Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Hearing about the tsunami on Boxing Day, I remembered Keith and Nicki. Keith Lake used to be my driver when I was editor of the Daily Telegraph and remains a great friend. He and his wife Nicki were on holiday in the Maldives. I felt certain, knowing Keith, that a) he would have got into trouble and b) he would have got out of it. Keith rang when he reached home, in response to our messages. He told me that he had been snorkelling in two feet of water when suddenly the sea level rose to his chest. He and his party heard a great roar. They ran, and reached the shore, but the wave sucked him out to sea, to the bottom. The force of the water pulled even the wedding ring from his finger. As he lay on the ocean floor, he remembered a conversation he and I had once had about drowning being painless; he felt calm and peaceful, and accepted his death. Then the air in his body pushed him to the surface, and again he heard the terrible roar. He had been swept past the tiny island but, by incredible luck, he was a few feet from 'H' (full name Helena Benge-Nilsdotter), 'a leggy Swedish blonde', one of his snorkelling group. H, a qualified lifesaver, could see that Keith was in trouble, with all the energy knocked out of his body, so she made him hold on to her hips and they swam back towards the shore for 20 minutes. Then a second huge wave hit them, dragging them twice as far out as before and creating a whirlpool into which Keith was sucked. Keith is a big man - six foot four and strongly built - and in his panic, he tried to pull H down with him. She - six foot herself and trained in martial arts - tells me that she punched him twice to break free, went up to spit out the water in her body and then dived back down for Keith. She pulled him up, and they set off swimming again. They landed on a coral reef, Keith vomiting and faint, and walked across it, tearing their feet to ribbons. Twenty feet from shore, a third wave threatened, so they gathered their last strength and ran through the water to the devastated beach huts. There was Nicki standing on top of a diesel tank looking for her husband. She burst into tears. Now the survivors are all back in England. Keith has a swollen elbow where H yanked him to safety and H has an injured pelvis where Keith held on for the dear life, which, thanks to her courage and skill, was saved. Another of their group, Stuart Shields, was not so lucky. His body was found on a neighbouring island.

One of the minor, but horrible consequences of disasters such as the tsunami is the chance it gives for the self-righteous to accuse others of not caring as much as they. Thus Michael Howard criticised Tony Blair for failing to return from his Egyptian holiday when really the Prime Minister should have been praised for his uncharacteristic self-restraint. A rent-a-quote Labour MP called Stephen Pound came on the air to call for the national lottery to transfer vast sums to the disaster appeal, making the preposterously untrue claim that, with such a disaster, 'no money is too much'. In fact, large sums of money rushed through always lead to corruption, mis-spending, waste and politicking. If Mr Pound cares more than the rest of us about the suffering, why doesn't he contribute the whole of his salary to the cause and invite his fellow MPs to do the same? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.