Goodbye

I left the Warwick campus today. Much as I arrived: in the pouring rain.

And now I’m back in London, in my new home. A cheerful top floor of a pleasantly scruffy house down south. Lying on an unfamiliar bed, in the dim light of an dusky lamp, stone cold sober, thinking. And trying not to think too much about the one inescapable fact: I’m not going back there.

The richest experiences are rich precisely because they end quickly. A skydive, a jungle trek, even a month backpacking. You troll through the time taking action to take things forward. But the MBA had a community. When you’re working and studying in each others’ pockets and half the cohort lives a two minute walk away, you feel wanted, part of everything, alive, even in the most despairing moments late at night before an exam you know you’re not ready for. It wasn’t a year out; it was a life. And now it’s gone and I’m already missing it.

Lots to do, lots on the calendar. But the dreamy green campus is behind me now, and I’m sad. In just two week there’ll be another crop of bright-eyed MBA students using our Syndicate rooms, eating our doughnuts, sleeping in our beds. (And, if this year’s anything to go by, each other’s beds too.)

It was a great year. Thank you, Warwick University. Signing off…. now.

Sucks like a Dyson on steroids

This sucks. Too many goodbyes, too much work, surrounded by packing boxes that only remind me this life is about to end. I’m fighting the dark pool of sadness welling up inside me, but it hurts.

Somehow, this year’s been about more than an MBA; it’s been about constructing a different life, something humanscale and close-knit instead of the broadness and infinity of cities like London. And although it’s contained some very dark moments, I think it’s been the best year of my life. I’ve trekked across scorching deserts and jumped out of aeroplanes just to feel something, but sometimes all you need is a little room on a greenfield campus and the warmth of a great institution around you to feel part of something amazing.

And now it’s almost over.

This sucks.

Sorting out life, intense as uncut wasabi

Mission almost accomplished. This week I’ve part-sorted my next role, confirmed some other work that’d take about a day a week for some extra pocket money, and talked about a potential project in Paris that’d pay off a chunk of MBA debt. And I saw my new home.

In keeping with my year-long principle of ‘letting go’, not deliberately controlling my environment – in order to open myself up to more possibilities – I’m not going back to my own little chunk of the London property market next month. I’m going to take a step back, and share a vast house in south London with three friends. A sprawling space to kick back in, a few stops by train from central London, and a big room at the top of the house to crash. Brilliant.

Training back to Victoria after checking it out last night, the lights of the city ranged below me, I felt that same cocktail of sad-and-happy I’ve had before. This year at Warwick University really has been a great year: painful at times, but it’s taught me much cut, with plenty of laughs. The rolling green campus, its iconic Modernist buildings of University House and the Business School that make my heart soar with architectural joy … it’s been a far greater year than I ever expected.

And I got it by kicking back. Not being in control. The last ten months my timetable’s been set for me; that was the point. Handing the reins to someone else for a while had the converse effect of self-actualising me even further.

The quote that drove me to do an MBA – from ‘Batman Begins’, “You know how to fight six men. We can teach you to engage six hundred.” – still holds. I could take on an army now. More interestingly, I could build one of my own.

I think I’ll bunk off project work this afternoon and see ‘The Dark Knight’ in Leicester Square. It’d just fit somehow.

Growing young disgracefully

“But I was so much older, then – I’m younger than that now.”Bob Dylan

Sometime in the last year, I discovered the secret of not getting old.

The secret is… don’t get old!

It’s no harder or simpler than that. Your body and mind are self-renewing tools. Down the decades they may need some patching up, but plot medical advances on a curve and life expectancy seems to be increasing about ten years every decade; already, the old have stopped dying. (The USA and Japan’s fastest growing demographic: octogenerians.) The dream of immortality is within our grasp. But technology is immaterial: what matters to staying young is attitude. And at some point since January, I got myself a new one.

It wasn’t forging a new identity; it was getting rid of an old one. Working for a living since my teens meant I’d always felt ‘older’, but when I hit campus I started reverting. I’d spent much of the previous ten years in jeans and T shirt dreaming up headlines; hardly an adult occupation, after all. I started thinking: maybe I’m young after all. And I think the process is now complete.

I just caught sight of myself in a window and the figure strolling in step with me was a young man. Tall, fresh, strong, relaxed, even with a perceptible stomach and squishy limbs after four months away from the gym. Somehow, against all the odds, I’m at peace.

It had nothing to do with body and everything to do with mind. I just stopped worrying about stuff and JUST DID IT. (I mean, joining a University skydiving club at 37?)

A couple of years back I made an effort to pursue a ‘normal’ life, worrying: where is the wife? The children? The car and the lawnmower? I was aging, weakening, not in body but in mind. Then this year came the apocalyptic realisation: that I really, really, don’t want that.

I wasn’t falling behind; I was ahead of the game. I like being alone, having my own space, doing my own thing. And for the next ten years – where I’ll concentrate on making money – a ‘normal’ life would be an annoying distraction.

(Of course, since having that realisation I’ve had women buzzing around me as if I’m made of chocolate, but that’s by the by. I’m much too young for a serious girlfriend.)

When I restart my physical fitness routine post grad, it’ll be different. Aerobic and meditative exercises centred on other things, the heartbeat and breathing, going for poise and agility rather than strength and speed. I still plan an Ironman next year, but it’ll be a side result of my training rather than a goal. With the right attitude, even an Ironman triathlon is easy. Fitness for events is one thing; fitness for life is another.

Before, I worried about losing what I had. Now as I reach the end of an expensive year, I have nothing at all… and it doesn’t worry me in the slightest. No money? I’ll make more. No home? I’ll buy another one. No friends? I’ll go out and make some more. Everything is easy now.

I used to worry about all that stuff… back when I was old.

Among the new faces

Back on campus. With skydiving, London trips, and overnighters elsewhere, I’ve spent precisely two nights in the last 15 in my own room, although I’ve sort of adapted; I don’t feel I’m running on empty, far from it (life’s actually full of adrenalin.) But one thing I notice this morning is the predominance of new faces around Lakeside.

Summer courses and short modules abound in ‘Term 4’, the near-mythical part of the university calendar that spans summer, and the school puts its empty residential blocks to good use. So there’s an influx of changing faces around the student village, none of whom I recognise. (Even on a 5000 strong campus population you see the same set of faces during the academic year.) And now that villagey feel has gone. Just another sign it’s all coming to an end…

And just like that – they’re gone

Sunday afternoon. The University year is over, although not my year (yet). And suddenly, in the last 48 hours, the energetic lifeblood of the Warwick campus has drained away.

I got back on Friday night. Instead of the hordes of undergrads enjoying the warm weather on the piazza, there was only a handful of them. They’ve all gone, the 12,000 sub-22 year olds that make up two-thirds of this university’s daytime population. Summer has begun and the kids have departed, maybe for a season overseas, sleeping on the steps of cathedrals or riding pillion across India. Because they have the time.

I envy them. Because the only thing I’ve ever wanted is more time. I wish I could have my time again, a thousand times over: I’ve lived the best of all possible lives, but there’s a multitude of bests, and I want them all.

And sadness. The sadness that comes from the constant reminders that, all too soon, this strangest of years in my life will be over.

Goodbye, undergrads.

The Good Student

I’m a good man. And tonight I had proof.

Just spent an evening with a friend, nothing fancy, just noodles and Sauv Blanc. Forgot completely I’d had a load of laundry tumble drying in the block opposite, so went out to get it at 12.30am. I’d been ready for bed for some hours and groaned as I headed downstairs again.

On the way over, there’s a girl arriving at the block’s other door. Leggy blonde, boobs and bum half out of sequinned minidress, the usual thing. You can’t help but look; I mean, whoa.

She’s behaving a little strangely. Keeps doubling up, dropping things. Not unusual around this time on campus, although not an everyday occurence on a Monday. After the briefest of pauses I head towards the other door, bundle my bone-dry clothes into my bag, and head for home.

She’s still there. All tits and ass and legs, in a giggling heap. I ask if she’s okay. She is by the happy undergrad standards – i.e. paralytically drunk – but not if she wants to get home. While campus is safe enough, I don’t want to leave a vulnerable teenager in a doorwell.

I offer to get her home. (My key fits this lock thanks to the laundry access.) I pick up the bundle of tits and ass and legs and support it on my shoulder, trying to get her to talk (it seems like just drunk, but if it’s drugs I’ll be able to tell once she’s talking.) She talks, giggling. It’s just drink.

“I’m Jess.” Giggling. Oh hell and damnation, the bare arms are going around my neck. The face is startlingly beautiful, model-girl even. I ignore it. I’m a good man.

She doesn’t know where she lives. I support her more. She remembers it’s on this floor. Walking down a corridor I notice ‘—— JESS!’ on a door. Whew. Now all we have to do is find the keys…

She’s on the floor again. I sit her against the wall. The minidress barely covers her backside and there’d be nothing left to the imagination, if I imagined it. Concentrate, Worth, concentrate. You’re a good man.

The problem here is that the evening out put half a dozen units into me, just enough to affect judgement and oh bloody hell she’s kissing me. Stop. Stop her. I stop her. This isn’t what I expected when I went to collect my laundry. Keep it together. Her breath’s on my neck and the long legs are – you’ve got nieces this age, Worth. In fact, you’ve got 501s this age. Concentrate. You are an adult helping a young girl home. That’s all you’re doing.

We open the door. She nearly falls. Blast and buckets of blood, that means I’ve got to go in. Take a deep breath.

It’s an undergrad room. In other words, it’s just about possible to see the carpet under the jumble of towels, sheets, clothes, underwear, bags. “I leave in two days!” she mumbles among the jumble. Yeah, sweetheart, and I’m leaving in two minutes.

I don’t even want to think about what’ll happen if security walks down this corridor. I know exactly what it’ll look like. This is bad. I ask her to take a few steps forward, to her bed and sanctuary. She reaches around and DON’T UNZIP YOUR DRESS DON’T UNZIP YOUR DRESS I stop her wriggling and manoevre her to the ‘bed zone’, a mountain of assorted blankets under which there’s probably a mattress. I lie her down. She won’t let go. Her arms are around my neck and I’m horizontal. Let go. The breasts are popping out and my resolve is hardening. I escape her honeyed grip.

She’s on the bed at last, lying on her side, best position if she vomits in her sleep. She’s peaceful, breathing evenly, not in danger. She’ll wake up with a headache, but no worse. I force myself not to linger for a look, and leave.

My laundry bag’s in the corridor where I left it. I shake myself and head across the lawn to my block and home.

I’m a good man.

There Will NOT Be a waterfight! See Below –

And supposedly mature MBAs will definitely NOT be attending.

“Right, as some of you may have heard, the recent attempt to organise “Warwick Water War 08” was cancelled due to “health and safety” issues. The university has said they do not wish for any alternatives. So, furthering on from that particular group, I bring you a warning:

-There will NOT be a waterfight held in warwick to mark the end of the summer term.
-It will especially NOT be held on Monday 16th June.
-It will NOT start at 2PM and end whenever people wish it to.
-It will NOT take place in the field behind Tocil Woods (or anywhere else, subject to change or better ideas), especially in such a place where it will be hard for security to notice anything going on and get to quickly, and where it is easy to run away if any trouble does occur.
-You SHOULD bring your student cards just in case any trouble does start at a waterfight and security asks for them.

I urge you all to forward this warning to as many of your friends as soon as possible, to make them aware of this. Suggestions welcome.

Many Thanks,

😉

DISCLAIMER: For “Health and Safety” reasons – By joining this group, you agree that if you just so happen to attend any waterfight that just so happens to occur as a result of this group, despite my warnings to the contrary, and you just so happen to somehow inexplicably injure yourself, then you promise not to sue me, or anybody in this group, the student’s union or the university, blah blah blah etc.”

June 5th, 2008: the perfect day

I want to preserve this day. Wrap it in gauze and keep it in a wardrobe like a wedding dress. Dry it gently in the breeze next to a new-mown lawn, then fold it lovingly to the dimensions of a rosewood drawer, then slide it shut to keep it crisp and fresh forever.

Today is the perfect day.

The sky’s been bright but the sun not unstinting, stretches of sunlight interrupted by dreamy clouds breezing by. Warm but not hot, no jacket required. The perfect weather.

Preparing my dissertation, I’ve been drifting from Arts Centre to Learning Grid. The structure of my summer project is becoming clear. The perfect work plan.

I’ve paused only for coffee with beautiful women, conversation and frisson more sophisticated than you’d expect on a university campus, outside on the benches while the highly diversity-aware trees sway slowly, listening in. The perfect coffee break.

I’m needed. The need to be needed is perfect, too. Yesterday I was at Lord’s with clients; tomorrow WBS itself wants me on another Open Day; recruiters have started calling. The perfect sense of belonging.

In the sunken central plaza, every step is occupied by groups of laughing students, drinking, smoking, doing things students do. A living place. The perfect plaza.

If only I could store days like this. Open a drawer and spritz a single cloud of lemon to bring this day back, late in the year when outside is scuzzed with slush and a million moist noses report sniffles season. One a week is all I’d need. To experience the perfect day once again.

But doing so would kill it. Value departs when available in infinite measure. And it’d kill me too. For living the perfect day, again and again, would make further progress down life’s path meaningless. So I’ll just appreciate this day while I can.

And so… I near the end …

– of my perfect day!

Database driven life

One of the really impressive things about Warwick University is its databases. Or more to the point, the way its databases connect to the student intranet and let me, slumped in my study bedroom, collect pretty much everything I need to write my assignments and dissertation.

Take just now. An article referenced in one of the readings for a Strategy module caught my eye. It’s not in the readings, although it’s a seminal article on the globalisation of business from the 1980s. This is probably a test: the course director may have left that article in plain view, referenced in the folder’s readings but not actually in the folder as a handout, in order to see which clever buggers would spot it and look it up.

So I look it up. A few clicks and searching into the library, the business section, and a subscription index. A search on author and title. And – within a second – it’s there: the full-text article, not in ASCII but an actual scanned page of the Harvard Business Review from 1983, complete with foxy-edged pages and the imprint of someone’s pen pressed too hard on a previous page a quarter of a century ago. Brilliant.

In the vastness of the Internet, I inhabit a more tightly-clustered node: an ordered space of indexed scholarship, given shape and form by subscriptions and module structure and the sheer buzz of a campus wired for desseminating knowledge. From my little room here, I’m wrapped in a warm, comforting coccoon of information plus the means to make sense of it.

I’m going to miss this place.

The name’s Worth, Chris Worth…

Of all the ridiculous things a year as a student has allowed me to do, attending the University Sports Ball as a member of the Skydiving Club is probably the funniest one so far. (Just booked my tix today.)

Now the next problem: sorting out a dinner suit.

It’s been several years since I last wore black tie; I’ve completely forgotten the whole culture around it. For example, a ‘tuxedo’ technically means white jacket, which is pretty hard to carry off outside the Caribbean anyway, and at a ball where the dinner involves tomatoes it’s completely out of the question. Black jacket, definitely. But whose?

I mean, I have to overcome a natural disadvantage here: since it’s the summer ball of the university’s sporting clubs, there’ll be a large number of physically imposing males in the tent (well, in addition to me, obviously) and it’ll take a lot to look impressive in that crowd. I’ve scheduled in daily swims and sessions to get myself back in shape after a few weeks of lumpen deskbound-ness, but that’s only half the problem. The other half is the suit.

There’s no way – no way – I can go for the standard Moss Bros rental like everyone else. I need the kind of suit Daniel Craig gasped at in ‘Casino Royale’ when Eva whipped out a tailored one for him, after he’d protested he already had a dinner suit. That’s what a truly great suit does: make you go ‘whoa’. But how can I get one?

There’s got to be a way. Discounters, vintage shops, and friends (of my height and build) are on the list to call next week; one of them will have something truly sensational in my size. It’ll be the perfect way to make the evening go with a bang.

Warwick gets a new Chancellor

So Richard Lambert is the new Chancellor of the University of Warwick. An ex-FT journalist and Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, he’s perfectly in tune with the commercial focus that made Warwick Margaret Thatcher’s favourite university.

He inherits a university with strong finances, a top 10 UK rank, a world-class business school, and a well-equipped campus. As a 60s university Warwick will never have the dreaming spires and sterling history of Oxbridge, but as Britain’s second wave of universities move towards their half-century it’s obvious which ones have succeeded, and Warwick’s firmly at the top of that group. Good luck to him in keeping the good stuff good.

Bouncing around campus

I’m having a reasonably fun week. Yes, at last I feel like a student. After last week’s exam madness, this week is going like a dream.

A couple of hours in the morning on an assignment; Corporate Finance essay planned, I wander over to the Learning Grid for coffee and reading. Wave to three other wandering MBAs over the course of an hour; a light lunch at Tiko; catch up with email. Some time in the wonderful atrium of University House, finishing last week’s Economist.

This is it. La Dolce Vita. The sweet life. Every day should be like this: full of variety, a mix of ideas, interesting things to do with just enough tension to make doing them worthwhile.

The day continues, and I continue with it, drifting around campus from venue to venue. Over to the Arts Centre, for tea with The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. Cross paths with another MBA; back to Lakeside; read-through the Modelling assignment draft, make my comments ready for editing tomorrow. Tasks crossed, even a frustrating hour-long conversation with my bank doesn’t dent my sunny disposition.

The bright afternoon turns to crisp evening, recent rain making the air smell fresh and clean as new-mown grass. A burger at Varsity serves as dinner. More waves and chats to three MBAs pleasantly adrift on the post-exam sea. Fix some dates with my Dissertation subject in London next week, confirm a couple of other meetings while I’m there, including a bite the same day with a friend who’s leaving, his Warwick term done.

The day’s been fairly busy; but unlike the last few months, I’ve actually got time to do stuff. Nothing’s popping up randomly and chaotically, like impromptu group meetings, endless phone conversations, or the aftermath of lectures. The sun’s shining, and all is right with the world.

Post mortem: Strategic Advantage

Executive Summary: hard part’s over!

OK, so there are a couple of assignments to do before end March, but the Strategic Advantage exam – two essays, two hours – was a pleasant finish to exam week. Not too rushed, took a five minute holiday in the middle, managed to shoehorn a Porter’s Five Forces diagram and the distinctive assets pyramid in there. Had 10 minutes spare at the end so I thought I’d add an Appendix with the Value Chain! And why not. (Appendices are cool.)

And now the first half of my MBA is over bar the resits, oops, I mean bar the shouting. Today is the last day the 80 of us will be together as a cohort, sharing a core of content: from this day forward, we go our separate ways, into diverse electives and project/dissertations.

In some sense, I’m already missing it.

Hands in pockets against the not-yet-Spring weather, I wander the emptying campus of what I’ve come to know as ‘my’ university.

University House, a beautiful chunk of geometric white angles and a soaring four-storey atrium that’s become one of my favourite places. Coffee in the cafe at the Arts Centre. The card entry gates of the library. The short walk down the curving road, assorted buildings of the university becoming denser like scattered foothills. The humid humanity of the Sports block. The gangrenous 1960s wasteland of Humanities. The soaring new engineering buildings. Somehow, it’s become home.

I continue drifting in the damp gloom. Back to where it all started: the collection of white cubes on Scarman Road.

Silently I walk down the now-hushed corridors of the business school. The coffee nook. The printer corner. The syndicate rooms. The student lounge. Remembering all the moments of the last six months: the frustrations, the late nights, the syrupy fog of breaktime doughnuts and the clacking vooosh of the coffeemaker. The conversations, the headaches, the scribbles on whiteboards. And the laughter. Amid the toil, there was a lot of laughter.

All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to say goodbye.

Dead calm on the edge

“Look up and in…. GO!

And I’m falling. Through fresh air with nothing more substantial in it than a few wisps of cloud. The ground is 4000ft below and the air is rushing past at 120kph.

Yet amid the chaotic whooshing, I feel strangely calm.

Because I know what to do. In 10 surprisingly physical hours yesterday, the RAPS instructors trained us to jump with a static line. All the stuff you need to do in the air, most of which happens in the five seconds before your parachute opens.

(Yes, I know it looks like a watercolour, but that’s me in the pic.)

I don’t do it quite textbook – my “ARCH THOUSAND, TWO THOUSAND…” speech is too fast, and when I look up the canopy’s still unfolding. You miss a lot by waiting, though: it’s a thing of beauty, like orchids expanding in timelapse photography. “Is it big?” No, but give it a moment…

Floating below a good canopy at last, I’m at peace.

Never been here before, but I recognise the place: it’s where you feel life at its fullest. The edge.

‘The edge’ is what I call any environment that’s alien to human beings, yet where by our resourcefulness we’re able to survive. Extreme cold in mountains, a searing desert, a solo jungle trek. Gore-Tex, Toyota, and Silva help us to balance on that line between life and death, as long as you know how to use them. The edge is where you learn what it means to be human.

Most species of animal live on the edge all the time. But too many of us humans have forgotten it, encased in our comfortable prophylactics of cities and services. We don’t appreciate running water or electricity or rooves over our heads because they’ve become too Normal, taken us too far from the edge.

All the problems of the world would just dissolve, if everyone lived closer to the edge.

And there’s a fairly strong case for skydiving being edge. Like all edges, it’s perfectly possible to survive and thrive simply by following certain rules. If I do something wrong, I’ll plummet a vertical mile and end up slightly dead. But as long as I don’t do anything stupid, there is only a one in four million chance that both my main and reserve ‘chutes will fail (far smaller still now the main’s inflated without trouble) and I’m in considerably less danger than crossing the street. Completely safe, in this utterly untenable environment.

I don’t have a care in the world, up here.

I was second out of the plane, so there’s only one ‘chute below me: he’s drifting some distance from the white X. Ha ha, I’m certainly not going to make that mistake. Let’s just line up with the landing arrow and do our three stage turn at 1000-500-300ft, shall we…

Two minutes later I’m directly above him, having turned around to face the wind for landing, and discovered the windspeed exactly matches the speed of the canopy. My descent is basically vertical, and I land in the muddy field several hundred metres from the X. Jumper 1 and I tramp back together.

But damn, it feels good. I’ve just traversed the distance between a plane in flight and the ground, VERTICALLY, using the contents of a rucksack. This rocks.

I’m the Buddha. I’m Zen. I’m the Bulletproof Monk. In a state of satisfied equilibrium that isn’t exhilaration; it’s more like… understanding. Comprehending the true vastness of human experience. And loving it.

Next challenge: 6 more jumps to start freefalling. The midterm goal is to freefall from 15,000ft by September. I’m on the ground now, but I’m still a mile high.

Managing the risks

As I walk back to the classroom, one guy in the air actually has to use his reserve chute. It’s rare, about 1 in 2000 jumps. But that’s not the point.

Skydiving isn’t about taking risks; it’s about managing them. Every jumper, every jump, has a reserve chute backing him up. There is a risk you’ll have trouble with your main chute; you manage that 1-in-2000 risk away by taking a spare, squaring the problem to 1-in-4-million. But that’s not the point either.

The point – as I realise over the afternoon’s training – is that the reserve chute is not an emergency procedure. It’s a normal procedure, because emergencies are part and parcel of your normal checks at the start of each jump. A normal jump is simply one where you considered all the options and decided not to deploy your reserve. On the very rare occasions you need it, you’ll simply take the other decision and deploy it. Based not on panic, but on having one ‘No’ answer among the three you ask yourself on every jump.

Life is not about avoiding risk, it’s about recognising and managing it. That’s what’s wrong with Britain’s ever-tighter Health & Safety culture: it assumes risk is something bad, something to be veered away from instead of confronted head-on. In newly risk-averse Britain, Health & Safety people are the biggest risk of all.

Because by trying to legislate away risk, they make us less capable of dealing with it. They forget that we are alive because we took risks. And learned how to manage them. We bob and dip a lot, but we soar. Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter.

There are no emergencies in parachuting; there are simply alternative courses of action.

Ready for the jump

Training for a skydive is almost as much fun as the jumping-out-of-aeroplanes part itself.

This weekend I’m at a small airfield doing some static line jumps, i.e. proper parachuting. A cable attached to the plane does the important work of pulling your ‘chute out, but after that you’re on your own. The main bits of training cover what happens in the first five seconds after jumping, and the last five before you hit the ground; everything in between is common sense.

The training is both interactive and entertaining.

We learn the basics first: what a ram-air system is, getting touchy-feely with an actual parachute. They’re surprisingly complex pieces of engineering: imagine a pack of sausages lying side by side, with holes in the skins allowing meat, sorry, I mean air, to swirl between sections in a controlled way, inflating the canopy part by part. Making sure this part by part goes smoothly is the main point of today.

‘Arching’ is fun. Splaying your arms and legs out and upwards creates a shuttlecock shape, with your hips out front (the instructor calls this ‘shagging a leper’) meaning you’ll fall stably and the ‘chute has a nice measured environment to open in. Getting this part wrong can have consequences I don’t want to think about just yet.

There’s a checklist post-exit from plane. We shout the checklist again and again. Is it big? Is it rectangular? Is it damage-free? Is it a nice colour? (OK, we added the last one as a joke since there are many girls in the training group.)

My practice exits are bit showy. “Stop leaping so much – you’re older than these guys and you think you’ve got something to prove.”

The plane we’ll jump from is one seriously cool chunk of metal: a little Dornier G92, slab-sided, scruffy of interior, and as noisy and smelly as an ancient diesel. But it shoots into the clouds in a way that suggests it knows EXACTLY what it’s doing. (Photo courtesy Alex Lane.) Scruffy frame and scuffed edges it may have, but everything is screwed together tight as a drum. Good workaday technology, just add pilot and stir.

When someone asks you what you this weekend, ‘Jumped out of an aeroplane’ is a pretty cool answer.