Fly the flag!

Unless you’ve been in the farthest reaches of the Hindu Kush recently, you can’t help but have noticed that apart from the hullabaloo about the impending Olympics, the country is having “a bit of do” to celebrate Queen Liz having been on the throne for the last 60 years.

Despite our British Reserve, this is one of those occasions when, with a lot of encouragement from the supermarkets, we hoist the flag and string out the bunting as if it’s V.E. Day once again.

On a stretch of coastline like ours however, flags are a common sight.  There are flags that promote the fact that our sea water and beaches reach cleanliness standards, flags that show that our beaches are well managed (though not last weekend!) and flags that show where it is safe to swim and where to use motorised offshore craft.

Whilst the award flags fly all year until the coastal winds and salt spray disintegrate them, the flags that provide guidance appear at the beginning of June and are placed on the beach every day for the next three months.  Between the red and yellow flags (where it is safe to swim) the areas is patrolled by those responsible for their deployment.  The lifeguards.  The flag above their observation point denotes their origin – they are seasonal employees of the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

I’ve always been familiar with the work of the RNLI (they’ve existed for best part of 200 years) both through growing up on the coast and being fascinated with the different vessels and launch methods they have adopted, and through the regular appeals that Blue Peter made over the years.  (It also helps that the first ever purpose-built lifeboat is still on display just up the road in South Shields.)  The RNLI are a charity, and for all they are seen as an essential element in saving lives around our shores, they would not exist without public donations, and the efforts of volunteers.

About ten years ago now they extended their operations beyond the famous orange lifeboats that they are associated with, and began to provide Lifeguard services initially on the surfing beaches of the South West, but this has rapidly grown to over 160 units spread around the country.  Last year the lifeguards alone saved more than 100 lives and went to the assistance of over 18,000 people.

So today being the first of June, the lifeguards are on patrol.  They’ve spent the last month honing their first aid and life saving skills and they’re ready for action.  Like their “Baywatch” equivalents they dress predominantly in red, but there the similarity stops.  Even at the height of summer, the North Sea is pretty cool, so rather than the Pamela Anderson swimsuit…

I met Thomas when I was out today – he was even sweeping sand off the promenade – what a public-spirited individual.  I’ve never needed his services or those of his colleagues, but I’m really glad they’re there, so if you have a pound or two left over after toasting Her Majesty this weekend, I know of a good cause.