GREY DIVERS DO IT WITH GREAT CARE
I've been following with great interest the debate over the minimum age for diving.
One side, representing the more cautious element, seems to favour 35 - especially for males. At this stage in a man's growth, the fiery, impetuous impulses of his youth have given way to a more balanced and thoughtful view. In his hierarchy of priorities, the ISA and the family health plan have superseded tequila slammers, banned substances and adventurous girls called Tammy.
The other side strongly advocates a flexible minimum age, based on the eruption of the diver's milk teeth. It's hard to grip the mouthpiece of a free-flowing DV with your bare gums, especially when your dummy's in the way.
In the end, both arguments bored me. At my time of life, I'm far more concerned about the proposed imposition of a maximum age for divers. This is ageism in its most contemptible form. There is absolutely no aspect of old age that could not be accommodated under water with a little ingenuity and imagination.
As an avid reader of Diver's quarterly supplement for the "active grey" market, Gaga magazine, I was intrigued to learn that the first under-water day centre for "senior divers" was now open to the public.
Happy Acres is on the east coast, not far from Clacton. Take the A12 from London. Ignore the sign that reads: "Harwich for the Continent" and follow instead the sign: "Frinton for the Incontinent".
The site is operated by the National Trust and the National Gardens Scheme and is a model of thoughtful planning for the elderly and infirm.
On arriving at Happy Acres, I was ushered into the briefing room where I was served Horlicks and Hobnobs by a lovely young instructor called Marvin, who had bleached blond hair and an earring and who told me he was never too busy to chat.
It turns out he was keen on amateur dramatics and had somehow never found the time to marry. What a waste, I say!
Once I'd got my breath back, I was issued with my Zwimmer Frame. This innovative bit of kit is designed for the hard of finning and propels the diver gently through the water by means of four battery-driven propellers located in the legs.
Then Marvin placed a rug over my knees - the water at Happy Acres is maintained at a constant 82°C, but they don't want you catching a chill on your way to the boat - and he wheeled me carefully across the croquet lawn to the jetty.
All I can say is, whoever invented the step-in RIB deserves a medal.
I was introduced to my buddy, Albert, a retired ledger clerk from Harrogate. He was a quiet man, but very nice. Then we showed our senior citizen boat passes to the driver and we were off.
The dive was a pleasant meander down memory lane. All the flora and fauna were clearly labelled in large type and I soon got used to the bifocal mask and the special, two-way incontinence pants that kept the moisture out as well as in. We whiled away a pleasant half-hour before Marvin signalled that it was medication time back at the Day Centre.
I'd been dreading the ascent (the old lungs aren't what they were) so you can imagine my relief when Marvin ushered me into the Stanna Chair Lift. I just sat there as we rose slowly up to the boat. Very dignified.
Two nice nurses helped me off with my gear and I was back in the Sun Lounge in time for the omnibus edition of the Archers.
Happy Acres offers mature divers the promise of interesting, challenging diving, perhaps even into their late 40s and 50s. I'll see you there next Sunday, if you can give your carers the slip.