Thursday, 11 August 2011

She's back!

'She's back!' That would have the been the cry of Simon Kelner, the erstwhile sports editor of the Independent on Sunday, with whom I worked for a few months, many moons ago.

I had some Saturday shifts on the sports desk, as part of a team taking all the football stats for all UK games as they came in and compiling them for the next day's edition. Simon himself was a good sport and fun to work with, and one of his methods of keeping a general buzz going around the office was to fire occasional sports questions at one or other of his fellow journalists.

When someone got the answer right, having previously got one wrong, the response would almost invariably be: "He/she's back!"

It was a phrase that I remembered the other day as I waded out of the water, triumphantly holding aloft a delicate seashell that I'd just managed to liberate from the seabed with my toes.

Four years ago, on our first stay here, we'd been surprised to see substantial numbers of children in the sea with snorkels and goggles. Only a short while after I'd taken my own first steps into the water did it become clear why. I looked down and saw fish swimming around my legs. It astonished and delighted me.

We bought cheap kit and tried it ourselves, amazed at the new world that now opened up for us.

When we moved to our second-week beach, the sightings were even better, as that dips quickly to the sort of rocks around which masses of life exists, and being a stony beach helps too, ensuring little cloudiness of the water.

We had a ball, watching shoals of little fishes around the size of anchovies, dorade of various sizes - including some that would have hung over the sides of a dinner plate - fish with beautifully striped and colourful bodies and others, like little catfish, with go-faster stripes and long whiskers, that could be seen chiveying away around rocks for food.

We were both utterly fascinated and entranced, and the following year, invested in quality masks and snorkels - the latter of which were supposed to be 'dry', designed especially to allow you a method of blowing out any water that got in.

Yet personally, I found it disconcerting and difficult. On one occasion, I got into some difficulty only a short way out. The perversity is that for someone who adores being in the sea, I'm not a strong swimmer - or perhaps more pertinently, I lack confidence and panic easily. And when you start getting water in your mouth and you go straight into panic mode, it's too late to be thinking about blowing the water out of some sort of a side vent.

On that occasion, I was lucky enough to spot a large boulder near me and get myself standing on it for long enough to slip my snorkel out, spit the water out of my mouth and get my breathing under control again before starting back to shore.

But I won't pretend that it wasn't scary, even though, before the holiday was over, I made sure to go in again.

However, last year meant I couldn't snorkel at all, with dental treatment meaning that I lacked the ability to bite anything!

Which was rendered even more frustrating when we tried a new, tiny beach nearby, and The Other Half even saw a small octopus hiding in rocks!

So I settled for puttering around in the sea, head above water, clinging to a small plastic float that proved an invaluable aid to dealing with my confidence problems, allowing me to swim around quite a lot.

This year, with the dental programme rather further along the prescribed path, I was both optimistic and curious to see how I'd fare.

The same flash gear was in my luggage, and i planned to combine that with the float - surely such a combination would produce positive results? But my first efforts taught me one thing - the snorkel was still crap. Or I was crap with it. It made no odds which - it just didn't work for me.

I chucked it in a bin and bought the dirt cheapest one from a tobacconist, picked from between the saucy postcards and the inflatable crocodiles.

It was the business of mere moments to discover that I could, once again, lie face down in the water for more than a few seconds and see the world below.

And that was why I could see this intricate shell near my feet, and spend the time to manoeuvre it between my toes before eventually being able to handle it.

As I said when I approached The Other Half on his sun lounger, the only thing to say that seemed fitting, was: "She's back!"

PS: One of these days, I'll find a little I-Spy spotter book for fish of the western Mediterranean - do you think they produce waterproof copies?

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