at one corner, floats above the whole thing, so low you could reach up and poke it with your finger.
I park next to the police cars. There is one officer waiting there for us. We can see his colleagues down on the beach by the water’s edge, playing their torches out across the surf.
‘He’s walked out to sea,’ the officer says, blowing on his hands and then rubbing them together. ‘Rather him than me. Jesus it’s cold. Anyway, he’s just standing there, up to his shoulders. Been there twenty minutes, maybe? Don’t think he’s been under .Not since we got here. We were going to go in and try to fish him out but the inshore lifeboat’ll be here any minute and that’s probably the safest bet all round. The warmest, that’s for sure.’
I fetch some blankets from the back, switch the heater on, unwrap a foil blanket, then we all jump down onto the beach to meet the others.
The sea is calm and regular, but the noise of the surf as it moves in is a thundering pulse of sound, and with the freezing wind leaning in to us as well, we have to shout to make ourselves heard. The police officers have all got powerful torches. The beams intersect at a point five hundred yards off-shore – the head and shoulders of a young man, standing with his back to us. He doesn’t even particularly react to each wave as it slops up around him. He just stands there, a diminishing point of humanity on a brutally inhospitable canvas.
 ‘Who called us?’ I shout.
‘He did. Made the call from the beach, dropped the phone and walked in.’
One of the officers says: ‘Over there, look’.
One blue and one white light, sliding in from the left towards the figure.
‘Here they come.’
And now the spluttering thug-chug-thug of a marine diesel. A light snaps on from the boat; it turns, and approaches the figure. Even now he doesn’t move. Caught in the brighter light from the boat, I wonder if he’ll suddenly duck under the water. He has that look about him – a curious sea-creature who stays on the surface for just as long as it can, then dives back down to the safety of its own world. But instead he raises up his arms as the boat comes alongside. A bulky orange figure jumps down into the water. The man is gathered onto the boat; after a minute or two, it turns, and slowly rides the waves as it makes its way in to meet us.


jacksofbuxton said...

Made me think of the Anthony Gormley statues at Crosby beach.

He's done well for himself after divorcing Joan Collins....

Spence Kennedy said...

I'd love to see those statues.

Yeah - it was a shame they divorced. But he couldn't stand how much time she spent working on her English Dictionary.

tpals said...

What do the stars sound like?

Isn't there anyplace people can go for help without setting up a 'suicide attempt'?

Spence Kennedy said...


Well - there are various phone helplines (Samaritans, Mind etc). You can visit your GP, and they'll refer you on if necessary. So there are a few things you can do. I agree with you that this seemed very 'set up'. Still risky though, as it's hard to judge the effects of hypothermia, and the strength of the incoming tide etc. It could have ended very differently - and a rescue at night in the sea is pretty daunting.

Cheers for the comment, tpals!

tpals said...

Good thing I asked as I imagined they would make more of a brittle ting sound. ;)

JuliesMum said...

Loved the sea and city backdrop description - very impressionistic.

Sounds like a classic cry for help. You can try talking to a stranger and you can get a referral, but it can take a very long time to actually get any help.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thx JM

I think It's true that it can take a while before anything much happens. But sometimes just the fact you've taken the step and made contact is enough to make you feel as if things are happening. It's a shame that the 'cry for help' thing ever happens - especially as the potential for getting it wrong is quite high.

md said...

This was eerily reminiscent of something that happened out here in California last year but with a tragic ending.
The scenario was much the same - a man waded out about 150 yards until the water was up to his neck and just stood there - police and fire department showed up but had no equipment to attempt a water rescue and a very clear policy (since changed) that under no circumstances were they allowed to attempt such a rescue.
After about an hour a member of the public swam out and dragged him back to shore but he subsequently died ...


Spence Kennedy said...

A very tragic story, MD.

As far as this episode goes, though, I think the police were only standing off because the rescue boat was imminent. But if there had been any delay, or the guy had gone under, someone would've gone in. I know that if we'd turned up and there'd been no-one else there, either one of us would've tried to rescue him. It would be impossible to stand there and not do anything.

An interesting scenario, though - we later found out he'd been up to A&E twice that week after staging similar episodes, each time only going in when he was certain there were people about to arrive.

Cheers for the comment, MD!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a typical night down Barry Island. Unfortunately we get quite a few in who have had a dip.

Spence Kennedy said...

That's quite a stretch of sandy beach you've got there, Verity (just Googled it). I had no idea it was such a big place. I bet it gets pretty wild in the summer (and wild for different reasons in the winter). :) x

Anonymous said...

Haha yes in the harbour round the corner people try to wade out to the derelict boats and go straight into the quicksand. Not too bad for South Wales :)