So beautiful it hurts

David Whitley learns the hard way - never ignore advice from those in the know.

The chap onshore is waving his arms furiously, although I can't think why. The water's placid, there's no hint of a rip and I don't think sharks frequent this area. He's probably none-too-happy about me heading towards his tiny Caribbean resort island; interlopers must be repelled lest they step upon the blessed sand of the special people - or something.

But it's too late to turn back; I've swum a couple of hundred metres across the channel from St Vincent's Villa Beach. I've dodged boats and my arms are knackered. Frankly, I'm stopping for at least five minutes whether they like it or not.

As I reach the shallows, I put my hand on a rock to push myself up and immediately a searing pain shoots through my right hand. Shrieking and yelping, I get out of the water and run up the beach.

It appears as though my hand has a few additions - a series of black spines thoroughly embedded, turning my skin a disturbing purple colour. I've no option but to approach the man who was waving me away: "... Um, I've hurt my hand ... no, I'm not a guest here ... yes, I did see you waving . . . no, I didn't understand you were warning me about the sea urchins ..."

Luckily, he's nice enough to humour the moron in front of him and he rushes me to the bar where a few limes are squeezed on my injuries.

"Put your hand in there," says the barman, pointing to the bowl of lime juice. "And when you get back, pee on it."

Excuse me? But he's insistent - urine is one of the best remedies to alleviate the pain and tease out the pesky spines.

After clearly outstaying my welcome, I swim back to the peasant's side of the channel and fire up the laptop. Surely urinating on my hand can't be the only cure?


Predictably, the ever-unreliable Doctor Google is both brutally pessimistic and hopelessly indecisive. There are roughly 1000 courses of action suggested and, unfortunately, the barman's unhygienic cure is among them.

Eventually I bottle it and go for the least unsavoury option - bathing my fingers in vinegar. Alas, while dribbling over your own hand is humiliating, at least no one else has to see it. Having to ask a waitress for a bowl of vinegar to put your hand in while at dinner is very embarrassing. Especially when you have to keep doing it for the rest of the stay.

Lying by the pool with my stinking fingers resting in a bowl is bad enough; the nagging feeling that the entire hotel's staff is giggling about "vinegar boy" behind my back is enough to make me feel as though I've been elected to the position of St Vincent's national freak.

The pain eases after a week or two and the spines depart about six weeks after the ill-fated swim. I'm not sure what it's payback for: trespassing where I'm not wanted, ignoring the man on the beach or choosing not to follow the "pee on it" advice. I just know that whatever it was, I'm not doing it again.