Cliff Jumpers

“If Billy jumped off a cliff, would you jump off it too?”
The correct answer was always, “No, mom. Sorry mom”, as she washed off the mud and wiped away the blood from our most recent misadventure.
The truthful answer was, “Yes, of course I would”.
Billy and I would follow each other into the jaws of hell if seemed like a good idea at the time; and we’d be jostling each other on the way to see who could get there first.
Of course I’d jump off a cliff if he jumped off one, only I’d try to find a higher one. So would he.
Or we’d jump off it together.
The best cliff we jumped off formed one wall of a flooded quarry near Tamworth in Staffordshire. Perhaps 10-12 metres above the water (32-40 feet in the old money) it rose more or less vertically above the surface.
Our SCUBA diving club used the quarry on weekends for practice and training. Like a small lake, it was about 60 feet to the bottom at the deepest part. Cliff-like quarry walls enclosed it on three sides like a horseshoe. The foot of our cliff lay around 30 feet or so below the surface. So standing at the top, you looked down thirty-odd feet to the surface of the water which went down another 30 feet underwater to the bottom of the cliff.
The temptation was irresistable.
We’d both gone off the 30 foot diving board at the local swimming baths several times before, so the height was not much of an issue. Neither was the depth of the water – in fact the deeper the better when you’re hitting it from that height.
No, the issue was where the cliff face met the surface. Over the years, the face of the cliff above the waterline had weathered and massive chunks had broken off. This meant the cliff face had eroded and receded above the surface forming a shelf at the waterline. Further rock falls had left a narrow beach of rubble and broken boulders on the shelf.
The idea was that you ran as fast as you could towards the edge and launched yourself into space, hoping that you had enough forward momentum to carry you over the rocky beach to plunge safely into the dark waters beyond.
So far, so good. We became cliff jumpers.
Then one weekend we found someone had rigged a brilliant flying-fox type zipline over the flooded quarry. The cable was attached about 10 feet up a big tree at the top of our cliff and descended steeply across the lake to the trunk of a tree on the lower open side of the horseshoe opposite.
You needed someone to lift you up so you could grab the zipline handle and then give you a push off. It went fast. You had to time your drop carefully and let go when you were still travelling fast a few feet above the surface of the water to avoid smashing into the bank and anchor tree at the bottom. The splash you made as you hit the water was most satisfying.
Could it get any better? Well, yes.
I can’t remember whether it was Billy or me who came up with idea first. I’d be the Catcher and Billy would be the Flyer, like circus trapeze artists. I would hold onto the trapeze-like bar of the zipline handle and Billy would hold onto my dangling legs. Then he would run us to the edge of the cliff and push off and we’d sail across the lake with me hanging onto the trapeze and him hanging onto my legs. 
It relied a lot on trust. And we did trust each other, even though Billy had shot me a couple of times in the past.
We’d have to time our dismounts so that he would let go a fraction before you’d normally do it and take a higher plunge into the water, and I’d let go one second later while I was still over deep enough water but far enough along so I wouldn’t land on him.
It was great in theory. 
And it would have been great in practice, except for one small thing – life ain’t like the movies.
In the movies the hero can fall off a roof and be left hanging onto a flagpole by one hand, or be thrown off a cliff and save himself by grabbing a slender branch.
It doesn’t work that way in real life, as I was to find out again many years later when I did fall off a roof.
Billy began his run and I tightened my grip. When we got to the edge, he leapt forward and we began our swoop down. A fraction of a second later it all went pear-shaped.
As Billy did his grand leap, he jumped upwards a bit. Then he came down. Suddenly his full weight came onto my legs. It was too much. My cold and wet hands couldn’t keep their hold on the greasy, slippery bar and the sudden jerk of Billy’s weight broke my grip.
We had barely gone a couple of feet forward when we started our plummet downwards.
It only took a second or two to complete the almost vertical descent, locked together and beginning to tumble in the air. Even so, I still had time to wonder whether we had enough forward momentum to carry us clear of the rocky shelf below. I didn’t have time to wonder what would happen if we didn’t.
But we did, just, and the cold water closed over our tangled bodies only inches past the rocks.
Sorry, mom.

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