Imagine hanging in the void, in dark quiet liquid, 2000 metres below the waves. You're waiting for something to bump into you, from the side, from below, from above ... You're waiting weeks for the chance to eat. Or be eaten.
I have always been fascinated by the sea. The corridor leads from the great hall to the blue whale in the Natural History Museum contains a display cabinet that shows stuffed fish from the deep sea. Strange alien creatures; an angler fish with a luminous blob hanging on a stick above its mouth, a gulper eel with a mouth larger than the rest of its body. Three dimensional loneliness awaiting a brief blind frenzy that ends with one creature hanging in the void as before and the other creature wriggling inside a stomach while digestive juices start to dissolve it out of existence. My parents had to drag me away from that corridor.
Books were also important. One book that made a great impression on me was the Ladybird book of underwater exploration, a picture book that introduced me to coral reefs and the deep sea. Stingrays, giant octopuses, sharks and the dazzling fish of the coral reefs.
The Great Barrier Reef is a cacophony of colours and forms. Huge brain-like corals harbour clouds of bright fish that pulse back and forth as if the sea were breathing them in and out. I imagined every crevice sheltering a button-eyed moray eel with vicious backward-facing curved teeth. I read that if a moray eel caught you by the foot you were as good as dead because it couldn’t release you even if it wanted to, it could only hope to swallow you whole or die in the trying. The only escape was to cut its head off and swim to the surface with its jaws still clamped around your flipper, which grisly escape plan appealed to my six–year- old self. I resolved there and then to become either a deep sea diver or a fire engine.
The only time I ever won a prize at school I was allowed to choose a book. I picked a large hardback about sharks, written by the French diver Jacques Cousteau, and read it from cover to cover, simultaneously fascinated and terrified by the Deep Blue.
I love those huge aquaria, we have one fifty miles from us in Hull, called The Deep. Family birthdays have often involved standing in the twilight beside the huge windows peering in at drifting shoals of fish that glide like ice dancers in three dimensions, the pulsing tumbling luminous jellyfish, the scything hammer heads, the helmeted nautilus that have been propelling themselves backwards through the seas for five hundred million years. Imagine only ever seeing where you have been, for 500 million years. Not likely to be a forward thinker, I don't think. We gaze in wonder at the leafy sea dragons that combine being a fish with being a clump of seaweed.
I have been diving just once, in a marine reserve in France, south of Collioure, I was about to have an operation on my ear and the leaflet the hospital gave me advised against ever going diving after the operation. It was a now-or-never moment. I seized it. Like Sam in Moon Pool, I struggled with unseen currents that kept trying to flip me over; the scuba tanks are bulky and change your profile in the water. It took a while to adjust to the fact that you don’t have to keep moving. You can simply hang in the water and wait for something to bump into you, like an angler fish but without having your mouth open. I saw huge pouting groupers and a cloud of tiny iridescent purple fish. It was amazing.
So Moon Pool has been waiting to be written for a long time. Since being six years old I have done many things: baker, television composer, photographer, writer, film maker, musician, singer, politician, public speaker, but the sea has loitered in the void beneath the surface, waiting to ambush me.
We humans are explorers, we look up at the stars and dare to dream that one day we will work out how to leave the Earth and travel to other worlds. In doing so w sometimes risk losing sight of how wonderful and how precious a jewel we have in our home planet. The biodiversity is breathtaking. We are caught in a century that combines our growing awareness with wanton destruction . We cannot destroy the Earth, it is far too resiliant for that and species have come and gone for millions of years, but we can remove from the universe much of the fauna and flora that share with us this moment in space time.
The great French evolutionist Teilhard de Chardin paints a picture in his book The Phenomenon of Man of a world a million years ago, a world that contained all the creatures and plants that share our world with us today: robins and blackbirds, lions and leopards, elephants and oak trees, hedgehogs and badgers, worms and wolves, mice and woodlice, sheep and crocuses, daffodils and damselflies. Strangely, isn't it the idea that robins and blackbirds existed before us that is weirdest? How could garden birds have existed a million years before there were gardens?
The only thing missing from the Earth a million years ago was ourselves. We humans have brought an amazing thing to the universe, we are the first species we know of that can look up at the stars and see space and time. Through our eyes the universe is able to see itself. There may be life elsewhere in the universe but it won’t be like the Earth. The Earth is unique. If we can avoid causing one of the greatest extinction events in our planet’s history we may have a great future ahead of us. Moon Pool is dedicated to nurturing our awareness of how special our world is.
As Sam says in we are POD, forget fantasy worlds – there is a real one to protect.