Who knew? All I knew is that I had no intention of taking our son Jack, 4, up in the hot-air balloon. No way. Not now. Not ever.
"Why are you working yourself into a state?" my wife Katherine asked me last week as I stood in the kitchen reading a newsletter Jack had brought home for school.
"It's Jack's school fete on Saturday," I blubbered. "It says in the program here they're going to have a hot-air balloon."
"So?" said Katherine.
"So, Jack will see it," I said. "And you know what will happen if he sees it? He's going to want someone to take him up in it. Do I have to remind you that we are BOTH scared of heights!"
"Maybe he won't see it," said Katherine.
"Where do you think they're going to hide it?" I said. "Behind the fairy floss stall? It's a bloody great, big hot-air balloon."
It was at this point, Jack, who was having a bath, called out for Katherine to come help him.
This was not a good moment.
There are only two things in the world that I am really scared about:
The first thing is heights.
The second thing is cooking.
Okay, I am scared of a lot more but these two come to mind, probably because Katherine was also frying chips while I was ranting and raving.
"What do you mean 'watch them'?" I said, my panic rising another cog. "What does that mean? What are they likely to do?"
Katherine was already heading out of the kitchen.
"I'll be back in a minute," she said. "Just WATCH them."
True to her word, she did return quickly.
My theory is that once she had ascertained that Jack was not drowning in the bath, she thought she had better rescue me before I allowed the house to catch on fire.
She need not have worried. I had a fire extinguisher at the ready.
"So, what are we going to do about the hot-air balloon?" I asked again, getting back to my number-one fear. "You'll have to take him up."
"Oh no, not me," said Katherine. "I'm worse with heights than you are."
That's a matter of opinion.
Last year I foolishly agreed to take Jack to the top of a tourist-attraction flour mill in Launceston.
It did not look all that tall from the bottom and, besides, the steps were internal and there appeared to very few windows to give a poor frightened soul like me any sense of vertigo until I reached the platform at the top.
Halfway up, however, I realised there WAS a view. DOWN. And the more steps we climbed, the further DOWN it was.
Worse, the narrow steps were one-way. There was no turning back. We HAD to go up.
Even worse than that, it occurred me that there was very little in the way of big, thick reinforced-steel girders holding the steps up. They seemed to be SUSPENDED there in MID-AIR.
This was probably a most unfair judgment.
Those steps carry dozens, if not hundreds, of tourists every day and are obviously quite sound.
But in those types of situations, I tend not to think very logically - just as all logic deserts me whenever I sit in an aeroplane heavier than my house and wonder how the hell the pilot expects to get it off the ground.
"It's all right, daddy," I remember Jack saying halfway up the flour mill when I decided this wasn't such a good idea after all. "I'll look after you."
He took my hand, prised me off the wall I was hugging and we continued the ascent.
At the top, the views of Launceston were breathtaking.
I know this because I have seen them on postcards.
I do have first-hand of the platform at the top, however. If any one wants to know what kind of material it is made of, I inspected it at very close quarters as I crawled around it.
"Please God," I gasped, sweat pouring from me. "Look, you finally have me on my knees. If you don't let me to plunge to my death, I promise never to do something foolish like this again."
"Isn't this great!" said Jack.
"No, it isn't, Jack," I cried, almost literally. "I want to go down now. I also want my mummy."
So the four-year-old ushered the 42-year-old to safety and we have lived relatively happily ever after since.
"I have taken a holy vow," I told Katherine. "I can't possibly take Jack up in a hot-air balloon."
"Maybe one of my parents will take him up?" Katherine said.
This seemed like a feasible suggestion for five seconds.
Then reality kicked in.
Katherine's parents, Bob and Pat, are both in their seventies and while they help us out in many ways, I thought that asking them to go around the schoolyard in 80 days might be be going a tad too far.
"On the other hand, maybe they'd enjoy it," I said.
"No, you were right the first time," said Katherine. "We just couldn't ask them. What was I thinking?"
As it turned out, I need not have worried.
When Bob and Pat arrived at the fete at 10.30am, the hot-air balloon was in strong demand, taking people up for short joy-rides (I still have no idea why they are called joy-rides). It was tethered so it really didn't go too far up.
Katherine, myself, Jack and a friend, Jeanette, arrived about noon and caught a glimpse of the balloon on an oval while we were looking for a place to park the car.
By the time we got into the fete grounds, though, the balloon was being packed up.
Jack didn't see it at all.
Consequentially, it was never an issue.
His biggest concern was that he could not find the fairy floss stall.
Bob and Pat were just leaving when we arrived, but we caught up with them the next day.
Pat thought it was a shame about the balloon being packed up just before we arrived.
Turns out, she had always wanted to ride in a balloon.
In fact, she had been ready to ask if Jack wanted to ride in it with her.
As I said, who knew?
©April 2, 2001 John Martin. All Rights Reserved
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