English: A Caribbean reef shark photographed at Roatan, Honduras. Deutsch: Grauer Riffhai (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) bei Roatan, Honduras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It was a good weekend.
The sun was shining and the sky was that beautiful clear-blue that typifies a Sydney summer’s day. I discovered that grilled sourdough, avocado, feta and lime is not the gross combination it sounds like it should be and Magnum ice creams were on special in our local deli.
When I say ‘take us out of the comfort of our own backyard’, what I really mean is away from the safety zone of our local public pool to the complexities and dangers associated with the beach.
The pleasures of the Aussie beach are still an enigma to me.
Unfortunately, I read Bill Bryson before we migrated to Australia to become one of the next batch of lobster skinned, ‘scared-of-our-own-shadow’, whinging Poms when it comes to wildlife. I wish I hadn’t read it now. I still dwell on those words about Australia having ten of the most dangerous creatures in the world.
And I don’t think that sharks even made it to the list.
Australians have a very different attitude to wildlife to us Brits. They don’t care how aesthetically scary a creature is, (and it can be seriously as fugly as fuck); they only care about what kills them.
To demonstrate my point, some Australians keep these in the house as pets to eat the mosquitoes. And no-one thinks that’s weird.
Unfortunately, my innate fear of anything that moves and isn’t human sharks hasn’t diminished since I’ve been here. I was brought up on Jaws and like Pat Solitano and his trigger song in Silver Linings Playbook, seawater not only triggers the urge to urinate in me (something to do with fear, I suspect), it also triggers THAT music.
But as I sat in front of Redleaf beach yesterday and looked out for fins at the terrain in front of me, I decided to face my fears and I contemplated a dip.
For those not familiar, this is what Redleaf beach looks like:
You might not think so, but I’m not making this shit up. Notice that the swimming area is completely surrounded in metal bars?
Looks super scary, huh?
For one FUCKING man-eating reason.
So while others played and splashed, snorkelled and had fun, naively, I carried out my own personal full risk assessment. The bars looked intact, but I’d seen those television programmes where sharks bite through cages many times. My mind kept conjuring up an image of the whole of Jaw’s family lined up behind those bars, waiting and licking their razor-sharp teeth in anticipation of the white blob of cellulite about to enter the water. This would surely be their victory in revenge for the injustice on their distant relatives in Western Australia.
And to be honest, I’d give them a bit more than afternoon tea than the rest of the swimmers around me.
I remember when I snorkelled for the first time in the Great Barrier Reef where there are only Reef Sharks who, APPARENTLY, aren’t interested in tearing your body apart when their myopia makes them to mistake you for a seal. Did you know that sharks are virtually blind? So you can guarantee that death won’t be quick or easy unless you’re lucky enough to be decapitated first or they chew through an artery.
I was the only adult in a stinger suit on that trip – the only Smurf on the reef – a vivid-blue human beacon to man-eating wildlife.
Eventually had to kick me into the water such was my resistance, whereupon, after my first brush with a sea cucumber, (which are frankly GROSS), I dismantled my goggles and snorkelled in braille so I couldn’t actually see what was surrounding me.
As I looked out to the water in Double Bay yesterday, I felt calmed by the knowledge that there were a lot of children out there at the back of the pool, as well as the over-nourished proportions of the old man who was making a complete pratt of himself diving in and out of the water like a child.
Those kids might just give me the chance to get out of the water quickly, I rationalised.
Lost in my thoughts, the anguished peal of an infant cry suddenly broke through my reverie and my fight or flight response set in. Before I knew it, my body was hurtling up the sand quicker than it does at the start of Happy Hour at our local pub.
‘It’s a fish!’ aforementioned ugly child squawked, proudly holding up something the size of a tadpole in his chubby little palms.
And I realized then that I’m still not quite ready.