THE DINING CLUB
IN THE FILMS OF THE 1960S AND '70S, diving was portrayed as a futuristic sport, a way of transforming our experiences through technology. It was new, exciting, and unmistakably modern. Diving fitted the modernist agenda of the times, just like Raquel Welch fitted into her white jumpsuit in the film The Fantastic Voyage. Snug.
But then it all got messy - that's the 1980s for you. What else can you say about a decade in which big hair, shoulder pads, the wearing of one fingerless glove and Thatcherite politics were considered all the rage?
Diving stopped being futuristic and became either a gruelling industrial job, or a naff "sport-for-all", in which it seemed that anybody who could put a mask on the right way round could pay to experience the underwater world as a tourist. Diving became post-modernist; the original meanings ripped up, altered and made contradictory.
I was thinking about this as I made my way to a City-based London bar to meet up with my imaginary old dive club, BSAC 358. Not that there's anything unreal about the divers involved; it's only me that doesn't officially exist. The divers are easy to spot: they're not wearing ties and they all appear to be talking simultaneously.
Now a dive lasts only a short while, but the amount of time spent discussing diving is infinitely longer, especially when you can drink and talk about diving with the people who were there: your mates. That's the core of the British club diving experience.
We're all shouting above the noise level in the bar, so, in true BSAC 358 tradition, the entire club moves to the restaurant next door where - heaven! - we can eat, drink and talk about diving.
The diving experience has moved from the modern, to the post-modern, to the post-mouthful. People are vying to reminisce over their diving stories between munching garlic bread with mozzarella.
"That time we were diving off the RIB in Scotland... and we'd been warned that the tides were fierce," says Steve, pausing over his beer.
"But we had no idea when slack might be, so we chucked the anchor in... no resistance... didn't seem to be any tide running... so I'm descending the anchor chain and everything's fine until, suddenly, all hell breaks loose and I'm clinging to that chain for dear life with the mask being ripped off my face! Must've been an 8 knot tide..." Steve is doing a Norman Wisdom-esque impersonation of being blasted by the tide.
"But we hadn't realised that until the anchor got snagged on the bottom!" chorus the rest of the table, as we all collapse into fits of giggles. I discover that I've put my elbow in somebody's pizza.
"And then we hit a wave and the entire contents of the blocked-up toilet were splattered everywhere..." Tara throws her hands up, fountain-style, and a blob of pesto lands in my hair.
"Yeah, and I was the only one brave enough to go in there!" I volunteer, mid-hysteria, as I mop myself down with a serviette. I may be an "imaginary" member, but the stained-green hair is real.
Natalie is stuck into chocolate ice cream and a tale about early diving misadventures: "So we're finning along, and Clive took his mask off and started cleaning a pair of glasses that he was wearing underneath - I thought - I'm really narked..." My head is so low to the table that I'm practically snorting my cappuccino as I laugh.
We've split the bill, and Tara is buttoning her coat "It's a shame really," she confides, "we just don't get to do as much diving now as we used to. These days we're more of a dining club than a diving club."
Remember the square root of -1? It's an imaginary number. In theory it doesn't exist, but for some bizarre reason it serves a useful purpose in describing real-world relationships.