I have just returned from two fabulous weeks of sunshine and swimming in Tenerife. I was so busy enjoying myself that I had no time to report on three significant news items that came up while i was away and so I have grouped them together here.
Firstly the long anticipated release of: Downstream: A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames by Caitlin Davies. The .independent reports: “Caitlin Davies… charts 400 years of bathing in the river – following the 215-mile journey of the Thames from its source in Gloucestershire, via the posh boating territories of Oxford and Eton, through Shiplake and Margrave (where actress Margaret Rutherford once taught a young Antony Worrall Thompson to swim); and on down to Westminster, London Bridge; and finally through Southend to the Crowstone obelisk, which marks the official end of the Thames.
Davies (whose previous non-fiction book was Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath) offers us a fascinating cultural history of swimming. The Victorian era saw the birth of organised river racing, with the launch of the amateur long-distance championships of Great Britain, but we also we see the rise of bathing houses, floating baths and lidos for ordinary workers. Beaches are created at the Tower of London and Greenwich. Bridges along the route create endless opportunities for diving and mudlarking. More…
Then we had the tragic news of a drowning in the pond on Hampstead Heath. The Telegraph reports: “Friends of a Rabbi’s son who drowned in a Hampstead Heath swimming pond desperately dived underwater to save him as emergency services looked on from the bank, eyewitnesses said… “There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under. There was at least seven police officers on the side. I heard one of the boys shouting to one of the ambulance crews and asking how long someone could survive under water without breathing as they continued swimming around in a panic. I’m guessing the emergency services are told not to go into the water…”
The Heath is controlled by the Corporation of London and a spokesman admitted that officers had not entered into the water to try and save the drowning teenager. The spokesman said: “The Heath constabulary officers are here to enforce bylaws in the park, they are not trained lifeguards and the water is dangerous and very murky, so they are advised they are not to go in until proper assistance arrives” He said: “He was swimming away from the designated area and out of hours so there were no lifeguards on duty. There are signs everywhere warning people not to go into the water at these times.”
Hot sunny weather draws people to open water. One has to ask; could we not better educate youngsters so as to help prevent such tragedy’s?
This point was emphasis in my third news item, a report on the death of a Huntingdon school boy. The Cambridge News reports: “A coroner is to raise concerns about the lack of school swimming lessons with the Education Minister after a teenager drowned on the first day of the summer holiday. Poor swimmer Rony John, 15, jumped into the river with friends at Hartford but got into difficulties in July last year.
An inquest in Huntingdon heard that St Peter’s School in Huntingdon axed swimming lessons just weeks after Rony’s death because they cost nearly £10,000 a year. Assistant coroner Belinda Cheney recorded a verdict of accidental death on Rony, of Tomlinson Court, Huntingdon. She said she would be writing to the Education Minister asking why there was not sufficient provision for swimming in the national curriculum.
She said: “Swimming is not a difficult skill to learn yet it is a critical life skill.”
Mrs Cheney said the safest strategy would be to teach young people to swim and this was the responsibility of schools and parents.
The inquest heard that Rony had gone to the riverbank near Hartford with friends and had jumped into the water, but got into difficulties. Friends tried to rescue him and a group of adults, including two Polish men, dived into the water but were unable to find him.
A major rescue operation was mounted and Rony’s body was found in the early hours of the following morning after he was spotted on an underwater monitor.
Firefighters were in the water after donning special equipment 10 minutes after the alarm was raised, but Mrs Cheney said Rony would not have survived after four minutes.
Station Commander Karl Bowden, of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, said… they were running an education programme for schools but it was unlikely they would be able to stop young people jumping in the river.
Rony’s father John Thomas said in a statement: “He was extremely well-behaved. He was always a good boy.”
Mr Bennet said only primary schools were required to provide swimming lessons under the national curriculum and that St Peter’s had stopped swimming lessons in September because they had cost £10,000 the year before.”
It’s tragic to think that throughout history boys and young men in-particular have enjoyed cooling off and swimming in open water becoming capable swimmers and lifesavers, yet in our modern enlightened times we fail to value lifesaving swimming education.