© Copyright 2021 by Daniel Hicks
Photo by Sid Pradhan on Unsplash
had been in Datchet, a few miles west of London
Airport, before, but usually below the flight path, never above it.
This time I wasn’t so sure. I instinctively ducked as a Boeing
747 thundered overhead.
The most unwelcome present I have ever received was from my wife on the occasion of my retirement.
“Well, you said you wouldn’t mind having a go,” she said, as I dropped the envelope and stared at the document in my hand.
“Yes, but that was about thirty years ago. When I said just get me a gift voucher I meant a book token – or something. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a bungee jump voucher.”
Because of my age I would require a letter from my
doctor confirming my fitness before being allowed to jump, so, not
wishing to disillusion my wife, I duly made an appointment, confident
that the doctor would overrule my stupidity.
“In our opinion,” he said, “no one is fit to do a bungee jump.”
Fine, I’ll go along with that. I was about to leave when he added: “What we usually say is that we don’t see any reason to prevent it.”
‘What we usually say’? You mean there are others! I had this mental picture of a long line of geriatric daredevils shuffling out of the Post Office, having collected their state pensions, to regroup in the doctor’s waiting room to collect their bungee jump fitness certificates. When the big day arrived I was half surprised not to see a corner of the car park reserved for mobility scooters.
There was a clear blue sky but even so I prayed silently for torrential rain, preferably with hail and lightning, anything that would justify a cancelation. I made my way half-heartedly to the bungee tent to register. I read and signed a form which warned me that bungee jumping is dangerous (you wouldn’t have thought that, would you?) and that I had only myself to blame in the event of any adverse effects on my health, e.g. death. I handed it to the girl at the desk, together with the doctor’s letter confirming my fitness, or at least an absence of symptoms indicating my imminent demise. She read the letter, in between casting disbelieving glances at me, and asked if she could keep it – ‘for our records’. Which I guessed was a euphemism for ‘to use in our defence at the inquest’. She then weighed me, wrote some coded letters on the back of my hand (to identify the body, I presumed) and sent me to the man in the jump enclosure. He attached a harness to my waist and ankles before going through one last check list:
pockets? No jewellery, contact
lenses, false teeth; shoes fit tight, nothing loose?” Only my
I joined the short queue – that’s
right, queue! – of lunatics eagerly awaiting their
chance to die. He called me when my turn came and I fell over,
forgetting that my ankles were lashed together. Then I shuffled to
the small cage and joined three other men, one of whom was equipped
with a video camera to film what could be my last moments on Earth.
Or just above it. As the cage was hoisted towards the clouds a young
man with a worrying smile fastened a piece of elastic to my ankles
and briefed me on the jump procedure: “Hands on the rails: here
– and here,” he demonstrated how to hold the rails,
“Focus on a point on the horizon. When you’re ready
[‘when I’m ready’ could entail a rather long wait –
best skip that bit] raise your hands above your head; I count down:
three… two… one… bungee! And you go head
first, just like diving into a swimming pool.”
“Except there’s no bloody water down there,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, well, apart from that.”
I never did discover the role of the third man.
The other two didn’t even acknowledge his presence, it was as
though he was invisible. He had a rather sombre air about him and I
kept getting flashbacks of depictions of the Grim Reaper. OK, this
man wasn’t carrying a scythe and wearing a cloak but presumably
he would have updated his image by now. He probably had a skull
tattooed on his chest and–
My reverie was interrupted with a jolt as the cage reached its maximum height. I was going to say I was brought back to Earth, but that’s probably not a very good metaphor given the circumstances. My instructor turned to the cameraman and asked, “Are we happy?” He assured him they were (nobody asked me) and I thought I caught the hint of a smile from the Third Man. The instructor opened the gate and beckoned me to stand at the edge of the cage. He repeated his instructions, with a warning ‘not to try anything fancy’. Spoilsport! I reluctantly shelved plans for a triple backwards somersault. I had never in my life felt less ready for something, nevertheless I raised my hands above my head as instructed. Oh well, if the piece of elastic snaps the ground will break my fall.
“Three… two… one… BUNGEE!” Did I jump or was I pushed? I’ll never know, but I think I might have had an encouraging little prod.
Suddenly I’m falling, head first. Half-remembered nightmares are now terrifying reality as my stomach strives to keep pace with the rest of me. The ground is rushing up to meet me in a blur of trees and tents and people and parked cars.
A sudden tug on my legs; eye-popping deceleration – and then it was over. But it wasn’t, for I was flying back towards the cage on the aforementioned piece of elastic. For a second I hung helplessly in midair, the safety of the cage a million miles away, the earth spread out below me. Please, God, not again. But this was a Sunday, God’s day off. And so another heart-stopping, gut-wrenching drop.
After that the bouncing subsided and I was lowered until the ground crew were able to grab my arms and lay me on the ground to detach the harness. As I was about to leave the girl at the desk offered me a discount voucher – for my next jump! I studied her expression: no sign of mirth – she was serious! I declined the offer and staggered back to my car to recover.
I suggested to my wife that for my birthday I’d
be quite happy with a pair of socks.
I started writing about twenty-two years ago, in my late fifties. I have had several articles published in motorcycle magazines and local papers but the only two instances of payment were as second place prizes in poetry contests. I have two short books, about 10,000 words each, languishing on my PC and now that I have discovered Storyhouse I will submit the child-friendly one shortly. I'd better check it one more time.
My main writing activity has been songwriting, having written about 100 songs, and myself and my collaborators have had demo tracks played on the radio in the UK, Australia, and the US. But we're still waiting for that big break when a famous recording star recognises our genius and decides to record one. You can see/hear an example on You Tube; it is titled "War Of The Worlds II" and it's at, https://youtu.be/hHFsYhbtDGQ
I look forward to seeing some of my work in print (maybe).