Recently, I have mostly been learning how to drown with minimum fuss. C lured me into having a tryout dive at a pool with our local scuba centre. There was mention of wondrous underwater seascapes, brightly coloured fish and fantastical coral, and things with funny names (nudibranch).
I’ve had a fairly long-lived fear of getting my face anyway near underwater, and the notion of water actually getting in my mouth or nose induces an almost pantwettingly anxietal reaction.
I was promised that in scuba, the mask covering the nose, and the regulator in the mouth meant there would be no problems.
This was a lie.
Firstly, I discovered upon prancing around in the pool with scuba gear on, that this is just a trick, to get you to sign up to a £300 course to become certified. They make it fun the first time, like heroin. You swim around underwater, breathing away, your mask is on, so nary a droplet near the nostrils.
So, lured in by these cohorts of doom, I signed up, all excitable like. Then the terror began. I found out I had to do a 200m swim to prove I could swim well enough. No great problem you might think.
Apparently I would have to swim like a proper person, and not like an english granny with my head stuck out of the water at all times. Plus, I haven’t really done much swimming since I was, er, 12, so my stamina is not the best.
C, who likes to take things to extremes spent two weeks, (every single day at the pool after work, at weekends) teaching me how to swim properly. This involved me getting over severe anxiety about water, and complete inability to breathe out underwater, and breathe in when I raised my head above the surface without it all going wrong and inhaling a pint of chlorine water.
There were some interesting teaching techniques involved in me getting over this anxiety, such as repeatedly drowning myself time after time until I learned how to breathe out through my nose while underwater, and not breathe in until I came up out of the water. Then I had to learn how to do that whilst swimming. Apparently it take 2 weeks to learn how to swim comfortably underwater. Who knew?
Which was just in time for my first proper pool dive with the scuba centre. I was feeling a little confident of myself now. I could swim underwater. That means I could pretty much do anything right?
Again, with the wrong.
I was subjected to 3 hours of exercises that makes waterboarding seem pretty lightweight. A lot of this involved kneeling at the bottom of a pool for ages, taking out the regulator (yes the thing you keep in your mouth so you can breathe underwater) and blowing bubbles until it was time to put it back in, taking it out and then throwing it away (why would I ever want to do that?) and retrieving it before I drowned, using someone elses spare regulator, breathing from a freeflowing regulator (akin to having an audience with Neptune and Njord, the Norse god of the wind, at the same time) and other crazy shit.
Wearing contact lenses as I do, I particularly enjoyed the bits where they made me take off my mask underwater (exposing my nose to the water!) and I had to breathe through the regulator (and not the nose for that would make me die) for a minute, with my eyes clamped shut so my contacts didn’t shoot out. Then I had to put the mask back on, and as it was full of water, do a complicated procedure involving breathing out through the nose while lifting my face from my chest and pressing down on the top of the mask. The end result was intended to be that air pressure would push the water out of the bottom of the mask.
Several times this did not happen, and I merely managed to inhale water through my nose somehow, panic, and thrash towards the surface, some inches above me.
I did this three times. The minute was terrifying, but easy enough. Just chanting (in my mind, as chanting is hard underwater) ‘do not breathe through your nose you asswipe’ helped a lot. Getting the mask on, with eyes closed was tricky but ok. For some reason I could not get the clearing the mask bit, and did quite a bit of drowning.
Eventually I got it, but managed to lose a contact lens in the process, so ended up all half blind and wonky.
The upside of my intense training regime was that after all this watery torture, the swimming test was a total breeze and was enjoyable in comparison.
I am told that after one more pool session, and two days of diving in a water filled quarry where further attempts will be made on my life, I will be allowed to swim around underwater without actually fucking around with any of the equipment that is meant to protect me, and keep me from a watery grave. Possibly then I will get to see fish. And stuff.