20 March 2016
As the aircraft throttled up along the runway, I cast my mind back to the old schoolboy rhymes about ‘the boy on the burning deck’. The vague feeling of impending doom which had hitherto been accompanying me as a sort of background ‘noise’ for some weeks had also just throttled up a gear and was now becoming distinctly palpable. I fleetingly wondered which hospital outpatient department I should have tentatively booked for an appointment the following day - orthopaedics or psychiatry?
I reached for my Rescue Remedy. Why on earth was I undertaking this experience, albeit for a wonderful cause, at my time of life, just months from my sixty fifth birthday? Probably the answer lay as a sort of juxtapositioning of three distinct reasons: firstly, the idea of a skydive, and subsequently hurtling through the air at insane speeds of around a hundred miles an hour had been an occasional (but rapidly discarded) thought many times over the years; secondly, my daughter, Vicky, a bit of an adventure junkie, had nagged me for ages to do a skydive with her (she had already done one herself in Las Vegas and was accompanying me on this one, raising funds for the keyhole cancer operating theatre); finally, out of the blue, David Fairweather’s e-mail then arrived in my in- box early February inviting volunteers from SUHT to take part in a tandem skydive as part of the ongoing campaign from the hospital fund-raising department. My heart skipped a beat as I realised that the time to confront this demon had come (better include cardiology on the list for Monday morning, too!?).
Saturday evening, 19th March, evening before jump: weather forecast for tomorrow a bit uncertain, we were told to phone 7.30 a.m. the following morning. How frustrating if this is postponed at the eleventh hour!
Sunday morning, 20th March, day of the jump: a 7.30 a.m. call to the jump centre. The conditions are good, and the jump is on, so off we set for Sibson aerodrome, Peterborough, from a drizzly overcast Westcliff. Two hours later, as we neared our destination, the weather was definitely improving, with intermittent clouds and some blue sky. With only a few miles to go, I desperately tried to rationalise the fearful task that lay ahead. Firstly, the jump would be over in several minutes - at over two miles high (thirteen thousand feet to be precise), with forty - fifty seconds of freefall. Secondly, statistically, tandem skydives are considered extremely low risk and ‘Peterborough’ enjoys a very good reputation. Then the satnav announced the Sibson exit off the A1 - and all rationality vanished.
At the jump centre office we were processed briskly and then directed to the briefing hut, where Mark explained to just Vicky and myself what was going to happen. The rest of the Southend Hospital Group had already arrived, and at least one lady had already completed her jump - and was there in front of me, visibly still alive. Soon Vicky and I were putting on our jump suits followed by us proudly strutting around just like veterans of 633 Squadron, waiting for action. Things were really starting to hot up now as we were ushered to the waiting plane, along with half a dozen or so others who were doing solo dives, and would jump before us. Vicky and I made our way to the back of the aircraft, as we would be the last ones to exit, and our jump instructors sat on the bench behind us with us all facing towards the door. My jump instructor was Mark, but Vicky’s jump instructor was chatting to her all the time, which I quite envied as it probably helped to quell her nerves (Mark, alas, said very little, but, as he checked all my fastenings and clipped me on to his clips, I instinctively felt he knew what he was doing). After around fifteen minutes the aircraft reached the intended altitude of 13,000 feet. The ground now looked a very long way indeed. Like clockwork the door was opened, the red light turned to green and the first people were starting to exit. Soon there were just Vicky and myself (plus our jump instructors) left!
All was well. We had both survived, highly elated, but also hugely relieved! And - together - we had raised nearly two thousand pounds for our local hospital, too!
Friday 22nd February 2019
Thursday 7th March 2019