ZEN & THE ART
I try to steer clear of the Diver letters page, because it makes me feel so inadequate. It's full of technical terms I don't understand and references to equipment I can't afford. Worse, it's a sort of cavalcade of Competence. It's populated by people who know what they're doing - shiny, confident, self-reliant types who download their Suuntos onto their PCs and always know the way back to the boat.
Why, only in September's issue there was a letter from a man (I'm tempted to say god) who services his own demand valve.
That anyone should possess the degree of self-belief necessary to commence such a momentous undertaking is utterly beyond me.
If forced at gun-point and under threat of disembowelment, I might just consider attempting to service someone else's DV. Preferably someone I don't like, who is professionally connected with the Inland Revenue.
But the concept of voluntarily mucking about with a device upon which my life depends is enough to bring me out in hives.
And wait for this - the correspondent does his own services because he doesn't trust the dive shop. Incredible. He has more faith in his own ability than that of a highly trained and experienced professional who dismantles, repairs and reassembles scores of valves every day.
Anyone who has ever dared to peek at its innards will tell you that the demand valve is a mechanism of such intricate subtlety as to defy all rational explanation - a device of an almost diabolical complexity which, by a mixture of divine ingenuity and black magic, manages to turn the laws of nature on their heads to accomplish the impossible.
To unscrew the casing is to throw open such a Pandora's Box of nuts and springs, axles, ratchets and governors as to confound all attempts to recapture them.
Even supposing that I were somehow able to stuff them all back in some semblance of an order, I know that the thing would fail catastrophically at 30m, rupturing me like a pig's bladder in a glorious demonstration of the gas laws.
What about sky-divers? you say. They pack their own parachutes, don't they? True, I reply, but folding up a giant silk nightie is one thing; tinkering with a gadget more sensitive than the firing mechanism of a Cruise missile is another.
I'm a hopeless technophobe. It's not that metal things bore me: I'm fascinated by them, in the same way that rabbits are fascinated by juggernauts. Expose me to anything with more than one moving part and I'm paralysed. My fingers and thumbs swell to grotesque proportions and I sweat like W C Fields at closing time.
If I have to fix something, I start in the certain knowledge that I will screw it up - that it'll bend, snap off or roll under the cooker. If there are two ways to connect something, I will unerringly opt for the wrong one and fuse every electrical appliance in the street.
Just as a cat somehow knows if a human dislikes it, or a horse detects nervousness in its rider, so machines can sense the fear in me. Once they have probed my psyche and found my weakness, then they pursue me mercilessly. Tungsten steel turns to putty in my hands, and iron to dust. Props fall off, clutches burn out, pumps seize, demand valves free-flow. And I stand staring, rooted to the spot, with a rusted adjustable spanner drooping impotently in my hand.
Which is why, if you'll excuse me, I've just got to pop my snorkel down to the Dive Locker for its annual service.
For more in a similar vein the book Blackford's Diving Life and Times can be ordered from Underwater World Publications, price £7.50 (tel. 0181 943 4288).