Are you talking to me? Are you talking . . .

March 19, 2012


It is definitely not a phenomenon but it is one of nature’s vagaries that people on the ground can hear most words spoken in normal tones by those eight hundred feet above their heads in the open air.

We hear the instructor give the order to “Hook up” and know from our training that he is now checking each person’s connecting clip and strop for a secure fastening to the cable.

” Mary, stand in the door.” This elicits a nervous giggle. The order is not obeyed. It is repeated. And yet again, this time with more feeling.

We cannot make out the words that follow but the vehemence and tempo of the tone indicates some form of chastisement. Suddenly, the safety bar rattles, as it is wrenched upward, a sound of serious scuffling is heard, then what appears to be a laundry bundle of air force blue hurtles outwards, and almost immediately downwards, with a long drawn out “Noooooooooo—” , which changes dramatically to hysterical giggling as the chute deploys and the rate of descent is slowed.

It is noticeable, as Mary nears terra firma, that a large dark stain has appeared on her trousers but from her relieved chortling, we know that it presents no immediate concern for her. On contact with the ground she remains on her back, kicking her legs in the air and making no attempt to gather her rigging lines and canopy together. Two instructors run over to help her to her feet and our attention is distracted by the next girl exiting the Cage. In comparison to Mary’s performance the descents of the other girls are uneventful.

The winch on the Leyland starts to hum and turn, reeling in the cable and the Balloon is brought to earth. We take a collective deep breath, swallow nervously, but resolutely, as we realise we are next up.

We stride across to the Cage, enter and take our places around the interior. I am positioned several feet from the exit. I lock a fist around the tubular steel superstructure and am reassured by its solid feel. The restraining bar across the exit slams into place as the instructor clears the Cage for ascent. The canvas covering the Cage prevents us seeing outside. As in every male group, we have the obligatory ‘heroes’ who are hectoring the quiet ones but it is noteworthy that as the Balloon gains height their tenor voices become more shrill and by four hundred feet they twitter into silence.

The remainder of the journey is quietly ominous with the breeze causing the tarpaulin to flap and thrum as the Cage reaches the required height. The bump with which it stops surprises each of us.

“Number One, stand in the door,” the despatcher barks as he raises the restraining bar. No one moves. This strikes me as strange and I look around to see who should have stepped forward.

He addresses me.
“Staff Sergeant, what is your number?”
“Two, two, eight , two, five, four, zero, five,” I respond smartly.
“Your number in the stick, numbnuts!”
“One,” I reply sheepishly.
“And who did I say stand in the door?”
“One,” I mumble.
“Right, Number One stand in the door,” he repeats.
I move over the two yards to the door and have my first glimpse of the miniature truck and Lilliputians on the ground.

“May I give you a piece of advice before you go, Staff?” the instructor asks affably.
“Of course,” I say, eager for any guidance.
“Let go of that superstructure before you jump or you’ll have the longest arm in the bloody business!” With that he slaps me on the shoulder and shouts, “Go!”
As I leave the Cage he screams, “Come back!”

I belatedly recognise it as a joke but, to my eternal embarrassment, not before I try, obviously unsuccessfully, to climb up my deploying rigging lines to get back into the cage.

For the rest of the course I’m known by all and sundry as “The Comeback Kid.”

2 Responses to “Are you talking to me? Are you talking . . .”

  1. Gary Says:

    I can’t imagine the training you went through. Mine was a picnic compared to yours. I had to lmao over the “Comeback Kid”. You shall now be called CK.

  2. Robert Davidson Says:

    Thanks, Gary. I knew I could rely on you!


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