Thursday, September 18, 2008

On a wing and a prayer

People are always surprised when I say I’m not one for adrenalin.

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I charge around a lot and make noise when drunk. It makes people think I want to jump out of a plane. Maybe it’s because of my assertive nature. It makes people think I want to risk my life on some white water rapids.

Whatever the assumption, it’s wrong. I don’t want to jump out of a plane and I certainly don’t want to rapid any water, white or otherwise. I like my water serene, blue, with tropical fish swimming in it while I sunbathe nearby. I like my planes to take me to hot countries, not high into the sky only for me to plummet back down to earth. I’m sure my heart would think I was trying to kill myself and would have an attack before I got to the bottom anyway.

When I (rarely) go on rollercoaster rides I am too scared to scream. I just shut my eyes and pray to survive. Tammi and I once took our darling sister Pip, blind and epileptic, on a rollercoaster. I still shudder at the memory. It was at Legoland, and there were kids knee high to a grass hopper queing up, how scary could it be? But for Tammi and I, with sight, it was the scariest thing we’d ever done. Poor Pip was in tears in seconds, I thought she was going to have a seizure. The picture they take of you ‘having fun’ on the down bit just shows the three of us cowering in each other’s armpits while my then boyfriend cheered and whooped alone. Horrible.

This job doesn’t really help my confidence for adrenalin. Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen stories I have chased to fuel my fear: a girl on a rollercoaster who got flung off. Died. A guy who jumped out of a plane and his parachute didn’t open. Died. A couple who got lost on a mountain side and spent days battling the elements. Survived. Earned me £3000. Nice.

The point is, when my best friends present me with a birthday present of a gliding trip, I have to wonder how well they actually know me. One of the friends, Michael Henry Wiper, suffers a lot for his cause (of being my best friend). He once got me a bar of soap for Christmas. He hasn’t forgotten it because I remind him pretty much every day. ‘My distant relatives get me toiletries for Christmas, it’s because they don’t know me,’ I told him at the time, just before I ripped off the wrapping to find not a brand new coconut and lime soap (would at least have shown he knows what I like the smell of) but a used, still frothing bar, complete with a pube.

I think he thought he was being funny. I think that was the last year I spend £25 on him.

So as I tried to sound enthusiastic and grateful, my inner demons were drunk on the fear. Was I expected to fly a plane? Land the plane? Parachute out of the plane? Am I even in a plane or being dragged behind it?

The day neared and Mike and Cords (present givers) and Cesca (home for high jinks) and I set off for a beautiful summer’s day in Devizes.

Thank goodness Cesca was leading the driving convoy and got us lost in Bath for an hour. Stalling, stalling, I like it… Then she got stressed out and demanded we go to a pub first. Dutch courage, yes please, make mine a double.

Lunch was lovely and the last time I’ll see Cesca for probably two years. But it wasn’t as sad as last time she left, for some reason. Maybe because I’ve got used to the idea of her leaving. Maybe because I had other things on my mind, like my impending death.

We arrived at the airfield and a man with a big belly and a stupid hat proceeded to tell us that gliding is a sport (is that how he keeps so trim) and that not even a sip of alcohol is permitted in your system. My chance to opt out? Nah, the vodka sitting inside me gave me a new found confidence. Screw him and his rules! Hand me the plane, I’ll be fine.

As it was, I had nothing to worry about. It was a two man glider and my instructor, Dave, or Ben, or something, I don’t know, I wasn’t concentrating on his name, I was concentrating on the girth of his plane… was a lovely man who was clearly used to wimps like me. Off we went to snoop around the stately homes and swimming pools of the many gardens of the many little villages in Devizes. I think I even saw Cesca’s manor house. I definetly saw one of her horses. I think it was the little beauty who threw me off not so long ago.

At one point Dave Ben let me be in charge of the joy stick thing. I think he immediately regretted it as I didn’t have a tender enough touch for so delicate a manoeuvre as a nose dive and we probably almost died.

Once I’d got used to it, I could enjoy the view and the sunshine and the looking at houses from on top. I would even go so far, now I’m back on safe ground, as to say it was over too quickly. It was certainly better than soap.


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