Friday, July 21, 2006

The Rescue

On holiday in Tenby when I was ten, I became friendly with a girl called Margaret. One day, we decided to go for a swim together in the hotel’s open-air pool. Although we were both pretty strong swimmers, we were not allowed to go to the pool unsupervised and so the Communist came with us.

As we rounded the corner of the hotel clutching our towels, the pool appeared to be empty – and then we saw that there was a little girl in the deep end, floating face down. I remember being really, really frightened of what we might find but Margaret and I jumped in and pulled her to the side and the Communist hauled her out and laid her on the floor.

She coughed and spluttered a bit immediately and then started breathing, soon followed by crying.

We took her to the hotel reception and they tracked down her parents, who were in their room. They looked mildly pleased to get her back, but seemed unwilling or unable to accept what had just happened, or how nearly their daughter had drowned.

The next day they came and found Margaret and me and handed us each an unwrapped quarter-pound box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. I felt about it then just as I feel about it now. A card with a strongly-felt message of gratitude would have been fine. Even a heartfelt verbal thank-you would have been fine. Or, if they felt they wanted to give us something proper, then a well-researched present would also have been fine.

But a quarter pound of chocolates? I felt it was carelessly given and wanted to say no, get lost, keep your rotten chocolates, is that all you think of your daughter? But as a well-brought-up child I just said a meek thank you.

The pool is still there but a few years ago Health and Safety insisted that the hotel put a huge, ugly, lockable metal fence round it so that no parent would ever have to work out that water might be dangerous to small children.

I think that’s the trouble – many people expect the sea, or rivers, or lakes to have been Health and Safetyfied and hence don’t ever acquire – or even think they need to acquire – the skills, judgement and common sense to check them out for themselves. Perhaps one day we’ll have to fence off every stretch of open water in the land.


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