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Perhaps it is because I was nearly born underwater. A day or so before my mother was due to give birth to me, she and my father visited Portsmouths naval dockyard, where they were taken on a tour of a submarine. As she climbed down into its interior, my mother began to feel labour pains. For a moment, it seemed as though I was about to appear below the waterline; but it was back in our Victorian semi-detached house in Southampton, with its servants bell-pulls still in place and its dark teak staircase turning on itself, that I was born. I have always been afraid of deep water. Even bathtime had its terrors for me (although I was by no means a timid child) when I thought of the stories my mother told of her own childhood, and how my grandfather had painted a whale on the outside of their enamel bathtub. It was an image bound up in other childish fears and fascinations, ready to emerge out of the depths like the giant squid in the film of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, with its bug-eyed Nautilus, Kirk Douglass tousled blond locks and stripy T-shirt, and its futuristic divers walking the ocean floor as they might stroll along the beach. I thought, too, of my favourite seaside toy“a grey plastic diver which dangled in the water by a thin red tube through which you blew to make it bob to the surface, trailing little silver bubbles“but which also reminded me of those nineteenth-century explorers enclosed in faceless helmets and rubberized overalls, their feet anchored by lead boots. And in my childrens encyclopedia, I read about the pressurized bathysphere, an iron lung-like cell in which men descended to the Marianas Trench, where translucent angler fish lured their prey with luminous growths suspended in front of their gaping, devilish jaws. I was so scared of these monsters that I couldnt even touch the pages on which the pictures were printed, and had to turn them by their corners...