Casualties of this most bleak midwinter

LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
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We walked a short way along the Riversway dockside on New Year’s Day. A fine, freshening experience.

Cool, blustery, bright sun flickering between fleet broken cloud, making a shadowplay of that whole, vast,
man-made arena.

Once the largest structure of its kind on Earth and great industrial hope of late 19th century Preston.

The dock’s champions spoke of a river better navigable than the Clyde and saw a great shipbuilding,
mercantile future for the old town.

The Ribble did not play along and slowly, surely, the shifting sands of its wide estuary stifled such ambition.

Still, this bold Victorian venture did at least bequeath the city an expanse of deep, powerful, water, unusual in a settlement so far inland.

A wonderful white elephant visited year round by thousands; a place to take the air, enjoy sprawling open skies and occasionally marvel at the vigour of those proud Prestonians who wished this space into existence. Many in evidence on the first day of 2013, basking in dappled sunlight, dimmed then dazzling by turn.

The opaque water, pulled and squeezed both by incoming tide and stiff breeze, was lively at the head of the basin. Current, cross-current and centrifugal forces combining to raise countless steep, white-topped wavelets upon which resting gulls bobbed content. Overhead, birds of a feather, gliding motionless on brisk air, screamed.

A far from strong swimmer, this invigorating vista periodically prompted in me that curious shiver many claim to suffer on the brink of a great height. A certain pull. Maybe a subconscious acknowledgement of just how easy it would be.

Of our fundamental fragility.

By the time of this visit those waters had claimed one life and imperiled another over the festive period.

The body of Andrea Tubman, 41, was found on December 27. She had been reported missing four days earlier.

On the evening of December 29 a second woman, Michelle Millen, 30, was rescued from the water and rushed to hospital.

Michelle hung on for several days, in critical condition, dying on January 2.

Janet Porter, 48, like Andrea missing from home for several days, was lifted, dead, from the same depths on January 3.

No suspicious circumstances in any of these deaths, say police. A bland statement which can only foster the sorrowful thought that the steps towards these sure and certain fates were voluntary.

The truth will out, no doubt, and it is hoped this will ultimately bring some comfort to those people bereaved and mourning these women.

No truths, though, are ever likely to lessen the sense that this sequence of

tragedies represents as sorrowful a start to a new year as can readily be recalled.