TRY AS WE MIGHT, we can hardly pretend that diving is an extreme sport. It used to possess a certain macho image, particularly when conducted at night in the Humber estuary between November and March. But these days, when we're allowing girls and 10-year-olds to qualify, it's about as extreme as French knitting.
(Having said that, my Great Aunt Ethel knitted barbed-wire fences for the British Expeditionary Force. She contracted tetanus after trying to rescue a ball of steel wool from a kitten).
In my day, we had to spend six months training in the pool before they allowed us anywhere near salt water. Today, people do their PADI Open Water in the Cayman Islands so that they can dive in swimming pools back home.
I suppose we continue to attract an extremist fringe because, just occasionally, diving can still get a little scary. Reading the price of a new regulator is enough to give me heart palpitations. And watching Big Alf Beardsley try to get into his semi-dry on Chesil Beach has induced neurological bend symptoms in many a strong man.
Yet it doesn't have to be that way. In my experience, the key to safe diving lies in rigorous training. I once worked as a sort of security guard at a shark-diving operation in the Bahamas. It was a real eye-opener. Many of the sharks had received only the most basic instruction and some were even foggy about the simplest of procedures, such as Not Eating The Punters.
It's not easy, training sharks. They're like the French: it doesn't matter how often you explain the concept of the orderly queue, they'll fall into a feeding frenzy at the first whiff of a rotten fish-head.
For those who shun extremes and prefer safe, sanitised diving that is scarcely more demanding than a stroll through the London Aquarium, I offer a couple of simple rules.
Firstly, avoid any dive with a name containing the word "hole". Getting into a hole under water usually means exactly what it suggests. Going down the hole is relatively simple. It's only
when you decide to return that you become subject to Alice In Wonderland Syndrome. Suddenly the door that seemed so generously proportioned is little more than a cleft in the rock. And you are as big as a bull rhinoceros.
Secondly, never dive with anyone the dive boat has to pick up from a hotel jetty. They're always grossly overweight, forget their fins and wear their BCs upside-down. (Note: the same rule should be applied to all orthodontists, especially those practising in Florida or the Carolinas).
Thirdly, never undertake any dive that requires "slack water".
I have dived for 25 years and never once encountered this mythical circumstance. And the longer the self-styled experts pore over the chart and thumb through the tide tables, the more adamantly you must refuse to participate.
The "slackwater dive" always ends up with six divers streaming off the shotline like pennants on a second-hand car lot. The roaring, whitewater tidal race will systematically strip them of all their kit, and they will eventually be plucked from the sea off St Kilda by Danish Air Sea Rescue.
Finally, on the positive side: to avoid even the faintest possibility of excitement, team up with a photographer. During your dive, you may only encounter one, small crustacean. But lying inert on the seabed, you will encounter it for 90 entirely stress-free minutes, while your buddy tries to get it to smile.
Deeper with Blackford
by Andy Blackford
£7.95 plus P&P, A5 format, 156 pages, paperback
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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.
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