Perhaps it was the oxygen deprivation, but I was rather lost in my own little world when Deirdre grabbed my arm just before I was about to go under again and said in a husky tone: ‘Look out! There’s a bluey.’
Glenn took on an immediate expression of alarm. ‘Where?’
‘What’s a bluey?’ I asked, appalled to discover that there was some additional danger I hadn’t been told about.
‘A bluebottle,’ she explained and pointed to a small jellyfish of the type (as I later learned from browsing through a fat book titled, if I recall, Things That Will Kill You Horridly in Australia: Volume 19) known elsewhere as a Portuguese man-of-war. I squinted at it as it drifted past. It looked unprepossessing, like a blue condom with strings attached.
‘Is it dangerous?’ I asked.
Now before we hear Deirdre’s response to me as I stood there, vulnerable and abraded, shivering, nearly naked and half drowned, let me just quote from her subsequent article in the Herald:
While the photographer shoots, Bryson and boogie board are dragged 40 metres down the beach in a rip. The shore rip runs south to north, unlike the rip further out which runs north to south. Bryson doesn’t know this. He didn’t read the warning sign on the beach.* Nor does he know about the bluebottle being blown in his direction – now less than a metre away – a swollen stinger that could give him 20 minutes of agony and, if he’s unlucky, an unsightly allergic reaction to carry on his torso for life.
*The statement is inarguable. However, the author would like the record to show that he did not have his glasses on; he trusted his hosts; he was scanning a large area of ocean for sharks; and he was endeavouring throughout not to excrete a large housebrick into his pants.
‘Dangerous? No,’ Deirdre replied now as we stood gawping at the bluebottle. ‘But don’t brush against it.’
‘Might be a bit uncomfortable.’
I looked at her with an expression of interest bordering on admiration. Long bus journeys are uncomfortable. Slatted wooden benches are uncomfortable. Lulls in conversations are uncomfortable. The sting of a Portuguese man-of-war – even people from Iowa know this – is agony. It occurred to me that Australians are so surrounded with danger that they have evolved an entirely new vocabulary to deal with it.
Bill Bryson, Down Under