On a coach holiday to Eastbourne the driver took us on an optional trip out and we stopped for about twenty minutes at Beachy Head, the highest chalk sea cliff (163m / 531 ft) and famous suicide spot. We alighted from the coach into bright sunlight. With fortuitous timing as the driver was telling us someone from the chaplain service drove along the road about ever twenty minutes looking for jumpers, the chaplain drove passed.
On average there are 20 jumpers each year. I remember reading a small column-filler in the newspaper where a young woman had jumped to her death from Beachy Head and on her body was found a terse note: “Life is simply not for me.”
I saw a few telephones with the Samaritans number on it. Also the coach driver said workers at the pub and taxi drivers are also on the look-out for possible jumpers. Across the globe these cliffs are the third place for people killing themselves by throwing themselves over an edge: number one is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and, number two, the Aokigahara Woods in Japan.
Looking over the edge was sickeningly exciting. I could remember those frightening chalky cliffs in a couple of films: Quadrophenia where a man goes over the top on a scooter and The Living Daylights when James Bond does the same in a Land Rover - only to parachute to safety.
I’ve met two people who have committed suicide successfully - but not by jumping over Beachy Head. One was the local barber, a colourful character. One weekend morning one of my mum’s friends rang to say police had cordoned off a nearby road as some kids had found a body. It worked out that the barber who’d cut my hair regularly and recently. He was a slight wimpy gay likeable lad and I heard on the grapevine he’d be selling drugs through his shop on the precinct. He wanted to stop but the supplier knew he was a soft as mud and forced him to continue. The pressure heightened, he cracked and hung himself from a post.
Two people have told me privately they’d tried to end their lives, both being desperately lonely and being unable to see worthwhile ahead. Both were women, both used pills however four out of five people who attempt suicide are men (usually 35 to 50.) The worst case I’ve heard of recently is a man who threw himself onto electric circular saws in his shed.
Once I had a flat to rent out and a mother asked if she could bring her daughter round for a viewing. The daughter had two broken legs and she just about managed to mount the steep steps on crutches. A slug could have beaten her to the door of the flat. She’d been in a psychiatric section of the hospital and tried to jump out of a high window to kill herself. Life was not broken but two legs were. Thankfully she didn’t like the deep Victorian bath and didn’t rent the place.
When people hear of someone who’s committed suicide and make remarks like, “They wouldn’t kill themselves – never in a thousand years,” or “I knew them inside it; it isn’t in their nature,” I’m surprised. Who really knows the interior life of another person? Who knows what flights of joy and numbing misery flex and fluctuate in that grey stuff inches behind our eyes? How can we ever know what unedited thoughts flow through the windowless back rooms of our minds where were live alone with ourselves?
I’m fairly sure thoughts of not wanting to live are more common than anyone knows. I never understand it though. Are not music and books and art a reason to live? I also think how lucky I am to be here. Millions of my dad’s sperm died but one made it to one of about 480 eggs my mum released in her lifetime. I owe it to that tadpole and that egg to live on.
I think of suicide in a practical way. Between 2050 and 2060 I expect to be somewhere towards the end. As I’ll be single and I baulk at the thought of medical people invading my privacy I can foresee a trip to Dignitas in Switzerland to drink a glass of lethal milkshake.
So here is a sad painting on a small canvas. The woman has just walked into the room to find someone slumped on the couch, slipping into the abyss. I’m not sure about the picture on the wall but it looks like an object has been thrown at it.
At Beachy Head, the third most popular place to commit suicide….