'There, twice in every twenty-four hours, the ocean's vast tide sweeps in a flood over a large stretch of land and hides Nature's everlasting controversy about whether this region belongs to the land or to the sea.' [Pliny the Elder, Natural history]
For the Mediterranean-bred Romans, the rising and falling tide further afield was certainly worthy of comment. One might expect the inhabitants of our proud seafaring nation to be a little more aware, but it seems some visitors to our beaches have yet to grasp this complex phenomenon.
'Liverpool Coastguard are reminding people to check the tide times before venturing out to the coast today after they sent resources to rescue 93 people cut off by the tide in five different incidents this afternoon.' [Coastguard agency]
This story made the news because of the numbers involved, but a quick glance through the agency’s archives shows a regular stream of call-outs for people trapped by rising tides – making a change, I suppose, from rescuing terminally incompetent amateur mariners.
It’s a more extreme version of an event that can be seen almost every hot summer’s day in the East Coast resort habitually frequented by Clan Macheath, on a flat sandy beach that is fully covered by the tide for several hours twice a day.
Families come swarming down the steps to the beach encumbered by a plethora of deck-chairs, picnic baskets and inflatable toys. Once on the sand, they head straight for the water’s edge and set up a complex encampment a few feet from the waves, unpacking their picnics and hammering in their windbreaks.
And then the fun begins. Usually they have had enough time to settle down for a nap or are in the middle of lunch when they notice that the sea, instead of staying put in a well-behaved fashion, is advancing inexorably towards them. The resulting frantic scramble is highly entertaining for all onlookers.
Even better are the ones who, having staked out their territory, set out in search of ice-cream, drinks or entertainment (no chance!) and return to find their belongings bobbing about merrily in the North Sea (locals are reluctant to move them because of the tendency of the returning owners to express outrage first and ask questions later).
And best of all, perhaps, are the ones who arrive at the beach with all their paraphernalia at high tide and stare, open-mouthed, at the water that covers every square inch of sand - utterly perplexed despite the tide information widely available in local papers and online.
It might be worth MPs bearing these people in mind when considering Douglas Carswell’s early day motion calling for a rethink of planned cuts to the Coastguard service.
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