GETTING DOWN TO UNDERWEAR
BRITISH DIVING USED TO BE A JOLLY Blue Peter-style activity in which you simply dragged up whatever items you had stashed in the garage or under the kitchen sink, and did your best to form them into a working regulator. The limits of sticky-back plastic and old Fairy Liquid bottles were severely tested.
No great depths were plumbed, but much of the adventure rested on whether the kit would disintegrate before you resurfaced. Few bothered with such niceties as dive tables and decompression profiles.
It's difficult to take yourself too seriously when wearing a rubber outfit that you glued together on the living-room floor; skilfully deploying some rolled-up socks to approximate the position of your boobs.
These days, you can be ejected from a dive-boat for turning up with the wrong brand of wing. And it's hard not to feel a bit inadequate when your reg is qualified to dive to 200m and you're qualified only to 35.
These days even your underwear takes on a degree of significance unimaginable by the DIY diving pioneers.
Buying your first drysuit is the bar mitzvah of British diving - you're a grown-up diver now, with a commitment to diving - and as with every ritual, attention to detail is critical. Will it be neoprene, membrane or tri-laminate? Cuff dump or auto? Back zip or front-loading and self-donning? Convenience zip, pee-valve or crossed legs and self-discipline?
It's impossible not to take yourself seriously when confronted with this magnitude of decision-making. The formerly frivolous approach to what you wear beneath your drysuit has been subverted.
After all, any activity that forces you to contemplate your choice of underwear is bound to produce a certain frisson of anticipation.
In the early days of drysuit diving, divers used those unidentifiable hand-knitted garments only your gran could produce. This was swiftly superseded by the "woolly bear" - a boilersuit that appeared to be made from the furry hides of teddy bears. Thousands of cuddly toys were sacrificed in a diving-related cull, at one point becoming so scarce that they were highly valued as game-show prizes.
The "woolly bear" fell from favour once people realised that the term drysuit is often a euphemism for "damp in a variety of places" suit. And that wandering around looking like a giant, soggy teddy is not a dignified or particularly cosy experience.
Today, the choice of undergarment has become technical. We have performance fabrics with tog-ratings for their thermal properties and wicking action to drive moisture away from the surface of the skin.
Even your knickers can be NASA-tested and boast certificates of approval from Arctic explorers. Nothing is simple any more, except our simple fascination for underwear.
I can remember being chased around the playground by boys chanting "What colour are your knickers today?" Glossy women's magazines often feature articles on what your choice of lingerie reveals about your personality. Glossy men's magazines are equally fascinated, but more in what a woman's choice of lingerie reveals.
A diver's choice of underwear is likely to reflect many inner attitudes, reflecting each individual's self-image. As divers, we like to go beneath the surface and explore what lies beneath. Psychologically, we are very much in tune with the hidden world. That's my excuse for being so nosy, but as I found on a recent dive trip, curiosity comes at a cost.
I was donning my undersuit in the forward cabin of the dive boat, so busy trying not to openly gawp at the space-age, figure-hugging Xerotherm leggings of the diver changing on the bunk opposite that I nearly knocked myself unconscious as I stood up.