The Lifeguards Have Left the Beach

For the coming nine months, swimmers, walkers, enjoyers-of-the-sea of all kinds will be left to their own devices. There will be no yellow and red flags signalling when it’s ok to swim and no red flags signalling when it’s not, and there will be no notice boards conveying messages of spring tides, currents or oil and sewage spills.

Did you spot the odd one out? Oil and sewage spills?

Earlier in the summer, I went down to the sea for a swim and noticed that the water smelled of petrol. Perhaps I was imagining it, because why would the sea smell of petrol? Some distance away another woman was swimming with her two children. When we got closer to each other, she commented on what a lovely evening it was, but did I not think that the sea smelled of petrol? I agreed that it did and then we continued on our way, because what is a whiff of petrol on a lovely summer’s evening with the sun setting on the horizon?

Fast forward to the end of the summer, just before the lifeguards left their posts: I’m standing with my daughter on the shore. We’re wearing our towelling dresses ready to strip off and jump in when we see red flags flying on the lifeguard post to the east. Sure there’s a bit of wind, but the sea is calm. Unusually not a soul is defying those flags: no swimmers, no kayakers, no paddle boarders, no wind surfers. As much as we’re tempted to enter that glorious lapping water, we decide it would be best to obey those red flags; someone clearly knows something we don’t. Later that night I come across a photo on social media, of the lifeguard’s notice board: “Sewage spill near Shoreham! No swimming!”

I don’t question the wisdom behind this advice and am deeply grateful to the lifeguards, our superheroes of the beach, but we should, and must, question the wisdom of the company behind the spillage: Southern Waters. They apologised, thank you very much, but what is being done by them to prevent spills from happening in the future, what is being done to clean it up, how much will they be fined? I believe, but am happy to be proven wrong, that the answers are nothing, nothing and nothing.

Perhaps his is the point where you go, “Yeah, yuck and all that, but why did the sea smell of petrol that night?” Well, that was another spillage, a different type of spillage ‒ an oil leak from an old gas work at Shoreham Harbour ( Apparently it happens several times a year. Apparently there’s nothing to be done. Apparently it’s nothing, nothing and nothing again.

Where does that leave me as an individual? Do I do nothing, nothing and nothing? I’m not an activist. I don’t chain myself to bulldozers or shout from the rooftops. I'm quiet and introspective, but I do write. I write myself out of things and I write myself into things. So I thought I’d give myself the task to document time and tide on this beach, the community, the life in and around the sea. A love letter, if you like?

The title of the blog, lean.price.crisis, is taken from the what3words-system that helps emergency services pin-point your position should you be in trouble. My local beach is in trouble, so I will take on the role of lifeguard and biographer, and hope that I haven’t come too late. And let’s hope that this love letter doesn’t turn into a euology.

Sewage spill.jpg