BLACK & COOL
What will divers look like 20 years from now? This is the burning question that gear manufacturers ask themselves every time a dive show comes around and they realise that they have nothing new to put on their stands.
Anyway, they still have last year's mannequin stashed away somewhere. Dab on a bit more silver paint; a few wires here and there; sling another silver-painted squeezie-bottle on the back and Bob's-yer-uncle.
On the way to the show, you can always stop off at a service station, pick up a cheap digital watch and glue it into one eye-socket of the mask - it's futuristic, man.
Streamlined and minimalist - that's where it's going. That's where it's always going. Look at the body-hugging V-necks they always wear on Star Trek. Everything will be streamlined, minimalist and available only in shades of sky-blue, red or monkey-puke.
But not in the world of diving. Man has been striving to get submerged for more than a century now, and the greatest advance we have managed to make is a buoyancy compensator with regulator hoses hidden inside it. It might be revolutionary by diving's standards, but on any other scale it's not much cop, is it?
The reason is, we don't like "streamlined". Dive kit will get chunkier, it'll get blacker - in short, it will just keep on getting cooler and cooler. If being streamlined is the future, it seems we would sooner that's where it stayed - permanently in the future.
Take a look at the evolution of dive watches. The early ones were a joke - they only had just enough hands for telling the time!
Then came the Citizen Aqualand. In evolutionary terms, it was like the ascendancy of mammals.
The three-handed dinosaurs were left trampled in its path. And it's easy to see why: six arms, three beeps and, most important of all, a bezel like a porthole and a crown like the conning-tower of a small submarine.
Right now, the boys and girls in the R&D departments of all watchmakers are racking their brains for excuses for yet more arms, more sensors and even more beeps.
By 2020, I predict that we will have a watch that can sense football scores, Lottery results and even alert you when someone has swum by wearing a watch with more functions than your own - so that you can track them down later and compare models.
By 2050, these instruments will even be able to monitor the pheromone levels of all diving partners of the opposite sex. And they'll get heavier too. The race is on for those R&D guys to find a super-heavy alloy - a kind of manic-depressive lead.
That way, we will have a watch that can double as a weightbelt and, in times of emergency, as an anchor. And most important of all, we'll have a watch that makes a really satisfying thud when you heave your forearm onto the bar.
Further down the line, we will move away from equipment altogether, opting for genetic treatment instead. Divers' children will be born with small seal-like ears, and nostril-flaps that can be closed at will.
We can graft two heads onto a dog, so why not flukes onto a human? This will shift the line of questioning on Diver's Medical Q&A pages: fluke care for example, or gill-flossing.
All this, however, is a long way down the line. In the short term, diving gear will simply look kinkier.
That's more shiny rubber, more straps, bigger buckles and the introduction of studs - somehow. But that's obvious. Why else would a well-known former Tory politician have taken up diving?
Appeared in DIVER - March 2000