I confess, I’m only basing this conjecture on my own experiences and given that I am hardly a balanced, voice of authority on, well – anything really, it could all be total twaddle. Not one to be deterred, I am going to share my findings with you regardless. You see, I have found myself reacting in a whole host of ways to crisis situations and very rarely in the same way twice.
There have been occasions when I have disgraced myself with my cowardly antics, not unlike the characters who pop up in every disaster movie; the ones who will happily push women and children to their deaths to save themselves. My most memorable one was when I lived in a squalid shared house in Southampton during my early teaching days. My sister was
visiting and, as we relaxed on my bed chatting, a large brown mouse suddenly scurried across the room. We are both terrified of mice and predictably leapt into blind shrieking panic. I went one step further, however. Having reached the door first, I pushed my sister back into the room and locked her in with the mouse. I was totally unmoved by her screams of terror as I bounded down the stairs, two at a time, to rodent free safety. It took a housemate to let her out and she has never forgiven me, regularly throwing the whole unseemly episode into my face. Except in her version, the mouse has transmuted into a large rat and she was locked in the room for almost an hour rather than the actual few minutes.
You would be forgiven then for thinking that, were I on board the Titanic, I would be the coward kicking people overboard to get to the lifeboats. This is quite possibly true but it is not a sure bet. You see I could also have been the person who, paralysed by fear, decided to stick with the mini bar and go down with the ship. This seems to be the approach I adopt every time I board a plane. Such is my fear; I face death on every flight and ultimately take the decision to drown my sorrows in gin, buckled tightly into my seat as we plummet to the ground before bursting into a ball of flames. Arriving at my destination is always a bonus.
There have also been instances when I have risen to the occasion. Usually, it has to be said, when I have had children in my charge. School trips are always fraught with crisis and my worst one was when a girl collapsed to the ground, in the middle of London, with abdominal pains. It turned out she was as nutty as a fruitcake and had some sort of Munchausen disorder but all that’s irrelevant. My heroic efforts to save her and call for an ambulance, all whilst arranging for someone else to take charge
of the children as I accompanied her to hospital, were nothing short of impressive even if I do say so myself.
My most notable act of bravery, however, was when I snapped into action as an unofficial and unstoppable fire marshal. It all unfolded whilst staying in a hotel with friends when, in the middle of the night, there was a fire. We were woken by the sounds of the alarm and, as we prepared to make our way downstairs, people began flocking towards the lifts. Having sat through God only knows how many fire safety classes with children; I knew that this was an unqualified fire safety aberration. I launched
into action, directing people away from the lifts and ushering them down the stairs to safety. If only I had been in possession of a megaphone and some sort of uniform instead of pyjamas, my moment of glory would have been complete.
I suspect a lot of how we react in a crisis depends upon who we are with. Ideally, I’m happy to leave the heroics to others and the only time I’m likely to step up to the plate is if there is nobody else to take charge and to look the other way could lead to disaster. I’m not a natural leader of men and probably veer between cowardly and apathetic most of the time. My favourite stories are the ones where ordinary, everyday people in the right circumstances find that they have the potential to be super
heroes. The types of people who inspire films to made about them. Every disaster and war zone seems to produce examples and once the crisis is over they always say that they acted upon instinct and are nothing special. I’m not so sure.