CLUELESS IN SNAGGLE
NOWHERE DOES THE SCHISM BETWEEN North and South yawn so wide as in the world of diving. Compared to the North Sea in August, the Channel in January is like the Gulf of Aqaba in, er, whenever.
So why did I consent to spend a weekend diving with the Snaggle Butt branch in that notorious stretch of water known as the Devil's Midden, which resembles in colour, texture and temperature nothing so much as a chocolate Slush Puppy?
Actually, it wasn't me that consented. It was Derek Jaggers ("Architect, Handyman. No Job Too Big Or Too Small") who answered the phone and accepted the invitation on my behalf.
I was in my study, discussing with my solicitor my forthcoming civil action against Jaggers. (It wasn't just the business with the septic tank and the neighbour's koi pond. Any fool knows that you don't earth a ring circuit to the U-bend of a WC.)
I later learned that Jaggers was brought up (in the most generous sense of the term) in Slapwick - a conurbation near Snaggle Butt and twinned with Soweto. It was thrown up after the war to accommodate Germans who failed to meet their government's sole criterion for repatriation - namely, the ability to walk and talk simultaneously.
Consequently, Slapwick's gene pool is more like an anoxic puddle. From which emerged Jaggers, an intellectual Colossus, relatively speaking. Well, at least he had the wit to have me condemned to 48 hours in Snaggle Butt.
A byelaw prohibited the erection of permanent structures on the site, a renowned beauty spot affording unrivalled views of the urea plant at Billingham. And so the combined mass of Slapwick's entire housing stock is less than that of the carbon dioxide once absorbed daily by the birch forest that was felled to make room for it.
A great place to be in an earthquake.
Anyway, I pitched up at Gorstley Halt, the nearest station to Snaggle, at 2am. The guard fancied himself as a humorist: "Sorry ahboot the delay-ah. Edward the Blue Engine was poorly an' James the Red Engine was sulkin' after the Fat Controller give 'im a slappin'."
It was snowing. I'm not saying the station was small, but the waiting room was engaged.
Eventually I managed to hail a cab. As he pulled up, I caught a whiff of fish and chips. "Ah'll have t'come back fer yer kit," warned the driver. "Ah diven get any petrol an' the auld lass doesn't pull so well on second 'and cookin' oil."
The Snaggle Butt Diving Centre is a listed building. In fact, it's listed so far, thanks to the northerly gale that provides the coastline's Arctic microclimate, that it's in imminent danger of collapse. I was relieved when, next morning, I left the hut for the waiting dive boat.
I say boat. The Pisstaker is a converted barge, used to transport barrels of urine to the alum workings that once peppered the coast of Cleveland. Suffice it to say that there persists to this day a quaint, olfactory reminder of her past.
"Right!" barked Ron, our divemaster. "We're goin' to have one last bash at locatin' the wreck of the Dog's Dinner."
This evoked a groan from the local divers.
"Stow that!" Ron snapped. "This is 'istory, this is. If we find 'er, we'll all be bloody 'eroes!"
I'd assumed that the Dog's Dinner was a Spanish treasure ship. But it turns out that she was the plywood tender to a fishing coble and had sunk in 3m the previous week.
We never did find her. (to be discontinued)
Deeper with Blackford
by Andy Blackford
£7.95 plus P&P, A5 format, 156 pages, paperback
Special offer - buy online at £8.95 inc. UK surface p&p
From Swanage Bay to the Redcar sewage treatment plant; from Bovisand Harbour to the wreck of the Wigan Shopping Trolley - Andy Blackford has been there, dived it, and recalls the experiences in this new collection of 36 of his best stories. Illustrated by Rico.
P&P UK £2, overseas surface £3.