Before I left Australia and was asking for reading recommendations, plenty of people suggested I find some books on Tonga – ‘because it’s always more interesting to read about somewhere when you’re there!’ I did start a few books on Tonga when I first arrived but didn’t get very far. Ironically, for the past week I’ve been reading and thoroughly enjoying a book called ‘Down Under’ by Bill Bryson. I’ve read a few things by Bryson, but this one is funny! And full of interesting facts about Australia. However, possibly my favourite thing so far about the book is the part I read last night about the time Bryson went to the Great Barrier Reef and faced the prospect of getting in the water.
If you missed my last post about Scuba Diving, you might need to read it understand the instant affinity I felt with Bryson when reading his comments about snorkelling. Basically my feelings about the ocean are that whatever is in it should stay there, and I’ll look on from a distance. Bryson manages to put it far more poetically and accurately when he explains that,
“I am not enamoured of the ocean or anything within it, and the prospect of bouncing out to a rain-shrouded reef to see the sort of darting fish i could view in comfort at any public aquarium, or indeed dental waiting room, was not enticing.”
High five Billy-boy! I’m with ya on that one.
It gets better though! I felt like I was reading a transcript of conversations between me and Ellie (if we were both middle-aged men) as I read Bryson’s account of snorkelling with his friend Allan. Bear with me while I retype half the book.
“‘For God’s sake, Bryson, what are you doing?’ he said. ‘You’re three feet from the pontoon and you’re drowning.’
‘I am drowning.’ I caught a roll of wave full in the face and came out of it sputtering. ‘I’m a son of the soil,’ I gasped. ‘This is not my milieu.’
He clucked and disappeared. I dipped my head lightly under to see him shooting off like a torpedo…and was consumed once more with a bubbly dismay at all the clear, unimagined depth beneath me. There were big things down there, fish half as big as me and far more in their element than I was. Then my mask filled and I was sputtering again. Then another small wave smacked me in the face. I must confess that I like this even less – quite a good deal less – than I had expected to, and I hadn’t expected to like it much.”
Ok now don’t get me wrong! Scuba diving was great, and probably a lot easier than snorkelling in the ocean would be. But I couldn’t stop giggling and nodding along in earnest agreement with Bryson as I read this. Finally, someone else who gets why I didn’t bring a snorkel with me to Tonga!
“Interestingly, I later learned that this is quite a common reaction among inexperienced ocean swimmers. They get in the water, discover that they are way out of the their comfort zone, quietly panic and faint (a Japanese speciality, apparently) or have a heart attack (a fat person speciality). Now here’s where the second interesting aspect comes in. Because snorkellers lie on the water with their arms and legs spread and their faces just under the surface – that is, in the posture known as the dead man’s float – it isn’t actually possible (or so I am told) to tell which people are snorkelling and which are dead. It’s only when the whistle blows and everyone gets out except for one oddly inert and devoted soul that they know there will be one less for tea.”
See?! SEE! It’s not just me. I knew there were justifiable reasons for being worried about this sort of thing. Thanks Bryson old bud, I owe you one. Ok I’ll stop quoting the book at you now, but I do recommend it as an interesting insight into Australia and our often overlooked history. Also for a bit of a laugh.
One of the reasons I’m reading this book is because I’ve made a sort of ‘Tonga Bucket List’ or things to keep me sane while I have no work to do. One of the things on this list is to read 50 books in the year. I figure that’s an average of a book a week, and with no tv to suck me in every night I do get a fair bit of reading done. Having said that, it’s true that I’m behind schedule. Once I finish ‘Down Under’ I’ll have ticked 22 off the list – just under half way at the 7 month mark! I better start finding some shorter books. Eek!