Sometimes words can hang in the air for an eternity. You know the ones – we need to talk…; I have this rash…; my mum’s coming to visit… – all frightening in their own right. But nothing could prepare me for the recent bombshell dropped in my kitchen which, by the way, is still hanging in the air with last night’s curry.

We’re going cage-diving with great white sharks for your birthday.

Sometimes words can hang in the air for an eternity. You know the ones – we need to talk…; I have this rash…; my mum’s coming to visit… – all frightening in their own right. But nothing could prepare me for the recent bombshell dropped in my kitchen which, by the way, is still hanging in the air with last night’s curry.

We’re going cage-diving with great white sharks for your birthday.

I could have sworn he’d said we’re going cage-diving with great white sharks for my birthday.

Despite not believing it for a second I broke the sentence down into bite-size chunks. Much the same way a shark would do me. I don’t particularly like people invading my personal space let alone voracious, man-eating carnivores, I don’t like putting my head under water, I don’t like swimming where I can’t touch the sand, as far as I know (and it’s a fair assumption) I don’t like being trapped in a cage underwater and I don’t like breathing in and out of my mouth.

I was given a nose – and quite a spectacular one at that – for the dual purpose of smelling and breathing. End of story.
Happy with my own analysis I looked up only to see my partner standing there with an eager, “well, well what do you think” grin. Eyes wide open waiting for a response. Oh my god he was deadly serious about this. And it was the deadly part that concerned me the most.

He’d caught me in the middle of making lamb Madras so I had to switch to that cluttered side of my brain that processes outrageous comments from boyfriends. Surprised there was any room left. By that I mean because of my age not my numbers. Relax Mum.
He may as well have said we’re going to sky-dive naked and land in the middle of Federation Square at lunch time. It was a preposterous idea but not altogether surprising. Simon grew up in awe of sharks with hammerheads, grey nurses and great whites plastered all over his bedroom wall. The much less ferocious Michael J Fox adorned mine.

I began processing where all independent feisty women begin processing – my life insurance policy. Surely if he wanted to “do me in” he’d find a cheaper and less messy way of doing it. You can never be too careful though. One of the first stories I covered as a journalist in Adelaide involved a woman, a partially filled bath, lower leg bruising and a “grieving fiancé”.

I should’ve known something was fishy when Simon who’s an “A” grade film snob made me sit through Jaws II with him on a Saturday night. Well, half of it. I think we gave up when the shark jumped into the pilot’s seat and took control of the helicopter.
Two weeks, 3,125 shark jokes and 2,422 life insurance jokes later I’m on the Calypso Star with 17 other punters from all over the world heading out to the Neptune Islands in rough seas, two and a half hours off the coast of Port Lincoln – THE GREAT WHITE SHARK CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.

Did I have to be talked into it? Not really. Bizarrely, turning 40 has given me more zest for life which, according to those who know me, is an incredibly frightening prospect. Beginning with the conquering of four fears at once – sharks, deep water, the breathing thing and cages. Euripides was right; “A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.” I’m right with you Euripides with one small feminist correction.

To take my mind off six ravenous sharks feasting on my flesh I made a move on a Frenchman standing alone on the deck. We got chatting about my trip to Paris last year, the sheer pleasure of getting lost in the Louvre for five hours, my love of French onion soup and my preferred way of eating it; that is, the sodden chunk of cheesy bread last. He didn’t say much so I seamlessly moved on to French cinema classics and my experience of riding the Paris Underground at night. It was at that point he turned green and politely excused himself to throw up into a mini bin-liner I hadn’t noticed he’d been holding throughout our conversation.

Undeterred I tried my flirting techniques on my partner instead with less demonstrative consequences. And then it came, the moment I’d been quietly dreading – “SHARK! SHARK!”
We’d planned for this moment around the dinner table. I’d go into the cage first and Simon would carefully (and lovingly) follow, watching my every move to make sure I was calm and in control. That’s the kind of bloke he is.

So there I was sitting on the edge of the cage adjusting my unruly fringe, flustered and a little panicked by the first sighting of the monster fish. I turned to Simon for encouragement and strength only to see him literally jump over my head and into the cage. So much for our game plan.

There was only one thing to do – channel my inner Valerie Taylor, pull down the mask, stick the breathing apparatus in my mouth and get the hell in there. Hey I’ll be fine. 16 years in the media. I’m an expert on sharks.

The next thing I know I’m in the cage with my weight belt on sinking to the bottom. So many things are freaking me out I don’t know which one to focus on. Controlled breathing; controlled breathing. Yeah right. Then came the distraction and at that moment the terror disappeared. No more than a metre away a black eyeball passed by my mask. Holy Chief Brody! This beautiful creature is looking right at me. And that’s the moment I’ll never forget.

A knock like a mini-bus hit the cage behind us. That’s when I saw the jaws from the second shark in all their glory. I wouldn’t have touched the sides. Just one swallow would’ve done it. In TV terms it was the money shot. Then I did what any brave, self-respecting woman would do in that situation. I pushed Simon in front of me.
I couldn’t stop smiling on the journey back to harbour. I’d just done something I never thought I’d do and I loved it. So much so I might hijack Simon’s birthday and head back to Port Lincoln for a sequel worth watching.


Posted Oct 17, 04:11 pm in . Permanent link

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