A step back in time

lobsters-nouphead.jpgA week or so ago I was on the Menai Straits in Wales inspecting the underside of boulders.  As you do.  More of that another time, I hope.  I came home to find, amongst the usual glut of emails, one telling us that Ken Farrow, a fellow diver and long time friend, had died suddenly, probably whilst I was wandering the Zostera beds of Foryd Bay.  He had surfaced from a dive with his wife Alison, off the wild and spectacular Noup Head on Orkney, climbed onto the rocks nearby and simply gone to sleep.  It may be the way to go, but what a gap he has left behind.

We have known Ken and Alison for over twenty years, our friendship dating from when GPD and I moved to the marine station at Millport on the Clyde.  Ken and I were fellow National Instructors, and all the Scottish NIs would converge on the Clyde for Advanced Instructor and First Class Diver events and would roam Scotland for the Club Instructor equivalent.  Largs, and subsequently Cumbrae, have long been the hub of Scottish AI and 1st Class events, and there were some wild weekends; wrecks, rocks and deep sheltered water are an irresistible combination for divers.  Particularly with pubs and Chinese restaurants in the vicinity. 

Our respective partners, Alison and GPD, were working their way up the diving rungs at the time, along with a number of personalities who are now in the ruling elite of the BSAC.   GPD and I duly left Cumbrae, moved east and added GP1 to our number.  This didn’t stop us joining Ken, Alison and a bunch of other friends for a week’s diving around the Kintyre peninsula while staying in our very own castle.  Booked two years in advance, before GP1 had so much as entered my consciousness.  Oh, happy days – the days when GP1 still did as he was told most of the time and stayed where he was put into the bargain.   I carried on on the ITS circuit for a number of years after the arrival of children – I remember dashing out between lectures to feed a baby.  More often, though, I’d leave the children at home and disappear to Stonehaven, Glasgow or Lerwick and meet Alison, Ken and the rest of the crew for a hectic weekend of lectures, workshops and socialising.  

Eventually, though, my life simply got too busy.  The syllabuses kept changing (does that sound familiar?) and I found I was turning up to courses badly prepared.  There’s only so many times you can wing these things without being spotted.   I made the decision to drop out of the circuit just as GPD was joining it; we couldn’t both abandon the children at the same time, however appealing that might occasionally seem!   

Ken and Alison, though, continued to be stalwarts of the Instructor Training scheme.  Already very experienced divers, their own diving continued to develop and they adopted mixed gas diving and rebreathers as technology advanced.  Our lives diverged and our most regular contact became the Christmas card.  But Ken enjoyed writing and always had a camera in evidence; we’d regularly see articles he’d penned and illustrated  in the diving press.   He also enjoyed being something of a maverick and would happily express quite outrageous opinions with the sole and entirely wicked intention of stirring everyone up.   

We went up to his funeral last week to say our goodbyes and found that many of our fellow divers and instructors had done the same.  There were several generations of Scottish divers represented, from Gordon Ridley, who I would consider to have been my mentor (although I’m not sure he ever quite forgave me for beating him to both the Corryvreckan Pinnacle and Rockall), to Clare Peddie and Sean Gribben, the current Chair and National Diving Officer.  There were people there I’ve not seen for years but, amongst the sadness, we were all able to pick up not too far from where we’d left off.  There is a great cameraderie amongst the diving fraternity and I realised last week how much I miss it.  Swimming just doesn’t cut the mustard in quite the same way!

It was a great tribute to Ken.  Ken, we’ll all miss you.