FIRST PARACHUTE JUMP
me about the first time you can remember being thrilled.
1.A At the age of four. I saw my reflection
in the hubcab of a car.
been your most frightening thrill ever?
on a bus across the Himalayas, from northen India into Ladakh. The snow
had only just melted, and much of the road was missing. As we neared the
highest point, we rounded a corner and found an army truck blocking the
road. Debris of a vehicle was scattered down the precipice, and we could
see tiny figures at the bottom of the valley, carrying stretchers. Obviously,
someone had gone over the edge.
As we were all taking in this sight, the bus driver
revved up the bus and started moving around the army truck. This was insane:
there simply wasn't room to pass. For a moment the bus teetered over the
edge, with its front right wheel suspended in mid-air. I was sitting at
the front of the bus, on the right, looking straight downwards. I remember
invoking God under my breath, and thinking to myself: This is it, this
is the moment of my death. A collective moan went up from all the passengers,
involuntarily, simultaneously. Then the bus juddered, and slowly reversed.
When I got off the bus and stood shakily on the ground, life felt tremendously
sweet. I remember that intense sweetness as much as I remember the intense
But was that a thrill? To me, it doesn't seem
so, because the experience was involuntary. And yet, the thrill of survival
- that sense of sweetness - was definitely thrilling.
the smallest or slightest thing to have thrilled you?
on the Tube in London, and seeing a man who looked just like my father.
I hadn't seen my father for over a year, and, as far as I knew, he was
somewhere in the Far East. For a split second I thought this man was him.
A flash of thrill went through me, increasing my heart rate.
me why you're not a sensible person.
I have taken hard drugs, sometimes in dangerous circumstances. I might
well do the same again, purely on a whim, if the opportunity presents
itself - definitely not sensible.
were you doing the last time you were really bored?
A few days ago, I lay in bed at four o'clock in the morning, unable to
sleep because of jet lag. (I had just returned from a holiday in the States.)
I was wide awake, yet had no desire to do anything at all - read, eat,
watch TV. So I just lay in bed and watched shadows shifting on the ceiling.
the most uninhibited thing you've ever done?
6.A Write a
novel. On a good day, when the writing was going well, I felt more free
than at any other time in my life.
things have you considered doing for thrill, but were too concerned about
into a 15-feet bowl on a skateboard, without having practised on smaller
Driving at high speed and closing my eyes for
ten seconds. (The idea crossed my mind once during a long and boring drive.
I swiftly rejected it.)
Disappearing out of my life - like those people
one hears about, who simply vanish one day, leaving everything except
always dreamt about being a paramedic, driving an ambulance and saving
lives; what about you?
8.A I sometimes
daydream about being an assassin. I imagine lying on a rooftop, focusing
my sights on the president of America, squeezing the trigger. Then I imagine
the chase afterwards. How would I get away from the police? What would
I do with the gun?
To answer these next 14 questions, you should
think about a particular time you were thrilled.
this thrill in a nutshell, in one sentence. (there's time to expand later)
9.A Doing a
and when did it take place?
In 1986, in East Anglia, while I was at university.
me a bit about yourself around this time.
11.A I was
shy, dreamy, bookish. I'd rather spend three days in bed reading Moby-Dick
than getting drunk with people I didn't know - i.e. other students.
did the moment arise? Was it planned?
12.A It was
pure whim. The Skydiving Society had set up a stand on campus, and I happened
to walk past. I had often wondered what it's like to free-fall, and this
seemed the time to find out ...
the sequence of events leading up to your thrill, and how you felt at
each stage. The smallest detail could be important (this is your chance
13.A I attended
two training sessions, in which a third-year student called Gavin instructed
ten of us how to land: you were supposed to land on your feet and then
roll sideways (a difficult and rather comical manoeuvre). Gavin then explained
that we would be jumping from a sixteen-man plane, and he showed us how
to roll backwards out of the open door.
About a week later, on a misty morning, Gavin
drove us to an airfield near the coast. We sat around drinking coffee
and waiting for the mist to clear. We waited all day, shifting uncomfortably
in our harnesses (with parachutes attached front and back). Finally, at
around five o'clock, the mist did start to go, but by then it was too
late: we were told that the pilot was going home. A big disappointment.
Everyone sighed and headed back to the university van. I lingered outside,
chatting to Gavin. Just then, a man ran over to us and said that another
pilot had agreed to go up. However, this was a small plane - only room
for two people. Gavin winked at me and said, 'Let's go!'
As Gavin and I jogged over to the runway, Gavin
explained that the procedure for jumping out of a small plane was different
from the procedure we'd practised in the training sessions. He started
telling me what to do, but his words were drowned by the sound of the
plane engine. He pushed me through the door, jumped in himself, attached
our harnesses to some contraption inside the plane (so that our parachutes
would open automatically when we jumped) and we were off ...
A few minutes later, the pilot said something
to Gavin and suddenly Gavin was gone. I was looking out of the window
and didn't see Gavin jump. All at once I realised I was terrified. I had
no idea what to do next.
The plane flew in a large circle over an empty
field, and then the pilot waved at me. I took this as my signal, and clambered
out on to the wing of the plane. Immediately, I was thrown backwards towards
the tail. I remember clinging on to the side of the door, unable to see,
until the pilot leant back over his seat and pulled me inside. He mouthed
at me, 'Not yet! Wait till I cut the engine!'
We circled the field again, and then the pilot
gave me the thumbs-up. I stood in the doorway, paralysed. 'Go!' the pilot
said. Finally he pushed me. I tumbled over into the blue, somersaulting
downwards, until the shoot opened with a terrific jerk. That was a lovely
moment - floating earthward. But then the ground approached at surprising
speed and I landed hard. I didn't roll sideways, as I had been taught.
I simply smacked into the ground and lay there, stunned, until someone
the exact moment of thrill, how did your mind and body feel?
14.A The 'moment
of thrill' is hard to locate. Was it Gavin's wink? Was it climbing into
the plane? Was it the take-off? Once Gavin had jumped and I realised that
I didn't know what I was doing, I think that thrill turned to pure fear.
This reached its most intense as I stood in the door of the plane, just
before the pilot pushed me out. My body simply refused to budge, to step
out into nothingness. I would have the same reaction if you asked me to
swallow a handful of sand, for example. I just couldn't do it, however
much I might will my body to proceed. In short, my mind went blank and
my body went numb.
thoughts were going through your mind?
15.A I had
no thoughts - or no recognisable thoughts. I don't think that I even felt
terror. There was just me and this void of blue sky - that's all I was
did you do immediately afterwards?
16.A I sat
on the grass,shaking. Strangely, I was back to normal in ten minutes.
Within twenty minutes, I was already turning the whole experience into
a story in my head. And an hour later, back at the university, I was telling
this story to other people. It made a thrilling story, of course. And
in my story, it was easy to identify the most thrilling moment: it's when
I stepped out on to the wing the first time and was blown backwards. However,
as an experience, I find it hard to say which moment was most thrilling.
Perhaps that's why I have told the story so often. Each time I tell it
again, I am trying to pinpoint the true moment of thrill, and thus get
at the meaning of that thrill ...
were the most likely things that could have put you off going through
17.A If someone
had grabbed me just as Gavin ran towards the plane, I probably wouldn't
have gone with him. A moment's thought would have shown me that I was
sufficiently prepared for this - I simply hadn't been trained to jump
out of a small plane. However, I was caught up in Gavin's enthusiasm and
his urgency. Also, I suppose that I felt flattered by his wink. He was
our leader, and his wink seemed to single me out as the most promising
of his new recruits. So maybe I didn't want to let him down. Maybe I did
it for Gavin, really.
were other people important to your thrill?
18.A The pilot
pushed me out of the plane. Had he not done that, I'd have remained frozen
in the doorway, mindless and speechless.
do you imagine other people were thinking throughout your thrilling episode?
19.A The other students, who were waiting
in the van, were envious. After all, they had wasted the whole day.
people probably don't understand how such a thing can thrill you; could
you explain it to them?
is, I think, a death buzz. It's all about doing the impossible (thus my
analogy of eating sand). Your body does not want to kill itself, and your
body considers jumping from a plane fatal. The thrill comes from overriding
that fear. From making a mental leap. (Of course, I didn't actually make
that leap, because the pilot pushed me out of the plane. Moreover, by
that time I was no longer voluntarily undertaking a thrilling experience:
my first exit from the aircraft had scared me witless, and now I was merely
obeying orders and trying to survive.)
were certain objects or equipment important to your thrill?
21.A My parachutes
were literally my life-line. (I remember being very careful not to jog
them, particularly the secondary, safety parachute resting on my stomach.)
They represented safety. Whereas the plane represented danger.
you've done something like this before, how does the last time compare
to the first time you did it?
22.A I hadn't
done it before.
you did it again, what things could be added or changed to make it even
probably won't do this again. I now know what it's about - the 'death
buzz' that I just mentioned. To do it again wouldn't be so thrilling.
Therefore I would have to find a way of adding thrill - for instance,
jumping from a greater height, or in more rugged surroundings. But this
wouldn't recapture the essential thrill of the experience, since I now
know that jumping from a plane is possible - know it in my body, I mean,
as an instinct. Before I jumped, and especially when I stood frozen in
the doorway of the plane, my body felt it was impossible.
Is there anything you want to add?
Please keep this anonymous, as I mention 'hard