Dom Joly: How I became the incredible flying sailor

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The Independent Online

"We've no time," shouted our Finnish fixer. "The ceremony is under way!"

He bundled Alan and I into a mini-van. There had been some mix-up at my office back in London regarding what this "ceremony" was about. Someone had read something about sailors' caps and had decided to provide me with a complete sailor's outfit. I clumsily changed into it as our driver roared off.

Having managed to barge through thousands of drunken Finns he eventually deposited us at the port, near an enormous statue of a naked woman.

An Amazonesque lady marched up, screaming. Everyone was screaming at me here. "You are late, this is a very big honour for you, why are you late?"

I stammered an apology as she started attaching a rudimentary harness around me. Above us loomed an enormous crane. Alan, my trusty lion, sat rather forlornly next to me. It had been a long trip and he was tired... so goddam tired.

The place was jammed full of Finns dancing and drinking. Nearby, on top of an antique red bus, a motley collection of musicians started playing an oompah tune. Had someone slipped something hallucinogenic into one of my vodkas on the train?

And then I was lifted up, and swung round and round like a demented conker.

"What ship are you from?" shouted an energetic local TV reporter, thrusting a microphone at me.

"HMS Dimwit," I replied, trying to keep my head higher than my feet.

"How are you finding Finland?"

"Turn left at Estonia," I replied, feeling - for a brief moment - rather pleased with myself.

Then the crane gunned into action and I was whisked high up into the Helsinki air and over the statue of the naked woman. The crowd, about 100,000-strong at a guess, roared their appreciation, tempered with confusion as to why there was a large sailor dangling over the centre of their city.

This was an annual event in which graduating Finnish students congregate in the centre of their capital and some of their number, dangling from a crane, first wash and then place a cap on the head of the statue of the naked woman. When the cap is eventually placed, everyone in Helsinki puts on their own rather camp nautical cap and goes mental.

I looked down towards Alan but he was hidden from view by a swarm of photographers who had taken up position in the hope that the very thin rope holding me aloft might snap, and I would plummet to my death in a very public manner. I could see the headlines: "Minor TV comedian falls to his death in Helsinki aerial naval disaster; lion survives."

The harness was badly attached and was starting to cut off my blood supply. I could feel myself going blue as I swung round and round 40ft above the centre of Helsinki. People were starting to throw missiles at me. I couldn't make out what they were. Some were soft and liquid on impact while others were harder and hurt more. I wondered if I would be conscious at the moment of death. Maybe I'd just slip away. How would all this be explained to my children?

Below me, something important had happened. Everyone was dancing and kissing and throwing hats in the air as I spun around faster and faster, temporarily forgotten by the world beneath my feet.

After what seemed like a thousand prickly hours I felt the welcome jerk of the crane and I was lowered down. As my feet hit the cobbles I collapsed on to Alan who seemed completely unperturbed.

I woke this morning to find Alan and I on the cover of all four Finnish newspapers. I'm coming home tomorrow, it's all been a bit much. Alan has decided to stay here, it's his kind of town. s