Unwise words and a Christmas tragedy on the Thames (Rousse)

“How awful that your daughter-in-law’s father is a crook, and that her mother is a burnt-to-a-crisp, over-tanned, airhead shopaholic!” said N. More awful was that she uttered these words while (unknowingly) sitting right next to the daughter-in-law in question. This was not the best start to our family Christmas.

Meanwhile I reflected on how much worse it was for two other families…

The day before N’s faux pas I had accepted SS’s invitation to the departmental Christmas celebrations. I was looking forward to seeing all my colleagues for a drink before we broke up for the Christmas holidays. In the event TM and two random students were the only others who bothered to join the party. Nevertheless, the five of us happily jumped into SS’s car and drove us around the city of Birmingham looking for a suitable venue for our drink. We rejected a nice-looking traditional green-painted pub on the grounds that it was in a rough area. Further possible venues suffered the same fate. There was simply nowhere to accommodate us in England’s second city. We had to drive on.

Several hours (and miles) later we ended up in a London wine bar on the south bank of the Thames. Even this was not up to our high standards (the toilets were filthy), but at least you could get a drink here. You were also offered free jelly beans, if you were lucky. Just before we made a move to head home we popped out to enjoy the London skyline from the bar’s open-air balcony, high above the river. Beneath us was the jetty for motorboats that sped customers back across the Thames to the City.

We watched two girls making their way down the bar’s ladder to the jetty. Suddenly they slipped and fell forty feet to the water below. A boatman miraculously caught the first in his arms. She was unconscious, but it looked like she would survive her accident. The second girl broke her neck as she hit the water. There was nothing we could do but watch her drown as the water all around turned red with her blood.

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