Posted on June 21, 2013
For my Fromage pounding, Spanish flying buddy, Jean Michel Varlet…
(ils sont tous fous, mon cher…)
I was in la Belle France again, circa 1972. 1973? Sometime.
Summer time… and the French know how to live. They elevate the occupation to an undisputed Art Form. I was staying at one of their (cheap!) state sponsored Parachuting Schools, their “Ecoles de Parachutisme”, diving out of perfectly good airplanes, my long beard flapping in the wind, (occasionally obscuring my view), shouting out young man slogans of the usual maturity.
Like ” EEEEEEEh-AAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!”, “WATCH OUT BELOW!” and, really originally, “GERONIMOOOOOO…!”
(I think I’d seen that one in a movie.)
Anyway, I was having mucho fun, growing probably way too cocky in the sky. That attitude was to nearly bite me painfully in the a…. (nether regions) down the road, but at the time I had not yet developed that sixth sense of danger-danger. I was, over the years, to grow way more wary, and leery of “stupid”. But at the time…
“GERONIMOOOOOOOO…!!” (f..k!) (I need to trim that beard…!)
Now lunch time at the local café was an absolute pleasure. Talk about fond memories! The French don’t mess around. You can keep your American sleazy drive in Burger Kings, Superburgers, Big Mac’s, your Kentucky grease fried Rat, your endless variety of cheesy Pizzas, and your grilled Big Tex Cholesterol Cow’s ass end. If you applied to any of the many French institutes of Haute Culture, i.e. catering colleges, and if you presented that sort of resume on your application… why, they would bolt the gate. Exorcise the kitchen. Madame Pompignard (there is always a Madame), would have a fit, and throw the celery at you. No chance. The French… are Masters of Good Living.
The place we went… For a seemingly innocuous, run of the mill, French countryside eating place, it was simply amazing the variety of truly excellent food they could conjure up, day after day. You positively looked forward eagerly every day to lunch. Firstly, it lasted two hours. You ate until you burst. There was wine, brandy, all manner of appetisers. The company was magnifique. The French are a cultured race. We, ordinary folk, all of us, the butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker, (and the bearded dude from Ireland), we all talked Art, Poetry, Theater, Politics, Religion, Sex…(a lot of sex)… all sorts. I was often amazed how well the French know History. They have got the average American beaten hands down. It was fascinating and immensely enjoyable. If there is one thing I miss the most about my many, many vacations in France, it is the company. The conversation. Unemployed in Dublin, at age 25, I was offered three job interviews. One in London, England, one in Rotterdam, Holland, and one in Avignon, France. The company was called Jokelson, with headquarters in Marseille. I was stone broke. I only made it as far as the interview in London by hitch hiking with a kind trucker. I took that job, and never made it to Rotterdam for that interview, or Avignon, for that one. Pity. Of the many wasted opportunities I wish perhaps I had availed of, I regret never trying for that Avignon job.
C’est la Vie. It is Fate.
We all got along really well. Especially if we had been jumping, then there was always some utter cluster screw up that everybody was laughing about.
Thus… there was the morning we were jumping a Dornier aircraft. Instead of our usual Pilatus Porter. The Dornier had an exit door sill, six inches high, unlike the Pilatus. Well, when it was my turn, I crouched awkwardly one foot on the sill, slipped, half jumped, half fell out, and caught my size twenty heffalump French Paraboot between the sill and the jumpmaster’s chair leg. Where it wedged, solidly, pinned there by the weight of my body. So there is your scribe, hanging helplessly out of the bottom of the airplane, firmly (and painfully) still attached by one boot to the throttled back, but still speeding Dornier. It was most undignified. Above me, with the engine merely idling, I could clearly hear what I can only describe as fluent French commentary. There were multiple participants, and they did not seem very happy with my little stunt. Nor did they seem to be in complete, solemn agreement with each other WHAT the hell to do about it.
Oh, Merde! Voyez ca!
Merde, merde,merde! Tirez! Non! Poussez! PAS TIRER!
Presently I felt hands tugging at my boot and calf. I felt very silly. It was unbecoming. Eventually, my rescuers succeeded in throwing the rest of my body parts out after me, and I fell away in a most non-standard exit style. Far from being a classic “stable arch exit”, it was more like a “totally unstable arch cluster f..k”. Never mind. I stabled out in free fall, kind of shrugged my shoulders, wrote it off to just another adventure, and proceeded with the solemn task in hand.
Now that task was a “style sequence”. It has fallen out of favor these days, but in them old days, it was a big thing. Watched closely by instructors with high powered tripod mounted binoculars on the ground, and critiqued also from the aircraft observers looking down. Well, yours truly from Ireland was off to an original entry, but, hey!, if they can’t take a joke… go eat a frog. My mind shifted away from the debacle, and concentrated on a smooth left 360 degree turn. Stop.
Smooth RIGHT 360 degree turn.
Backward somersault. Over… and flip.
360 degree turn left. Good.
360 degree turn RIGHT. Yep-yep.
Now for the second backward somersault…
COOL! Fuk’n A-A-A-A! One for Ireland!
Good style sequence. Satisfaction. Damn, I’m good.
Nice and stable… check altimeter… looking good… five seconds to go before the pull…
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRGHHHHHH! Merde! Fu-fu-fu…. Oh, shit…
Right over the middle of downtown Bourges. Traffic lights, traffic, buses, unsuspecting French, houses, office buildings… and here comes an Irishman, in free fall, 120 miles per hour, GERONIMOOOOOO!!!
One hurried pull. Zip, tug, tug, BANG!, one Papillon opens up with the usual hard CRRRACK!
Where… is the dang AIRFIELD gone?? A thought slowly crossed my mind. That boot hang up… delay… hanging there… aeroplane flying along… how long was I hung up??
I hauled down on a toggle, did a fast one-eighty, and, way, way in the distance… one airfield.
Below… cars, houses, roofs, office buildings, wires, more wires, antennas… all kinds of nasty.
All you can manage with the French Pappillon is a glide ratio of about one to one. It is a more or less round canopy, multi-colored, and it looks like somebody ran amok and took a big scissors to it. Running downwind, as fast as you can, you move along at quite a lick. Nothing like the modern canopies, but still very respectable. But I had a long… way to go to clear the busy town of Bourges. I was going as fast as I could, but for the longest time, I was assuming a landing in the town. I wanted to avoid a roof, or wires, or antennas. But by the time I was whistling past office buildings, with surprised occupants staring out the windows, and people coming out onto balconies, it was looking grim. At the edge of Bourges is a railway line. Beyond the rail way line, open fields. Beyond the fields, airport. That I could make the airport was totally out of the question. I would be thrilled if I could just clear the houses, cross the railway line, and dump it at the edge of the first field. Thrilled. Emotional, probably.
Onwards I sailed, moving along very nicely, but getting ever lower. People were staring up at me now, and pointing. I had this crazy urge to yell BONJOURRRRRRRR but I thought I had maybe better not. I had this vague idea that maybe the Gendarmerie would be coming to arrest me anyway, with lots of blue lights and sirens wailing, without me adding to it by insolently shouting BONJOURRRRRRRRR. As if I didn’t give a damn.
I didn’t think I was going to cross the railway line. It looked like a landing in any one of several carefully manicured and landscaped back gardens. Yup. That was going to take a whole lotta explaining. In French. I rehearsed the coming speech.
“Pardon, Mademoiselle, Je suis un imbecile Irlandais, je sortirai de votre jardin dans un instant. Vos fleurs gravement blesses ou totalement detruits me font mal au Coeur. Je suis desole…”
(I’m sorry, ma’am. I am an Irish Idiot, I will depart from your garden in a second. Your mutilated and terminally destroyed flower beds grieve me beyond words. I am unconsolable…)
An extra few knots of wind seemed to push me along a bit farther. I was getting awfully low, but it looked as if I might just shoot over the railway tracks, have a split second to do a one eighty turn into wind, and dump it on. Maybe…
Here comes the diesel locomotive! Cargo train!
I don’t frickin’ BELIEVE this…!
Hallelujah, buddy! What do you expect me to do??? Fly UP?? BONJOURRRRRRRR!!!!
I crossed the tracks descending through fifty feet, ignoring the alarmed train engineer playing the nuts cracker suit on the air horns, performed a split second one eighty into wind, pressed my legs together for a PLF landing, and hit HARD, and rolled over. My red-white-and blue Papillon collapsed in a neat pile, as the goods train rumbled noisily by. Oh, well…
I field packed my chute, and ambled back to the airfield. I was kind of nonchalant at this stage, un-flustered, and wondering if anybody had really seen that particular total screw up. With luck, they had all missed it, and then I could just pretend…
No chance, mon ami.
Arriving at the Parachute School, they were all still talking about. Together. Like, a hundred and fifteen thousand excited French men and women ALL talking together at the same time.
Incroyable! Vous etes FOU! J’ai JAMAIS VUE CA!
That’s all I got all that lunch time. But it was all good humored. They couldn’t believe that I had gotten caught up with my boot. Nobody had EVER pulled that stunt before. Well, somehow that didn’t surprise me either. Then they were worried that I might panic and pull the ripcord whilst dangling underneath the aircraft. That would have been disastrous. No chance. The thought never even crossed my mind. Then they were freaked out that I just went ahead and coolly flew the planned style sequence. Well, what was I SUPPOSED to do? (Okay, don’t answer that, I know, I should have realized I might NOT be anywhere I was supposed to be over the ground…) Then the guys on the binoculars back at the base couldn’t believe how low they had to swing their tripod mounted binoculars to still see me. (That’s how far away I was.) Everybody was convinced I was going to land in town, and catch a bus to come back to the airfield. The train totally freaked them out, and the fact that I simply kept coming, and flew over and in front of it. And finally, the fact that I arrived back totally unruffled, obviously hoping that nobody had noticed anything was amiss, (hey-ho… what’s up, Doc?) THAT completed the saga. Especially when every eye in the place was watching the whole thing, and the guys on the binoculars were giving a breathless blow-by-blow account. I can only imagine…
“He’s hung up! Something is wrong! He’s hung up underneath the aircraft! What’s happening? Oh! There he goes! He’s right over the town! What’s he doing! Is he stable? Yes, he has stabled out. What’s he doing now? He’s doing the style sequence! He’s doing WHAT? He’s doing the sequence! What? Why is he not pulling? Because he’s doing the style sequence! Over the middle of the town? Yes!”
“Is he going to make it? Yes, maybe! He will avoid the town? Yes, maybe!”
“It’s train! A what? A TRAIN! What’s he doing? Is he turning off? No, he’s keeping on coming! He’s doing WHAT?…”
It must have been interesting. The whole thing was re-lived, reenacted, over the two hour lunch break, complete with arms waving, hand gestures, facial expressions, and much ooh-la-la and a lot of incroyable thrown in.
Fun, French style. Wonderful memories of a wonderful people.
Hell, I miss France.
I can honestly say, with a hand on my heart
(hold it, that’s my stomach)
I can honestly say, with a hand on my heart
J’AIME LA FRANCE! Forever!
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on June 21, 2013, 6:56 pm