Angry Letter to Westminster Schoolby Ed Hall on 06/11/13
11 June 2013
To: Dr M S Spurr, Headmaster, Westminster School
Dear Dr Spurr,
I'm a volunteer RNLI crewman on the Thames, and twice a month I head to the station to patrol and train, and to wait like the proverbial coiled spring for the call to respond to an emergency on the river. I got up at 0545 this morning to ensure that I had the time to drive to the lifeboat station at Chiswick where I was about to begin a 12-hour shift at 0730.
The lifeboats have been on the River Thames since 2001, and I joined the crew when they started, which makes me one of the longest serving crew. In more than a decade I have taken part in rescues on many occasions, and had the privilege of working with our crews to save the lives of people in the river, on the riverbank, and on the bridges.
Given that I am pretty busy in my day-job running a high-profile media and broadcast company and am currently launching the infrastructure behind the national network of new local television stations it is quite a demanding voluntary commitment. Nevertheless I feel that is worthwhile and rewarding.
I have pulled a semi-conscious mugging victim from the water near Hammersmith Bridge, saved the life of an elderly man who had walked into the river off Duke's Meadow, rescued a troubled young swimmer in distress near Richmond, helped a man that had wandered from a local hospice to the river and climbed in, and persuaded a sixth-former from St Paul's Girls' School not to kill herself. There are plenty of other compelling stories of the work we do, and I hope that you and your staff and pupils support the tremendous work of the RNLI in any way you can. It is a superb organisation.
And so to the purpose of my letter, which I am writing in a wholly personal capacity, and not on behalf of the RNLI. Sometimes however, as I'm sure you recognise, you cannot help but be so annoyed about something that it feels right to say something, and so I am writing to you. As I say, this is an entirely personal letter.
Today at 1615 while we were sitting in the Lifeboat Station the telephone rang. A member of the public from an office on Barn Elms Reach had seen a rower and capsized boat in the water, and was very concerned that, in his words, 'nobody was doing anything about it'. We informed the London Coastguard and were asked to launch immediately.
When we are 'on service' we aim to be underway within 90 seconds if we can. To achieve that objective we run to the lifeboat in our dry-suits, fire her up and head to the location of the incident. We turn on the siren and the flashing blue lights and accelerate up to about 40 knots to get to the scene as fast as possible. It is a task that takes a great deal of skill and training, and when there are rowers on the river this can be very challenging. The rowers are generally aware that in case of wash (of which we actually make very little at top speed), they should stop rowing and lay their oars flat on the water for stability. That also happens every time a large tourist vessel passes by.
I’m sure you now have a sense of where this is going: we passed several Westminster School boats with distinctive pink oars on the way to the location. The boats did not stop rowing and so we did instinctively slow down at one point. We are acutely conscious of the wash we make, and try to find ways to minimise the impact. Today for example we took the left hand side of the river to stay away from the rowers on the Surrey side, even though that was not actually the shortest route.
When we arrived alongside the Harrods Depository we found the single scull upside down and being towed by a small safety boat. The rower had collapsed with cramp and was being looked after by the safety boat driver. All was well. We checked that they needed no further assistance, and informed London Coastguard that no further help was required. We turned back up river and started heading back to the station. We did this at about five knots and again took the opposite side of the river to the rowers.
As we passed the first Westminster School boat a quite extraordinary thing happened: a grey-haired pompous middle-aged man raised his megaphone to his lips and barked across the river at us.
'Thanks for the wash, boys.'
Seriously? There is a member of staff at Westminster School who thinks that barking patronising comments to the crew of an RNLI Lifeboat is a sensible way to behave? Was the River Thames gifted to Westminster School in some quaint ceremony as part of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee celebrations?
Well I am not a 'boy', I'm a 45-year-old Chief Executive who gives up 24 hours a month of his time to crew a lifeboat. I do it day and night and have done so for more than a decade. I have used up my holiday to take part on training courses in crewing, helming, fire-fighting, sea survival, radio procedures and first aid. I do not appreciate being shouted at by a man who has clearly lost all sense of reality and must be filled to bursting with a sense of his own importance. Is he by chance related to the psychotic PE teacher Sue Sylvester from Glee?
Perhaps you would find an appropriate method to ask your school masters to behave in a way that would be a credit to them and to your school. It's hardly surprising that people accuse public schoolboys (like me) of being pompous twats if they grow up with that sort of behaviour to model themselves on. I bet they had a good chortle in the dressing rooms at the machismo shown by their masterful coach barking sarcastic epithets at the lifeboat.
Enough said. I understand that rowers would prefer that fast boats were not on the river, but I believe that the more than 300 people we have pulled from the water since we started would disagree.
Ed Hall, Chief Executive