FROM UNKNOWN PLEASURES TO BINDED JOY
IT'S A TESTAMENT TO THE INVINCIBILITY OF THE AMERICANS' MILITARY MACHINE that they are obliged to sink their own aircraft-carriers. They scuttled one recently off the Florida coast, to form the world's biggest artificial reef. Sounds fine, until you think about it.
There's something about artificial reefs that smacks of silicon breast implants: they're nice to look at, but the fact that they're unnatural substantially diminishes the pleasure of diving on them. The reefs, that is.
I've always enjoyed cold, gloomy waters because you never know quite what you're going to run into. Of course, it's so gloomy in the UK that you're lucky if you run into your buddy. But part of the adventure of diving is the lure of the unknown, the mystery of a forbidden, submarine world, et cetera.
I remember diving with a German tauchschule in Fuerteventura. They gave me a choice: "Ze red rope iz ze deep route for ze barracudaz and ze garten eelz. Ze yellow rope iz ze not-zo-deep route for ze zee horses and ze turtles. Zo! Vich?"
They might as well have gone the whole hog and installed travelators. Granted, I saw all the aforementioned fauna, and at unusually close range. I could hardly have reported them to the Trading Standards people. But it was a profoundly unsatisfying experience nevertheless.
It was like watching a guinea pig from the safety of your car in a safari park, as opposed to stalking Bengal tigers in the bush.
Deliberately sinking the aircraft-carrier was such a typically American thing to do. This, after all, is the nation that puts paper seals on hotel toilet seats.
Some actuary probably worked out that the insurance risk would be less in a diving environment where everything was contrived and controlled, so the dive operators clubbed together to create a safe, sanitised and completely counterfeit experience.
Some American divers won't mind in the least. They won't be able to tell the difference - they were raised in Disneyland, after all, and a prosthetic reef is only a theme park with fish.
But hang on, you say: why should it matter if a ship is sunk on purpose? Most of the wrecks in the Channel were sunk deliberately - by shells and torpedoes. The answer is, I don't know - it just does.
Knowing that a bunch of naval architects and marine biologists have sat down with representatives of the travel industry, and decided exactly which lubricants and coolants should be drained from the wreck to render it harmless to humans and squat lobsters alike, somehow also drains it of glamour and excitement.
It's the consequence of a society so nervous and neurotic that it can't bear to be exposed to the slightest risk of a risk. Heaven forbid, someone could get hurt.
Interestingly, this ethical sensitivity seems to lose its force outside US national boundaries. Perhaps because it's as synthetic and financially motivated as a fake wreck.
However, you'll be excited to learn that I've been invited to chair a committee of Iraqi and Afghani diving enthusiasts who have come up with a radical plan for another artificial reef, compared to which a mere aircraft-carrier pales into significance.
Once the necessary resolution has been passed by the UN Security Council, the Pentagon will be towed out to sea and sunk in shallow water off North Carolina. But not before all the toxins have been drained off. And that could take some time.
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.