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If it were not for that laziness, I would have been in the Cumberland St Countdown at the time of last week’s stabbings.
As I left home by bike to buy a few groceries, my companion requested a loaf of excellent bread from Side On, situated across the road from the supermarket.
I may have given the impression I would complete this task, but en route I got sidetracked by a coffee stop and decided to shop at the closer Anderson’s Bay Countdown instead.
Accordingly, I was surprised to arrive home to an email from the Old School Mate in Feilding with the subject line "horrible stuff happened in Cumberland St Countdown" and a message saying merely "Very shocking ..."
It was indeed shocking to find multiple stabbings had occurred at a supermarket I often frequent, a place where two of the offspring had worked in the produce section during their university student years, where I would often catch up on family news with an old playcentre colleague who was usually patiently dealing with myriad inquiries at the self-checkouts; a place where I have found the staff friendly and able to deal with any issues quickly and with good humour.
It was heartening to read how quickly people selflessly stepped in to assist the injured and contain the attacker.
There can be a fine line between bravery and foolhardiness which, when crossed, can result in endangering more people unnecessarily, but in the heat of the moment at Countdown, staff and customer bystanders earned the praise of the police for their actions which prevented more people being hurt.
Their behaviour was awe-inspiring.
I might want to think if I had been within cooee of what took place that afternoon, I would have been "as brave as a barrelful of bears " (ignoring the fact Belinda, Ogden Nash’s character thus described, went pale and cried for help when disaster loomed).
(My delusional beliefs are never far away — I thought I could reduce the date and orange scones recipe provided by the Hole in One Cafe in last week’s ODT because what household really needs 20 scones? Since my measuring involves guesswork and coffee mugs, in that order, and maths is not my strong suit, my first attempt spread over the tray like a sugar-coated algal bloom. Determined to succeed, I tried again the next day.
This time the algal bloom was on steroids, if that is a thing.
Please, do not be cruel enough to point out if I had made the recipe once as published, I would have achieved the same number of scones, only presentable ones. I know.)
My past behaviour suggests I would have been useless in the Countdown confrontation.
I can be clear-headed in emergencies directly involving me and can problem-solve when greeted with unexpected but not life-threatening events, but when others are in immediate danger, embarrassingly, I tend to freeze.
Family members still tease me about watching near-drownings of the offspring, relying on others to save the day (not in deep water, so my limited swimming ability was no excuse) while I remained rooted to the spot viewing everything in slow motion.
Apparently, I am not alone. Military survival instructor John Leach, who has studied how survivors and victims behave in disasters, estimates about 75% of people are so bewildered they cannot think clearly.
He reckoned a mere 15% managed to remain calm and rational enough to make life-saving decisions and the last 10% freak out and endanger everybody else.
Much has been written about the so-called bystander effect where people stand by and do nothing in a crisis or walk on by. However, research published in 2019 which analysed more than 200 video recordings of arguments and assaults in Amsterdam, Lancaster and Cape Town found that bystanders intervened in nine out of 10 of these occasions to help victims.
Interestingly, although the public perception of safety in the three cities would be different, there was no difference in the rates of intervention.
Also, with increasing numbers of bystanders, researchers found there was a greater likelihood that at least someone would intervene.
Lead author of the study, Dr Richard Philpot of Lancaster University and University of Copenhagen, considers crime prevention efforts are needed building on the willingness of bystanders to intervene.
I am not sure if at nearly 66, I am capable of metamorphosing into Belinda’s friend Custard the Dragon, a cowardly creature who rises to the occasion once to gobble a pirate and then returns to "crying for a nice safe cage".
Intuition/laziness suggests the best I might be able to do is arm bystander interveners with my experimental scones for use as deterrents.
- Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.