“Matthew, come and see this, Quick!” bellowed through the house. Like a true little soldier I scampered down to the living room as I recognized that booming voice of authority, “look at this” he echoed at a lower level whilst pointing at the TV screen. Little did I know at the age of 7 that this was going to be my defining moment in life; staring at the blue screen “What, what am I looking at“, “Keep watching son.” After what felt like an eternity it appeared, “It’s a fish dad”, “WATCH.” Then as the camera panned out i registered the grey and white blotched skin, smaller fish surrounding this body that continued to grow, still panning out a diver came into the foreground and I could see the full scale of this colossal beast gracefully coasting through the blue. With a gaping mouth and eyes like saucers all I could muster was “Woooooaahhh!!”
It was from that moment forth that I had made up my little mind that i was going to be a marine biologist, not a fleeting novelty choice it stayed with me for the next 7 years as I worked hard at school and even decided that Exeter would be my university of choice. My addiction for wildlife grew, any program that included marine life was on my hit list, especially those from David Attenborough.
Funny how life changes in an instant- December 1988, dad was late home after collecting mum from work, in place of their arrival was the local policeman (the same guy that had clipped me around the ear a few times) wearing a serious face. I knew instantly that something bad had happened and cut him off half way up the driveway.
The accident (I hate that term when ultimately their is always a cause) left the old man disabled and lead to my schooling dropping off and therefore the underwater dream had paled into insignificance. By the time I reached 18 I couldn’t wait to escape the ‘at home, head of the family’ lifestyle I had been forced into and bolted for the county Kent where I became a Policeman. That didn’t last too long, I jumped ship a few years down the line and signed up for the Royal Air Force. Seventeen years flew by, marriage came and went. Sporting goals where achieved and in some cases exceeded, until a shoulder injury put me out of training for some time. Throughout my time in the RAF I traveled all over the world but had never done so on my own for ‘me time’ and so, in 2006 I went to Dahab, Egypt where my boyhood dream became reality.
Whilst sat at the bar with a few other rat-race escapees and pondering what to do next, a rather hyperactive blonde bounced over and just started chatting and chatting and chatting. With an infectious character she told us that her boyfriend had a dive school and invited us to try it out. Hell yes!!! The very next day I met Mo and his team, itching to get in the water I was beaming from ear to ear. With excitement and admittedly some apprehension i just did as I was told, donned the short wet-suit, clambered into the equipment and followed my guide to the waters edge. On-lookers probably had a good laugh at the Man-Penguin crossed with Bambi on ice and Dumbo on his first flight attempt, but I didn’t care, I was going to a different planet!!
We submerged, Kaz dived alongside and took photos whilst Medi (I think that was his name) held onto me like a mother holding the reigns of a 2 year old following a sugar hit from a crap MacDonald’s happy meal.The first thing I noticed was the slight restriction on breathing, especially not being able to breath in through my nose; and the instant relief from the burden of carrying all the equipment. Next, the freedom (yes, I know I’m still post crap burger on reigns but I didn’t notice it one bit) I felt like I was flying, the colors of the corals, the abundance of fish that simply stayed where they are, the didn’t dart for cover which was the usual scenario when snorkeling.
After navigating around a coral wall it hit me, the dawn of realization, an overwhelming feeling of elation, achievement, happiness & literally every other positive emotion you could throw at me. I will admit, I got choked up I was that happy to be in the place I dreamed of being 25+ years earlier.
Anyway whilst devouring my post dive burger & chips and in a one way conversation with the local kids who enjoyed my chips too, I decided that I needed more of this subaqua malarkey. Time passed and a few years later when closing on the end of my military career the opportunity arose to get properly certified as a diver, courtesy of my good friend Peter Maskell. That was it, the start of my new career, even if I didn’t know it straight away, I was soon to be off on an adventure of a lifetime and ‘Living a world away’ from the structure, turmoil and rat-race of the life I knew.