Jumping out of a plane


I’m awake. When I look my watch it’s 1am. I try to turn over, but my mind won’t switch off. Suddenly it’s full of thoughts; the main one being a realisation of what I have done. I booked a parachute jump for Jacob and I two days ago. Did I think it through? No…

It was on our Bucket List, and it needs to be done first, before I start therapy, before I get ill. So I booked it on line, just like that. Let me tell you now, my biggest fear is heights. I have walked away from Theme Park rides several times, usually when the queue has been long and I’ve had too much time to think about what I was about to do.

When I was very young, I will never forget my Mum and Dad taking us to London, and taking us to St Paul’s Cathedral. For some bizarre reason my parents decided it was a great idea to take 4 reasonably small children up to the top of the dome and out onto the roof. To get there you have to climb several hundred steps, the worst thing from my point of view, was that nearer the top these were metal with gaps in, and you could see through, right to the bottom. I made it, much of it crawling; I’ll never forget the fear.

So the thought of jumping out of a plane, even strapped to a very experienced instructor, is enough, if I think about it too much, to bring me out in a cold sweat… as could dying.

It’s all so known, but not experienced. I have never really ever been ill, well except for very brittle asthma as a child, but Ventolin pretty much sorted that out. I haven’t had an Asthma ‘attack’ since the age of 23, but I have been close to death on two occasions as a child.

The first was when I was about six. Dad had taken my brother Mike and I to the local Lido, in Birmingham somewhere. I couldn’t do any more than doggy paddle, and that badly. But as I sat on the side at the shallow end, I watched the older boys running up and throwing themselves down a slide into the water. It was too much fun to pass up, so of course, without thinking, I did the same, shooting into the water with a squeal of delight… Which turned into a watery cry as I realised I was out of my depth, surrounded by noise and bodies. For what seemed eternity I went up and down in the water, swallowing it with every breath, choking… and panic beginning to rise. But there was something else going on. I could see my body on the bottom of the pool; a big plug had been pulled out to drain it of water, and there was my body, with people stood over me. I was calm. I could see the newspaper headline… at least that is my, probably very embellished, memory of the event. It ended, probably within seconds, with me grabbing on to a boy nearby, no doubt nearly strangling him, who then delivered me to the side. No one had even noticed I was missing…

The second was when I was 15. We went on holiday to Iona, a beautiful, tiny island off Mull. We’d gone with another family, the Bakers, including Simon, who is still one of my best friends today. We’d rented a house, this house…


Iona, from Fionnphort

It had been empty for many months and the Mums spent half a day shaking off dust sheets and cleaning (it was the mid 70s). The weather was sunny, but blustery and we spent the first 2 or 3 days wandering the Island and it’s beaches. Pretty quickly my chest started to tighten. The Ventolin inhaler I had with me was ineffective and I was quickly limited to very short distances within, and outside the house. I spent long nights sat on the side of my bed, sweaty and wheezy; struggling to breathe. The days were little better. My inhaler ran out and I was taken to see a GP on Mull. Not an easy trip since, in those days, the ferry on and off was a tiny fishing boat that got thrown around on the waves.

The GP listened to my chest and prescribed some more inhalers. He may have done more, but I don’t remember. I just remember the next couple days and nights being very difficult. I was deteriorating, and semi comatose (my blood gases would have been interesting). I was bundled onto the ferry late one night, to be met by an ambulance at the port and blue lighted across Mull to another, bigger, car ferry, and on to the hospital in Oban. I recovered over the next week, but that was the end of that holiday for me.

Today it was confirmed that I met the criteria to begin the Immuno/Chemotherapy trial, starting next Thursday. This is the best news I could hope for, but I don’t want to assume anything. I’m still working on a, now, 11 month prognosis. I’m not worried by the Immunotherapy, there are no real side effects, and hopefully it will do some good. Chemotherapy on the other hand is something else. The side effects range from mild and temporary, to extreme and permanent. It is toxic, but what is the alternative? A guaranteed shorter prognosis, and though the side effects may be unpleasant I have shit to sort out before I go. I have to give the children as long as I can to get used to the idea of losing me, and build as many good memories as I can, because I’ll be a long time gone. I have to trust science and the Oncologists in the same way I will have to trust the parachute and the instructor I’m jumping with.

So back to, what is now 3.27am. I can’t promise there won’t be times of fear ahead, but there’s no choice. I’m buckled in and heading relentlessly forward, on the scariest ride of my life. I have to try to face it with my eyes open, screaming my lungs out, whilst also smiling at the thrill.

N.B The photo at the top is of my son, Jacob, and his friends from Urban Strides, performing at Sheffield arena, in front of about 12,000 people. That’s courage; that’s terrifying…

3 thoughts on “Jumping out of a plane

  1. We all deal with things in our own way – I really admire your pragmatism while having reasonable optimism. You know I’m a complete optimist and expect us to have years not months with you here. Maybe that’s naive of me but it’s what my gut feeling has said since you told me that you are getting immunotherapy. Either way we really only have the here and now & you are rocking it! Love you xx


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