Save me from cowardy-custard men like Francesco Schettino!


Save me from these cowardy-custard men!

Mandy says she would be disgusted to be the wife of Francesco Schettino - who is now known as Captain Coward

Mandy says she would be disgusted to be the wife of Francesco Schettino – who is now known as Captain Coward

The boy-thief sprang from the shadows as we dawdled back to our hotel after dinner on a summer’s night in Havana.

He tried to wrestle my bag off my shoulder. I resisted, but he yanked hard at my bag, kicked me fiercely in the shins and spat something at me in Spanish.

But I felt reassured that my boyfriend at the time — an amateur athlete who was three times the size of this scrawny Cuban street kid and a one-time Doncaster karate champion — was beside me.

‘Leave this to me,’ Alex said, stepping manfully forward. ‘Give me the bag.’
Alex must have a cunning plan, I thought, before watching incredulously
as he blithely handed my bag to the thief, who then ran off.

Shaking and looking as if he was about to cry, Alex said sheepishly: ‘Well, it would have been stupid to put up a fight.’

‘Why’ I asked. ‘He wasn’t armed. You could have swatted him away like a fly.’

Suddenly, I recognised the
unpalatable truth about my strapping, pentathlete boyfriend: he was a
cowardy-custard and we had no future.

I was reminded of this when I read
about the captain of the Costa Concordia abandoning ship — after it ran
aground off Italy — long before his passengers had been evacuated, then
claiming that he had tripped and fallen into a lifeboat.

And I thought how disgusted I would be if I was the wife of Captain Coward (as Francesco Schettino is now known). Women have never given cowards an easy ride, and psychologist Dr Michael Mantell thinks he knows why.

‘Courage — which can include assurance, certainty and risk-taking in the face of real danger — is attractive because it suggests the man can express his emotions without fear, leading to honesty in the relationship,’ he says.

Mandy was horrified as her boyfriend at the time handed her bag to a thief who then ran off

Mandy was horrified as her boyfriend at the time handed her bag to a thief who then ran off

‘It also suggests he can offer her physical and emotional protection. It’s the courageous one who will succeed in the jungle, and women find that reassuring.’

My former boyfriend Vernon was never someone I thought of as particularly brave until, sailing towards Catalina Island, off Southern California, in a 30ft boat across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, we ran into thick fog.

Four hours later, I was almost hysterical. But Vernon was cool-headed courage in motion. He kept the helm, spoke to the coastguard on the radio, checked the Global Positioning System (GPS), calmed me down and instructed me in putting together grab-bags (flares, torches, bottled water, a portable GPS) in case we ended up in the water.

That evening, I looked at him in awe. That, in extremis, he had demonstrated such cool-headed, focused bravery filled me with pride and love.

I had felt the same pride when, on a childhood family holiday, my father rushed into the sea, risking his own life, to save an old man who was drowning off a beach in North Wales.

Cowardice, on the other hand, diminishes us. Captain Coward must realise that now. He has survived a catastrophe that has so far claimed 16 lives, but can take little solace from Shakespeare’s words that ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths’.