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Esther Lafferty is the anchor of the hugely successful Oxfordshire Artweeks festival and a keen triathlete.

Where the Grass is Greener

Esther Lafferty

Recently I accidentally became a scuba diver. This wasn’t due to an unfortunate incident with a banana skin beside deep water, but it did come as a surprise.

I had tried diving once before, back in the Jurassic days of post-student travel when a sun-kissed Australian beach bum assured me that diving was easy, strapped me to two tanks that were half my body weight (yes, nearly, and I’m allowed the artistic licence here) and pushed me backwards off a boat into the deep blue sea with a parting quip about the Great Whites that live in Byron Bay – Google it, they do! Funnily enough, my panic attack was full-blown by the time my flipper toes hit the surface and it wasn’t my finest sporting adventure moment, nor one I was keen to repeat.

This time however, I was caught unawares in a snatched week beyond the county borders enjoying the summer sun of a far flung resort: strolling flipflop shod before breakfast with my guard lowered, I spied a man in breathing apparatus lurking at the bottom of one of the pools. I had just decided he was either an inept voyeur badly hidden by two foot of clear water or overly concerned about his ability to swim the 12 foot from one side to the other without oxygen on hand, when a respectable man in a diving company polo shirt stepped from the shadows and asked me if I’d like to try his equipment.

Before you could say ‘bacon and eggs’ I was strapped into an inflatable suit with mask and air canisters, and underwent careful instruction about how to survive the shallow end. And, just several laps later, I was considered seaworthy.

Over the next week, The Significant Other and I dived seven times, across colourful coral reefs, in secret sea caves and on two magical shipwrecks all of which had clearly been lifted straight from the imaginative pages of an underwater children’s story. Fish flocked, giant moray eel bared their orthodontic offerings and a majestic ray flicked lazily past. There’s a standard code of hand gestures to use underwater for careful communication, but in my excitement I perfected a new vigorous semaphore all of my own, and undoubtedly told the instructors to look out for elephants, that I was full steam ahead or that we should move our naval fleet forward. Despite this blip, I was hooked – fortunately not in the ‘angling’ way – and The Significant Other now has his heart set upon being a deep sea diver when he grows up (so don’t hold your breath).

Back home, with the memories of crystal clear water at balmy bath temperature fresh in my mind and my enthusiasm fresh as my tan, I was all set to squeeze in a swift dive each morning before work. After all, other people go to the gym at dawn. I was quick to realise, however, that Oxfordshire isn’t home to many tropical diving sites, and that the temperature of the water around the UK is probably sub-zero 11 months of the year. ‘Dinton Pit’ and ‘Wraysbury near Staines’ just don’t have the lure of a Coral Beach or a Caribbean Wreck, so unless I win this week’s Euromillions and can cruise the Far East in an aqualung, my underwater adventuring may be as sporadic as my wild dolphin spotting.

Fortunately, we have an over-sized aquarium of giant tropical fish at home in Faringdon. You’ll be picturing rainbow coloured angel fish and pretty darts of disco neon. The inhabitants are actually more like a Halloween version of the Bash Street Kids, but they’re the best I can do and if I wear a snorkel and sit very close at dusk with my feet in a bucket of water, I am hoping the effect will be nearly the same. And you never know, I might spot buried treasure in the sand – it’s probably more likely than that lottery win!

- Esther Lafferty