My parents have always been very supportive of any fundraising activity which I have undertaken and it is probably a good job that I don’t do many of them or they’d be bankrupt. On this occasion, I think I scared them both a little bit.
It is a memory with two beginnings. The first is the very sad story of a boy from a couple of years ahead of me at school, Darryl Hawkins, who was brutally assaulted in our town centre one evening and left with very severe brain damage. Unusually for any event in our somewhat sleepy little town this caught the national press’ attention and there was a big local campaign to raise money to fund Darryl’s ongoing care needs.
At the same time, my friend Jeanette announced that she was looking for people to do a charity skydive with her. Without any thought whatsoever – including for the fact that I am terrified of heights – I volunteered. So did two others from my year, Gary Payne and Christine Sherley. Also in the party were a couple of Jeanette’s friends from her Young Farmers’ Club.
I remember that we underwent several evenings of training with a small, sandy haired man sporting a dubious moustache. These were held somewhere in Coventry and mostly involved us learning to fall onto crash mats. I remember thinking at the time that we had spent rather more time on that than on learning how to activate the reserve parachute.
The jump was to take place at Shobden Airfield, near Leominster. I can’t remember how much money I raised though I recall that it was a decent amount. I definitely know that the jump cost me an extra £8 as I lost the free ticket we were given at the start of the training.
The first time we attempted it, the jump was postponed because of high winds. We ended up going back a couple of weeks later, the four of us crammed into Christine’s Fiat Panda car. It was at around this point that Jeanette revealed that she had never flown before and that, therefore, the first time she went in an aeroplane she would be getting out halfway!
The jump was a static line one from 3000m. That meant that a line was attached from the plane to your parachute, meaning that you didn’t have to worry about releasing the ‘chute at the right moment and also that no-one had to jump with you.
We were asked in what order we wanted to go. I was determined that I was going to be first out of the plane and was somewhat surprised not to have to fight others for the role. I shuffled to the open side door of the small aircraft and sat with my legs dangling over the edge. The order was given to cut the engine and the eerie silence that followed is a sound I still remember to this day. I composed myself and flung myself outwards, arms in a crucifix-like pose.
A sudden jolt and the parachute opened. All around was silence as I floated down. The radio on my left shoulder crackled into life as I was given instructions for my landing, which way to manouever the parachute and so on. Unfortunately all four of us who jumped at that time were on the same waveband and on at least one occasion I followed the wrong instructions, but we all got down safely. And talked about doing it again. And never did.
My parents? They were away on the south coast when I eventually did the jump. It didn’t occur to me to call them from the airfield and I waited til I got home to do so. They spent about six hours hoping I was unhurt. Oops.