Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"'Is the warhead intact, Carruthers?'"

A funny and touching profile of English diving pioneer John ('Jack') Alwyne Kitching (1908-1996), by Trevor Norton in his brisk trot through the history of early diving, "Stars Beneeath the Sea: The Incredible Story of the Pioneers of the Deep Sea" (Caroll & Graf, New York); Kitching is seen in the photo above, about to dive into Lough Ine, with his home-made diving helmet (basically a milk churn) in 1937. His wife-to-be, Evelyn is also visible.

"I first met Jack in 1964 at Lough Ine. On entering his laboratory I was stunned to see the legs of a corpse dangling through the loft opening. 'My diving suit,' he explained, 'It keeps intruders away.'

He was tall with long lean legs and his nose was exfoliating from too much sun. If he had been a chicken you wouldn't have eaten him. 'Call me Jack,' he said in a voice like a distant foghorn softened by mist.

Jack's Quaker upbringing perhaps contributed to his stiffness in company. Laughing didn't come naturally to him; it was as if he'd learned it from a book. For politeness he uttered a restrained guffaw that really did sound like "Ha! Ha! Ha!" But very occasionally, if you could take him by surprise with something that really amused him, he would forget his laughing lessons and, without making a sound, tilt his head backwards until tears streamed down his face.

...[once while diving Jack was approached by a bystander] curious as to why someone without a rod or crab-pots should be bobbing about on the ocean.

'Is it fishing you are?'
'No,' replied Jack at his most precisely obtuse, 'We are monitoring irradiance amidst Laminaria in the subtidal zone.'

I surfaced and handed Jack the photocell. In a loud voice he said 'Is the warhead intact, Carruthers?'

Whilst I pondered what he was talking about, I noticed a chap rowing hell for leather for the shore. Next day there wasn't a person in town that hadn't heard of the misguided missile that had plunged into the sea off Lough Ine and made the whole place radioactive."

(c) 2000 by Trevor Norton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great biography. Such vivid descriptions I almost feel like I'm there.