|It was around 1955. I was on holiday in Looe, Cornwall. On the quayside there was your typical holiday shop, selling suntan creams, sunshades, windbreaks, beach balls, buckets, spades - and masks attached to snorkels that had little balls on their ends.|
Tempted by the thought of becoming an intrepid adventurer, I dug out the necessary shillings and off I marched down to the beach.
It was there, up to my thighs in seawater, that I had a fearful surprise. Putting the face mask on, I bent down, put my head under water - and to my horror saw a couple of crabs in the sand scuttling around my bare feet.
I thereupon decided that the underwater world was not for me. What the hell else was likely to be down there! But time marched on, and Peter Small - co-founder of the British Sub-Aqua Club - and myself cemented a friendship in 1962 that had begun a few years earlier when we were both Fleet Street journalists.
We were sharing an office together in a loose kind of freelance journalistic partnership. Peter was partly occupied organising the second World Congress of Underwater Activities on behalf of the BSAC.
He asked for help on the publicity front, which I gladly gave, and persuaded me to have a go at diving at the Oasis swimming pool, the home of Holborn Branch BSAC.
I did, but I was not a bit enthralled with the notorious A-test, which every would-be diver was then required to take. The mask-clearing was OK, and I managed the breath-hold underwater swim without trouble.
But when it came to finning two lengths with just a snorkel and no mask, I was not happy. Chlorinated water slopping in my eyes and gushing up my nose was not my idea of fun.
For the second time, I decided to give the underwater world a miss.
Anyway, because of my association with Peter, who died in the first dive to 1000ft in the sea, I became the Editor and Publisher of the BSACs magazine, then called Triton, in 1963.
And for the next 12 years I had the dubious distinction of being the only non-diving editor of a diving magazine in the entire world.
But it was not to last. There was an interlude in 1975 when, as Editor of Triton, I was invited to visit Grand Cayman Island.
It was there that, without any real qualifications that I can remember, I was nursemaided under water by the BSACs Jeremy Hazzard who, much to his chagrin, had to stay with me at a sedate depth while the rest of the party had fun much deeper in the blue.
But the real crunch came in 1977, when the Australians staged the World Underwater Congress in Brisbane, with the promise of diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
This was something I just could not miss. After a crash course in diving under the merciless tutelage of that ace BSAC instructor Mike Busuttili, aided and abetted by that redoubtable veteran Ted Derrick, I emerged as a fully fledged Third-Class Diver (the equivalent of todays Sports Diver).
That was to be my undoing. I was to fall in love with the magical underwater world. Forgotten were the rigours of the A-test. Forgotten were the crabs that I once suspected of wanting to devour my toes.
There I was, diving on the famous Big Bommie off Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, a place with no fewer than five cleaning stations, where gorgeous fish of all shapes and sizes queued up to be rid of their parasites.
There I was, surrounded by everything from colourful little nudibranchs to turtles and manta rays, not to mention sharks that lurked in the distance.
I was mesmerised.
Not long afterwards, I began to make annual trips to the Red Sea, with comrades like Kendall and Penny McDonald and friends, happily undertaking week-long Land Rover safaris along the coast from Eilat to Sharm el Sheikh, diving from the shore, sleeping under the stars, followed by a weeks hardboat diving with Howard Rosensteins Red Sea Divers.
In those days, there was but one hotel in Naama Bay, and not many places to eat. But it was huge fun and the diving was, of course, great.
Well, as you may imagine, as Editor of one of the worlds premier magazines, I have been able to go diving in many wonderful places with many splendid people, and to write about it all for Divers readers.
It took me some time finally to take the plunge, but I have made up for it in a big way since and enjoyed every minute.