As I walked down the ward, there he was, sat up in a high backed chair, his left arm draped across a pillow on a large tray clipped into the chair – the whole scene taking on a curious time lapse quality that had seemingly taken him back to childhood. The team had put him in the chair using a hoist and a complex series of movement restricting straps.
‘Show him what you can do with your leg, Alan,’ said Jo. Dad somewhat theatrically waves his right leg in mid-air, the surgical gown riding up like a can-can girl from the Carnival of Freaks. ‘Not that one!’ He was smiling, his eyes and face already notably brighter than yesterday.
“I’m going to take a penalty*,” he said. I looked down, his face a picture of contorted focus… nothing. Then, after a handful of seconds that hung in the air like an hour, his left leg sharply snapped out and back from the knee; a sudden spike of electricity. “Oh, bugger… I missed.” Smiles all around, none of them broader than that belonging to my step-mother, eyes now welling with happier tears, sat a few feet away. We were all hugely encouraged, but this was still only the beginning of the long road ahead.
I had to hear the slightly disconnected story of being meticulously restrained in the hoist that had landed him in the chair. “I thought they were strapping me into a parachute and putting me in a bomber over Germany.”
My dad. Alan. He was born in 1933, in Bristol: due to it’s aircraft industry, one of the cities notoriously blitzed during the course of the Second World War. I know the experience had a profound affect on him as a child, but it’s not something he really talks about. He spent his entire working life at the BAC [the British Aircraft Corporation]; mostly as a gifted toolmaker, and in his later years, with flight operations. One of his tasks… packing parachutes. He’s never jumped out of a plane, though, with or without one… until now.