Elton John singing Don’t Go Breaking My Heart on the car cassette player with my baby brother screaming for my mum while she was doing her evening job of delivering something.
My Action Man had a parachute. Throw him up in the air and he’d float back to earth with ease and hit the ground ready for action. If parachuting works for Action Man is should work for an eight year old.
I started with a big plastic sheet with two corners tied to each other to make the handles of my parachute. Running around the back garden with it trailing behind me proved it would open and fill with air with enough speed. Clearly the plastic sheet would make a perfect parachute.
And the garage would make a good launch pad. With Action Man looking on impressed, I climbed onto the roof of the garage, spread out my parachute behind me and holding the knotted handles I ran and jumped off the garage. I crashed into the back garden at full speed and rolled to absorb the impact. The parachute hadn’t opened enough to slow down me down as I fell through the air. Obviously the problem was not enough air time for my parachute to work just like Action Man’s. Well, of course, I’d been throwing him as high as the house. I needed more height.
With my arms through the loops of my parachute I climbed up the drainpipe, and having reached the top, pulled myself up onto the roof. The thought of falling never occurred to me, after all I bet Action Man would have been able to do it. I picked up my parachute and tiptoed from the front of the roof to the back and looked down into the back garden.
With my parachute opened behind me and the knots held tightly in each hand, I think I felt I twinge of fear in my stomach, but I knew I had nothing to be scared about, I was sure this was going to work. So I jumped. For an instant in mid-air I was still certain the parachute would work. Then tunnel vision of the grass below me for another instant before I hit the ground as hard as if I’d jumped off a house without a parachute. My feet felt searing hot pain and my legs crumpled beneath me. My failed-excuse-for-a-parachute collapsed over me, covering me as I lay in a heap in the garden.
Crawling out from under the plastic sheet I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Action Man’s parachute had worked for him, why hadn’t mine worked for me? Maybe I needed a bigger sheet of plastic, after all Action Man was hollow so didn’t weigh as much and so only needed a small one. I wondered where I could get a bigger parachute.
If Action Man can do it, so can I.
It’s the 14th July 1983. I’m eight years old and I’m walking through the gates of Brookmead School on the last day of term. In my school bag are tickets to James and the Giant Peach, the school play which is being put on that evening and which I am desperate to see.
On the other side of the school gates stands my aunt Carol. It should be my mum picking me up from school but when I see that she isn’t there I immediately know why. She was pregnant with my little brother and not being there meant she was giving birth to him. As Carol told me that I would be spending the night with her my young brain panickedly searched for a scenario where I could still come back to school this evening to watch James and the Giant Peach. But nothing I said would change the fact that I wasn’t.
I don’t know why seeing James and the Giant Peach was so important to me. Maybe it was a last ditch attempt to still have some time with my mum before my baby brother came along. Maybe it was an attempt to be more independent and do what I wanted to do regardless of the adults. Maybe it was just something I wanted and it only became significant because it was taken away. Who knows what goes on in the mind of an eight year old.
I was born