When divers reach a certain age and a certain size, life can get more complicated, says Kay Brown. What's worse, your innocent actions can so easily be misjudged
For 20 years - no, closer to 30 - scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef has been on my want-to-do-before-I-die list. Neither my husband nor I are as young or as sleek as we were when we first came up with that idea, but we are still together and have finally made it to a genuine coral cay.
From the beach, we watch a loggerhead turtle swimming calmly through the clear turquoise water. We will soon be joining it, diving to some of the best coral sites in the world.
In the dive shop, we join the other enthusiasts and a young Adonis smiles brightly at us. "Welcome to Heron Island," he says. "How can I help you? You're planning to snorkel, I guess."
"No, no... we plan to dive."
He seems a trifle confused, although this can hardly be an unusual request, even from people with some grey hair. "You know, scuba," I explain.
He gives me a look; the kind that says that management has trained him to handle people like me. "Are you qualified divers?"
"Yes." We have been warned that the Aussies are sticklers for the rules and we have taken a refresher course.
He checks our documentation carefully. "Have you got your own equipment?"
"No. We need to hire everything." He beckons to an assistant. who comes over to help my husband.
"Size?" His eyes flick up and down my body disdainfully.
"Sorry, ma'am. Largest woman's size we have is a 12."
I ponder this for a moment. I can tug on size 12 slacks - if the fabric is sturdy and I've had a few brisk walks. But wetsuits are tight and we have spent the past 10 days eating fish and chips and slugging back Australian wine.
Dammit, the Aussies we've been with are easily my size. So why does the resort not have sizes larger than 12?
I glance around. All the women are small and slinky. When did they change the scuba rules to say that you have to be under-age and malnourished?
He has fetched a wetsuit from the rack behind him. Oh, good - it's a shortie. The short legs and arms make it much easier to put on, so I might be able to do this.
"Or I could get you a man's?"
"No, no." I did that once. There's no room for boobs and the shoulders are too big and fill with water. I would look ridiculous. "I'll try the 12."
He points to a little cubicle and I take the wetsuit in with me and draw the curtain.
I manipulate my right leg into the wetsuit and heave it up to the shoulders. So far, so good. The zip runs diagonally across the left leg and then up the torso. You have to connect the two pieces on your thigh, and this is a problem, because it requires both hands to stretch the neoprene over the cellulite.
I poke my head through the curtain and hiss to get my husband's attention. An elderly couple is now standing at the counter getting snorkelling equipment, and they turn to look at me. I smile at them and hiss again.
Hubbie already has all his equipment piled on the counter and is chatting to the assistant. I beckon to him to join me in the cubicle.
I explain that I'll ease the pieces together as he closes the zip. It's a large-toothed plastic zip that runs smoothly, and it gains speed quickly over the first few centimetres, until it hits the bulge where my fingers aren't stretching the fabric across the thigh.
It bites into the flesh and then stops abruptly. "NO!" I yell.
He thinks I've said "GO!" and gives the zip a hard yank, which enmeshes a good four centimetres of skin before jamming solid. I am yelling and hopping up and down. "No! No! Down! Down! Oh! Oh!"
The zip doesn't budge. I'm clutching at my leg and grunting and he is muttering at me to keep still as he jiggles the little metal tag. "Ooh! Ooh! Quickly! Quickly!"
The zip finally lets me go and I heave a sigh of relief. I get dressed rapidly.
It's obvious that the size 12 won't do. I don't care. I won't dive after all. I will lie in my room with ice on my leg and whimper.
I will not see the brilliant-coloured fish at play in their coral gardens.
We draw open the curtain and emerge from the cubicle together. There is silence in the shop and everyone is staring at us. Some are grinning, and the elderly couple have gone thin about the lips and glare at us disapprovingly.
It takes me a moment to realise why my husband is looking so embarrassed.
I come to a quick decision. There is not a soul on this remote island I need ever see again. I will dive on the Barrier Reef. I will wear a man's wetsuit that will be tight across my thighs and balloon up around my shoulders.
Afterwards I will drink plenty of wine and giggle in the dining room. I will make my husband hold my hand in public.
I tuck my arm around his waist and grin back at them all.