All my adult life I've been beating myself up for not being an adrenaline junkie. You know, the kind of guy who likes to leap from aeroplanes, scale perilous cliff faces or barrel over waterfalls; and who funds his fun with some undisclosed income source that's rather more lucrative than justgiving.com. The adrenaline junkie is one of those ideals of manhood that all other blokes envy and aspire to in their private fantasies – kind of like an architect, but for outdoorsy types.
I blame Patrick Swayze, whose character in Point Break was one of the most compelling cinematic role models to fill the screen during my adolescence. Bodhi had a close group of friends with whom he enjoyed beach parties and bank robberies. They shared a rad sense of humour, wearing imitation rubber masks of former US presidents throughout their action-packed crimes.
Bodhi was a Buddhist whose name means "enlightenment" in Sanskrit. Buddhism, of course, seems incredibly cool to pretentious pubescent males, as does armed robbery. He was a surfer, a skydiver, a magnetic free spirit. Sure, he was flawed, but in an awesome way. And sure, all his friends died violently because of his rash adventurism. But at least Johnny Utah allowed him a suitably gnarly suicide, surfing the world's greatest wave.
It's Bodhi I was thinking of as I sat down to watch the first part of Channel 4's brief documentary series Daredevils a fortnight ago. The film's subject was Jeb Corliss, aka "The Human Bird", a 33-year-old Californian and heir to a multimillion-dollar fortune. Corliss earned his nickname after his passion for Base jumping (parachuting from the tops of tall buildings) evolved into "proximity wingsuit flying", an extraordinary sport whose few practitioners don Teflon flying-squirrel-suits to glide down mountainsides at great speeds, opening their chutes at the very last possible moment. The human bird's mission for the film was to fly down the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
Ready to feel exhilarated and emasculated by Corliss and his Bodhi-licious exploits, I unexpectedly found myself heartened and a little bit bored instead. If there's one thing I can thank him (and last week's daredevil, naked Arctic marathon runner Wim Hof) for, it's demonstrating that adrenaline junkies can be selfish, lonely, insensitive gits, who don't look at all like Patrick Swayze.
Corliss's uniform was sinister school-shooter chic: goth-black polo neck, military boots, sunglasses and a leather trenchcoat. His hippyish mum seemed strangely blasé about the possibility of his imminent death; as did he, admitting that he was mildly suicidal. And his only friend had been killed in a horrible accident during an ill-advised skydive. Hof, meanwhile, suggested that an evening spent dunking himself in a freezing Amsterdam canal, to train his body and focus his mind, was like taking drugs. Personally, I'd rather just take the drugs.
Philippe Petit, the inspirational, thrill-seeker subject of Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, also proved to be a sociopathic so-and-so. After completing his World Trade Tower wire-walk in 1974, he dumped his girlfriend and the pals who had given up so much time and energy to assist him, running off to bonk an anonymous groupie in some grotty New York apartment.
Don't get me wrong; the flight down the Matterhorn and the naked ice marathon – both of which the daredevils completed successfully – were remarkable achievements to match Petit's. But in order to pull off such lunatic feats of physical endeavour, it seems you have to be not only a lunatic, but an unsympathetic one. I'm comfortable being a friendly coward. At least until someone mentions Ben Fogle.
I was recently discussing fiction writing with a friend, who declared that there was no point writing a novel unless it was either as good as Cormac McCarthy, or as trashy and populist as Jeffrey Archer, and thus likely to sell "as many copies as there are bricks in the Great Wall of China." I'm not sure I agreed with this advice entirely, but it did put me in mind of a piece of trivia that I learned recently and was planning to keep hold of until such time as I have to set a literary pub quiz.
David Foster Wallace – the author of Infinite Jest, who died last year aged 46 and was widely regarded as the greatest American writer of his generation – was once in the same creative writing class at Amherst College as Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. I have to wonder whether their tutor gave them similar advice.