Roy Orbison and Judith Thomson

by Harry on June 7, 2019

To oldster’s dismay I casually referred to a story about Roy Orbison that I relate in class without actually relating it. So… here it is.

In her paper A Defence of Abortion Judith Thomson makes an argument that “the right to life”, although everyone as it, should not be interpreted as involving either the right not to be killed, or the right to the bare minimum needed to sustain life. Her argument against the latter is a thought experiment. Suppose that I am dying, on the East Coast, and the only – literally the only – thing that will cure me would be the cool touch of Henry Fonda’s hand on my fevered brow. That would be the bare minimum needed to sustain my life, but I, clearly, have no right to it. It would be lovely of HF to fly from the West Coast and save me, but he is doing nothing wrong by staying put – he is not obliged to save me, so I have no right to the bare minimum needed to sustain my life.

What does this have to do with Roy Orbison? Well, this is a story I remember from my teens. A girl of about my age was in a coma in a hospital in Scotland. The coma lasted a long time, and it got into the press, which also reported that she was a Roy Orbison fan (this is why it stuck in my head – it seemed so odd to be a Roy Orbison fan then whereas, now, it seems entirely normal). It was one of those news stories which persisted, and you’d get updates about how she was doing. Anyway, the story is that Roy Orbison (whose own life was, itself, replete with tragedies) got wind of the situation, and made a cassette tape in which he personally talked to her and played some of his songs. And, as I remember it, the girl came out of the coma very soon after her parents started playing her the tape. Of course, we don’t know that Roy Orbison’s voice was the bare minimum needed to sustain her life, nor did Roy Orbison actually cross the channel to save her; but it helps students to think that the example isn’t quite as fanciful as it seems.

Inconveniently I didn’t cut the story out of a newspaper and put it in a scrapbook because I didn’t, for some reason, anticipate that it would serve me well as a way of rendering a thought experiment more real and intuitive. (When teaching Singer for the third time I remembered suddenly that I once saved a toddler from drowning, albeit rather inadvertently and at an age barely older than the toddler myself). In fact I think I got the final part of the story from a TV news report, so couldn’t have cut it out anyway. I’ve gone to very modest lengths to verify the story, and I can’t (I tell the students that, too—conceivably, I suppose, it is a figment of my imagination but that seems very, very unlikely).

And… I often tease them about the fact that they don’t know who Roy Orbison is. But, every time I teach it, by the end of the class someone has told me that they have become a fan.

{ 44 comments }

1

Nicholas Hess 06.07.19 at 6:32 pm

Literally third link of googling ‘Roy Orbison Coma’:
http://bufvc.ac.uk/tvandradio/lbc/index.php/segment/0004700372010

2

oldster 06.07.19 at 7:18 pm

Harry, you are a prince. And run a full-service, yes-we-take-requests, kind of blog.

It’s a great story. How often I have thought to myself, lying awake in some agony or another,

“only Roy Orbison, can know the way I feel tonight. Only Roy Orbison knows this feeling, ain’t right.”

I don’t know that he would be my *first* choice to administer the soothing balm on my death-bed, but he is certainly in the top 5.

3

hix 06.07.19 at 7:51 pm

” thing that will cure me would be the cool touch of Henry Fonda’s hand on my fevered brow. That would be the bare minimum needed to sustain my life, but I, clearly, have no right to it. It would be lovely of HF to fly from the West Coast and save me, but he is doing nothing wrong by staying put – he is not obliged to save me, so I have no right to the bare minimum needed to sustain my life.”
Well, Henry Fonda would spend at least the next 5 years in prison if he decided to let you die in Germany… “obvious” American things are rather disturbing not far away.

4

Harry 06.07.19 at 8:49 pm

You’re always welcome oldster!
And…. thanks to Nicholas. Well, I am clearly very limited. But look what comes up once one knows her name!!

https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/michelle-booth-the-teenager-who-survived-a-horrifying-news-photo/830863746

5

Harry 06.07.19 at 8:51 pm

And, I would have sworn that she was in Glasgow, but it all happening in Berkshire makes much more sense, as I lived right on the Bucks/Berks border at the time. I’m impressed that I remembered it as spring 1978 though.

6

Leo Casey 06.07.19 at 9:44 pm

Okay, I’ll disagree with Judith Thomson. When there are reasonable steps that can be taken to preserve someone’s life, there is a moral obligation to do so. If I came across a gang that is violently attacking her as I walk down the street, I may not be obligated to attempt to save her on my own, jumping into the fray, but I certainly am morally obligated to call 911. Whether or not it worked, Roy Orbison’s gesture was a not unreasonable step for him to take.

7

Chris 06.07.19 at 11:45 pm

This is a lovely story.

I’m just going to pretend that David Lynch became aware of it while in London filming The Elephant Man, and it was the origin of his Roy Orbison fascination.

8

Gabriel 06.08.19 at 12:27 am

I’m pro-choice, but surely to be intellectually honest this example must include the fact that Henry Fonda contributed by action to the situation that the victim finds him-or-herself in to be a proper analogy, excluding abortions after rape and incest, of course. It seems to me that this fact would change a lot of people’s minds about whether Henry Fonda needs to get his ass on a plane.

9

BenK 06.08.19 at 1:12 am

It’s a good illustration. It reveals a fundamentally contrasting reality to the one constructed by Judith Thomson.

10

Harry 06.08.19 at 2:13 am

” but surely to be intellectually honest this example must include the fact that Henry Fonda contributed by action to the situation that the victim finds him-or-herself in to be a proper analogy, excluding abortions after rape and incest, of course”

The example isn’t supposed to support abortion, just the claim the the right to life doesn’t include the right to whatever is needed to sustain life. I do agree with Thomson about that, but also agree with Leo about what our obligations are.

But the point of the post was really just a nice story about a famous person.

11

Alan White 06.08.19 at 2:35 am

Just to chime in about two things–the story about Orbison is great to provide anecdotal counter to Thomson, but also to agree with you @ 9 about Leo’s remark. Just tonight I watched the Smithereens episode of the new season of Black Mirror, and it is partly about the duties we have to one another especially when one-on-one relationships are invoked, and as against the morally bleary and blurring background of interactions by too-frequently-anonymous social media. Thanks for this Harry!

12

Gabriel 06.08.19 at 8:17 am

I understand, Henry, but couldn’t it be restated: does a person have an ethical responsibility to perform an action to save a life if he/she previously committed an act that contributed to the duress in question? Does the soon-to-be-dead-person have a right to demand that the other party perform an act within their power that could fix the situation?

(Yes, I liked the Roy Orbison story.)

13

Harry 06.08.19 at 12:17 pm

Its Harry. I think that the point you’re making is just a different point, and I agree that it is more directly analogous with abortion than the HF example. The people seeds case is supposed (I think) to deal with the case you’re interested in (and, I’m unconvinced by the people seeds case).
On Leo’s example: here’s a (open access) paper by our own Gina, which argues (I think convincingly) against Thomson.

14

LFC 06.08.19 at 12:47 pm

I know that Judith Thomson is a famous analytic philosopher, but I have to say that, simply based on the OP, the thought experiment about Henry Fonda strikes me as rather ridiculous.

The only proposition that thought experiment supports is the proposition that “X does not have a right to the bare minimum needed to sustain life when that bare minimum can only be provided by a heroic, supererogatory action carried out by one particular individual.” That says absolutely nothing about whether a “right to life” includes a right to be provided with enough food, water, etc. — the bare minimum — needed to sustain life.

I also don’t understand why an article on abortion even gets into the question of what a general “right to life” entails in terms of duties, etc etc. Surely the relevant questions re abortion in this respect are (1) the moral standing, at various stages, of the fetus, and (2) whether the fetus has a right to life, and if so when it applies, and if so how it interacts w the rights of the mother. W/r/t these specific questions, the general question of what person X having a “right to life” entails would seem almost completely irrelevant.

15

David Levey 06.08.19 at 1:19 pm

Thomson’s argument is deepened and tied into the legal history on abortion rights in David Boonin’s new book, “Beyond Roe: Why Abortion Should be Legal — Even if the Fetus is a Person.”

https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Roe-Abortion-Should-Legal-Even/dp/0190904836

16

Chris Bertram 06.08.19 at 1:30 pm

Thompson’s argument against the right to the bare minimum doesn’t show that there is no such right, but at most that Fonda is not the duty bearer with respect to that right. There would be nothing incoherent in thinking that people have such a right and that the correlative duty is held by states with respect to all persons on their territory, say. We might need to refine and explicate the content of that a bit, but that seems the way to go.

17

Slanted Answer 06.08.19 at 1:58 pm

“but at most that Fonda is not the duty bearer with respect to that right.”

But if it’s literally true that Henry Fonda is the only person on the planet that could save the person, how could he not be the duty bearer? It strikes me that Henry Fonda is morally obligated in this case to help the person. I’m not sure Thomson is appreciating the force of the “only” here.

I had also thought that one big concern about Thomson’s paper is that it uses an implausibly negative/libertarian conception of rights to make its points. The Henry Fonda example seems illustrative of that.

18

Harry 06.08.19 at 3:50 pm

I think what Thomson is claiming is pretty modest. The point of the discussion isn’t to establish what the right to life involves, just to show that it is a much more difficult question to answer than the standard pr0-life position assumes (and that it involves neither the right not to be killed, which the violinist example is supposed to show, nor the right to the bare minimum to sustain life (which, I disagree with CB, it does show). That does not imply that HF does not have an obligation to save JT — Slanted Answer’s comment above seems exactly right to me.

LFC. Thomson is arguing that abortion is permissible even if the fetus has the same moral status as an innocent adult human being. That’s why she needs to get into what the right to life involves. You can read it here.

19

Harry 06.08.19 at 7:20 pm

And here’s a rather overwrought TV clip telling the story and playing the message:

20

Chetan Murthy 06.08.19 at 8:08 pm

Gabriel@12:

does a person have an ethical responsibility to perform an action to save a life if he/she previously committed an act that contributed to the duress in question?

Two thoughts come to mind: (1) you’re privileging acts of commission over acts of omission: do you mean to do so? And (2) in fact, the “act” is something that only with some small probability contributes to the duress of that other “person”[1] (in the case of pregnancy), right? Because the sex act produces a zygote with low probability, yes? If you want to go down this route, aren’t you also committed to things like demanding that all stockholders in companies that pollute be responsible for all harms to all persons from that pollution? It’s pretty clear that mercury contamination from coal-powered plants is causing all sorts of harms, and yet stockholders are held harmless. The standard dodge of “well, they’re corps, there’s the corporate barrier to liability” is a legalism, and obviously you (and all of us) are talking about -ethical- obligations, right?

[1] In quotes b/c I don’t accept that an embryo is a person in the same sense that a born person is a person.

21

bianca steele 06.08.19 at 8:13 pm

It would seem that Thomson’s moral world consists of powerless, nameless women and famous, talented men with organized communities of fans to defend their interests. How imaginative!

Do philosophers ever create thought experiments designed to illustrate a situation that is *not* like abortion (or whatever hot topic of the day)?

22

LFC 06.09.19 at 1:44 am

@Harry
Thank you for the link to the article.

23

Alan White 06.09.19 at 3:10 am

Harry, you might wish to not post this since it starts to go afield of your OP. But in light of some comments I’d like to say that Robert Veatch has had a great sway on how I view these issues in terms of the beginnings rather than the ends of moral life. He distinguishes partial moral standing–which at least some animal life and corpses possess (we may not morally do with them as we casually wish because they plausibly have some weak rights that require our duties to recognize in some equal way)–from full moral standing–which requires our equivalent duties to respond to strong rights claims. It’s generally reasonable to say that fetuses as they mature acquire partial moral standing in increasingly stronger ways and late-term acquire full moral standing that only may be set aside by strong (e.g. self-defense ) concerns of an equitable moral nature. Roe seems to crudely capture that same intuition in the trimester distinction, and seems pretty reasonable to me, rather than some moral absolutism about conception, which seems to be driving a lot of state legislation lately.

24

bianca steele 06.09.19 at 2:22 pm

The David Foster Wallace story “Luckily the Account Executive Knew C.P.R.” presents a similar scenario: deserted parking garage, employee morally compelled to perform CPR on his boss until morning (or possibly forever, given the existential nature of sterile modern architecture).

Incidentally, the Kitty Genovese case Thomson cites turns out to be a journalistic fabrication.

25

Chetan Murthy 06.09.19 at 10:43 pm

Roe seems to crudely capture that same intuition in the trimester distinction, and seems pretty reasonable to me

I learned something not-so-long-ago from a commenter (CassandraLeo?) at LG&M, which is relevant to this discussion, maybe. So far, Henry Fonda has to fly over and lay on hands, to save this person’s life. But in the case of abortion, it’s actually not like that. The Roe v. Wade ruling was partially based on fetus viability outside the womb, and partially on the probability of harm to the pregnant woman from carrying to term, versus aborting. That is, the danger of harm to the pregnant woman from carrying to term was nontrivial, and it was factored in.[1] So I learned, the danger to a woman from an abortion has dropped like a stone. Like. A. Stone. So a way to make the analogy more reflective of (at least) the abortion situation (not that that’s the only one that matters, sure) is for Henry Fonda to have to take a cloth-winged biplane across the country, whereas he could just relax in his state-of-the-art mansion. Or maybe drive to his country club (on the assumption that flying across the country in a 1920-era crop-duster is more dangerous than driving across town to your country club).

[1] And as we learn every day, America is going backwards on protecting the lives of pregnant women and post-partum mothers. We’re putting them in cars without airbags, so to speak, even though we have cars with airbags for us boys.

26

Harry 06.10.19 at 2:47 am

“But in the case of abortion, it’s actually not like that”

Just to be clear, again, the Henry Fonda case is not supposed to be analogous in any way with abortion.

“Incidentally, the Kitty Genovese case Thomson cites turns out to be a journalistic fabrication.”

Yes. It doesn’t affect her point (which is wrong, anyway, I believe). But maybe we should add a rider to the reading when we assign it, saying that story is a fabrication, because students often do pick up on it, uncritically.

27

Harry 06.10.19 at 2:49 am

“Do philosophers ever create thought experiments designed to illustrate a situation that is *not* like abortion (or whatever hot topic of the day)?”

Yes, all the time (indeed the HF case is one). Maybe worth a separate thread asking philosophers to list some!

28

Helen 06.10.19 at 3:23 am

So… the more heroic or wonderful acts that people perform (and as Bianca points out, the agency in these thought experiments/anecdotes is all with the male actors) the more we must force women to give birth, just in case the offspring might do something wonderful in future?
This is just the same old “but, you might abort someone who finds the cure for cancer, or thre next Stephen Hawking!” with a respectable ap gloss.

29

LFC 06.10.19 at 12:00 pm

@Helen
That is a complete misreading of the pt of the thought experiment. It has to do w Thomson’s argument about what having a “right to life” means, as should be clear from the OP and the thread. The article is, as its title says, a defense of abortion, so there would have been no pt in using a thought experiment w antiabortion implications. The question of who has “agency” in the hypothetical is also beside the point. I am inclined to disagree w Thomson about what having a “right to life” means, but that does not commit me or anyone else who shares that view to an antiabortion position. Rather it means that we would arrive at our conclusions by a somewhat different argumentative route.

30

John Quiggin 06.10.19 at 2:04 pm

One thing that has always annoyed me about the Thomson example is the fact that the life to be saved is that of a famous violinist, which seems to be morally irrelevant*. It’s great that, in the Orbison story, it’s a famous person taking action to save the life of someone obscure.

* Presumably, no one in Thomson’s target audience thinks it would be OK to kill a random person in order to save the violinist, so how can there be any additional obligation to save the violinist as opposed to a random stranger.

31

bianca steele 06.10.19 at 2:21 pm

Thomson is clear that she’s talking about a legal or societal obligation. The discussion of the Kitty Genovese case and of Samaritans in general points to that. Obviously it’s possible to repurpose that for a more utilitarian purpose, but there’s no imaginable situation in which Clint Eastwood would be prosecuted for failing to touch a fan who, it was believed, could be saved by his doing that, or in which Thomson’s friends would *not* be prosecuted if they abetted her belief that she could. Both this and the Eastwood case center a sense that the reader might single-handedly save lives far from his or her own, that absent the obvious falsehood of the fact (that the action is life-saving) would be frankly psychotic.

32

hix 06.10.19 at 3:15 pm

Is there really no failure to a assist a person in danger law that would be applicaple to a magical hand Henry Fonda in the US? (im not accepting for a second Roy Orbisons magical voice is a real life version of that, but just staying within in the hypothetical with the only special single person magical hand, how can there even be a discussion about a duty to use that hand). Im still rather optimistic that outside a strange subculture that takes philosophy classes, abortion support is based on the reasonable assumtion that a fetus is a fetus, not a person instead of a narcistic conception of society where no one has a duty to go through minor inconvenience to save someones life.

33

Harry 06.10.19 at 3:27 pm

“Thomson is clear that she’s talking about a legal or societal obligation”

I don’t think so. At least not always. Yes, she uses examples from (then-) current law (eg, as I understand it, if the Genovese case were real none of the onlookers would have broken the law); but she is very clear that her claims about the right to life, and the right to abortion, are claims about their real, moral, content. She says, for example, at the end that the woman who has an abortion in order just to avoid postponing a vacation, that what she does is morally permissible (even if the fetus is a person) not just that it should be legal (which you could easily agree with without thinking it is permissible).

Part of what is going on is that she does have a kind of secondary agenda, which is to make American conservative readers very uneasy about their insistence that, in general, there is no obligation to rescue persons while continuing to insist that there is an obligation to rescue fetuses in particular. (Most opponents of abortion I knew growing up in a different country were christians, so would have found the idea that there isn’t a general and extensive obligation to aid strangers quite weird).

34

bianca steele 06.10.19 at 3:41 pm

Henry,

Possibly I missed it, but I saw nothing in the paper to suggest Thomson believes there should be a law that requires people to put their life in danger to save a crime victim. She says exactly the opposite of that. If we’re meant to assume she supports some supposedly anti-conservative agenda that she explicitly argues against, why should I not suppose she really is opposed to abortion?

I read the paper as suggesting we have very strong intuitions against the Fonda situation, and that our intuitions against the violinist situation are different for interesting reasons, but should not be. I simply don’t believe we could overcome our reluctance to hold a movie star “accountable” in a similar situation. What would give is our readiness to believe a given action would be life-saving.

35

bianca steele 06.10.19 at 3:50 pm

Oops, Harry, sorry.

I feel like there’s a temptation for readers of these things to identify with the person who seems to have most agency, and to flatter ourselves that we really believe we would absolutely make the most moral choice. In the violinist case, the reader is the person responsible for keeping the machines going. In the other case, the reader is the movie star with the charisma to solve illness by touch. Not many people ask, if I were the violinist, would I be horrified to find my fans did this thing, or if I were the ill woman, would I be angry at Henry Fonda for not coming to my aid?

36

Leo Casey 06.10.19 at 4:29 pm

I actually experienced something very akin to the Kitty Genovese case when I was in graduate school in Toronto many years ago. I had an apartment that was in the front of an apartment building that was very deep, with a school yard from a school on the other side of the block abutting it’s back. I was awakened one night by blood curling screams coming from the general direction of the back of the apartment house — the sort of screams that when you hear them, you know instantly something is terribly wrong. I went to my window, but could not see what was happening. I called the police. They came, and found a woman seriously wounding by stabbing in the school year; if they hadn’t arrived, she would certainly have died. The next day the police called to interview me. There wasn’t much I could tell them — I hadn’t seen anything. But I was sure that I could not have been the only person in the building that awoke to these screams: I am not a light sleeper, and I was at more of a distance from what actually happened those many in the rear of the building, where they might actually have been in a position to observe anything. I had even voices from the back of building saying what is going on. But the police told me mine was the only call. That shocked me: I understood myself as having acted on an universal moral obligation, at virtually no cost or inconvenience to myself.

But — contra Thomson — I don’t see thought experiments of this type as being particularly helpful to decision making around abortion. A right to life is not the same as the right to potential life, where there are at the very least conflicting moral considerations involving the woman carrying the fetus. The question for me is a simple one: who should we trust to as the best judge of those moral considerations, the woman herself or the legislatures of states like Georgia and Missouri, and justices like Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas. The question answers itself.

37

Harry 06.10.19 at 4:50 pm

“Oops, Harry, sorry” — that’s fine. I think both Henry and I feel flattered when people make that mistake (but I’m right to, and he’s wrong).

I think we’re talking at cross purposes, and that I must have misunderstood you’re previous comment (which I did puzzle over a bit). Here’s what I think she thinks:
Abortion is pretty much always permissible and should be legal even if the fetus is a person
The right to life (which we all have) does not include the right to whatever it takes to sustain life
The law should not force us to aid others who are in Genovese-type situations (because we don’t have a moral duty — though even if we did have one maybe it shouldn’t enforce it, she is silent on that).
HF has no duty to save her life in the way described, and Orbison had no duty to do what he did, though it was very good of Orbison to do it (and would be good of HF to do it).
Its morally permissible to kill the violinist in the way that the patient would be doing (ie, by detaching herself from him). Killing him in that way does not violate his right to life because a right to life does not include the right not to be killed.
The right to life does not include the right not to be killed, is proved by innocent aggressor cases (eg the rapidly expanding child).

I agree with some of that, and disagree with other bits.

Indeed, she thinks that there is no duty, and should be no law forcing us, to aid strangers in need. The anti-American conservative (not, necessarily, anti-conservative) agenda is to show that this commitment, which she shares with American conservatives, sits very uneasily with the commitment that pregnant woman has a duty to aid the stranger in need that is growing inside her, specifically by continuing to allow it to grow inside her.

38

Harry 06.10.19 at 4:55 pm

Ie, she’s trying to show that they are inconsistent or, more charitably, that there’s a hell of a lot more intellectual work to be done to render them consistent than what she calls the standard right to life argument assumes.

39

Bernard Yomtov 06.10.19 at 6:11 pm

As often, I don’t get how a ridiculously improbable hypothetical helps illuminate the point it is aimed at.

Let’s take a more realistic case. A person suffering some serious injury is brought to the emergency room of a hospital. The “bare minimum needed to sustain life” is appropriate emergency treatment, by a surgeon rather than a movie star, perhaps. We have, do we not, laws requiring the hospital to provide such treatment? Are these laws not morally justified?

40

Harry 06.10.19 at 7:22 pm

In those circumstances, given what they need, yes, those laws are justified. But suppose they need someone else’s kidney and no-one was offering to donate (a very realistic hypothetical, happens all the time). Thomson would say they have no right to it, and that the laws we currently have that forbid the forcible transplantation of kidneys is morally justified. So they don’t have a right to the bare minimum needed to sustain life whatever that is; only to whatever they have a right to.

The real life example is enough like the hypothetical to make the hypothetical seem less ridiculous. Or at least that’s what I have always thought.

41

Kenny Easwaran 06.10.19 at 8:15 pm

You sate our curiosity about one story, and then whet it with another offhand remark!

“I remembered suddenly that I once saved a toddler from drowning, albeit rather inadvertently and at an age barely older than the toddler myself.”

Don’t leave us hanging!

42

Bernard Yomtov 06.10.19 at 8:33 pm

The real life example is enough like the hypothetical to make the hypothetical seem less ridiculous. Or at least that’s what I have always thought.

Which real life example, the emergency room or the kidney?

I don’t see the kidney case as being like the hypothetical at all. There is a big difference between donating a kidney and flying across the country. Or suppose we don’t require Mr. Fonda to fly at all. Suppose the patient is in his home town, not on the East Coast, and Fonda need only drive to the hospital, possibly with a police escort to save time, to administer his touch. Then what?

And if we can inconvenience the surgeon and ER staff, who would rather be taking a coffee break, then why not Fonda?

43

hix 06.10.19 at 8:40 pm

Current laws were not written to take magic touches into consideration anywhere, which might allow for legal loopholes. We can still make a reasonable guess how much risk/effort etc. current laws require to safe someone to avoid prosecution. The magic touch example, in contrast to the violinist or the forced kidney donation is very non intrusive. Im still holding the apparent minority opinion that one should also be mandated to safe the violinist, but that is an entirly different issue, since one has to give up so much more personal freedom than in the magic touch, or even more so the real life kidney donation example to help.
To be fair it is not really about narzism, since collectivists often have even more disregard for their outgroup. The worst situation in a moderatly well off nation seems to be the one in China, where people sometimes intentionally kill an injured person after an accident because death compensation is cheaper than liability for hospital bills, and bystanders including public officials sometimes just ignore injured people.

44

Harry 06.10.19 at 9:00 pm

“Which real life example, the emergency room or the kidney?”

The one in the OP. The point of the OP was really not to prompt people to read Thomson, though if you do want to argue about her that’s what you should do, but to relate a story about Roy Orbison, which you should also read.

“Don’t leave us hanging!”
I noticed that no-one has picked me up on that!

So, I must have been 5, and we were on vacation, staying in the little cottage/shed at the bottom of someone’s garden. The house belonged to the parents of some neighbours. The neigbours were staying in the main house — a couple, and 4 kids, aged (alarmingly now I think about it) 6,5,3, and 1. The kids were all boys, and the 6 and 5 year olds were in my class at school (and, as I remember it, were rather cruel to me, but that was true of a number of kids, and I might be misremembering). There was a swimming pool right outside the house. One morning I got up early, and I was already attuned not to wake anyone up so I left the cottage/shed and walked toward the swimming pool, just to sit somewhere. The 3 year old was on the surface of the pool, floating face down and, as far as I can remember, still (quite possibly I’m wrong about him being still, and quite possibly he had woken me with some sort of noise). I was a very, very, inhibited kid, so it must have taken enormous effort for me to do this: I ran into the house shouting as loud as I could “Willy’s in the pool, Willy’s in the pool”, and remember the dad running down the stairs and leaping into the pool and dragging him out of the pool. Presumably they did whatever needed to be done — the kid was fine in the end, but apparently it was a very close thing.

All this is verified by my parents. It might explain my distaste for swimming pools (and swimming in general). For about 15 years straight at least one of my kids was young enough to drown in a pool (the youngest turned six 15 years after the eldest learned to walk, and we regularly visit relatives who have an uncovered swimming pool — basically I never slept properly on those trips till the youngest was old enough to look after himself.

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