Since I was very young, I’ve spent many school holidays on the Dorset coast. On Wednesday last week it was reasonably warm in the afternoon, so I headed to the beach. Although the water was only about 13 degrees, I decided it was as good a day as any for a swim. When I was coming out of the water, I felt a pain on the sole of my foot and thought I must have trodden on a shell. Back on the beach, I could see what looked like two small cuts on my foot, and it was getting increasingly painful. Realising that it wasn’t really behaving like a cut, I hobbled up to the lifeguard station, where my affliction was clearly quite obvious and I was quickly diagnosed as having stood on a weaver fish.
It rapidly became one of the most painful things I have ever experienced but luckily Pete the lifeguard knew what to do. Fortunately the treatment for a weaver fish sting isn’t anything too outlandish, you simply have to immerse the sting site in the hottest water you can tolerate without burning yourself. Because the venom is a protein with an optimal temperature of the cold waters of the British sea, it denatures (for those of you who haven’t studied this recently, that effectively means the protein changes shape) in the warm temperatures of the human body, especially when enhanced with hot water.
So Pete came along with a bowl and a little metal camping stove kettle and administered the necessary first aid. It took a while to work and, in that time, the pain got worse before it got better and my toe rapidly became about the four times it should be. But Pete was very kind and reassuring, distracting me with stories of his time as chair of governors at a local Dorset school, his family and his daughter who trained as a teacher. Eventually I was in a fit state to shuffle off the beach, extremely grateful that help had been at hand when I needed it.
And from the lows to the highs…because on Saturday evening, having fully recovered from the weaver fish injury, I was at the Party at the Palace, the Platinum Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace. It was in every way as brilliant as it looked on the television: the surprise when the Queen took tea with Paddington at the start of the event; Queen guitarist Brian May appearing on the Victoria memorial monument; the spectacular array of artists who were outshone only by the extraordinary light show projected onto Buckingham Palace and in the air above as drones formed a multitude of images in the night sky. It was an amazing display of talent and an amazing display of celebration, affection and admiration for the Queen who, at 96, is still working and serving the nation. It also demonstrated that even now she is open to trying new things (how many 96-year-olds do you know who would be willing to take part in a sketch opposite a CGI bear?) and was a reminder of the changes and technological advances the Queen has seen during her reign.
So why am I reflecting on two such disparate stories as we begin the second half of Summer Term? For me, last week felt like a rather intense and fast-paced reflection of life in general. There are long periods of time of ordinariness, punctuated by the unexpected – both good and bad. But throughout it all – the good, the bad and the ordinary – there is something very wonderful about human beings. Not always and not all of them but most of the time and most of the people, despite what we might see and hear on the news.
In a moment when I was unsure and in pain, Pete the lifeguard was a reassuring, helpful presence. The Platinum Jubilee concert, and in fact the whole of the Jubilee weekend, seemed to demonstrate the very best of human bonds, human talent, and the ability of humans to serve one another. In a statement as the celebrations drew to a close, the Queen remarked on the “kindness, joy and kinship” of the preceding days and, on Saturday night, Prince William said: “Tonight has been full of such optimism and joy – and there is hope.” Let’s all try to feel some of that optimism and that hope and carry it with us to further enhance the good and the ordinary and to bolster ourselves when life is difficult.