What’s the most interesting animal you’ve met while diving? Is it the whale shark or the pigmy seahorse? Is it the octopus of the leopard seal? I’ll tell you my favourite and it’s one of the most difficult, if nigh on impossible to predict creatures you’ll ever come across. It’s the human being.
I recently went on a liveaboard safari that hosted a week’s photography course. In order to illustrate the feature I was writing I needed pictures of the participants at work. It proved very difficult to second-guess what each might do next; You simply cannot tell what is going on in someone’s mind once the power of speech is lost underwater.
That said, I have met an immeasurably wide range of people while on diving trips and from all over the world. I have shared cabins with divers of all nationalities, of all ages, all sexual inclinations and of all income-ranges. With the common interest that diving presents, they have all proved interesting and worthwhile companions to spend time with. In fact our activity of diving is a great leveler. It proves very difficult to assess someone’s income or standard of living once they are deprived of the trappings of their wealth.
Take my friend John. He lived in Switzerland. He had formerly worked in the film business (like me) and had a young wife (like me) and a young girl child (like me). He invited me to stay if ever I was in his country so one day I did.
I have a nice house in London. It’s not spectacularly nice but it’ll do. When I saw it, I calculated that John’s house was 26-times bigger, with an Olympic-size indoor pool too! That was a surprise. I hadn’t realized that his father was a famous author (deceased) and that he had inherited everything.
George comes from Scotland and lives much more modestly. He is though, one of the most honourable men I know, a great wit and sage and great fun to spend time with. We met Richard and Caroline during a trip to the Maldives and were rather surprised to spot them (on television), guests in the Chapel at Windsor during the last Royal wedding. My wife is now Godmother to their youngest son.
Another time I met two guys traveling together from Oregon. One was a carpenter while the other owned a large share of an Internet search engine. Both were hilariously funny and great to spend time with. Mauricio is a very talented wild-life photographer but probably doesn’t earn very much. This list is endless. Aerospace salesmen, government mandarins, miners, hairdressers, lawyers, truck drivers, schoolteachers; I have met and enjoyed the company of such a wide range of personalities through diving with them.
More recently I took my family to stay with a friends in the USA. That included an old friend, Bret, and another diving friend I’d met who lives in Tennessee. My Southerner friend was one of a pair of guys I’d had a great time with, from that part of the world, while staying on a very basic and inexpensive liveaboard. I had no idea what his life-style was like and, although Bret had made joking references to banjos ‘and squealing like a pig’, it turned out he lived with his small son in a spread akin to that of a Texas oil baron. We had a great time, enjoyed incredible hospitality from him, his family and his friends, and it would have been the same even if his life-style had been more modest. My eldest daughter now has the ambition to live in Tennessee.
Of course, as expected, Bret showed us a great time when we were with him and his lovely missus in Maine and my youngest daughter has learned that she loves to eat Maine lobster!
The point I make is that we had a great time with friends, and would have regardless of what they might possess, simply because I got to know them without the trappings of wealth in evidence and really liked them regardless of that. Sometimes, these material things obstruct our view. Diving strips us down to the bare essentials. We are all ‘in the same boat’ so to speak.
It reminds me of a novel I read a long, long time ago. It was called ‘Sea Queen’ and was about a group of men and one woman who found themselves cast adrift in a lifeboat. Their lives and survival became predictably entwined and after much hardship,they all eventually survived. It was only when they met up gain, their endurance their common bond, did it become apparent to the men that the woman they had shared such an intimate time with was actually a Catholic nun.
Diving isn’t necessarily about survival but once we are away from home and in our diving suits (or not) it becomes very difficult to distinguish between rich and poor, harlot and nun. We are left only with the personalities of those we spend time with. As I said, isn’t diving wonderful?