Our 16-year-old daughter Eleanor announced to us a couple of weeks ago that she intended to do a sky-dive in aid of a Hereford-based charity called Concern Universal. We blithely assumed that this was a vague ambition for sometime in the middle-distant future, but then she casually added that it was all fixed for 31 October. Now, if I was going to jump out of a plane then there are probably two dates I'd avoid: Friday 13, and Halloween. Yet she is resolute. In fact she'll probably ask if she can carry a broomstick, just to make the pictures better for her Facebook page.
Jane and I, meanwhile, are torn between pride and anxiety. It doesn't seem all that long since we were diligently strapping her into her car seat, and now she's going to plunge 13,000ft from a plane. Concern Universal is a fine charity, but among the extended family there is universal concern. Sixteen seems a bit young for this sort of thing, one of her grandmothers mused, but then last week's Hereford Times carried pictures of 90-year-old Maggie White, who recently did a sky-dive, wearing her mother's 1927 flying helmet, to raise funds for an extension to her Quaker meeting house. If intrepid nonagenarians can do it, then why not intrepid teenagers?
"I'd do it again, perhaps not tomorrow but maybe next week," the redoubtable Maggie White told the Hereford Times, and I have a feeling that one sky-dive won't be enough for Elly, either.
She has also expressed an interest in bungee jumping, which one of her friends did in Australia and loved, although just as he was taking off into thin air, the guy supervising the jump said urgently, "hey, wait a sec, mate, I'm not sure you've got your fore-buckle properly fastened ... oh no ... " It was just a wind-up, of course. There isn't even such a thing as a fore-buckle.
When my father-in-law reported for his first day at a south Yorkshire colliery 60-odd years ago he was sent to the workshop for a long stand, and there's no such item as a long stand either. He was made to wait in a corner and after 45 minutes reminded the bloke why he was there. "Aye, tha's 'ad tha long stand, tha can bugger off nah," he was told.
I'm all for daft little practical jokes like that, but imagine "oh no" being the last thing you hear from the man in charge of the elasticated rope as you throw yourself off a bridge. Maybe the moral of the story is to go bungee jumping anywhere but Australia. I have a nightmare vision of Elly somersaulting into the void after laughing at a Crocodile Dundee-type for telling her she isn't properly attached to the rope, and then him turning out to be the one Aussie without a warped sense of humour.
Whatever, it seems that we have raised an adrenaline junkie, with every chance that her two younger brothers will follow in her slipstream. After all, our youngest, Jacob, was only two years old when he performed a nose-dive out of a restaurant window, 40ft above a beach in southern Spain. He's 11 now, but I still get sweaty palms when I see him at the top of a high stairwell. Or anywhere above ground level, really. In the summer we walked across the Pont du Gard, the remarkable Roman aquaduct near Nîmes, and I had to fight the urge not to grab a fistful of T-shirt. Good parenting, it sometimes seems to me, is a triumph of sense over impulse.
But then there's parenting, and there's parenting of teenagers. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then teenagers are from a different solar system altogether. In these rural parts, with public transport provision somewhere between negligible and non-existent, most kids can drive before they turn 18. And there is, alas, a commensurate number of accidents involving teenage drivers. A friend of Elly's wrote off the family car only last week, but she loyally insisted that it was no reflection of his driving, that in fact he's a very good driver.
"I'm sure he is," said Jane, soothingly, "but you have to admit that he's not very experienced." Elly would admit no such thing. "He's really experienced," she said, indignantly. "He passed his test at the beginning of the summer holidays." Our anxiety over the sky-dive will seem piffling, when she first takes off down the A44.