While Dr Tabubil was staying with us, she and I went diving in the cuttlefish breeding ground.
We started at the dive shop, getting kitted out. The rig was the same as last year - neoprene socks and undersuits, booties, balaclava, gloves and tight-fitting neoprene wetsuits, half an inch thick.
Marlene, who runs the shop with her dive-master husband Tony, squinted at the two of us, posing in our one-piece under-suits with the front zippers zipped up JUST far enough, in our very best Bond Girl style, and handed me a wetsuit to try on.
"It’s tight." She warned. "Just see if you can get it up to your hips to start."
"I remember how tight they are." I laughed. "Amazingly, last year my friend Sarah managed to get her leg all the way up the arm of her suit."
"We remember that." Marlene said. Her voice went warm with awe. "You know, she's not the first person to have made that mistake, but what we can't believe is how she got it so far up there!"
Indeed. It took the three of us almost ten minutes to get her out of it. Remind me to let Sarah know that these days she's a local byword. She'll be enchanted.
The wetsuit was tight. The glamorous Bond girl dissolved into a mess of heaving and grunting and tight little bunny hops as I forced that thick neoprene up past my thighs, as per spec. Huuurggghh!
The water of the gulf gets extremely cold in winter. The theory behind the multiple layers and tight fit is that while you can't keep the cold water out of your suits, once it's inside, you can stop it circulating, and use it to build up a nice cushion of near-body temperature water that will isolate you from the chill. As a technique, it's extremely effective. Last year when we went snorkeling with the cuttlefish, the water temperature was about 12 degrees Celsius. I stayed in the water for almost an hour, and came out because I was tired, not because I was chilled. Once out of the water, it was another story. Unpeeling ourselves from our neoprene skins in the cold winter wind, our core temperatures dropped like stones. We stripped and wrapped ourselves in layers of flannel pajamas and wool sweaters and drank gallons of hot tea.
And it was magnificent - every chilled, shivering moment of it. For another half-hour with those cuttlefish, chilled as I was, I'd have climbed back into that clammy, flabbish wetsuit and done it all again.
And this year I am doing it again, but this year, I'm not going snorkeling. My sister has her PADI open-water certification, but I am an asthmatic, and have spent my life on the surface, looking down and wishing wistfully. But because the cuttlefish mating ground is at such shallow depth - barely 4 meters at its lowest points, the risk of the dive to my asthmatic lungs is effectively nil. If I can keep the cold - and my temperature-triggered wheezes - at bay, I will go down on what's known as a resort dive, with Diver Tony holding my hand the whole way. I'm so excited I'm ecstatic! The anticipation is almost indecent!