You meet a wide variety of people on a dive boat. Most of the time this is one of the most pleasing aspects of diving; occasionally it's not.
I'd wandered into the shop to find a Cockney in a Chelsea shirt selecting his gear for a dive. I don't like Chelsea, and once had a few of their fans wanting to kick my head in for asking directions down the King's Road one afternoon. Norvern Cant, I seem to recall being called. Not pleasant people, in the main. We got chatting, and this guy seemed OK. On the boat that morning were an American man and his two twenty-something offspring, and a trio of Spaniards. After we'd completed our first dive, a short storm blew in as we ate lunch. A few moments of silence were interrupted by the Londoner. "Here's one for you..." What followed was the type of joke I thought had died out in the 70s. I'd heard it at school, and knew it a couple of sentences in. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion...I had to walk to the back of the boat before the punchline. Polite laughter was followed by an uncomfortable silence and exchanged glances between divers. Deary me. Jim Davidson was the nickname from here in.
I was in the Bistro bar later that night, and he came in with his local girlfriend. Wandering over in his 3/4 length pants and Reebok trainers, he asked if there was anywhere else to drink. I told him the town was limited for nightlife, but that he could try Bottleground over the road.
"Just been in there, they were playing that American nigger shit" he said.
"You daft racist" I said, looking away.
"I'm not racist" he assured me.
I raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
Conversation obviously lapsed for a few minutes, as I turned my attention elsewhere. I could hear the wheels in his tiny brain going round. Louis put some reggae on from behind the bar, and this was his cue to tap me on the shoulder.
"Just to prove I'm not a racialist" he said, at a conspiratorial level "I do actually like this music."
"Oh, I get you now" I replied "Jamaican niggers are OK, you just don't like American ones?"
That seemed to close the conversation, and he left soon after with the Filipina.
I left it at that, and was my usual professional self on the boat...I just avoided him wherever possible. But I couldn't resist one last dig. I was still reading What Is The What, the book about Sudanese refugees, and had my head in it at every possible minute on the boat. He had wandered over, and leaned back trying to see the cover.
"What is that book? You never seem to put it down."
"Oh, you wouldn't like it..." I sighed "...it's about niggers."