Looking at my photo up there reminds me that it's time I had another picture taken. That's pretty old. It was taken on the top of a hill overlooking Lake Elsinore, the day I went parachute jumping.
As is usually the case in these adventures, it was a thing where a bunch of friends all wanted to do something, so we all headed off to a little airport near Elsinore to do a tandem parachute jump. "Tandem" means you have a man on your back the whole time. The whole taking-a-man-strapped-to-your-back-when-parachuting thing seems like an extreme exercise in redundancy but when it comes to fail-safe devices, one which has a strong interest in staying alive is highly recommended.
After a long lecture about how to parachute jump, with particular attention on why we had to remember to open our parachutes at the right altitude, and during which we were videotaped 'voluntarily' renouncing any rights we had under California law, we climbed into an ancient plane, had men strapped to our backs and then got ready to jump. I was first; I don't know why, but that meant I got to look out of the hole in the bottom of the plane for quite a long time before the pilot cleared us to jump. It was a long way to the ground, too. We jumped, and at that point I realized that the long lecture had actually missed out something vitally important. It was this: parachute jumping on TV looks kind of silent and peaceful, you and the birds up there with nothing to touch you. This turned out to be an illusion. You're actually falling at around a hundred twenty five miles an hour, which means that the wind is whipping past you in the same way it does on a motorbike, if not more so. It's loud, it's cold, it stings the cheeks, and it makes your clothes strangely uncomfortable, as if they had all decided they suddenly had somewhere else they preferred to be. I wish somebody had told me about it beforehand as, clearly, I lack the imagination to have thought of it myself. Now you know, if you go.
Once I got used to the fact that it was exactly like being on a motorbike, except with no bike and a man strapped to my back, it was mildly interesting. Like the newly-created whale in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I was fascinated by the ground that seemed eager to meet me. In fact, if I'd remembered the whale's thoughts before I jumped, I would have had a much better idea of what was going to happen.
And hey, what's about this whistling roaring sound going past what I'm suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that ... wind! Is that a good name? It'll do ... perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I've found out what it's for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. […] And wow! Hey! What's this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like ... ow ... ound ... round ... ground! That's it! That's a good name - ground!Just as I began to wonder, like the whale, if the ground would be friends with me, I felt an idiot tapping on my shoulder. It startled me – I'd forgotten I had a man strapped to my back – and it took me a moment to remember why he was tapping on my shoulder. It was because I'd forgotten to open my parachute. I did so, and the experience changed rather abruptly from motorcycling to flying. This bit was quite nice, because I could swoop a bit and rock from side to side and enjoy the view of lovely Perris airport.
Flying has to be a universal fantasy, and I can't deny that this bit was fun, even with a man strapped to my back. If I were twenty years younger and very rich, I might even consider sports parachuting as a hobby. Alas, this phase quickly came to an end, and then I was faced with the prospect of landing on the ground with a man on my back, which I did with English-oak-like rigidity. At the time, I could easily leg-press double my weight, which was handy because that day, I landed at well over twice my usual weight.
I have a thing about not falling over. Dropping and rolling is not in my physical vocabulary, even in a case like this, when it might have been of some use. I just landed on my feet with studied nonchalance. I think I surprised the man on my back.
Once I'd got him off my back, I went for a microlite flight. That was quite interesting too. I sat beside the pilot, hedge-hopping, thinking what a jolly good time I was having and watching the ground go by twenty or thirty feet below. Eventually he cracked and asked, "Aren't you enjoying yourself?"
"Of course," I said, irritated that he'd broken the spell.
"It's just, usually, you know, people say, 'Whoo!' and stuff."
I considered saying "Whoo!" – and stuff – but thought better of it. Leave it to the Americans to actually reveal their emotions. Brits tend not to be so demonstrative.
Quite an interesting day, in retrospect. If I do anything fun again one day, I'll be sure to take another photograph of me.