27 Feb 2011

I'm a Skydiver... update!

Well, I've completed my skydive, and I have the certificate to prove it!

This is the story of my day...
We had to make a horribly early start as the airfield is an hour and a half away from my home and I had to be there at 8 o'clock in the morning... all the more painful as we're used to working through the night so we were getting ready to leave the house at the time we're usually preparing for bed! The friendly staff greeted us on arrival and gave my better half a much needed cup of coffee, then the "jumpers" were given a briefing to tell us what to  expect and what to do. We didn't have a lot of responsibility as we were all tandem skydivers, which means we were strapped to a qualified instructor, but we had to know which bits of the harness we weren't to touch and the position to assume when exiting the aircraft and when landing. After the briefing we had to wait for the weather to smile on us, but the morning mist cleared by about 10 o'clock and the first batch of 8 first-time skydivers went up soon afterwards. The rest of us waited in the comfortable lounge area and hoped the sunshine would last. I was in the third "lift", and after seeing the ear-to-ear grins as the first two groups returned, I was thoroughly looking forward to it. Finally my name was called and I went into the neighbouring building to get kitted up in a jumpsuit (with stout reinforcing on the bum... more of that later!) helmet, gloves, goggles and the all-important harness, then we all walked over to the rather odd-looking airplane. It had large windows along both sides and a huge, perspex, roller-shutter style door, and I thought it looked a bit like an airborne minibus! During the brief flight to get up to the required altitude (15,000 feet, which is almost 3 MILES!) my tandem instructor attached my harness securely to his own and indulged in some gentle teasing about how this particular aircraft was reserved for crazy people only and how accidents usually happen to the first person to exit the plane, which of course, was me! :-) Then it was time to jump. We edged to the wide open door and I knelt on the threshold, with my arms folded out of the way across my chest, and my instructor crouching behind me. The next thing I knew I was being launched out into empty air! The adrenalin rush must have been off the charts! We did a barrel roll, so for an instant I was looking "down" towards the sky and could see the airplane disappearing then, very shortly after we were once again facing the ground, I got a tap on the shoulder to signal that it was time for me to spread my arms out and assume the classic skydiving position. The experience of falling at 120 mph towards the ground is literally indescribable, but apart from the rush and excitement it was pretty cold and very noisy! All too soon, we'd fallen 10,000 feet in around 60 seconds and it was time to pull the parachute release. The deceleration must have been severe, but due to the design of the harness it was not at all uncomfortable. Then we were supported by the parachute, drifting gently down the current of air. I had a go at steering, which took a surprising amount of strength and resulted in spectacular g-forces as we swung round below the canopy. When I'd spent a few minutes playing and admiring the view, I resigned control of the steering cords to my instructor and, despite a brisk cross-wind, he brought us exactly to the target landing space. When we got to treetop height I had to lift up my legs, hold on to the back of my knees and stick my feet out forwards, and we made a perfect and remarkably gentle landing... skidding a couple of feet across the grassy field in the sitting position, hence the reinforcing on the jumpsuits! :-) When I had regained the power of speech and use of my legs, I was released from the coupling straps that had done their job so well in keeping me attached to my instructor (and, more importantly, to the parachute!) and we waited for the rest of the group to arrive on the ground. Once we were all assembled we were given a ride back to the office, handed in our suits, helmets, gloves and goggles, and rejoined the crowds of friends and family... I was slightly shaky about the knees, but I definitely had the tell-tale grin, and a memory that will undoubtedly stay with me for life. Oddly, although the free-falling was the bit I was most looking forward to, I actually enjoyed the gentle parachute decent much more... it was like being a piece of thistledown floating on the breeze! All in all, it was a truly awesome and amazing experience, and I'm immensely grateful that I had the chance to do it.
Equally important as my adventure, is the fact that I raised £440 for a very worthy charity, so I'd like to say a huge thank you to  everyone who handed over their hard-earned cash while examining me closely for signs of mental instability!

And would I do it again?

Hell, yes!

10 Feb 2011

Etsy Nastiness...

I was invited to join the Metaphysical Team a week or so ago and wrote back to politely decline. A few days later I was invited to join a group of sellers based in the South West of England, and as I'm proud of where I come from I thought I'd give it a go. Then I thought I might as well join the Metaphysical Team as well, as a few of them have been customers of mine and they seemed a reasonably sensible bunch, so I went through the process of applying through Etsy and was assured I'd be welcomed into their flock at the earliest possible opportunity. I was then informed that they don't really use the Etsy team forum to communicate, but have groups on Yahoo amongst others... for gossip presumeably, or state secrets, but apparently they say things to each other that can't be made public... So I tried to sign up to Yahoo groups and got a glitch that kept sending me round in circles ending up back at the sign in page. At that point I gave up, thinking to myself that it was more trouble than it was worth to join up with several social networking sites just to be able to waste time talking to a group I didn't really want to be a part of anyway. I told the team captain Ande (aka lefthandedgoth) about the sign-in problem, and as I thought they deserved an explanation, I described more fully my reasons for deciding not to go ahead with the application in my usual rambling style. However, instead of sympathising with the hassle I'd had with Yahoo and offering help and support (which he/she/it/they had already said was the aim and purpose of the group) they just sent back a message telling me what a nasty piece of work I must be (their words), how sorry they were for whatever had happened in my life to make me this way and how lucky they were that they hadn't "let me loose on the rest of the group". Then, I admit, I got ever so slightly pissed off and put Group Captain Ande firmly back in their box, basically telling them to save their sympathy & psychobabble for someone who gives a shit ... and probably losing for ever the chance to be a member of their little club that they had asked me to join! :-) The funniest thing was that while all this was going on between us, the other group leader was sending me a nice little welcome message and I was actually officially a member for about 2 hours! LOL Although, when I told this to Ande they must have immediately asserted their influence with the other group leader, because shortly afterwards I got a rather stiff message telling me that my removal from the group had been requested, not at all like the previous friendly one.

I didn't deserve to be treated like that, especially by any kind of spokesperson for a group who should be aware of their responsibilities to the others. Forthright in my opinions I may be, and I'm perfectly aware that I can sound abrasive and arrogant, which is why I try to tone down my messages, especially to foreigners, and always add lots of smilies, etc, so people know I'm only half serious. But I don't expect a frank discussion to be turned into a personal attack or a slanging match. I'm trying hard to put it down to a translation problem (Americans quite often don't understand dry English humour and anyone with a name like Ande quite possibly doesn't have English as their first language, although they should be able to speak it pretty well as they live in Oklahoma) but really I think it's the old problem of groups becoming personality cults full of adoring groupies sitting about telling each other how wonderful they are instead of doing anything useful, like making and selling their craft. I would imagine that almost anyone who starts a group then retains the right to accept or reject membership is on some kind of ego trip, and as I obviously didn't hold the belief that lefthandedgoth was the be-all and end-all of esoteric knowledge and kow-tow to him/her/it/them with the respect they obviously imagine they deserve, I was put down as "incompatible" with the rest of the group! Which is (thankfully) probably true. :-) I think I had a lucky escape. I'm half expecting them to put the boot in if they get the chance, and I expect there's been a biased view of the proceedings spread round the group on their secret Yahoo page, but I can't say I'm particularly worried or upset about it. Actually, it makes me snigger every time I think about it...

I have to say it's my first experience of nastiness on Etsy and I wasn't expecting it so it came as somewhat of a surprise. I'm trying not to think badly of the humble group members (who were denied any say in my membership one way or the other and probably didn't even know what was going on) but anyone who's willing to let a person like Ande take the lead must be lacking in something as far as I can tell. It's a shame, as the members of the Metaphysical Team that I had already met online seemed to be nice enough. But people are people the world over, and after dealing with so many online over the last 8 years I suppose I had to find someone like lefthandedgoth sooner or later. Generally speaking though, I've found Americans to be more polite than English people, more tolerant, slower to take offence and more cautious in case they upset anyone... but I suppose Ande must be the exception that proves the rule. I should have listened to the warning bells that went off when they informed me they'd copied some of the info in my list of magical properties, to make up a page for a Book of Shadows they sold to some unsuspecting person, instead of asking my permission to use it first...

Oh, and if anyone's interested, you're more than welcome to view the entire transcripts of the conversations that passed between us. I would have posted it all here, but it would have taken up too much room.