Between twelve and sixteen I was a junior member of the British Sub-Aqua Club. We met at Portobello swimming pool – back when there was a salt-water pool. For years, every Monday night, I spent a couple of hours learning how to swim underwater with a snorkel and mask and fins. I played underwater hockey. We did a week up on Skye where we learned how to dive off a boat, and wear wetsuits, and knife discipline.
All divers carry knives, because you may get tangled in seaweed or a net: knife discipline was the senior instructor informing us, in a tone that made clear he meant what he said, that we were each being issued with a knife, that this knife was to stay in its sheath, that if any of us ever EVER took the knife out of its sheath without a good reason or above water AT ALL or were seen messing about with it, that was IT, the kid who did it was never going back in the water again. A dozen teenage boys and two girls listened with awed attention and you better believe that we never did. (That I still remember that lecture thirty years later – he was memorable.)
I loved it, and I was good at it. Women have a slight genetic edge over men in learning how to dive and to swim in cold water, but I mention this just for the sake of smugness: most of it is training. I loved being able to use my fins to zip through the water like a fish. I loved being able to see underwater. Snorkelling was great. I had huge confidence in the water and would have liked to learn how to use an aqualung. It was an entirely new experience for me when the other kids started demanding to be on my team when we played underwater hockey, because my team usually won.