AIMING LOW IN LUNDY
THE END OF ANOTHER SEASON. Time to relax, toss another log book on the fire and reminisce about dives past.
The limitless optimism of youth.
Did you know, it's 20 years since my fateful trip to Lundy?
Lundy's where you'd go if you wanted to "get away from it all' - unless your definition of "all' includes big, jagged rocks, feet deep in puffin excrement, in which case you'd probably be disappointed.
It's visited only by scuba divers and the kind of people who like birds. I went there for two weeks with No 1 Branch of the BSAC.
Though you could see the island clearly from the Devon shore, the journey (on the ss Polar Bear) took eight hours - putting Lundy in the same bracket as Miami and Mumbai.
The reason was simple: Polar Bear's owners had a captive audience they could ply all night with strong drink, safe from the prying eyes of the police. We must have cut quite a dash as we staggered, ashen-faced and dry-heaving, up the cliff path from the jetty in a brown cloud of whisky fumes.
In most respects, the Old Light was a marvellous achievement of Victorian engineering. Every stone and girder had to be winched up those formidable cliffs. Sadly, it was designed by an idiot.
Lighthouses are at their most helpful in bad weather - during which a dense fog completely obscures the top of the island, including the lighthouse. So they built a new one halfway down the cliff. But not before the disgraced architect had been walled up in his own light-house and left to die a horrible, solitary death (I just made that up).
Anyway, the Old Light has been converted into a very tall, thin holiday cottage where we were to stay.
Our first dive was a particularly challenging 30m one, down the side of a submerged rock pinnacle. And this after a sleepless night and a skinful of Speyside's finest. The scenery was spectacular - sheer walls of fluorescent anemones, fragile fans of gorgonia and a huge, lumbering lobster with a severe personality disorder.
By the time we'd humped our gear back up the cliff, we were ready for a drink. There's only one pub, and the only available tipple is a weapons-grade cider brewed in old tractor radiators. It's so viscous, you can knock your glass over and pick it up again without spilling any.
We rashly accepted an invitation from the locals to play them at darts. Lundy's position has produced a gene pool that is unusually deep but dangerously narrow.
This doesn't really matter, so long as the population remains on the island. But if they should ever make it to the mainland and pursue careers in, say, obstetrics or electrical engineering, then look out.
However, they were undeniably good at darts. They soon tired of humiliating the Tall Folk from the Tree Country and went outside to point at aeroplanes. We carried on playing and, by 10pm, we'd modified the rules: if you hit the board, you won.
Then it was back through the rapidly-thickening fog to the Old Light for dinner, followed by a half-pipe of port. It took me half an hour to climb the stairs to my little room.
Later, the return trip took around five seconds, as I bounced down the spiral stone staircase on my head.
The air ambulance was unable to land because of the fog but I didn't mind, as I was convinced I was still going to dive next day.
There's a photograph of me at breakfast. I look like someone about to be invalided out of the Crimea. My head is swathed in a bloody bandage, and I'm clutching a can of Carlsberg Special Brew.
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.