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

Friday, 9 August 2013

Darwin meets Archimedes

While we're familiar with the role the rising tide plays in assorted manifestations of human error, sometimes it's the receding water that causes the problem.

Take, for example, the case of the young man rushed to hospital in Cardiff on Tuesday night with what appears to be a very nasty ankle injury after jumping off a 20ft wall into less than 3ft of water.

If this comment from the Barry Coastguard facebook page is genuine, at least the boy made a good impression on the people who had to deal with the consequences of his foolhardy behaviour:
"I was part of the ambulance crew that took this young man to hospital and he was very polite well mannered and thanked us for everything we were doing for him which is more than we get from most of the adults we pick up."
Given that he must have been in considerable pain at the time, this suggests a degree of presence of mind and character, which makes it all the more baffling that he was doing something quite so stupid.

It's a truth universally acknowledged, not least by the operators of theme parks, that a generation wrapped in Health & Safety-approved cotton wool since babyhood will seek thrills wherever it can, and the adrenaline experience du jour is 'tombstoning'.

It's been around for a while, but, under the guise of disapproval, recent media coverage has ensured that every impressionable youngster in the country knows that jumping feet-first from a bridge or sea-wall generates an adrenaline rush and, equally important for today's teenagers, looks spectacular in the (abundant) accompanying photos.

And, since these youngsters have been constantly bombarded from their earliest years with dire official warnings covering everything from road safety to healthy eating, the Coastguard's admonitions about water depth and currents become just so much background noise.

With ultra-safe play areas and constant monitoring of their environment, today's children are relatively inexperienced at judging risks and woefully ignorant of the way nature behaves. And, as the forthcoming GCSE results will doubtless show, many of them have a less-than-perfect grasp of the laws of physics.

Add a touch of typical teenage recklessness and some peer pressure and you have a recipe for disaster.


  1. "the adrenaline experience du jour is 'tombstoning'."

    I don't know about "du jour".

    Kids of all ages have been jumping off Lamlash pier on fine summer evenings for as long as I can remember - which is, erm, quite a long time now.

    Somehow they seem to know when the tide's out.

  2. WY, I agree; it's probably gone on since the dawn of Man, but recent media articles have highlighted the attraction and introduced the idea to urban teenagers unfamiliar with the hazards of sea or river swimming.

    Of course, it's quite likely that, before the term 'tombstoning' entered the popular vocabulary, the associated deaths would have been described as drowning.