The Original Plan – just a different Felix and a different balloon
As I sit here, watching the light drizzle, the world is a slightly different place to yesterday in a very specific way. Increasingly rarely these days do I find myself glued to the TV, either metaphorically or actually*.
I watched a man fall from space.
Myself and a lot of the rest of the world watched a human being, a bit like you and I, climb onto a ledge 127,000 feet above this planet we call home and, deliberately, step off.
The hour before had been somewhat infuriating for me. Our broadband connection becomes quite incapable of streaming live video, even at a miserable 240fps, on a Sunday evening. Why couldn’t Felix Baumgartner have done this over lunch time BST? Actually, it was only by chance I discovered that he was making the attempt at all. I had watched on Thursday when the balloon had been snatched away from first one, then another, of its moorings and the anticipation turned to anti-climax. My own reality (editing, writing, walking the dogs, boiling the Kelly kettle, washing up) took over and I all but forgot that there was still one more balloon they had at their disposal and still a week of expected unwindy weather at Roswell.
Anyway, the internet was only relaying every fourth word and every tenth frame of the live stream from Red Bull so, in desperation I turned to the BBC News Channel in the vain hope that they had now realised that a) the jump was really going to happen (probably) and b) it was in their interests to interrupt Sportsday to show an event that they were making a 2 hour documentary about. About 1 hour 30 minutes into the mission, they had indeed decided to show the feed from the Control Centre so the internet was replaced with good old-fashioned TV**.
It was somewhat frustrating because while the commentary from the live stream was good, just clarifying points occasionally, the BBC decided that Palib Ghosh needed to continually talk and explain everything including the fact that the balloon was very high up, that people needed oxygen to breath and that FB had broken the skydive record even before he had stepped onto that ledge.
Finally the BBC did shut up and I watched, heart very much in mouth, as Felix fell through the sound barrier and landed safely on the desert floor.
I thought that the phrase “reality TV” should describe this sort of event, an amazing Human endeavour that appears to have no relevance to ordinary lives other than to fill them with a childlike awe, rather than vacuous numpties mincing around, displaying their crass stupidity in a way that probably embarrasses the electrons involved in the transmission***.
The last time I think I was so held in my seat by TV was the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. I can still remember the feeling of utter disbelief and sadness as I watched, as we all watched, that event, an event that so fundamentally changed the world.
Falling and reality TV go hand in hand sometimes. Felix Baumgartner showed us that it can, and should, be a good thing.
Falling can be uplifting.
* It only happened once, well twice, but it was before the days of superglue so it all worked out OK in the end.
** I actually left the internet on in case the BBC decided that a repeat of Panorama would be the thing to show just as things were about to happen 23 miles above the Earth. Every tenth frame is better than none.
*** Electron 1: I hear you were powering the TV transmitter for the BB final last night? Any good?
Electron 2: Er, no, not me, I was in a rechargeable battery all evening…
Electron 1: How can you be that sure? Doesn’t the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle mean that you can’t be sure where you were?
Electron 2: I WAS IN A RECHARGEABLE BATTERY ALL EVENING, OK?