HUMAN AFTER ALL
IT'S EASTER, AND I AM TRYING TO RESURRECT MY DIVE KIT. How can this be? It was all working perfectly last season...
My battered drysuit appears to have shrunk to Barbie-doll size, my torch refuses to charge, and I have an uneasy feeling that I've forgotten to pack something significant as I embark on my pilgrimage to deepest Devon.
Easter bank holiday diving is a gathering for the faithful. We know that the water will be lip-numbingly cold. We know that the viz will be diabolical. But still we come, believing in a fresh start, a season re-born.
It doesn't make much sense. It's not about fun. Perhaps we believe that the initial suffering and endurance will prove us worthy for the challenges ahead. Or perhaps it's an identity thing: we are British divers, doing this is what defines us.
Truly, things can only get better - because Easter is the time to get all those blunders and kit crises safely out of the way before the real diving starts. The conditions at this time of year may be pants, but diving has to be a better option than staying at home and indulging in a spot of DIY.
Next time people try to warn you that diving is dangerous, just remind them that while diving accounts for roughly 400 accidents and 16 deaths per year, DIY injures 250,000 and kills 70. That's not including the domestic rows, wrecked expectations and crimes against interior design.
Should you be one of the tiny number of divers to get recompressed, console yourself that it sounds far more heroic and exotic than the sticky explanations faced by 3,000 people who end up in casualty after DIY accidents with glue.
I jump from the boat, and the collective sweepings from every kitchen floor in the country appear to be whipping past me as I swim for the shotline - perhaps I should blame it on spring cleaning.
I slip beneath the swell. The water takes on the texture of wallpaper paste. Darkness beckons. But more concerning is the creeping, cold sensation engulfing my left arm as my drysuit slowly floods. Yeuch!
Half an hour later and I've been saved from hypothermia by the miraculous properties of the modern undersuit - but I'm soaked through to my knickers and I didn't bring a spare pair. So, after changing into my dry jeans, an interesting salt pattern is emerging around my crotch; much to my embarrassment and the amusement of all on board.
In diving, it seems, you can always find somebody in a more humiliating predicament than yourself. As I'm being teased, a "Pan Pan" call comes over the radio - a RIB with seven divers aboard has lost its prop and is drifting, helpless.
Imagine sitting on that boat, your misadventure being broadcast to the world, and a bunch of seething dive-club members going: "I told you to check that prop!" "But you're the boat marshal!" "Well, I mentioned that it was making a strange noise the minute we set off!" Nightmare.
The same could be said of my appearance. My hair has dried into Medusa-style dreads, and comments about my "healthy glow" remind me about that essential item I forgot to bring: sun block. My nose is the colour of Jacques Cousteau's hat. I look like a daft punk. Diving may allow us to escape our usual limitations, but we're still human, after all.
I've got my drysuit in one hand, a tube of glue in the other. Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, melt - upgrade it; that's the modern approach. But I'm on a boat with old-school divers, so before I can say "Black Witch", the legendary Bill Reid demonstrates his special way with Vaseline and solves my problem.
It's my Easter revelation: an old seadog can always teach you a new trick.