...Were the words I had been dreading reaching my ears for some time now. When I did finally hear them, gruffly shouted from somewhere behind me by a bearded man in his sixties, I was not as horrified as I had imagined.
This particular moment had been swirling around in the back of my mind since the dark days of winter, when I was sat in my cosy room, idly looking around for some form of escape from the pending essay sat before me on my laptop. Nothing on tv, the world of social networking had nothing left for me...cleaning? Well, no, always a silly option left only for the very tedious work exercises. That's when I remembered, the little red card that had been sat on my desk since my birthday - my 21st birthday to be exact. It was a present from my stepmother, a voucher for the Virgin 'Red Letter Days'. It was worth quite a lot of money - she had bought it in the hope that I would book the same experience she had done a few months before; diving in a tank full of rather large sharks, with two trained divers beside you. While I'm sure this was great, and you are assured the sharks have been recently fed, what could the instructors do if they fancied my hand as a snack? I mean, even after the biggest dinner, I could always probably manage a KitKat...
So, I had a look on the website and browsed the different options that were available for the value of my voucher. Spa treatments...could be nice, but perhaps a little boring, car racing...I can barely control my Ford KA...that's when I saw it - on limited special offer for restricted time only - tandem skydiving!! It was perfect, it was exciting, dramatic, and got me away from those bloody sharks! When should I book it for? Well, lets see, I will have given in all of my work by May 18th, so how about the weekend after that? It's not for months, that seems perfect. And so, it was done.
All of those months passed an awful lot quicker than I was anticipating, however, and before I knew it, I was struggling to roll myself out of bed on that sunny Saturday morning. I think I had managed a grand total of an hour's sleep the night before. For one reason and another I found myself in the car with an audience of my mother, my auntie and my nan, all of whom cried out and nudged me whenever a plane flew overhead, or we drove past a sign for Swindon (where the airfield was.) This did not help my nerves.
After a few minor direction malfunctions we found ourselves pulling up at the airfield, which consisted of a field - oddly enough - a huge open sided shelter littered with parachutes being rolled back up and nervous 'students' wandering around, a mobile greasy-spoon cafe, and an array of picnic benches. We especially thanked the good weather after it transpired we had to wait for several hours on these picnic benches.
I went through the obligatory training, sitting in a circle with other pale-looking parachutists-to-be, it was like some kind of cockney-man-yoga to the angry sound of propellors rather than calming, twinkly background music. It all seemed quite simple in theory, but seeing my nan in the distance continually winking at me made it a little difficult to concentrate, clearly she had taken a shine to the instructor. Once this was done, I was ready, the nerves were gone and I was ready to DO THIS! But unfortunately, due to large numbers of people I had to wait four hours. For me, they were somewhat uneventful so I won't plague you with them. Let's skip to...
...I heard my name being shouted across the crowd of picnicers by a stocky man, probably in his thirties, with the top half of his jumpsuit trailing around his waist, the arms dancing as he walked. I had seen him do a jump with a girl who's family had been sitting behind me, at least she had come back in one piece. My instructor, Ash, introduced me to my jumpsuit - I had been hoping for one of the garish multi-colour pieces that were hanging on a clothes rail, the ones that must have been based on an eighties shellsuit. No such luck, I had to settle for black, with some nice red and yellow racing stripes down the side - I would've been cool if I were a car. We walked through the long grass towards the plane - it didn't look much bigger than those I've seen teenage boys flying with remote controls. This pilot, however, was no teenager, and certainly no gentleman. As soon as I had reached within speaking distance he shouted over to me, 'Well, you can tell she's got a big arse!' (I was the only 'she' in the group, so there was no mistaking it). After a good sixty years of existence, how does he not get that you just don't say that to a female?!
Anyway, since he was the man in charge when I was at 10,000ft, I decided to let it slide. We all climbed inside the aircraft, the space inside was no bigger than the inside of a van. As there were seven of us - and all, apart from me, quite large men, there is only one arrangement of bodies that works - in between each other's legs. Bodily contact is certainly not shied away from in the parachuting business.
It took around twenty-five minutes for the plane to climb to the desired height, and I was strangely calm. I looked out at the views of the English countryside, admired how the fields looked like a patchwork quilt of various greens and yellows, watched with wonder as we passed effortlessly through the clouds. I was less panicked in this tiny, rickety plane than on a commercial passenger jet.
This is when those words came.
I was told to pull down my goggles as the door was slid open, and a wealth of noise and air flooded the inside. Two parachutists who were jumping alone went before me - the first literally shuffled to the edge and rolled out on his side. By this point, yes, I was rather terrified, but there was nothing I could do as my instructor began to move himself, and therefore me, towards the door. I remembered the training; as he reached the door I had to swing my legs out and hook them underneath the plane, hold onto my shoulder straps, and lean my head back - at least I couldn't see the ground outside. I don't remember falling out.
On rollercoaster rides, I always remember the sickening, stomach-flipping feeling that comes from falling a long way - I had been expecting to experience this for the thirty seconds I would be falling, but it never came. The speed made the air become some kind of buffer beneath me, and instead of falling at 120mph, I just felt like I was lying down in a very very windy place. The noise was literally deafening, and when the parachute was inflated the silence that followed was almost ghostly. It was only once we had slowed down that I could sort of comprehend what had just happened, and realise that I had done the scariest part. I had done it!
I think I laughed all the way back down to earth as I reminded myself of this, with the late afternoon sun beating on my face, and the air rushing through the few strands of hair that had come loose in the fall. I can't go into much more detail of the experience itself; like I have heard so many people say, somewhat irritatingly, it is simply indescribable. Only doing it yourself would allow an understanding of what it is like, and after the day I have had today, I would strongly recommend that you do.