HEAVEN HELP US ALL, but I’m going on Mastermind. It’s the celebrity version, mind you (plainly the BBC celebrity cupboard is fairly bare at the moment), so I’m hoping that the questions will be slightly easier than normal.
Nonetheless, it’ll mean walking to the big leather chair with that music ringing in my ears, “de de de, DE DA”, the lights dimming, and being fixed by John Humphries’ gimlet gaze.
I may well go entirely to pieces and have to be led away by a nurse, but then again I thought I’d pick a subject that would put me on solid ground.
And so, Monty “No Not The Gardener The Other One” Halls, your specialist subject is “The Life of Jacques Cousteau”.
This has meant breaking out various volumes about the man, settling down, and revising on one of the great lives of the last century.
Cousteau has been much maligned in latter-day history, with the turtle-riding, self-publicising elements of his projects wheeled out as being the dominant impression of his life.
Re-reading the books has made me realise just what a gross over-simplification that is. Jacques Cousteau’s life was an epic odyssey involving many decades contributing to global marine awareness and conservation.

ONE OF THE PREDOMINANT FEATURES that springs out of the books acts as a beacon of hope for old geezers everywhere.
Cousteau didn’t actually leave the French Navy to become a full-time explorer until he was 46. Forty-six! Hooray, say I, a sentiment echoed I’m sure by the great many of us who make a groaning noise when they have to bend over / stand up / stretch, and have hair starting to grow out of our ears.
Admittedly, Cousteau had already invented the aqualung by then, but having said that I’ve invented a way of holding our shed door open when it’s windy, so I’m on the right track.
The other lingering impression is of just how “on the edge” the diving was. One of my favourite passages talks of how, after a series of incidents, they decided to limit air diving to, ahem, 90m.
This was with something that had been invented only a few years before – the regulator – using kit that was cobbled together, with no BCs, and no tables to speak of.
These early forays were driven by nothing more than tremendous bravery, combined with a touch of Gallic flair, a combination that created a series of films that mesmerized the world.
Reading the book is a glimpse of another age, with every dive an adventure, and every day of an expedition yielding new discoveries.
There are moments that leap out from the text: “we found out that the name of the wreck we had discovered was the Thistlegorm…” and “the great hulk beneath us revealed itself to be the long-lost Britannic.” What days these must have been, as Cousteau and his team traced the blue curve of the earth investigating shadows in the sea.
But there is another theme that emerges as Cousteau’s fame grew, that of melancholy.
With his growing reputation came growing responsibility, and he ended up fighting a number of battles that he simply couldn’t win.
Tied into contracts with the networks, churning out hours of television, his programmes eventually became seen as clichéd.
His environmental struggles came up against the might of governments and corporations, and even Cousteau’s global resonance proved no match for obdurate political will.

AND THIS BRINGS ME BACK to the here and now, and to us. Reading the book, there is the distinct impression that in the latter stages of his career he yearned for the early days of exploring the Mediterranean coastline with his friends.
The simple camaraderie of a small group having a shared adventure, making it up as they go along, and looking out for each other on the way.
Revisiting his story has been tremendously inspiring, as it has made me realise that – to a degree – we can all be Cousteau if we wish.
Not the latter-day, careworn television star, but the small-scale adventurer, the one who sat with his friends around a rough table, who drank coarse wine, pored over charts, and threw dive kit into an old van to head off to the coast.
It’s a thought I shall take with me as I sit in the Mastermind chair, bracing myself for John Humphries’ sonorous tones announcing to the great British public: “So, Monty, you passed on twelve questions…”