SHOW US YOUR MONKEY
Diving is strange and revealing. Well, to be more precise, people bring their own particular brand of strangeness to diving and we reveal ourselves through it.
At least, this was the thought with which I tried frantically to occupy my mind as I stepped gingerly over the naked German sunbathers. I was dressed in full drysuit and hood with a rebreather strapped to my back. They were sprawled nonchalantly, legs akimbo, across the precarious rock pathway that led to my jumping-off point.
It is a cruel paradox that the people who frequent nude bathing sites are, overwhelmingly, those who you would cheerfully pay to put their clothes back on. And so often they are German; but that will be no surprise to anyone who has watched Eurotrash.
Foul weather, a rolling boat, grumpy skippers - all are much easier to face than the prospect of stepping on a nudist's bits. Particularly when those bits are attached to a flaccid German pensioner who insists on an argument about who owns the ladder you're so frantic to reach.
I am fumbling with my fins and praying for deliverance when I catch a glimpse of Ric, fully kitted, striding purposefully through the fleshy morass. Head held high, he appears to be dispensing cheery nods.
Perhaps, as a fireman, he has witnessed far more gruesome sights, but I suspect that his aplomb has more to do with being Northern.
Being Northern (or not) must be the most significant defining factor in UK diving, and it's about as easy to explain as one of Peter Kay's jokes.
Ric is the embodiment of Doing It Northern. His rebreather has been stripped down to the bare minimum to avoid paying excess baggage. The lidless remains have a dissected appearance. His dive knife is the trademark Kitchen Devil stuffed into a piece of garden hose.
He has dispensed with a wing and much of his kit appears to have been rigged with blue string.
In contrast, my yellow rebreather lid carries cutesy custom-made silver lettering, a Gucci gizmo to add diluent when needed, and shiny stainless steel clips. But while I might have a selection of designer dive computers on each arm, I am transfixed by the dread of wrinkly dangly bits.
Ric breezes past a mountainous pair of leathery buttocks, glances at his rebreather handsets, and winks at me as he strides off the ladder and into the sea.
The diversity of our identities couldn't be plainer: hardcore Northern Monkey gas diver, and soppy Dive Girl. That we're doing the same 80m dive on basically the same equipment only emphasises the differences in attitude and approach. It takes more than withered gonads to spook a Northern Monkey.
A few years ago, these identities didn't exist in any self-conscious form. Northern divers were always Doing It Northern, not realising that the steadfast refusal to spend money on anything unless unavoidable, relentless piss-taking and drinking until the vomit comes out of their noses were defining features of their identity. That and a healthy contempt for flashy, Southern-softie divers.
The Northern Monkey diver T-shirt that appeared at the last NEC Dive Show seized the moment and "outed" an identity that had been forming for years. It was a bit like the love that dares not speak its name finding a voice - and sounding exactly like Johnny Vegas.
While the nudists might reveal all, they possess a blobby anonymity and so reveal nothing of significance. Or at least, nothing of significance that doesn't resemble a plate of chopped liver.
I push past them into the sea, and all I can think of is the slogan on the back of Ric's T-shirt: "Show Us Your Monkey". Too brave for me.