QUICKSAND – MY PHOBIA –A
I have a
morbid fear of drowning in quicksand. It may be the most unusual phobia of
all. I have never been stuck in
quicksand, bogs or deep mud. I did once fall into a peat bog while walking on
the Pennine Way, and though it was messy, and cold, I was in no real danger. Te
incident inspired my cynical poem YOU
HAVE TO QUAGMIRE SOME PEOPLE.
fear originated from watching the film, Ice Cold In Alex. In the film, Anthony
Quayle, playing a World War Two German spy who has been travelling with an
English Ambulance crew lost in the Sahara Desert. He realises that they are in
danger of finding the radio he has been using to pass information to the
Germans, so he tries to throw the radio into a deep quicksand pit. It fails to
sink. In his efforts to make it go under, he gets trapped himself. The English, led by John Mills launch a
desperate rescue mission, even trying to haul him out with an electric winch
attached to their ambulance. Quayle vanishes into the thick tar like mud, and
the winch is seen pouring through after him. Eventually, he is dragged out
safely, but I found it to be one of the most horrific scenes in any film I ever
I had nightmares for some time afterwards. I found that I could get nervous just
walking through a puddle of mud that I knew full well not to be quicksand.
Of course, being a film fan, I see quicksand in many
other films, at least when I don’t break out in cold sweats and have to leave
the room until I think the scene is over.
Tarzan films often feature quicksand. It is one of the great clichés of
the cinema and TV. A hero in the jungle rescues the heroine from a mud pit.
Later, pursued by the henchman or his minions, they lure the attackers into the
same quicksand and watch them drown.
Film quicksand is easy to make and fake. They take a
pool of water, and cover it in floating porridge oats, oil and sawdust to the
thickness desired. This is why the initial sinking to thigh or waist is often
rapid. After this the actor or actress just has to crouch, kneel and lie
further into the slop and look suitably distressed.
quicksand is quite different. The myth of the mire that sucks people tot heir
doom is of course nonsense. Quicksand is just a pool of waterlogged sand or
soil that has grains too fine to support heavy weights. An animal or person
will sink in to a certain depth, but no further unless they actually
struggle. There are certain rules about
keeping still, lying flush to the surface of the filth, and slowly easing your
way up until you are clear. If you are stuck in quicksand, move one leg up. The
other will go down so you end up a bit lopsided. Now, equally slowly (no sudden
jarring movements). Stop moving that
leg, and move the other one. The first will go down as the second goes up, but
not so far, now switch the motion at intervals from one leg to the other and
you slowly pop up safe and sound.
The most common places to find quicksands are in
Ocean and river estuaries, where water can flow through and permeate the sand
like the fizzy carbonating effect of water in lemonade. A big problem with
estuary quicksands is that they move around with the tides. A path that was
safe yesterday may be treacherously soft to walk on today.
Few if any people actually drown in quicksand. It
tends to hold people half trapped while either the ocean tide comes in and
drowns them, or they die of hypothermia, as their body temperature drops in the
cold clammy wet grip of the sands when no one hears their cries for help.
Perhaps the most terrible place for quicksands is
England’s Morecambe Bay, in Lancashire’s Fylde. It’s a magnificent Bay
surrounded by a run down seaside town that lost most of its trade to Blackpool
nearby in the mid twentieth century. A beach full of DANGER QUICKSAND!
BEWARE OF SOFT SAND! Signs are a
deterrent to many bathers, but surprisingly, the sands do claim many lives
every year. A few years ago, a group of
exploited grossly underpaid illegal immigrant Chinese Cockle Pickers died on
Morecambe Sands. Most were claimed by a combination of the tides and
Morecambe has a history of death on the sands. The
beach looks magnificent, and it was always very tempting for people to think of
walking, or riding in coach and horses, across the C shaped Bay to the distant
hills of the Lake District. By chance,
many make the journey safely. Many
also do not. There are graveyards full of empty coffins in Morecambe,
especially around Grange-Over-Sands, near the River Kent which is the most
dangerous stretch. Many a coach and horse has gone down in the sands, and even
a few motorcyclists, complete with their bikes.
Safe passage across the sands is possible, as
Morecambe has specially trained guides, called Sand Pilots, like Cedric
Robinson, who’s autobiographical writings are truly fascinating. http://www.lakedistrictwalks.com/morbay.html
Solid ground can turn to quicksand in an earthquake.
The process is called Liquification. Cities like Lisbon and Port Royal sank
into the Earth in major quakes. The San
Francisco Quake of 1906 saw many buildings that were built on landfill and reclaimed
from the sea fell in a Liquification process. The city has rebuilt extensively
on the same unstable ground. Another quake is due anytime now.
Quicksand features in many famous novels, including Redgauntlet,
by Sir Walter Scott, The Hound of the Baskervilles, the most famous of
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books, and R. D. Blackmoor’s Lorna Doone. Horror storywriter Guy N. Smith wrote about
a sentient quicksand in a book called The Sucking Pit (described by Stephen
King as the best title for any horror story ever). In Stephen Donaldson’s
Thomas Covenant books, Covenant falls into a quicksand and finds living things
in there with him trying to pull him down (though they are actually rescuing
My own poetry and short story writings are heavily
influenced by my phobia. I see
quicksand as a metaphor for how I, and
Homo sapiens as a species, get into situations from which we need others to
help us extricate ourselves. To me, quicksand is not just a horrible death,
with mouth and lungs filling with mud, but represents the fear of being lost
and forgotten forever. There is something terrifying about the fear of no one
ever remembering you once you have gone from the world. Quicksand symbolizes
impotency and helplessness and oblivion.
In using my fear in my writing, I have had to
research it quite a lot. The Internet threw up my greatest surprise however.
Many people regard quicksand as a fetishistic turn on. There are sites and
pages in which people film one another, (mostly scantily clad or totally
unclothed girls) in pools of mud or sometimes even in real quicksand peril
situations. Check out Mud Puddle Visuals http://www.clubmpv.com/
and related links to see the extent of this growing fetish. That someone can be
turned on by what makes me turn away is amazing too me. Somehow I envy them.
They say that to conquer your fears you should
confront them. People with Arachnophobia will do this by handling spiders. Claustrophobics will lock themselves in dark
cupboards. There is no way I am getting into quicksand to test my fears. I’m
happy to stay on solid ground.
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