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The Apprentice Retiree – Parachuting

Stripey – doesn’t let having type 2 diabetes stop him. Read his blog about parachuting:

It was two weeks after Christmas and it was going to be my birthday. We wandered through the cobbled, snow covered streets of the little alpine village, and looked in the little shop windows. My wife’s eyes were darting here and there, looking for something – something memorable, something a bit special to buy me. I had protested that the holiday was enough – the skiing, the chalet, the food, the wine…..our little room with the curtain around the loo.

Her eyes wandered to the next shop window – it had huge pictures of bright parachutes against dark blue skies – the glacier is at ten thousand feet.

I wandered across the road – my eye had been caught by a collection of Scotch Whisky – shelves and shelves of bottles of all sizes. My breath came in puffs of steam as I peered through the window, making a mental note to return to this shop and maybe to taste some of this amazing stock. The piles of slippery snow at the side of the uneven street made me feel even wobblier than I would after my tasting.

My wife brought me out of my dream – “Come on” she said – “Get your skis on”

We went back to the chalet to collect our boots and skis, and began the gentle run down to the big lift that would take us to a halfway point on the way up the mountain. The lift disappeared underground for a while, before bursting out into daylight and the now familiar dark blue skies. Here we, and a hundred other people, put our skis on and glided down to join the queue for the little four seater “Eggs” which would take us to the very top.

I was intrigued of course, but a finger to her lips kept me from asking questions. I knew that we were going to the highest part of the mountain, but we had been there a few days before, as part of the acclimatisation process. There was a “motorway” of permanent snow, well groomed and not very steep, and the easy run back down to the chalet had taken us an hour or so.

Just as our egg arrived – and although they were four seaters, there was really only room for two – as we slung our skis in the rack and slid in through the rapidly closing door, we were joined by a skinny little Chinese man who had jumped the queue – and he was carrying a grey bag, nearly as big as he was. He apologised and settled into his seat, gazing fixedly out of the steamed up window.

Alpine scenery passed below – snow covered fir trees, white snow, and tiny, brightly coloured people enjoying the intensity of the action, the creamy feel of the snow and the views across the valleys. The perspex kept misting up and would never clear properly however much we wiped it.

At the top our Chinese man jumped very quickly out through the opening doors, grabbed his skis and was gone in a moment. Things started to happen even quicker from here on. I was approached by a large French man who spoke perfect English. My wife gestured to me and I skiid behind him to a small snow-covered brick building. It was intensely cold and I pulled my hat down over my ears. I saw two men, shackled together, skiing towards the edge of the cliff and out into the cold blue sky! A huge multi-coloured parachute cracked open behind them and they sailed as silent as the wind, in a long smooth glide, down towards the ground several thousand feet below.

I had mentioned, in conversation with my wife, a few days ago, in passing, as we had seen these parachutes sailing through the sky, that I would quite like to do that. And she had kindly arranged it for me. As a birthday present. What a present!

I didn’t have much time to be nervous, but I began to see things in stark clarity. I spotted a photographer standing just down from the take-off point, and I even noticed that he was up-sun from his subjects. I noticed the ski-tracks heading for the cliff edge. I noticed the wonderful photographs in the window of the small, brick built building window. And I noticed a small Chinese man bustling towards me, carrying a grey bag which was nearly as big as he was.

“Mr Evans?” His English was good, but he spoke with a French accent – then he recognised me – we had ridden up in the egg together! What a coincidence! Things happened even quicker from here on – he buckled me into a very tight fitting harness, opened his bag and laid out the parachute – big, bright yellow, and rectangular. He shackled himself on to my back and we shuffled in a very ungainly manner towards the cliff edge. He warned me not to touch anything, told me to relax – RELAX! – we were sliding towards a sheer drop – and we gained speed as the ground started to fall away in front of us. My mind was crystal clear and I looked for the photographer. He had the camera in front of his face. I composed my face into a smile and looked at him, the camera flashed once, twice as we shot past, the chute opened with a loud crackling noise behind me and we sailed smoothly, silently, out into the the cold blue sky.

My pilot tapped my shoulder and I sat back into a sling behind me. It was like sitting in an armchair as the world swung beneath me. I felt no fear as I spotted the little town, the cars, the eggs, and the tiny figures zig zagging down the icy slopes beneath us. I felt the icy wind and heard it singing in the lines as my instructor gently turned us back towards the rocky face of the mountain. Rising currents of air lifted us powerfully upwards – high, high above our take-off point and we flew like a bird along the very edge of the steep drop. We soared up, up into the sun and the dark blue sky. I laughed with the enjoyment of the age old dream of flying and the air was icy cold on my teeth.

In a series of huge circles, all too quickly, we descended to the soft snow below. The ground came towards us at great speed and I braced myself for a hard landing, but my skilful pilot turned us back towards the town, and I spotted the queue for the big ski lift. We sailed across the soft, unpisted snow and touched down so gently we did not really need to fall over – but I did! I wanted to hug him, to thank him and to talk with him but in a few seconds he had unshackled me, bundled the chute back into his grey bag, shaken my hand – and gone.

I sat in the soft snow gathering my thoughts. I wanted to do it again and again, again and again and again. I had loved it. I had flown like a bird. After several minutes I stood up and skiied through the soft snow back to the big lift. There I met my wife and tried to tell her how I had enjoyed my flight.

The next day the photograph arrived, and I tucked it into the pages of a paperback I was reading at the time. On our return home, when the washing and the ironing had been done, bills paid and we had returned to our mundane lives, I looked again at the picture. A smiling me, shackled to a smiling Chinese man, soaring into the sky beneath a brightly coloured parachute.

I tucked the picture into the pages of a book, and gradually forgot about it. Some time later, perhaps a couple of years later, we had a big clear-out of our books. We had far too many paper back books, some of them were even going yellow at the edges. We bundled them all up and took them to the charity shop in West Malling.