28 June 2010

Last Sunday Morning

Crossing the footbridge over Teddington Lock two Sundays ago something was odd - some sort of a flurry on the narrow walkway ahead. I could see three figures : a man looking down at the river, and next to him two women waving and yelling. Beyond them an overturned cycle. On the opposite bank, a siren sounded.

We dismounted to push our own bikes and a man came running off the bridge; on his way past he caught his arm nastily on my handlebar, but he didn't stop

Teddington Lock
Pic - Maxwell Hamilton
But the yellowy-green early morning light, the warm sunshine settling on the river, the Thames boats, the fishermen on the bank, a heron knee deep in the limpid river edge created such a dissonance it was hard to understand that something sinister was going on.

The first hurdle in dealing with a crisis is recognising that there is a crisis: the aeroplane is on fire; the man with the knife is going to stab you; the pain in your chest is a heart attack; the light is fading and the temperature is dropping and your companion cannot ski down the mountain. The heroes, the survivors, are not always the strongest and fittest - sometimes they are merely those who recognise the danger.

My friend and I were intrigued but not worried and grinned at the strange cries from the two excitable women on the bridge, until we could hear them properly. "Help us!" they were yelling, but clearly they were in no danger "help us! We need Help". Nothing made sense.

There was a man in the water .

The Necker cube flipped and the strange scene resolved itself.

A man was in the river. White haired, fully dressed, he clung silently to the floating pontoon to which a handful of boats are moored. At first sight easy to help, but look: a chained and heavily barb-wired gate guarded the pontoon preventing access. Only 50 metres from the bridge he was nevertheless beyond help from the bank while, 200 metres downstream, two fishermen in a boat sat with their backs to us, oblivious to the women trying to attract their attention. With a jerk I realised that if the man lost his grip then someone was going to have to go into the water and swim to reach him.

I can swim - but I am not the sort of swimmer who should strike out into the Thames and attempt a rescue. But what if no one at the riverside was that kind of swimmer? One thing was clear: if I was going to go in the water then a leap from the bridge wasn't the best way to start and I nervously eyed up the river bank working out the best route.

And then almost as quickly as the danger had come, it disappeared: the fisherman heard and heeded the wild women's callings and with a burst of outboard motor were quickly alongside the floating pontoon, they leapt out and pulled the man safely from the water on to the deck. A policeman arrived on the bridge - a numpty who charged down to the pontoon to stand, uselessly, on the wrong side the barbed wire. The Teddington lifeboat was summoned…. and we continued on or way.

Later that afternoon I reflected that I entirely lack any journalistic aptitude: I could have interviewed the bystanders - did he jump or did he fall? How long was he in the water? I could have taken the name and the photographs of the alert women on the bridge and the lifesaving fisherman and written it all up for the Ricky&Twicky.

At least I have got a blog to tell the tale.


M4GD said...

It’s amazing what a quiet sunny Sunday morning may bring!
Even if you would have utilized more journalistic skills I’m not sure that you would have gotten all the conclusive answers from the witnesses. Was it an accident? Did he do it on purpose? Is he happy to survive? It would have been interesting to talk to the survivor which was obviously hard to do! Thanks to the genuine courageous help of the fishermen and to your reporting, to us the story has a happy ending - and I hope it is for many - but to the survivor there is a slight possibility it may not have been. I hope it is not the case but I guess we will never know.

Glad you thought about helping out though. My understanding is that in England and Wales there is no legal obligation on stranger by-standers to intervene and rescue. But there are still those of us who truly believe in the gift of life and wholeheartedly help when we can. Also, you described the non-excited attitude of the policeman. I think to us (the average person) seeing this incident may have been a novelty but for them there is a good probability they see it all the time! Therefore, a certain level of numbness may creep in when displaying their emotions.

Few years ago, I watched a very powerful and an excellent eye-opener documentary called “The Bridge” (Warning: It is very intense and deep so please do not rush to watch it unless you really want to) it secretly documented 20 plus cases of people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Very few of the stories had happy endings. The director, after documenting each individual jumper’s journey, did talk with the survivor and later on with the relatives of those who did not make it. There were lots of people on the Bridge when most of these incidents happened (tourists and natives). Some of them noticed and others could not see the glaringly obvious attempts! The policeman when interviewed said: “It happens all the time!”

Thank you for sharing with us. It is a good ‘measure’!

"The Measure
By Mary Oliver

I stopped the car and ran back and across the road
and picked up the box turtle, who only
hissed and withdrew herself into her pretty shell.
Well, goodness, it was early in the morning, not too much
Rather an adventure than a risk, and anyway
who wouldn’t give aid to such a shy citizen?
Who wouldn’t complete the journey for it, taking it of course
in the direction of its desire: a pinewoods
where, as I learned, the blueberries ripen early.
Probably she had thought, in the middle of the night---
Ah it’s time.
Sometimes I think our own lives are watched over like that.
Out of the mystery of the hours and days
something says--- Let’s give this one a little trial.
Let’s, say, put a turtle in the road she’s traveling on, and
in a hurry.
Let’s see how her life is measuring up, that lucky girl.
So much happiness, so much good fortune, Ah, it’s time."

Burgin Streetman said...

This is how most tragedies happen. The right place at the wrong time. Eventually it will be us in the proverbial water…. treading violently, calling for help. Stinks that the end is always right around the corner. Thus is our lot in life. Shoot. There I go again. Depressing everyone. And to think I’m actually bubbly in person.