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<your background>
1.Q Tell 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.

2.Q What's been your most frightening thrill ever?
2.A Travelling 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 fear.

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.

3.Q What's the smallest or slightest thing to have thrilled you?
3.A Sitting 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.

4.Q Tell me why you're not a sensible person.
4.A Because 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.

5.Q What were you doing the last time you were really bored?
5.A 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.

6.Q What's 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.

7.Q What things have you considered doing for thrill, but were too concerned about the risks?
7.A Dropping into a 15-feet bowl on a skateboard, without having practised on smaller bowls.

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 their toothbrush.

8.Q I 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?

<your thrill>
To answer these next 14 questions, you should think about a particular time you were thrilled.

9.Q Describe this thrill in a nutshell, in one sentence. (there's time to expand later)
9.A Doing a parachute jump.

10.Q Where and when did it take place?
10.A In 1986, in East Anglia, while I was at university.

11.Q Tell 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.

12.Q How 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 ...

13.Q List 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 to expand).
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 rescued me.

14.Q At 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.

15.Q What 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 aware of.

16.Q What 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 ...

17.Q What were the most likely things that could have put you off going through with it?
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.

18.Q How 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.

19.Q What do you imagine other people were thinking throughout your thrilling episode?
The other students, who were waiting in the van, were envious. After all, they had wasted the whole day.

20.Q Some people probably don't understand how such a thing can thrill you; could you explain it to them?
20.A Sky-diving 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.)

21.Q Why 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.

22.Q If 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.

23.Q If you did it again, what things could be added or changed to make it even better?
23.A I 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 drugs' 




what do you find thrilling?