As kids – all 5 of us – we lived in Mabelreign, a suburb of Salisbury, Rhodesia. It was a fairly ‘poor’ area -that is less affluent – so it was common that both parents worked full day.
Families were also large for some reason and without our parents around to watch us, we were quite a wild bunch getting up to all sorts of unruly ‘adventures’.
Even though money was tight, our folk always managed to pull enough pennies together to take us out to various fun events like the Luna Park Fare, Guy Fawkes Fireworks displays and Fetes.
One particular event we were taken to was the annual Air Show. It was spectacular with all the various planes from the Tiger Moth to the fighter jets doing their show-off tricks up in the sky above us. What impressed us most were the parachute jumps. The 5 of us sat on the bonnet of our car gob-smacked watching the men jumping out of the plane, the sky fall, the parachute opening and, to us, the apparently easy landing – clapping and cheering all round.
It made such an impression on us, we decided we needed to give this a try. Our gang of friends had come around to our house after school, as was the norm, to decide what to get up to on that particular day and it was unanimously decided that we try this whole parachuting gig. We agreed a large bed sheet was perfect and set about tying rope to all four corners. One smarter member pointed out that actually parachutes had more ropes coming off the ‘chute, so we ‘intelligently’ added another 4 ties from the centres of each side. It must be noted here that we were cutting up Dad’s valuable rope without a second thought to the consequences.
Now we had to choose the best person to jump and from where the jump should be from. The garage roof top was an instant decision being easy to climb up to and especially as there was a sand pit below for a soft landing.
On deciding who should jump, there was an immediate shirking and shuffling amongst us desperately avoiding any chance of being called on to volunteer. So as not to lose face, one did suggest that to make this jump a success, the jumper should be very small and lightweight. We all nodded furiously in agreement and so then looked towards our Billy, about 4 years old, happily playing quietly on his own, quite oblivious of all this planning going on.
His day was about to change.
With a lot of persuasion and bribes of his favourite biscuits AND sweets, the poor little unsuspecting young man was taken up onto the roof accompanied by me and a gang member to tie the ‘chute onto him and open it up before he jumped.
I cannot believe we did this,
but with the gang below cheering encouragements, Billy, with a gentle push made the jump. Well of course the sheet did not billow open as we expected it to – to our disappointment, it just sort of folding inwards and Billy landed in the sand pit with a most undignified and somewhat painful thump. He started to cry with fright, indignation and pain but a chocolate was immediately fed to him and amazingly – we managed to persuade him to try it again explaining we hadn’t done it properly the first time promising him we’d definitely get it right this time.
We were convinced it should work. And so we went up again, three of us now with him on the roof to open the sheet up properly. The second jump, of course, was also a failure. Again Billy cried and furiously threatened to tell on us but biscuits, a loving hug from me and assurance from all he was a brave hero calmed him down.
Later explaining to the folk Billy’s bruises and dad’s rope cut up into 8 pieces was not a happy result.