Where eagles dare
When my workaholic friend Vix told me, between nervous gulps of Pinot Grigio, that she was about to do a parachute jump for “chyaridy” I gave her an old-fashioned Paddington hard stare.
“Well, I thought I could cure myself of two phobias in one go,” she explained. “I’m scared of flying and I’m scared of heights, so I thought that gave me two good reasons to do it,” she said.
“Or – two good reasons NOT to,” I replied, in my best archly incredulous Chandler Bing voice.
She wouldn’t be swayed. And she wasn’t jumping out of a plane to conquer her fears at all, she’s just a compulsive multi-tasker and was doing it to raise money for the St Christopher’s Hospice in south London that had looked after her friend Phil when he was dying of cancer only a year ago.
He was young, just enjoying the first taste of success in his acting career and died so quickly that his family and friends had no chance to get over the shock of his diagnosis before they lost him. That was where the hospice managed – if it is ever possible – to ease the horror of losing someone, by doing what they could to take the physical pain and administrative workaday hassle out of an almost unbearable situation.
So, when a last-minute place came up in her workplace-team-bonding skydiving excursion (one of her colleagues had to bail because of a dodgy knee) Vix – in the spirit of all rookie airmen and women – stepped into the void. And paid for the whole 15,000 feet of it herself, so that all money she raised would go to the charity and not part finance her ‘experience’.
Like all good air missions, hers started at dawn when she was picked up by her wingman and co-jumper, Tom from the depot, and they drove to the airfield in Wiltshire for the early morning flight, practising their RAF slang as they went.
Vix and I kept up radio contact for as long as we could. Her last text came in just after noon, spelling out “Aieeeeeeeeee!”
As you can imagine I was a little preoccupied for the next few hours, wondering whether we’d have to organise a second charity jump in memory of her a year later….
I needn’t have worried. Seven hours later she turned up at the door, eyes still popping from the altitude, gabbling slightly, but otherwise safe and sound. Relieved that she’d not had to make use of the change of outfit she’d secretly taken with her in case of a mid-air ‘accident’.
“I’ll just pop to the loo for a quick debrief,” she said, in her new, RAF-clipped vowels before I could warn her that our loo has been festooned with Post-Its of A-level English poetry as my daughter tries to maximise every moment of potential revision time.
Facing Vix, stuck on to the loo door and written in giant red letters were the words: “I know that I shall meet my fate somewhere among the clouds above,” the opening words of Yeats’s poem ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’.
“I’m so glad I didn’t see that before I jumped,” said Vix, as we headed out into the night to celebrate.
So far Vix has raised £725 for the hospice in 10 days – if you’d like to support her you can add to her total by clicking here.