“Bungee jump tomorrow, have you got all your sponsorship?” Chuck breezed into the kitchen in a silk kimono and giant parrot slippers and went about getting some cereal.
“Yeah, I’m just a few quid short.” I’d managed to squeeze the signatures out of everyone at work, plus all the people at my local delivery drop offs. “If you and Marge sign for four quid each I’ll be up to the ton.”
“Cool, here’s the itinerary. It’s an early start from Victoria coach station and we won’t be back ‘til midnight. Have you got spare underwear?”
“Oh come on, I can’t imagine it will be so bad; one moment of courage followed by a leap of faith. I think you’re making it into something it’s not.”
“You may be right my friend, nevertheless I’m taking some clean spare underwear and I suggest you follow suit.”
I look at Marge, whose face remains neutral, “Well don’t look at me, I’ve got nothing to do with this, it’s your funeral.”
“Thanks Marge, ok, I’ll take clean underwear. What else is there?”
“Well you might want to start thinking about what you’re going to say before or as you jump, it might be important later on in life, or perhaps in the next life. Have you written a will?”
“Really Chuck, you’re worrying about nothing. These set ups are very professional, I can’t think that anyone has ever died doing this, they wouldn’t be allowed to operate.”
“Hey you’re right, I’m just pulling your leg. Still it might be prudent to take something lucky with you, other than the underwear that is. Have you got a ring or a watch or necklace or something?”
“Bring it. I’m taking my brother’s Seiko, I’m sure time will stand still at the decisive moment.”
Marge had a friend come for a few hours, a charming girl by the name of Felicity who worked on the sports desk at the paper. Charles was very taken by her especially as she had a keen interest in motor sport. The four of us spent most of the afternoon, just chilling, watching TV and cooking a roast dinner. Chuck was insistent that we ought to eat something substantial as it could be our last meal and somehow every mouthful seemed to be that much more tasty than usual and appreciated all the more thankfully just entertaining the idea. After a movie and suddenly it was time to turn in. I slept heavily and awoke to a loud and early alarm.
It was one of those rushed and crazy trips that didn’t stop from getting dressed fast and hurried to finding yourself back in bed eighteen hours later with a head full an outrageous day playing through the mind. A blur of breakfast and then a burn on the bike to the coach station set the pace.
Even when underway on the coach with its load of manic youths, mostly doctors and nurses the energy level was high. There were moments of calm as the drone of the engine and road noise subdued the excited spirits but even then anticipation rose to the surface in a series of voiced questions and expectation. Chuck and I sat together, shared a thermos of coffee and exchanged dark humour.
“If they say they have had no deaths at this location since they began does it become statistically more or less likely that one will occur soon?” My grasp of applied mathematics was not a strong point but Chuck was always on hand with something that was never quite close to reassurance.
“Given the nature of the enterprise there has to be a first, I guess.”
“What are you going to shout out on the way down?”
“I expect some appropriate expletive will come to the fore at the appointed moment.”
“All these people seem incredibly jovial and buoyant, don’t you feel a period of quiet reflection is in order now.”
“Dan, this is for fun, it’s even for charity, just chill and enjoy the ride.“Alright, no need to bite my head off, especially whilst I still have one.”
The ferry was easy, the sea just a little choppy with less than a stiff breeze. It’s amazing what a straight horizon can do for the soul. I felt I was undergoing some kind of transformation, a process where changes were occurring deep within and for once I had no control over them. I welcomed this evolution, knowing that time would bring me to another state where perspectives would change too.
Soon we were back on the road, trundling through France with refreshingly altered scenery scrolling by the windows. The mood on board had changed, perhaps the continental number plates and road signs highlighted the very real nature of the experience that lay ahead, one novel and unknown. There was not a cloud in the sky and by the time we reached the destination the interior of the coach had warmed significantly, it was with great relief that we were finally here; the trepidation ceased and all were focussed on the singular purpose of our journey.
A.J.Hacket, a New Zealand thrill-seeker and entrepreneur had set this particular facility up as one of the first of a global network of similar projects. The highest jump in Europe was from a disused viaduct, which we were keen to become acquainted with. First there were some formalities to attend to and vital preparations.
In what was no more than a large wooden cabin we were all individually weighed and numbered and these details written on the back of one hand in indelible marker. It was a process that made me think of a cattle market but Chuck was certain it was more akin to necessary information that would be required at a hanging. Gallows humour continued but I made damn sure that my weight was recorded accurately next to my name and number; it wouldn’t do for any little errors or slip-ups in this game.
“Do you have life insurance Chuck?”
“Nah, not yet, I’ll get some when I’m qualified as a Doctor, my life won’t be worth much until then.”
How much was my life worth? Currently it was full of anxieties and nervousness but it started a train of thought that lasted all day – how do we value our lives and how much risk are we willing to take to either increase that value or indeed just to get to where we want to be? A monetary sum just didn’t seem to cut it and as the hour of judgement approached I began to value my life in increasingly large leaps of an almost religious nature.
We changed into some specialist clothing selected with care for the day. Chuck had gone for a ‘70s TV show look, specifically something inspired by an extra he had seen on an episode of Kojak. He did look great and a beaming smile under a pair of Ray Bans showed him to be the man. I had opted for a vintage Red Adidas tracksuit with white stripes down the side. The collars were large the flared trouser bottoms flapped around a pair of complimenting Gazelle trainers. I felt like a new person, ready for what lay ahead, I was in the zone with comments as to my look ranging from Daley Thompson to the Six Million Dollar Man. There was no one who could tell me I was not good to go.
We walk out along the viaduct, every ten minutes seeing more intrepid customers flinging themselves into the valley below. We were jumping in numbered order; scenes from old black and white films of paratroopers bailing out of aeroplanes came to mind.
One girl who I had noted being particularly quiet on the way here was all tied up and seemingly prepared. As the countdown from her friends of ten down to one reached its ultimatum her knees bent but her body froze. Another count followed but once again she was physically unwilling and unable to complete the procedure. She moved away from the edge and was removed from the process a fragile mess. I felt sure my mettle would not let me down in such a way when the do or die second came. I was next. I downed my miniature bottle of Dutch courage, a French Brandy and walked my walk.
Harness attached whilst seated the final adjustments to the length of the cord were made according to my weight. All checks were made and I stood with help, my feet now bound together to many hundreds of feet of rubber cord. Shuffling towards the edge the expanse ahead began to reveal itself. The happy-go-lucky employees were professional enough but their casual manner, no doubt derived from many repetitions of the same routine, was disconcerting. As far as I was concerned this was a one-time adventure and my corresponding feeling of isolation was growing in strength.
I stood on the ledge arms stretched out as a bird. The countdown began but sounded muffled as though behind a wall. Thousands of yards in front of me were a beautiful vista, a portion of countryside stretching to an untroubled horizon. I didn’t look down. Every ounce of my body screamed ‘you don’t have to do this’, but my mind was strangely calm and accepting of the situation. To jump was a natural extension of mind over matter, the countdown ended and my bird took flight.
My planned cry of ‘Geronimo!’ was fairly feeble because before I had chance to take a breath, the staggering acceleration got a hold of me. The ground rush blurred my peripheral vision as a point of focus below raced towards me at unfeasible speed. The deceleration was equally forceful as the rubber cord did its work and suddenly my head and upper body were immersed in the river below as I came to a momentary stillness. Now the elasticity of the cord pulled me in the other direction zooming me feet first upwards towards the origin of the jump. I reached a zenith some twenty feet below the viaduct and managed a wave to the crazy people waiting their turn.
Returning to terra firma was be means of a small boat into which I was lowered.
Unfastened and free I ran around like lunatic, screaming nonsense. The powerful concoction of self generated chemicals, coursed through my veins in a riot of life. I was not only alive but expressing it in a wild and uncontrollable way, in an animal way, which easily overtook any sense of composure. My heart was bigger than my body; in fact some kind of outer-body experience took place whereby my very being grew to fill all space around. The concept of any remnants of a protective bubble surrounding and protecting the idea of personality exploded until the ego, and the fear it had contained, was blown away forever. My soul was one with the beautiful nature surrounding and before I had a chance to shrink back into myself I was sprinting, not running or walking but sprinting up the enormous flight of wooden steps back to the top to see Chuck go through the motion of throwing himself into his unknown.
Arriving just in time, out of breathe but still rampaging under the adrenaline and now lactic acid mixture within, I shouted out the count to see him descend and ascend the insane human Yo-Yo that is a Bungee Jump.
There was more to come. Minutes later Chuck appeared at my side, his energy flowing, as mine, and he had one thought on his mind. Let’s do it again, together, in tandem.
We waited for the others to complete their jumps in various, and sometimes hilarious ways. Then we waited some more for a Frenchman, 92 years of age, who came to make the jump every year on his birthday. His composure, mixed with a sense of fun was inspiring.
Chuck and I are standing, facing each other a foot apart, with an expanse to one side. Our eyes are locked. In his I see a mortal fear, set in a blank ashen face that has nothing to do with anything accept survival. We are hooked together on two bungee cords. His serious mien is reflected in my own mind but I feel my face to be natural and relaxed. I have confidence, tranquillity and a hitherto unknown sense of inner well-being. Nevertheless we are connected not only physically but also on some deep psychological level and jump into the void simultaneously.
“Fuuuuuuuck!” all the way down.
Whether this second adventure was a good idea I do not know, but I know that man now in a way that few others can say of even their closest friends. Indeed as we speed through London late at night on the way home with the motorbike leaning around curves in the road this way and that, I hold onto him with a bond like a brother. Since that day, when words are hard to express how we are feeling, whether it is fear or elation, perhaps when words are not enough, it is a shared emotion between us that sometimes words are not needed at all.
In Fulham, Marge has stayed up and a bottle of champagne is opened. For a stretched moment of time I am mesmerised by the fine and steady column of minuscule bubbles racing their way through the golden liquid. The shimmering line quivering so elegantly as the tiny point at the base of the glass creates a seemingly never ending source of moments that let go to gain speed and size before joining their companions so briefly en masse at the surface. Little sparks of wonder cascading straight up into the foam and as I hold the glass to my ear the miniature crackle of each combines together in a popping frenzy. I drink and this energised party continues to play on my tongue bouncing upwards to fuel the forgotten parts of my mind. I let go completely.