Indoor skydiving: it may be an oxymoron but it also happens to be something you can do. It is not big on dignity.
Before I retell this particular adventure, I need to tell you a bit about my dad. As I am Really Not Bridget Jones, my dad is Really Not Bridget Jones’ Dad. Cast that image of pale, bald, stodgy Jim Broadbent from your mind. My dad is bald but he’s also very fit, strong and energetic as well as, despite being Irish, quite tanned. He can still stack supersingles (big truck tyres) ten high. He still runs three miles up and down the hills three or four times a week. He still runs a business after thirty years. He used to try to get all of my male friends and/or boyfriends to drink potcheen to test their manliness. He doesn’t do that any more.
Mum bought me one of those experience voucher things to go indoor skydiving in Milton Keynes for two people. I chose to take my dad because he’s the only person I knew at the time who was game enough to do it. This turned out to be the best idea ever.
After checking in at the centre, we had to put on these less than flattering jumpsuits and sit through a safety briefing. The variety of people there was encouraging. There were small children, overweight people, skinny people, young people, my age people and even a few older people – even older than my dad. Apparently, there is a technique to indoor skydiving that involves holding your body in the right way and straightening or bending your legs changes how high you fly. I understood this concept: dad didn’t.
We stood in a queue of about ten people. There was an unspoken agreement that the little child be allowed to go first. Maybe this was a selfless gesture to allow a little kid the excitement of going first, but I suspect that there was also an innate awareness that little kids are good at this sort of thing and thus, the little one could show us what we needed to do. In the jumpsuit, helmet and goggles, I could not tell which gender the child was but they had some serious guts. A perspex window stopped the enormous wind pressure from getting to us before we were ready. Glancing through it and down, we could see a wire mesh over a huge fan and, looking up, we could see the wind tunnel extending at least twenty or thirty foot upwards. An instructor stood on the wire mesh and beckoned the child to come to the doorway. I couldn’t tell you how old the little one was but they were about the height of my hip. Over the roar of the wind turbine there was no way the instructor could be heard so he signalled to the little child to jump into the chamber. The instructor caught the child round the waist and held them horizontally at hip level. Their little body flew easily and was in fear of flying off up into top of the tunnel. Bending two fingers in front of the child’s face, the instructor indicated that he wanted them to bend their legs. They complied and flew a little lower. Holding on to the back of their jumpsuit, the instructor guided the child around the edge of the tunnel. A small face with a huge grin came up against the window and the parents smiled and waved.
My turn came and I stepped up to the doorway with some trepidation. I jumped into the wind tunnel but did not float like the child did. In fact, I would have gone face first into the mesh if the instructor hadn’t caught me and levelled me out. The whole thing probably would have been a lot easier if I could have stopped screaming. Once I got going, I managed to fly around and even grin at the camera in a little booth with the man controlling the wind strength before making the mistake of slightly twisting my body and ditching into the side of the chamber. How the hell did people fly planes when such small movements could send you crashing sideways? I still couldn’t stop screaming though especially when the instructor used his thumb to ask if I wanted to ‘go up’. I nodded. He indicated that I should keep very flat. The already fierce wind increased its intensity. With the instructor holding on tightly to my jumpsuit, we shot up into height of the tunnel. My breath was ripped from my screaming mouth as we swooped towards the mesh and then soared back up into the tunnel.
Sitting back in the queue waiting for my second go, I thought my day had peaked. I was so wrong. My dad stood at the doorway to the chamber. Rather than jumping in and floating like the kid did, or nearly face planting like I did, my very fit and active father sort of belly flopped onto his knees on the mesh. The other adults in the queue had sympathetic looks on their faces. I started to laugh. Dad was sort of crawling around the mesh on his knees while the instructor tried desperately to get him in a horizontal position. I laughed some more. They increased the wind speed but this only resulted in dad staying on his knees and sort of waving his arms about resembling one of those inflatable waving signs you see by the roadside. My eyes started to water from laughing so much. Eventually, with a lot of tugging and manoeuvring the instructor managed to get my dad floating about a foot off the mesh in a horizontal position for about ten seconds before he twisted and ditched into the side. It quickly became apparent that he was stuck in the corner created by the mesh meeting the perspex wall. I was laughing so hard I thought I might throw up. After a most undignified scramble my dad managed about thirty seconds of steady flight before the instructor wrestled him to the door.
Our second flights weren’t half so entertaining – dad managed to get off the mesh and I didn’t even nearly face plant – after which we left with a DVD of our exploits. My mum laughed watching dad’s first go even harder than I had.