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The Dog

Joseph O’Neill
Publisher
Fourth Estate Ltd
Price
£16.99
ISBN
9780007275748

EXTRACT COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

Perhaps because of my growing sense of the inefficiency of life lived on land and in air, of my growing sense that the accumulation of experience amounts, when all is said and done and pondered, simply to extra weight, so that one ends up dragging oneself around as if imprisoned in one of those Winnie the Pooh suits of explorers of the deep, I took up diving. As might be expected, this decision initially aggravated the problem of inefficiency. There was the bungling associated with a new endeavour, and there was the exhaustion brought on by over-watching the films of Jacques Cousteau. And yet, once I'd completed advanced scuba training and a Fish Identification Course and I began to dive properly and in fact at every opportunity, I learned that the undersea world may be nearly a pure substitute for the world from which one enters it. I cannot help pointing out that this substitution has the effect of limiting what might be termed the biographical import of life - the momentousness to which one's every drawing of breath seems damned. To be, almost without metaphor, a fish in water: what liberation.

I loved to dive at Musandam. Without fail my buddy was Ollie Christakos, who is from Cootamundra, Australia. One

 

morning, out by one of the islands, we followed a wall at a depth of forty feet. At the tip of the island were strong currents, and once we had passed through these I looked up and saw an immense moth, it seemed for a moment, hurrying in the open water above. It was a remarkable thing, and I turned to alert Ollie. He was preoccupied. He was pointing beneath us, farther down the wall, into green and purple abyssal water. I looked: there was nothing there. With very uncharacteristic agitation, Ollie kept pointing, and again I looked and saw nothing. On the speedboat, I told him about the eagle ray. He stated that he'd spotted something a lot better than an eagle ray and that very frankly he was a little bit disappointed I wasn't able to verify it. Ollie said, 'I saw the Man from Atlantis.'

This was how I first heard of Ted Wilson - as the Man from Atlantis. The nickname derived from the Seventies TV drama of that name. It starred Patrick Duffy as the lone survivor from a ruined underwater civilization, who becomes involved in various adventures in which he puts to good use his inordinate aquatic powers. From my childhood I retained only this memory of Man from Atlantis: its amphibious hero propelled himself through the liquid element not with his arms, which remained at his sides, but by a forceful undulation of his trunk and legs. It was not suggested by anybody that Wilson was a superman. But it was said that Wilson spent more time below the surface of the water than above, that he always went out alone, and that his preference was for dives, including night-time dives, way too risky for a solo diver. It was said that he wore a wetsuit the colouring of which - olive green with faint swirls of pale green, dark green and yellow - made him all but invisible in and around the reefs, where, of course, hide-and-seek is the mortal way of things. Among the more fanatical local divers an underwater sighting of Wilson was grounds for sending an e-mail to interested parties setting out all relevant details of the event, and some jester briefly put up a webpage with a chart on which [...]