Coming down to earth

(photo by Jim Marshall)


Ana and David Alexander Grant run a mountain pension in Southeast Europe. Life in the back of beyond is not without incident.  


“No!” Ana said.

Which was fairly unequivocal.

But I persevered: “It’ll bring in business. If we don’t snap up the opportunity, other people will!”

We were talking about paragliding – and whether we should team up with an extreme sports club from town and offer weekend packages: dinner, bed and breakfast, and jumping off a mountain.

“You don’t care about the business,” Anna said. Her tone was bracing. “You want to go up in one of those things, and if you get a taste for it, you’ll want to go up every weekend, and” – there was a little crack in her hitherto somewhat strident tone of voice – “it’s very dangerous!”

I had in fact already arranged with a friend of a friend of Dino, our chef de cuisine and general factotum, to do a trial tandem jump the following morning to see what sort of experience we might be offering our guests. I had felt it prudent not to share this information with my better half, the wisdom of which decision was now clearly vindicated.

We were scheduled to explore various grassy outcrops around the hotel at eight the following morning, and select one for takeoff.

“Let’s not quarrel,” I said. “By the way, when you go to the bank tomorrow, best to leave a bit earlier. It’ll be busy because of the weekend.”

Next day, Ana left for the bank about fifteen minutes before Dino’s friend’s friend arrived with the paragliding kit.

“That it?” Dino asked when Ricki opened the boot of his ancient Golf. A bulky nylon bag nestled inside.

Ricki nodded.

“I thought it would be bigger,” Dino said.

Ricki’s tone was measured: “Aerodynamics isn’t just about size.”

This, I felt, was no bad thing because Ricki himself was a man of large appearance and considerable weight. Later, when we were kitted up in green overalls and ready to take to the air, I found myself considering the fact that I only accounted for about one third of the parachute payload. This preyed upon my thoughts.

The pre-flight training took about three and half minutes. After that, I looked down at the red roof of our pension far, far, far below, and in the blink of an eye the chute rose above us and we abandoned the reassuring immobility of the earth for the precipitate unpredictability of the air.

The metamorphosis that accompanies unassisted flight is utterly magical. The shock to the senses is profound and exhilarating. We soared, but not just physically. We soared to a new level of oneness with our environment. It was like touching the universe.

Tapping me on the shoulder, Ricki indicated that I should have a go at steering. I reached up and took hold of the toggles. He had assured me that there was a clever mechanism, a sort of child lock, that would limit my capacity to disturb the chute’s equilibrium. I could change our direction a little, but I was unlikely to send us, Icarus-like, to the earth far, far, far below.

“Unlikely”! Never was a word more problematically inconclusive.

I took the toggles and did what any child would do. I tugged on one and then the other. With a gut-wrenching shudder (and, alas, this is an anatomically accurate turn of phrase), the whole chute went one way and then the other.

“You take over!” I shouted to Ricki over the roar of a sudden inrush of air. I surrendered the toggles: the chute quickly stabilized, even as my sense of manly self-esteem took a knock.

Still, I did enjoy the scenery as we zigzagged round and down to the terrace in front of the hotel.

I had thought of this as a superwheeze. We could have dinner ready for guests, who would land à la James Bond, step out of the jumpsuit, and metamorphose from daredevil to diner.

But as we made our approach, I saw a blue Peugeot pull up beside Ricki’s Golf.

A familiar figure emerged from the Peugeot.

“Rats!” I muttered.

As we slid softly across the grass to the edge of the flagstones of the dining area I heard the irate voice of my disgruntled spouse.

“That was a sneaky thing to do!” she said. Perhaps “screamed” is a more accurate word than “said”.

“You’re back early!” I tried to keep my tone jovial.

“Forgot the bank book,” she said. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

It took me several days to persuade Ana that my jump was a bona fide and useful market-research exercise.

Now we are offering a popular paragliding weekend package. The business has – literally and metaphorically – taken off.

Sometimes, I threaten to take to the skies again – just to keep the spark in our relationship.

But to be honest, once was enough.