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For those who do what I cannot

Michael Stuart doffs his hat to non-office workers

Overnight reports have been appearing in the media about the murder of Roger Pratt, a British businessman, in St Lucia – where he and his wife had reached halfway through a year-long sailing holiday to celebrate her 60th birthday. Apparently, he was beaten up and eventually shot by three armed robbers who boarded their yacht on Friday.

See here for the story as it appears on the website of the DAILY MAIL

Having had a thirty-year sedentary, office-based, career myself, as I now gradually sink into senility, I increasingly admire those who – unlike me – chose or choose to place themselves in harm’s way and/or seek careers in which physical fitness is a pre-requirement.

I’m not just referring to members of our armed forces, the police, the fire brigade and the RNLI. I’m including those who work in our hospitals, our social services, our refuse collecting services … our sewerage workers … and even those who administer charitable or development aid in far-flung places, such as Dharmender ‘Del’ Singh, an MEP candidate who worked for Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, who was one of two Brits among 21 killed by a terrorist bomb in a Kabul restaurant on Friday, ironically the same day as Mr Pratt met his end.

My small personal connection with the world of ‘activity’ (as opposed to desk-flying) is through my son Barry, a professional yachtsman. About a decade ago, he underwent an intense and expensive seven months’ training course to obtain his ocean yachtmaster’s qualifications. From there he began as a deckhand for crews doing yacht deliveries, via ‘first mate’ and freelance skipper status, to now being a captain for a single owner.

I had always understood – or thought I did – the skills and experience required to sail the seven seas, but it was only about two years into his career that I began to appreciate the ‘security’ side of his work, obvious though now (with hindsight) this should have been.

On a trip to see him in Palma, Mallorca, I had raised the subject almost by chance and was surprised to learn that his training for ‘safety at sea’ had included not just fire-fighting at a Naval training facility at Portsmouth and learning paramedic skills [plainly, when you’re in the middle of the Atlantic when waiting for a doctor to arrive may be impractical, stitching wounds and ‘stabilising’ broken limbs becomes down to the crew], but also specific ‘defence’ training.

What to do if strange craft are spotted speeding towards you – e.g. prepare the vessel to repel boarders and take all ‘guests’ below to a ‘safety room’, or anywhere that can double as one. Basic firearms training. Take standard precautions whenever moored in a port or marina.

In his time, Barry has dealt with several ‘security’ incidents. He’s also been asked to crew on a yacht delivery going through the Suez Canal, for which the skipper took on two ‘security’ guys (ex-SAS mercenaries) to guard against Somali pirates. Now a skipper himself, he’s very wary of security issues when sailing in the Caribbean.

His carefulness extends on-shore. Whenever he joins me in my car, or goes to visit his grandfather, he takes us straight to the nearest garage to check the tyre pressures and other mechanical stuff. He doesn’t make a fuss about this, it’s just what he does, every time.

Looking back, I’ve had a pretty cushy, average, sort of a life. I’m not a thrill-seeker, and not even a particularly practical or technical type of person. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what to do if I happened to get involved in (e.g.) a bank hostage situation, an airliner that suddenly lost both its engines, or even a ship that got into trouble Poseidon movie-style.

But there are people – those with careers in the ‘practical’ sector – who would.

Or, even if the dangerous situation was beyond their personal knowledge or experience, would at least have a notion of how to deal with it.

Today I just wanted to pay a small tribute to them.

We all contribute to the world in our own little ways. I guess I possess skills and knowledge that ‘active’ people don’t have. However, they’ve definitely also got attributes that are beyond my understanding.

It’s not so much a case of ‘vivre la difference’, more one of ‘Thank God for that’.


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About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts