Before I go any further though - thanks to all for the new stuff I have acquired over Christmas, notably to our favourite nerd for this gem.
that's right folks, as Briony mentioned, we have a Return of the Jedi-themed Christmas tree in our loungeroom. It's got a full complement of ewoks, vaders, shield generators, whiny-mark-hamill types, and our now-traditional Death-star.
Yes, that is a Darth Vader pez dispenser.
Week before last, I got a call from the best-man of an old uni friend of mine, Trevor (who is getting married to his longtime girlfriend, Annie, this weekend). Various bucks days activities were canvassed, and to my own surprise I found myself less than a week later plunging vertically downwards out of a plane. Given the recent trouble the Australian skydiving industry has had, Briony wasn't terribly impressed about the idea. Nevertheless, it's something I've wanted to do for ages, so she did get behind it. With Briony's well-founded reservations in my head, off I went.
The jump was a tandem-jump (that is, I was strapped to an instructor) from a height of a little over 4200 metres up (that's 14000 feet for the metrically-challenged). The amount of training needed to jump was pretty minimal (i.e. how to land without breaking your legs), and not too long after arriving at the skydiving venue at Penrith (in north-west Sydney) we went out to the air-field about 30 minutes drive away along the M7.
We bundled into the small aircraft, and the first surprise was that there weren't even bench seats - just two long padded foam blocks, which we sat upon, vaguely strapped to the instructors behind us. Which brings me to the second point - no seatbelts, no straps - which nicely complemented the fact that the little flying station-wagon we were in had no door, either.
This slightly alarming lack of things to keep us in the aircraft (well, I guess we were all going to jump out anyway) was a lot scarier than the jump itself, which was, by comparison, a piece of cake. All I had to do was to swing my legs outside of the aircraft (probably the bit that made me the most nervous), and the instructor pushed us both out of the plane. Easy. Ahahahaha. Er.
The parachute landing area
First thing I remember seeing when bailing out of the plane was tumbling head over heels 3 or 4 times, and seeing the plane being further and further away on each rotation. The initial freefall lasted for 60 seconds (by the end of which we had picked up a reasonable speed of 230km/h), and let me tell you, the ground comes up to you pretty damn fast. At about 1300m up (4500 feet), the parachute was deployed, and we sauntered on down at a still quite alarming pace, until we glided in for a landing.
The instructor had a camera strapped to his hand, so there is a video of the whole event. The whole damn page is overloaded with macromedia flash junk, so I'll try to post a cleaned-up version of the video from that site up here as soon as is practical. If you are clever (hint hint), there is a link to a .flv file in the source for the video page - you can download this separately and just watch the video without annoying background music.
New Years Eve 05
Much closer to the ground was the 05/06 New Years celebration. This year we were back with the crowds at the Sydney Opera House as Briony was looking after first-aid for the venue there. Briony got there a little earlier than I, and, despite the heat, we camped out at a good spot from about 4pm onwards. Coming along for the show was Tomaz, Ray, and my cousins Shaunak and Poonam (who is visiting from the UK).
The 9pm fireworks couldn't hold a candle up to the midnight fireworks, which were fairly awesome. It was a buzz to be in town again for new years, and the atmosphere was great. We waited around for a while afterwards, so I went nuts with my tripod and entered a state of panorama psychosis. A couple of shots (including a trademark pano-ray-mic(TM) photo :P :P) are below, and the full gallery contains yet more (uploaded using kflickr, for all you kde nerds out there).
fireworks and a few of those little squares of light