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

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Bobbing about in the beautiful briny sea

It hasn't been a good week for sponsored swims.

Last week, Pavlov's Cat highlighted the irony of rescuers being called out to assist 80 swimmers swept out to sea while racing to raise money for the RNLI; this week we have what may be one of the worst-organised mass fund-raising events ever.

Three lifeboats, a helicopter and a coastguard team spent several hours today searching for nine swimmers reported missing after the Pier to Pier swim from Bournemouth to Boscombe, an event which attracts some 1,000 participants.

It gradually emerged that eight of the swimmers had definitely gone home, blissfully unaware of the efforts being made on their behalf, and that the partner of the ninth was accounted for and had left - presumably with her; it's hard to imagine he would be callous enough to set off happily while she was bobbing around in the English Channel.

The organisers had insisted all along that the lost swimmers had simply departed for home since all the baggage had gone but the emergency services can't rely on that kind of assumption (which is reassuring for anyone who may find themselves genuinely at risk in Britain's coastal waters). One imagines that the relationship between the two is now somewhat strained.

After all, the RNLI and Coastguard have enough to do especially at weekends, what with rescuing Darwin Award hopefuls from unsuitable dinghies or complete ignorance of the existence of currents or tides.

Despite the straitened times, there seems to be no shortage of fund-raising events that focus on the experience - Go skydiving for cancer! Climb Kilimanjaro to save the whale! - rather than on the recipient cause; at its worst, the cost of the experience dwarfs the actual sum raised. Whatever the case, it is not unreasonable to assume that the organisers have devised a fail-safe method of ensuring everyone is accounted for.

I don't envy the representative of the British Heart Foundation who had to explain to the RNLI that their volunteer crews wasted an afternoon looking for a bunch of people who were happily tucking into tea and cakes at home.

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