Speakers’ Corner – Feart

I’m a fearty, a Scots word for a scaredy cat.  I like to think that it’s me just being risk-averse. When I was younger, I managed the big dipper in Blackpool, but it was too much for me when these rides were designed to do ‘loop the loop.’   I remember watching my youngest daughter Izzy and son JJ disappearing up Space Mountain at Disneyland with relief. I had the excuse of looking after daughter Islay who was gripping my hand tight to ensure her sister and brother didn’t whisk her away.  Once was once too often for her.  She and I are both peas in a pod.  Mind you, she was probably convincing herself that she was looking after her fearty dad.

            I understand that others love the thrill and excitement of danger.  Izzy has bungee jumped and thrown herself out of a plane, thankfully with a parachute.  But that’s not me. When I was a teenager at Portobello ‘shows’ on the promenade, I would ride the Waltzers, and for the entire ride, I would imagine the bolts breaking and the car crashing into the crowds.  But each to their own, some love the adrenaline rush, climbing El Capitan at Yosemite, or swimming from Cuba to Florida in shark-infested waters.  I admire their bravery and physical courage, but I don’t understand them.  Therefore, just imagining the motivation of those poor souls that perished on the wreck of the Titanic is hard to fathom. The question that keeps spinning around my head is why.

            Why would you want to visit a shipwreck 3800 meters under the Atlantic?  It’s a graveyard, a resting place for 1,503 people.  It should be a sacred place, not the latest tourist attraction for the mega-rich.  How can the thrill be worth the hazard? Why doesn’t survival instinct dissuade people from attempting dangerous feats for fun?  What does it say about our society in 2023?  To me, it confirms that we haven’t moved forward.  The Titanic was built for the affluent, mere mortals would never experience the luxury of speeding First Class to New York in opulence. But this cigar-shaped tube made of carbon fibre was not decked in silk or inch-thick carpets.  It was like ‘the inside of a small van’ as the news programmes told us with macabre detachment.  And for what?  So that as many paying customers could be crammed in to maximise financial returns.  The motivation for the passengers to take this trip appears to be primarily about exclusivity and privilege, which makes the whole disaster even more tragic.  This trip is not comparable with conquering Mount Everest or reaching the South Pole, both feats that I can admire but still can’t rationalise.  Life is too precious and needs to be cherished, not jeopardised by thrill, adventure, and recklessness.

            The media coverage was hysterical and tabloid, with the BBC and ITV creating the same atmosphere surrounding the Apollo 13 mission.  That had a happy ending, and this didn’t.  However, it didn’t stop both stations from leading for the first fifteen minutes of their evening news bulletins with every bit of detail on the ironically named vessel Titan.  On the same day, interest rates were raised by 0.5% to a fifteen-year high of 5%.  This is set to plunge our economy into further turmoil.  It is difficult not to wonder if the fare of £250,000 per passenger could not have been spent for the good of humanity and not on the indulgent pleasures of the elite. 

In sharp contrast, there was no wall-to-wall coverage, outside broadcasts, and special bulletins of the loss of over 600 poor souls who drowned off the Greece coast when their boat sank.  More outrageous, as it now appears that the Greek Navy refused to go to the aid of the floundering immigrants.  Of course, I know why they don’t cover immigrants fleeing persecution because the narrative of the British government is to criminalise ‘boat people’, and the major TV stations are unlikely to upset the apple cart.

Ironically, there is a brilliant article on the BBC website where the Titanic movie director James Cameron, is interviewed.

“I felt in my bones what had happened. For the sub’s electronics to fail and its communication system to fail, and its tracking transponder to fail simultaneously – sub’s gone. I immediately got on the phone with some of my contacts in the deep submersible community. Within about an hour I had the following facts. They were on descent. They were at 3500 metres, heading for the bottom at 3800 metres. Their comms were lost, and navigation was lost – and I said instantly, you can’t lose comms and navigation together without an extreme catastrophic event or high, highly energetic catastrophic event. And the first thing that popped to mind was an implosion.”

Cameron was equally scathing about the hyped news coverage.

‘It felt like a prolonged and nightmarish charade where people are running around talking about banging noises and talking about oxygen and all this other stuff. I knew that sub was sitting exactly underneath its last known depth and position. That’s exactly where they found it.”

What can we learn from this disaster?  The regulation and standards for fitness and seaworthiness of these underwater vessels must be rigorous. Can you stop the entrepreneurs from wanting to exploit such opportunities?  Probably not. However, it’s incumbent on all nations to protect eager thrill seekers when their judgement may be clouded and ensure proper safety standards.  You can never minimise risk; even crossing the road has the potential for disaster, but you can ensure that appropriate testing and guidelines are enforced.  Let us ban pleasure submarines from visiting the wreck of the Titanic and now Titan.  This disaster has implications for the wider adventure seekers.  For example, commercial flights to space are the latest for adrenaline junkies.  Are there sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that another catastrophe does not occur?

I feel only one emotion, not anger: sympathy for the victims, relatives, friends, and family.  The thoughts that must have been in the passengers’ minds when the vessel imploded terrorise me.  It was no way to die, and my heart cries for the young Strathclyde University student accompanying his father.  A young life is brutally cut short. 

Hug and cuddle a loved one today. Life is fleeting.  Embrace the risk of loving and not the risk of an adventure.