This is a very unsettling thought.
This is one of those thoughts that hits you like a sledgehammer in the heart and, of course, the bowels.
This is the exact thought I had at about 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon as our bumpy little plane trundled over the grass and took to the skies above Peterborough. The immediate next thought was: “Oh god, I’m going to die in Peterborough.”
If you don’t follow these pages too regularly, you can catch the build up to this event here. For those that do, hi Mum!
In short, I hit 26 and decided that the best way to mark this life event was to hurl myself out of a plane for charity. I needn’t have put that link in really, that sentence is equally informative and much more concise.
The day didn’t get off to a great start. We decided it would be apt to have a pre-jump pint the night before – one for the road in case anything went spectacularly wrong. By the 5th Jagerbomb it began to dawn on us that perhaps we’d had one too many.
I woke at 6.30AM with a somewhat groggy head, donned the nearest clothes and went to greet the day. Following my esteemed colleague Rose’s instructions to the letter, I arrived at King’s Cross at 7.30 and boarded the train to Peterborough. The day started at 8.30 sharp, so I was glad not to have missed my train.
After touring Stevenage, Biggleswade, Sandy and St Neots it dawned on me that the instructions given may not have been perfectly thought through, and I stumbled off the train at 9, primed for an 8.30 start.
A quick aside – why does every town now need a slogan? As you roll into Stevenage, past the abandoned factory with the broken windows, you’re greeted with a sign bearing the legend: ‘Stevenage – Where imagination takes hold’.
I can guarantee that nobody has ever arrived in Stevenage and been hit by sensory overload. “My god! This is a playground for the mind” has never been uttered or thought in association with Stevenage. If the council are going to go down the line of turning their town into a corporate entity, they could at least be more realistic. Three suggestions:
‘Stevenage – indifferently shit.’
‘Stevenage – at least it isn’t Slough.’
That isn’t a pop at Stevenage – I’m sure it’s fine. It just doesn’t need a tagline.
Anyway. Arriving at the dropzone a good hour late, I was bumped back to about 1 o’clock. When the moment finally arrived, I huddled into a particularly rickety plane with my instructor, reassuringly also the coach of the RAF Parachute Display Team, and a friendly couple jumping in aid of Pancreatic Cancer. Myself and the male half of the couple were laddishly slapping each other and making manly war noises all the way up to hide the fact that we were really very close to public defecation.
Finally, strapped to another human being, I was shuffled to the door of the plane, which was dangerously open in my view. One thing they don’t really mention is that the instructor has to sit on the edge of the plane. This means that you are very much dangling out of a moving aircraft for some time.
I have to admit, the whole thing is a beautiful experience. Helpfully, I couldn’t see the ground – we were at 13,000 feet and well above the clouds, so I was surrounded by bright blue skies and a fluffy pillow of cloud to jump onto. It’s hard to describe the jump; I went through half a second of absolute and unbridled terror as we rolled out of the plane – the same feeling you have when you wake up and think you’re falling. I cannot tell you how surreal it is to look up and see an aeroplane gently moving away a few feet above you.
After that it’s just sheer pleasure all the way down. The freefall is mad – you’re doing 120mph but feel almost static. I think we fell for about 40 seconds, but it felt simultaneously like 10 hours and 2 seconds of flying. I will never forget that.
Hitting the clouds is quite odd – it seems obvious but I wasn’t expecting to get wet…
Pulling the chute brought out a whole new set of fun. You’re still 5,000 feet up but get to see the whole wide world around you. Peterborough looks quite nice from that high up, I have to say. We engaged in some light-hearted extreme spinning of the parachute, turning tight circles and making the ground spin like a roulette wheel. I was this close to being violently ill. Then we landed, and I gave the ground a steamy, tongue-heavy kiss it will surely never forget.
A massive thanks to everyone who’s sponsored me so far, I’ve raised over £350 for the Brain Tumour Charity. About 12 of us jumped over the weekend, so we should be looking at 4 or 5 grand overall! And thanks to the BTC lady for actually coming down and supporting us – much appreciated. And a big thanks to my instructor for not letting me die. I’m really pleased about that.