Friday 3 May 2019

Flying High

Not Pipistrello

It was my beloved Grandfather that first proposed the idea of Parachuting. His was a philosophical spirit and when speaking to my Brother and I one day, he said everyone should test themselves with a Fearful Task and he wanted to see us parachute and hang-glide once in our lives. So it was that between us, I was the first presented with an opportunity to fling myself out of a plane when I was 17.

Not Pipistrello, either

For my part, I was rather afeared of heights and was prone to jelly legs when I came too close to an edge, and on two memorable occasions as a child was paralysed on a Precipice. The first time, I needed physically rescuing off a clambering route we neighbourhood children used to scamper about the forbidden paradise known as The Quarry, a disused quarry at the end of our street.

Not The Quarry -
Just what it felt like to we adventurers

After sneaking through a hole in the fencing, sometimes I could climb up and down this seeming face of Everest with no issue, and other times it would terrify me. The day I found myself frozen onto the stone face like human lichen, the elder brother of one of my partners in mischief had to be fetched from home to prise me off and guide me back down again. Of course, never would a Parent be contemplated as a Rescuer. If any adult was to get wind of what we might be up to, it would Spell the End of our Verboten Fun!

The next occasion was on the cantilevered marble staircase in the National Library in Our Nation's Capital. I foolishly looked down over the balustrade and realised I was suspended over a void and suddenly froze. I had gone up on my own and being shy and possibly frightened to speechlessness, didn't try calling for help like any other child may have.

My personal nightmare

After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to get my quaking limbs to sit down and slowly shuffled the flight or two of stairs to safety, on my shivering, bony bottom. No Parent was appraised of my Disappearing Act for the duration, of course. And I still get squeamish when I see this in my favourite building in Canberra, and most any staircase over a void.

Yippee! Let's go Parachuting!

However, when a rather gorgeous gym instructor suggested a group from our aerobics class make a day of his hobby Parachuting, I was In-Like-Flynn! These being pre-tandem skydiving days, the jumps were Old School with the Commando-style static line and much practice was needed to Hit-the-Ground-and-Roll with some kind of SAS panache by jumping off 44-gallon drums, a feat I did not in honesty quite master, but hey, I wasn't auditioning for the D-Day Landing!

Pipistrello is nowhere to be found here

While Adrenaline is a very useful stimulus to all Crazy Activities, it seemed that Nausea was the critical factor in my actually flinging myself out into the abyss. I was last to jump, being the youngest, so the parachuting instructor could dive out after me, "in case something went wrong" (!!) But half an hour or so of circling a jump site in a smelly flying VW Beetle while we each had a couple of minutes to summon the courage to tumble out, combined with my childhood carsickness, meant that by the time it was my turn, I was so green about the gills that I had no greater wish than to be In the Air.

"One thou-gaaahhh!!!" ... Not so Elegant an Exit. And no photo to share.

As a more self-contained type of girl, I was surprised and a bit embarrassed to be told that a garbled scream was heard as I, ahem, didn't go through my parachute-opening count properly. All went well, luckily, and after initially tumbling like a rag doll in the rushing air before the parachute automatically opened, it was truly very exciting to be hanging in the air, suspended 2000 feet or so over the green paddocks and not so vertiginous after all, as there was no sensation of falling and the ground really looked more like a picture that was gradually brought up toward you, to the point you felt you could just Step Off and onto it, like coming off an escalator. And it was all over in a flash.

Spending time with a Thrill Seeker

We group of first-timers all survived, in spite of all the cows that seemed to be in the way, the only mishap being one of the women landing in a tree from which she was rescued completely unscathed, save for a broken, frosted-pink-painted fingernail. And when, three weeks later, the smooth gym instructor asked if I would care to go again, just the two of us!!, parental permission was again granted. This time, distraction in the form of concerted flirting meant I forgot all the instructions and when I came back down to earth and landed rather heavily on my (still bony) bottom, I couldn't sit down properly for many days afterward. Ah, well ... it was still worth it as I got to spend the day with this Athletic and Dashing Older Man.

Proof I did Face my Fear

My Report Card, however, is by far the Worst I have ever received. Hmmm, "no count, sloppy arch and rolled". Then the indignity of the back loop as the parachute opened up between my legs on my second jump. Not that you notice these things at the time as it happens so quickly. But the long white space under my second jump is proof that my Frontal Lobe did indeed develop and, while I did successfully meet my Grandfather's Challenge, I felt that hang-gliding was only asking for trouble and, as a sport, Flying through the Air is really better left for those with the wings or hands to do so.

Leaving it to the Naturals


  1. What a wonderful tale, augmented by your choice of illustrations and perfect captions.
    I have deep suspicions about a grandfather who tells his grandchildren to jump out of a plane and means it.
    Just saw a photo of a mosque with stairs like your picture. It was very ethereal and I would never set foot higher than step #2.
    I'm not quite as bad as you about heights but I don't relish them, either. Top of tall buildings--no problem. But on a ladder? No way. I don't appreciate depths, either, especially when water is involved. Also, perhaps due to being nearly blind as a bat (heh, heh...but seriously, bifocals don't help this at all), I am hopeless at getting on and off escalators, especially on them when getting on to descend. I am sure I will trip or miss the step or manage to step right on the crack and will tumble down, catching my hair in all the moving steps and also breaking all my teeth, ending up bald and toothless at the bottom. Phobias! Goodness!
    We also had a forbidden quarry; it's amazing my siblings and I survived childhood.

    1. Haha, Grandfather would no doubt have applauded your scepticism and critical thinking.

      I've been caught out by stairs all over the place and tend to miss out on "views" from touristic vantage points, so am a great one for buying postcards. I don't mentally workshop what my most dreaded outcome is like your escalator phobia, it's just the acceptance that an Imminent Demise will result. But then other times I am fine. There is something worse, though, in the descent, isn't there? By the way, there are nightmare CCTV clips on the internet of women coming a cropper on escalators, set to jaunty music, which you Don't Need to See!

      I'm glad you enjoyed this reminder of your own Adventure Playground. Making it to adulthood really is the greatest miracle!

  2. I am not very fond of heights myself. I always get this crazy sensation that I should launch myself through the air when I am on top of something very high. Maybe I should carry a parachute around with me.
    You're brave to have parachuted. I don't think I would ever find the courage to do it.

    1. That is a truly crazy urge, Loree! Although, the idea of being able to fly is really just below the surface for probably all of us and it is one of my recurring dreams.

      It is an absolute truth that I would never parachute now, and in one of those strange coincidences, the same year I did this there was a spate of parachuting fatalities worldwide that made the news and I thought to myself that that chapter had definitely closed and I was never going to even contemplate the second challenge of going hang gliding. All I can say is that apart from the youthful conviction that all will be well (under-developed frontal lobe for sure!), the hormones in a teenaged girl are pretty powerful!

  3. My Dear Pippy,
    We do have much in common. I enlisted in the Army as an "athletic and dashing older man" in order to serve in Iraq for reasons that then seemed sensible but have since been revealed to be based on misleading Intel. I had the fear that my time in service might be spent stateside so volunteered for Paratrooper school even though I was afraid of heights as it would guarantee me a combat tour on the front lines. It was terrifying and exhilarating beyond all measure and changed me forever.

    1. My goodness, GSL! You are no doubt full of incredible Tales of Derring-Do and and I tip my hat to you for confronting such a fear with rather more gusto than I could ever have mustered. The paths we choose don't always seem so sensible in hindsight but without travelling them, where would we be? For my part, I feel we will always be richer for challenges, be they big or small, thrown our way.

  4. aww...awesome images....
    thank you for sharing

    1. Thank you, and welcome to these pages, Tanza!

  5. I have always dreamed I could fly, since I was a kid. Never made me want to jump from a plane though. What a lovely writer you are. I enjoyed this post.

  6. Welcome aboard, Kay! Thank you for your kind words.

  7. Well I for one am very impressed. But I know my limitations and level of cowardice and no-one, not even a grandpapa, would persuade me to jump out of an aeroplane. (I fly regularly and skilfully in my dreams, but never very high.)

    1. I graciously accept your compliment, thank you Rosemary, but I'm a big chicken now and wouldn't try it again. Youthful devil-may-care attitudes replaced by solemn considerations, these days. Funnily enough, in my flying dreams I'm not far off the ground either, only several feet, and to negotiate obstacles I need to fly up and over them like a bee!


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Bats In The Belfry