Friday, 2 July 2010

Learning to Drown (Part 1)

Dear Paula

There’s a story I’d like to tell you. It’s a true story.

On the North West coast of England is Morecambe Bay – a large expanse of almost flat sands, surrounded on three sides by land. Because it is so flat the tide come in very fast.

But when the tide is out it is actually possible to walk across the narrowest part of the bay (about three kilometres). It is possible, but extremely dangerous. Morecambe Bay is riddled with shifting areas of quicksand. Each year the patches of quicksand have to be re-mapped, and the local guides have to learn the new routes across.

It is understood locally that you do not attempt to walk across Morecambe Bay at any time other than on a guided walk, during daylight. To attempt to cross the bay alone, particularly at night, you would have to be very foolish. Or drunk.

Summer 1992, Saturday night. It is gone midnight and a man, a holiday-maker, finds himself looking across the bay from the south, from Arnside towards Grange-over-Sands where his caravan is. He has been drinking, but the pubs are now closed, and for some reason he is alone. He could walk round the bay, but that is a walk of over six kilometres, and means walking along railway bridge. The tide is out and the moonlight reflects invitingly on the flat, wet sand. It looks solid enough. Why not walk? Surely it would be fine, it’s a clear night, he can see what he’s doing. Safer than the railway bridge. It doesn’t occur to him to stay where he is, to not make the journey.

Foolish, or drunk, or both.

He sets off across the sand – at this part of the bay it is really the estuary of the River Kent, and he is almost surrounded by land. The sea is literally kilometres away.

But, sure enough, it’s late, he’s had a few drinks, he’s tired, he’s guiding himself by moonlight and anyway, you cannot tell the difference between quicksand and normal sand just by looking it. That’s why it is so dangerous. Two hundred metres out onto the sand. His foot sinks to his knee almost instantly, and he topples forward, hands sinking into the sand, too. Instinctively he rights himself, pulling his body up, and his trailing leg forward.

Adrenaline floods his body, and that, combined with the sudden cold, helps to sober him up to some extent, and he realises that he is in danger. He knows this is quicksand, and he knows something about quicksand. What he knows is that the more he struggles, the deeper he will get. He’ll simply wriggle himself into the sand. He holds his body as still as he can, one leg thigh deep, the other knee deep, in the wet sand. He’s not sinking. Good. Slowly he tries to reach round to the solid sand behind him – it cannot be more than a metre away can it? But just twisting round that much is enough to loosen the sand around him and he is pulled deeper, the cold seeping through the crotch of his jeans.

He begins to shout for help.


We’ll have to leave him there for now, but I will write again soon.

Love from Alex

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