Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Arghh! I’ve promised to do a skydive from 13,000ft

Frances Burscough

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. In my case, that rule obviously extends to coffee, too.

I should have known that when Brian Pelan, a renowned and highly-regarded local journalist, invited me for a coffee there was going to be some sort of catch.

And there was. An absolute humdinger, in fact. But I'll come to that in a minute ...

“I was wondering if you would be interested in writing a column in my new online magazine called View, for the community and voluntary sector ...” he began, to soften me up.

Well, of course I would! A freelance journalist such as myself would normally have to grovel, beg, bribe or blackmail to get a new column, especially in the current climate of austerity and recession. To be actually invited, apropos of nothing, to become a monthly contributor to an esteemed publication ... well it really is a no-brainer.

“Yes!” I said, before I'd even taken my first sip of coffee .

Then he told me what he wanted me to do. The small print, as it were.

My mission, should I choose to accept it — and I already had — was to go on a series of challenges or events suggested by community groups and charities, in order to help publicise and raise awareness for their cause.

So far so good, I thought, imagining a stall selling home-baked cupcakes at an elegant summer garden party in the glorious grounds of a sprawling stately home ...

Wee buns, quite literally!

“First up is a challenge by Keli Wilkinson, who is fundraising officer for the Meningitis Research Foundation ...”

Excellent, I thought, a very worthy cause indeed, certainly worth supporting and publicising. Having brought up two children myself, the dread of meningitis had reared its ugly head so many times when they were growing up.

Everytime they had a fever, a headache or were simply out of sorts I had always feared the worst, knowing that this disease could strike without any warning and had such common symptoms it could be easily be misdiagnosed as a cold. This was every mother's nightmare and yet so little was known about its cause or its cure.

“Great! Count me in!” I said, before I'd even taken my second sip of coffee.

“All you have to do is to go on a sponsored parachute sky-dive.”

I spat my coffee out. Right across the table. cappuccino froth spraying over the paperwork as I tried to regain my composure.

“Er (gulp) from what height? (gulp)” I asked, feebly, as if that actually made any difference. Now, I'm no expert, but it's probably safe to assume that if it involves a parachute, it's going to be from somewhere quite high up ... in the sky ... among the clouds ... in the high heavens, as it were. A place, I must add, that holds a great deal of fear for someone like me who is afraid of heights.

“Roughly 13,000ft,” was the reply.

Gulp. I tried to imagine 13,000ft. I couldn't.

Not only that, but in order to get there, 13,000ft into the high heavens as it were, a small aircraft of some sort would probably be involved. A thing, I must add, that holds a great deal of fear for someone like me who is afraid of flying.

Did I say “afraid”? What I meant to say was “f***ing terrified”.

“All you have to do is sign here on the dotted line, under the disclaimer, and we can set the wheels in motion,” said Brian.

I decided not to read the disclaimer. But I imagined the words “in the unlikely event of catastrophic equipment failure”, “horrible death” and “flattened like a pancake” were in there somewhere, in very small print.

Nevertheless, I brushed away the cappuccino froth and signed my name.

And may God have mercy on my soul.

To sponsor me on my mission, which will take place later this summer, go to justgiving.com and type in ‘Frances Burscough’. All contributions will be personally acknowledged and very much appreciated!

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