I DON'T WANT TO BE AN EXTREMIST
JUST BECAUSE I'M 108 DOESN'T MEAN I CAN'T SYMPATHISE with the contemporary obsession for extreme sports.
As life becomes ever more regimented and predictable, so the spirit is apt to revolt and to declare, "Ho there! Wait! I am not a number! I am a man! Therefore I will jump out of this pilotless drone at 40,000 feet without a parachute, wearing only a skin-tone satin thong from the Janet Reger catalogue!"
I've done some pretty extreme things in my time. For instance, I used to do Extreme Marriage. This involved wedding the most unsuitable people on the planet, just for the sheer hell of it. And, of course, sheer hell was the inevitable consequence. My Extreme Wives included a scissor-wielding psychopath, the imprint of whose teeth I still bear on my right calf.
Later, I took to running ludicrous distances across deserts (the Sahara, the Jordan) and big hills (the Himalayas). This was the physical manifestation of my mid-life crisis - it was cheaper than Extreme Wives, but only slightly.
Oddly, my natural extremism never extended to diving. So far, I haven' t free-dived beyond the limits of the deep end at Balham Baths. The barrier ice of Western Greenland still waits in frozen impassivity for its penetration by Blackford of the North.
I have never breathed any gas other than God's air (albeit in highly-condensed form) and that remarkable stuff you get at the dentist's, which in my view ought to be available to all without prescription.
Realistically, It' s too late for me to express my innate extremism through the medium of diving. Technical diving simply doesn't appeal. As far as I can make out, it allows you to dive deeper without spending 15 frozen, boring hours decompressing on a shotline. Or to spend six months at 15 metres, gazing abstractedly at virtually nothing - the submarine equivalent of visiting the British Museum Reading Room to study the day's edition of the Sun.
On the one hand, I just can't resonate to the prospect of risking my skin by visiting a wreck in 150m of freezing, pitch-black slime unless it were to contain the treasure of the Sierra Madre, with my name indelibly engraved upon it.
On the other, why would I want to spend three hours paddling around Rungstead Ledges when I can bob up after 20 minutes with a smile and no air and my dignity intact, and bugger off to the pub?
By the same token, I've never been more than momentarily drawn to the notion of cave-diving. Squeezing through an ever-narrowing uterus of limestone to some cavernous womb, barren except for one, entirely pointless bacterium and a smattering of blind, pallid worms, has consistently failed to get my juices going.
While your free climber is typically at the peak of health, bursting with mental and physical prowess and living a blameless life on a diet of dew and gravel, I inevitably scale my personal mountain at 5am with a crushing hangover, in a state of gibbering paranoia.
This is one of those early mornings. The martins in the eaves are feeding their young, and the noise is execrable. Remind me to gas them later. I have considered drowning myself in the water butt with our four pox-ridden carp.
Because I have been engaged in the ultimate in extreme sport, an experience that has all the palm-sweating, vertiginous horror of ascending a crumbling overhang without ropes. I have had to produce my column for Diver in time to hit that final, final deadline.
Extremely yours, etc.
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.