When I was a kid I loved going to the beach (still do actually).
Every summer, or what passed for a summer, in those days we lived very much up north, there was always great anticipation about an imminent trip to see the sea. First, however, there was the tedious part, the journey there. When you are a kid things like that seem to take forever, but the excitement kept us all going and eventually we were within sight of the beach.
Finding somewhere to park was the next problem. It seemed everybody had the same idea as us. But we always found a spot and quickly gathered up all our beach gear and headed as fast as we could towards the salty fresh air and the inviting water.
While Mom and Dad took care of all the important stuff like organizing towels, seats, even a big umbrella for a bit of shade, we stripped down to our swimwear and ran as fast as we could towards the sea. (I keep calling it the “sea”, but actually it was the Atlantic Ocean.)
Each year we did the same thing, and each year we learned nothing from the year before.
On we galloped into the water and approximately 1.25 seconds after that we remembered.
The water that looked so inviting was so very, very cold.
For an old person the shock might well have been too much for the system. But when you are young you tend to shrug off these minor discomforts. We were at the beach, and we were in the sea. That’s all that mattered.
After a while it didn’t feel so cold. Our feet and legs had grown accustomed to the temperature. Actually our feet and legs were probably numb by this time and would not have felt it if we had been standing in boiling water either.
And then just as we were starting to enjoy the whole experience, in would come a big wave and it would splash all over our upper bodies which had not been in the water yet and had not been given the chance to go completely numb.
It was always a “WTF” moment, even in the days when we didn’t know what “WTF” meant!
But there was nothing else available so we were none the wiser and made the best of it. There were also a few laughs too.
A friend, George, was always good for one or two. George fancied himself as a bit of an underwater expert and he always had a face mask and snorkel with him. Trouble was when George launched himself for an underwater expedition only his head ever went under the water. Most of the rest of him was in the fresh air. He must have had great natural buoyancy.
That was funny enough, but then someone (yes, sometimes me) would push the little ball thingumy into the snorkel pipe which soon provoked a serious amount of splashing and gasping for air as George’s head resurfaced. He was never very pleased, but the rest of us cracked up.
Then there was usually some unfortunate kid whose granny had bought him (or maybe even made) his swimming trunks. On dry land and even going into the water these were fine and looked quite normal, but coming out to go back up to the beach was quite another thing. You see the material they were made of often as not was water absorbent and these poor souls lumbered their way out of the ocean with a crotch full of icy water dragging between their knees. They must have weighed a ton and it’s a miracle they stayed on at all. It was so funny and I daren’t say what names we called them. Kids can be so cruel.
That was the “refreshing dip” over. We spent the next hour or two on the beach, first getting dried and then lying in the sun thawing out. Then it was off to get something to eat and on to the amusement park to go on a few rides there and spend more pennies in the various slot machines and games.
When it was time to leave both us and our money supply were exhausted. The trip home was a lot shorter, mainly because we slept most of the way. But the day had been good. Enjoyed by all. And the memories were selective. We’d do it again, soon, but we would never remember the coldness of the water, just the warmness of the day.
The last couple of blog post have concerned people featured in the Darwin Awards, “Never Hitch Your Wagon” about someone who wasn’t eligible because he survived his and his wife’s stupidity, and “Little Dumb And Large Dumber” because their dumbness did make them successful Darwin Award winners.
I had a friend who almost featured in the Darwin Awards too. The only reason he didn’t was because they didn’t exist in those days and probably none of us would have had the presence of mind to nominate him anyway.
I won’t tell you his real name, have to expose the innocent and protect the guilty and all that, but his nickname was “Goners” pronounced “Gone-ers”. It was a nickname he gained after the incident I am now going to tell you about, and for most of his friends he’s still stuck with it to this day.
It happened when we were all young guys, in our teens and spending a leisurely summer messing around and generally enjoying life the way you can before you get older and wiser and burden yourself with responsibilities and debt and so forth. Then the Dads were paying the mortgage and bringing home the bacon (sometimes literally) and we were carefree and happy.
This day we decided to go for a walk along a nearby river. None of us were keen fishermen but we liked the river and walks along the riverbanks and the little stony beaches that the river’s meanders had left here and there. That particular summer was hot and a bit of bathing in the cool clear unpolluted water was also on the agenda.
It wasn’t a big river, no Amazon that’s for sure. Just about 50 feet across, or thereabouts, and maybe four or five feet deep towards the middle. There were a few deeper holes that serious fishermen tended to use, but we were always content messing around in the shallower water. It was fun and safe. In fact thinking and writing about it, I wish I was back there right now.
But I’m not, so on with the story.
Part of the river bank was relatively flat with only a slightly sloping bank down to the water. Other parts were a straight drop. And yet others consisted of a fairly steep slope down to the water’s edge.
Local farmers had dug drains at intervals to let rainwater run off their fields into the river, and between where the man-made drains ended and the river began, the water flow had over the years dug its own ‘V’ and then ‘U’ type trenches by eroding the top soil.
These had to be negotiated when one was walking along the riverbank, but it wasn’t a problem. That was how things were and everybody just accepted it and got on with it. I’m sure nowadays there would be a bureaucratic do-gooding group wanting all sorts of rules and regulations both to disrupt the farmer’s lives and to spoil the nature walk for the rest of us. In those days some interfering busybody was more likely to end up in the river and they knew it so they stayed away.
Of course, when I said the drains weren’t a problem, what I meant was they weren’t a problem for most of the people most of the time. But there’s always one idiot who will find a way to mess up even a nice summer’s day stroll along the riverbank.
Enter “Goners” into the story.
Although the day I am recounting was idyllic weather wise, during the previous night there had been a thunderstorm and some furious rain for a little while. The result of that was that the following morning there was considerable run-off of rainwater from the fields, via the farmer’s drains into the river. This made the areas close to the drains a little wet and slippery, not to mention mucky.
We had been walking for a few miles, successfully crossing all the open drains we had encountered. And then it happened!
“Goners” tripped or lost is concentration or something, but his balance went and he headed over the side of the riverbank.
At first this caused unbridled hilarity amongst the rest of us. We were laughing and pointing and cheering. If we had had pens and paper with us, no doubt we would have held up makeshift score cards critiquing the ‘dive’. But we hadn’t so we just laughed and laughed, not only at the dive but at the frantic wriggling and gurgling of “Goners” in the trench.
Then somebody twigged on what was happening and said, “OMG I think he’s drowning!”
“How can you drown in three inches of water?”, came a chorus of incredulous replies.
But he was.
“Goners” was in BIG trouble.
He WAS actually drowning in probably less then three inches of water.
“Goners” had fallen into the drain nature had made with the water erosion. Obviously he didn’t intend to, and, unprepared, he fell head first, with his arms by his sides, as opposed to being in a normal diving position with his arms outstretched in front of him and slightly raised.
As he had slid down the riverbank towards the water he had embedded himself farther and farther into the drain, trapping his arms by his side.
And when he reached the water, which was indeed barely three inches deep at the edge, his face including his nose and mouth were submerged under the level of the water.
The frantic wriggling wasn’t just to try to free his arms, but to try to get his mouth and nose out of the water to grab some much needed air. And he clearly wasn’t having much success.
Once we realized that he was in real trouble, of course it was all hands on deck so to speak and everyone rushed to his assistance. Two of us each grabbed one of his feet and pulled him back up the bank a little so that his head came out of the water. Much to his relief, and ours, “Goners” made a few huge grabs for air and the crisis seemed to be over.
Now I don’t know to this day whether what happened next was a deliberate act, something sub-conscious, or just another minor accident, but with his movement and gasping for air his feet, which like the rest of him were slippery with the muck from the drain, managed to slip out of our hands and he slid back into the water again. Gurgle, gurgle, wriggle, splutter, gurgle….
We knew he was in no danger this time and yes, we did laugh again. It was funny for everyone but “Goners”. Some of us – not me you understand, no definitely not me, of course not, don’t be silly, how could you think such a thing – could have played that game all day, pulling him out of the river and then letting him slide back in. Thinking about it now, we probably invented a new water-boarding technique, to us at the time it was just fun.
But we must have thought better of it after a couple of ‘dunks’ because the we pulled “Goners” out of the drain completely and back up on to dry land.
When he got his wits about him once again he said, “Thanks guys. I was nearly a goner.”
And that was his nickname for ever more, “Goners”.
It shows you just how easily and innocently things can happen that under different circumstances would have had a lot more tragic results.
Strangely enough, many years later, in the very same river as it happens, a guy called Willy (the same as featured in my blog post “Willy And Woof”) did the very same thing while walking back home from a bar, very, very drunk. That time however there was no one around to help.
I did a bit of hunting when I was a kid and it was enjoyable enough at the time. And I have nothing very much against it for those who are inclined to such pastimes. But as I got older I lost interest in it. If there’s vermin around I’ll take out my shotgun and dispatch it no problem. But these days, and you may agree with this or not, I find that there are much more interesting things to do that trying to outwit a duck.
The same can not be said for these two intrepid hunters.
The story begins with a guy in Michigan, USA, who bought a brand new $30,000 Grand Cherokee, on credit naturally. He was very proud of his new rig, and got hold of his friend to do some male bonding with the new ride.
They decided to go duck hunting on a frozen lake and turned up with their guns, a dog, lots of beer and of course the new vehicle. They drove out onto the ice.
Now, they needed to make a hole in the ice to attract ducks – something for the decoys to float on. In order to make a hole large enough to interest a flock of ducks, they needed to use something a bit bigger than your normal ice drill. But, thinking ahead and coming prepared, they had brought with them a stick of dynamite with a 40-second fuse.
You can probably see where this is going already?
To their credit, these guys realized that they wanted the explosion to be far away from themselves, the jeep and their equipment. However, they also didn’t want to light the fuse and run back to the jeep in case they slipped on the ice.
So far so good, and the logic of their thinking was okay.
Their solution, however, was to stay where they were, light the dynamite and then throw it as far as they could.
Again so far so good, it still sounded like a plan.
So they did that very thing. They threw the dynamite and the explosive landed a suitable distance away. They waited for the explosion.
However, when they made their plan they had no contingencies in it about their dog.
A well-trained golden Labrador, it immediately set out across the ice to bring the back the stick. That’s what dogs do. And this dog did.
The two would-be hunters started yelling, stomping, and waving their arms.
The dog glanced back but took all the frantic activity as approval and encouragement and happily ran back toward the hunters, fizzing stick of dynamite firmly clenched in it’s jaws.
As the dog approached, one of the pair thought rapidly, grabbed his shotgun, and shot the dog.
Unfortunately the shotgun was loaded with #8 duck shot and was hardly effective enough to stop a dog the size of a Labrador.
The dog did pause for a moment, slightly confused, but then continued on.
Another shot rang out.
This time the dog became really confused and, quite naturally, scared.
He changed direction, and now with an extremely short fuse still burning, headed for the nearest and indeed only cover on the wide expanse of ice.
Yeah, underneath the guy’s brand new Cherokee.
The dynamite went off, and dog and jeep plummeted to the bottom of the lake.
Strangely, the insurance company refused to pay up.
There has always been a fine line between bad luck and stupidity.
I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as luck. Some people say you make your own luck and to a great extent I think I would go along with that.
There are the people who seem to have “good luck” but who are in fact people who have just had the courage and the confidence to take advantage of an opportunity when they saw one. Even lottery winners wouldn’t have won anything if they hadn’t taken the chance and bought a ticket in the first place, despite knowing that the odds were firmly against them.
Then there are the people who complain about having “bad luck” but who are in fact people who just do stupid things and when they inevitably go wrong blame bad luck instead of their own stupidity.
I had an uncle like that. All his life he kept using that saying, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”, but the truth he was just dumb and did dumb things. I have a feeling he’ll feature in future blogs.
For now, however, we’ll use another much more famous example. If ever there was a good illustration of both good luck and bad luck wrapped up in the same person it was in a man called Roy Cleveland Sullivan.
Roy was born in Greene County, Virginia on February 7, 1912. He was described as a brawny man with a broad, rugged face, who resembled the actor Gene Hackman.
In 1936 he started working as a ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginina in 1936. Nothing very unusual in that, in fact a nice job if you like the outdoors and nature and all that good stuff. You could say in that regard Roy was a lucky man.
But Roy’s nickname was the “Human Lightning Conductor” or “Human Lightning Rod” because, between 1942 and 1977, he was hit by lightning on seven different occasions (unlucky) and survived all of them (lucky). For this reason he was a proud entrant in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being. Two of his ranger hats are on display at two Guinness World Exhibit Halls in New York City and in South Carolina.
The first documented lightning strike on Mr Sullivan occurred in April 1942. He was hiding from a thunderstorm in a newly built lookout tower that hadn’t yet been fitted with a lightning rod. The tower was hit seven or eight times and set on fire. Roy ran out of the tower, but just a few feet away received what he considered to be his worst lightning strike. It burned a half-inch strip all along his right leg, hit his toe, and left a hole in his shoe.
The second bolt of lightning to hit him happened in July 1969. This one was extremely unusual because he was hit while in his truck, driving on a mountain road. Normally in a lightning storm one of the safest places to be is in a vehicle, the body of a car or truck normally protects people as long as they are not touching any metal parts. In this case, however, the lightning first hit nearby trees and was deflected into the open window of the truck. The strike knocked Roy Sullivan unconscious, burned off his eyebrows, eyelashes, and most of his hair. The uncontrolled truck kept moving until it stopped near a cliff edge.
The following year, in 1970, Roy was again struck by lightning, this time while in his front yard. The lightning hit a nearby power transformer and from there jumped to his left shoulder, searing it.
The fourth strike occurred in 1972, while Roy was working inside a ranger station in Shenandoah National Park. It set his hair on fire; he tried to smother the flames with his jacket. Then he rushed to the rest room, but couldn’t fit under the water tap and so used a wet towel instead.
Not unnaturally, after the fourth strike Roy began to experience a degree of paranoia and believed that some “force” was trying to destroy him and, although he had never been a timid man, he acquired a fear of death. For months, whenever he was caught in a storm while driving his truck, he would pull over and lie down on the front seat until the storm passed. He also began to carry a can of water with him and believed that he would somehow attract lightning even if he stood in a crowd of people.
On August 7, 1973, while he was out on patrol in the park, Sullivan saw a storm cloud forming and drove away quickly. But the cloud, he said later, seemed to be following him. When he finally thought he had outrun it, he decided it was safe to leave his truck. But soon after he did so – you guessed it – he was struck by a lightning bolt. He said that on this occasion that he actually saw the bolt that hit him. The lightning set his hair on fire, moved down his left arm and left leg and knocked off his shoe, although he said “it did not untie the lace”. It then crossed over to his right leg just below the knee. Still conscious, Sullivan crawled to his truck and poured the can of water, which he always kept there, over his head.
On June 5, 1976, lightning bolt number six hit him, this time injuring his ankle. It was reported that he saw a cloud, thought that it was following him, tried to run away, but was struck anyway.
On Saturday morning, June 25, 1977, Sullivan was fishing in a freshwater pool when he was struck for the seventh time. The lightning hit the top of his head, singeing his hair, and traveled down burning his chest and stomach. Sullivan turned to his car and then another unexpected thing happened — a bear appeared and tried to steal trout from his fishing line. Sullivan had the strength and courage to strike the bear with a tree branch. He claimed that this was the twenty-second time he hit a bear with a stick in his lifetime.
All seven strikes were documented by the superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, R. Taylor Hoskins, and were verified by doctors. Sullivan himself recalled that the first time he was struck by lightning was not in 1942 but much earlier. When he was a child, he was helping his father to cut wheat in a field, when a thunderbolt struck the blade of his scythe without injuring him, but because he could not prove the fact later, he never claimed it in his total.
Roy Sullivan’s wife was also struck once, when a storm suddenly arrived as she was out hanging clothes in their back yard. Yes, her husband Roy was helping her at the time, but this time he escaped unharmed.
Understandably in later in life Roy was avoided by people because of their fear of being hit by lightning, a fact that he said saddened him. He once recalled “For instance, I was walking with the chief ranger one day when lightning struck way off. The chief said, ‘I’ll see you later.'”
So, ‘bad luck’ to have been hit so many times by lightning or ‘good luck’ to have survived them all, take you pick.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t have a happy ending. On September 28, 1983, Roy Sullivan died at the age of 71 from self-inflicted gunshot wound over an unrequited love. It is not know whether the love was unrequited because the other party did not have the same feelings for Roy or whether they just feared getting hit by lightning!
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There is a similar tale about a British cavalry officer, a Major Summerford, who was fighting in the fields of Flanders during the last year of WW1, when a flash of lightning knocked him off his horse and paralysed him from his waist down.
Summerford moved to Vancouver, Canada, and six years later, whilst out fishing, he was again struck by lightning, this time paralysing the right side of his body.
After two years of recovery, one summer day he was out in a local park, when a storm suddenly blew up and Major Summerfield was again struck by lightning. This time he was permanently paralysed.
He died two years after this incident.
Four years after his death, his stone tomb was destroyed.
Yes, it was struck by lightning!
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All a bit too morbid? Maybe we need to end on something a bit more light hearted. As “luck” would have it I remember a suitable (and clean) story. It’s a little bit funny, I hope.
Anthony S. Clancy of Dublin, was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the century, which also happened to be the seventh day of the week.
He was the seventh child of a seventh child, and he had seven brothers
That makes seven sevens.
On his twenty-seventh birthday he went to the race track.
The seventh numbered horse in the seventh race was named Seventh Heaven, and was handicapped seven stone.
The odds against Seventh Heaven were seven-to-one.