One of my spawn’s many endearing qualities is that he generally, as here with his new friend Solène, looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
So you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to have created his own – hem! – innovative variations on the standard divers’ sign language.
Now, as you’d expect in a branch of the teaching profession so rarefied that students quite often attempt to kill not only themselves but their tutors, diving instructors already have quite a few obscene variations on this theme.
Such as: “You! Look. At me! Your FACE. Makes me SICK!” Or: “You! Look. At me! YOU are f
ed. You are TOTALLY f
As you may also imagine, this is the sort of expressive language which sticks in the mind of a nine-year-old boy.
So when Z and I piled onto a dive boat, populated predominantly by big lads fresh back from Afghan (there are a LOT of Brits on Koh Tao), and his instructor yelled out, “Mind your language! There’s a child on board the boat!” my first thought was, “Aw, BLESS!”
My second? “That poor man is not going to know what hits him.”
Actually, Z’s instructor did an amazing job. For someone “without a parental bone in my body” and “absolutely no knowledge of children”, he genuinely really enjoyed teaching Z.
Which makes the sign language episode, well, a little sad, really.
It’s a funny thing, swearing.
I once worked as a temp on a building site for an office fit-out company. (Temp controller: “It’s a LOVELY firm! An interior design company, based in St. James’s.” 22-year-old me: “Do you think they can do £11.50 per hour rather than £11, then?”)
So I would sit in the Portakabin. Doing temp-like things such as audio-typing letters (from a tape machine worked with a treadle, like a sewing machine) and photocopying “subbies’ lists”.
Also untemp-like things such as correcting I/me/myself or comma/full-stop confusions and removing grocer’s apostrophes when I typed up the letters. (The boss would then firmly put them back in in biro.)
And the blokes on site, the identical, self-same blokes who would have been hooting, whistling and yelling creative pleasantries had I walked past their scaffolding in mufti, would come into the Portakabin.
They would look, in horror, at this delicate flower in their midst. And say, very solemnly, “Mind your language! Ladies present.”
And they meant it! It would have been the very height of bad manners to treat me as anything other than a lady. A person in front of whom one does not swear.
Anywise. Eventually the inevitable happened. I dropped something. I swore.
You could have heard a pin drop…
The older chaps could hardly have been more horrified had I undone my overcoat, whipped up my skirt, pulled down both pairs of tights (it was pretty damn chilly in that Portakabin) and photocopied my arse instead of the snag lists.
And so, back to Z, and divers’ sign language. We were relaxing over breakfast with Z’s instructor, Z filling out his logbook by writing down names of fish he had seen from a spotter’s guide. Looking, I think, almost as angelic as he and Solène do here.
Z has, by now, been a panicking diver for the large chaps doing the rescue diver course, dived off the back of the big boat with the big boys and towed his instructor 25 metres, so feels very much like one of the lads.
Relaxed, at ease, and one of the gang, he decides that now is a good time to demonstrate his innovative additions to the canon of divers’ sign language.
His first two — “You! Look. At me! You. Are screwed!” “You! Look. At me! You. Are TOTALLY screwed!” — go down, well, not exactly OK, but marginally better than a cup of cold sick. (It helps that he mimes opening a bottle with a corkscrew rather than something more, erm, etymologically and anatomically à point.)
Then Z pulls out his pièce de résistance. It involves a lighter. Some below waist pointing. And signs for You, I and Not.
His poor instructor is turning pale. “Can you guess what it means?” Z asks.
The chap shakes his head in silent horror.
“It means,” my little boy says, proudly. “I. Wouldn’t. Piss on. You. If you were on Fire.”