What’s the most terrifying thing you’ve ever done?
Like, eating a live snake? Or bungee-jumping over a tank of narky piranhas? Or watching Miranda Hart on telly? You know – the stuff of nightmares.
For me, it’s easy:
Flying in a World War II Lancaster Bomber.
Still gives me the willies now, 24 years on.
See, I’d just started a job as a scumbag journalist. And one of my first assignments: head up into the clouds in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Lakenheath.
In the only Lancaster still in service, anywhere in the world.
I was, as the kids say, T to the errified.
I mean, I’d only just got married. Had my whole life ahead of me. And my editor wanted me to risk my neck in an old heap of tin that looked like it was held together with string and Airfix glue.
Quaking I was, as the RAF pilot plonked me in a khaki outfit and led me out to the hangar. My heart going 10 to the dozen. And when he said “There’s no navigation system, we’ll be using the A-Z” (and wasn’t joking)…yikes. I thought, this is it. I’m done for.
Now, pilot guy could see it in my face. So he looked at me and said, “Imagine you were born 50 years earlier. You’d have been in this for real, taking enemy fire night after night. Have you thought of that?”
No, I hadn’t.
Then he added: “Look, if you really want, you can sit this out. But that’s not a luxury you’d have in wartime, when it was actually dangerous!”
He was right.
I’d like to say that was when I stood up and heroic music burst out as I said boldly, “Excuse me captain – I’ve got a plane to catch”…then strode up the steps to mass cheers from an adoring crowd.
But that didn’t happen.
Nope. I just gulped and got on board. Teeth chattering with fear. Sat in the Rear Gunner’s seat, camera shaking in my hand. Hated every second of the flight (a once-in-a-lifetime experience that many would have swapped kidneys for). Then after landing, ran to the toilets and threw up all over my shoes.
And the tenuous lesson is…?
I was a total wuss. But at least I went through with it. And got a pretty good story too (I left out the bit with the vomit).
Anyway. It’s on my mind today because J Junior – my 16-year-old son – is in the Air Cadets. And he’s up there this morning, taking his first flying lesson.
I’m scared again. But I’ve let him do it, because it’s not my job to hold him back.
So, onto business: what scares the bejeezers out of you? What’s that terrifying leap of faith you just don’t want to take? That feels more scary than that ‘orrible experience from your past?
If it needs to be done…
If not doing it locks you into a crap alternative reality…
Go do it.
What’s the worst that could happen?
You won’t fall out of the sky in a rusty bucket, will you? And you won’t get into a dogfight like the brave guys who went years before me.
You probably won’t even do the vomity shoes thing.
So do it.
Do it now.
Tell destiny, JD sent ya…