The door closed behind me and I had a glimpse of some ribbed, tarpaulin covered structure from the inside before plunging through the floor, which had vanished under my feet in the meantime to reveal blue water about thirty feet below. I heard a radi...
The door closed behind me and I had a glimpse of some ribbed, tarpaulin covered structure from the inside before plunging through the floor, which had vanished under my feet in the meantime to reveal blue water about thirty feet below. I heard a radio sound effect as of a loud scream, but with rapid diminuendo, followed by a large splash as I hit the briny. It was salt water. What sounded like the voice of a four year old girl a few feet behind me could clearly be heard to say,
"He's fallen in the water!"
I struggled to the surface, shook the water out of my face angrily and looked up in the air. There was a dirigible there! It was trailing a tail. It was a crazy tail. It reached down to the ground.... and was tethered to a donkey! I should have known... it was Colonel Bludnok's Donkey Driven Zeppelin Service!
"You swine, Bludnock!" I shouted in a high pitched voice, straight out of the Welsh valleys, "I'll get you for this!" It didn't matter what happened to me any more. I'd given up hoping it would make sense. At least I still had a sense of humour and could recognise a good feed when I heard one. That seemed to be the one thing common to all of the real People, a genuinely spontaneous, informed, literate sense of humour. How on earth could they simulate that without having such themselves?
"Q'est-ce que vous fait La bas, Anglais?" said a thick Provencal, accent from behind me. I felt like shouting, in a Saarth Effrukken exint, "Aaim Draaoo-nungye bleddy fool!" but before I could do it Dr Mentz, for the next voice was his, had said, "Trank...drop in the gear."
I suddenly felt a tightness around my head. The Village blazer and cricket trouser outfit had long gone and been replaced with a pair of shorts in some synthetic fibre. Something flapped by the corner of my mouth on the right side. It was a snorkel, threaded through a rubber loop attached to the strap of a face mask that I knew was Royal Airforce blue even though I was wearing it and so couldn't see it. "Monsieur Squale", the French called this model. The front oval of flat 'glass' was allegedly shatter proof perspex. The heir to the Slazenger sports equipment fortune, John Slazenger himself, had swum out to the 'Club Mediterrane' dive boat once and blagged himself a dive with a spare aqualung. He'd shown the French divers his British face mask with great pride. "That's good British Standard safety glass, that is... none of your French plastic rubbish the 'Loo Loos' and 'Bobos' wear. I wouldn't trust them..." or words to that effect. His mask had even had the old British Standard kite mark on it. I had thought that was rather rude, especially as he'd then dived to eighty feet in that mask, too quickly, had failed to pressurise it properly and had it promptly fail on him, cracking diagonally across the bridge of his nose and slicing his face open. My father told me that Pierre Huey had 'laughed like a lavatory' at this misfortune.
I also found that I was wearing long black fins on my feet and breathing normally, enjoying the feel of the tolerably tepid Mediterranean sea water and admiring the 'viz', which was clear for at least twenty five metres all around, and down, through the sunlit cerulean waters; considered very good by afficionados, but not perfect.
I swam round to the stern of the Club Mediterrane dive boat where there was a pair of galvanised steel ladders and climbed the nearer one. My younger brother, then about ten years old, was sitting on one of the stern benches looking bored. My father, barely forty and still looking as fit as he was when he left the Army, was just walking towards me from the other side of the boat's cabin. The boat was very quiet, considering the number of divers waiting to go down. An entire French tour party of at least four people seemed to be standing about looking at the teak coloured decking and shuffling their feet.
My father explained that Louis 'Lou Lou' LaHoux had been leading his party back up from thirty metres when his air supply had been cut off, "Brutalement", as he had croaked to Pierre. Pierre Huey, the leader for the next dive, could see thousands of Francs worth of business going down the drain. He had promptly strapped on the 'failed' aqualung and crashed dived to thirty metres with it, resurfaced and pronounced it safe. Whatever had blocked it no longer did so, but Louis, having breathed out his last breath and suddenly found himself unable to take another while still eighty feet underwater, had panicked and momentarily forgotten the first rule of compressed air diving; NEVER, under any circumstances, ascend more than three feet while holding your breath! 'Lou Lou' LaHue, a mature SCUBA diver with years of experience as a dive master using an original Cousteau-Gagnan aqualung, had clenched his teeth and streaked for the surface, giving himself a near fatal lung embolism after going up less than a dozen feet! He'd broken the rule. He'd risen faster than his bubbles and haddn't breathed out again soon enough. Right now he was lying in that cabin going an ashen blue grey colour.
"I knew today would be unlucky..." one of the French tourists, muttered. Pierre stood up from beyond the front of the cabin and shouted, "Allons! Les Anglaises... bottell up!" My father and I looked at each other. My brother hadn't been paying attention, he was already reaching for a yellow painted compressed air tank attached to what look like an old parachute harness and was strapping it on, along with his weight belt. The tank was longer than his skinny torso. My father started doing the same. He'd paid for us all to dive and we were going to do it. I certainly didn't want to miss it.
'Doc' Benyon, who had been tending to Louis in the cabin, came out and joined us. He was the fourth member of our party and enjoyed the luxury of owning a 'single skin' neoprene wet suit, but he always wore his 'lucky' old surgical glove on the right hand during every dive. Divers can be a superstitious lot. He was coming down with us as the fourth member of our group. Pierre would be taking us down, just as if nothing had happened. He knew that if 'Les Anglaises', two boys of ten and eleven years, their journalist father and a retired doctor were all going to go, how could four red blooded young Frenchmen possibly refuse after they had all come back up alive? I 'bottelled' up.