Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday 1 August 2011

The tide is high...

There's a horrible inevitability about it. Give homo not-so-sapiens a tidal causeway and a clear indication of when it's safe to cross and he will still end up being fished out by the rescue services.

Despite clear warning signs and tide indications, a Cumbrian couple had to be winched to safety by the RAF this week after trying to drive back from Holy Island an hour and a half after the safe crossing time had passed.

And it's only a fortnight since the Seahouses lifeboat was called out to the causeway for the eighth time this year; this time to rescue an Australian couple whose car was rapidly turning into a submarine. Their spokesman is probably getting fairly tired of having to comment:

Ian Clayton, from the Seahouses station said: "It's incredible that people seem to think they can drive their cars into the North Sea."

"A couple of years ago islanders specifically warned a man to leave the island before the tide came in, otherwise he would get stuck. He pooh-poohed it, saying it was just something to frighten tourists, but half an hour later he was hanging onto the roof of his car and his wife was up to her chest in water, clinging on to their two children."

The locals, meanwhile, are more outspoken on the subject:

Susan Massey, parish council chairman and owner of the island's Oasis cafe, said: "Anyone that gets stuck really has got to be an idiot as there are warning signs with tidal times all over the island. Barriers have been suggested in the past, but if a person wants to cross at stupid time then they will."

An average year sees around a dozen of these call-outs, as yet another visitor to the island thinks he - and it is usually a he - knows better than the locals. One can forgive the RNLI for getting a bit fed up; each lifeboat call-out costs the RNLI 'between £1,800 and £2,000', which equates to an awful lot of tin-rattling on a saturday morning.

So what prompts these latter-day Cnuts* to defy the tide? Perhaps it's a failure to grasp fully the implications of the word 'Island', or an inability to read or understand official notices, but I'm inclined to think that it has much to do with the nature of our society.

After all, as a trip along any British motorway will amply demonstrate, if you bombard a population with endless instructions and warning signs, sooner or later they will stop trying to distinguish between the necessary and the unnecessary and simply ignore them all.

*'Canute' was a rather twee attempt to anglicise the pronunciation of the original (and prevent ill-bred sniggers from the back of generations of classrooms); and of course, being rather more intelligent that these characters, he wasn't actually ordering the tide to retreat but making a point about the limitations of power.


  1. "Anyone that gets stuck really has got to be an idiot"

    She's right, but somehow you know it will happen again and again.

  2. Yes, there's a kind of inevitability about it - just ask the coastguard...


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