Freddie left the red and white cannon at speed. He whizzed over the open-mouthed crowd in a graceful crescent arc and was quite frankly bored, bored, bored.
The large frayed net loomed up, saggy as an ancient string vest, hanging between supporting stakes. He bent his body encased in a tightfitting costume into a downward trajectory. He thought about his tea and whether Madge had got the pork chops out of the freezer. The noise boomed distortedly through his safety helmet and the last wisps of smoke faded as he descended. He tried to remember if he had picked up his duvet from the dry cleaners. He could do that when he returned his library books tomorrow, he thought, keeping his arms in tight. His speed was good.
The great gust of air that propelled him to the top of the barrel had been so exciting in the early days. He had burst into the sky, free of entanglement, exhilaration bubbling through his body. Nowadays it just felt draughty.
The net was coming up fast in his goggled vision. This was the hardest part, the most dangerous bit, far more than being expelled from the dark sweaty cannon shaft smelling of cheese and onion crisps and WD40. Backs had been snapped as quickly as a chicken’s neck, some rocket-men had died. Freddie shook his leg to dislodge his risen underpants and remembered quite pleasingly that ‘Strictly’ was on telly tonight. It wasn’t that he hated his life but it had become a routine humdrum existence. He wished he could leave but they all depended on him; though he suspected they didn’t love him or even, he thought ruefully, like him. He existed in an aspic jelly, stuck.
He touched down in the net, which sunk so low that the spectators, horror-struck yet tempered with bloodlust, thought it might not have any effect at all. For a split second so did Freddie. He lay like a plum-stone in a bag of stewed fruit before the universal forces propelled his mass out of the stringed enclave so high that he sailed straight over the spectator stand. Luckily the 6:45 from Northwood East was chugging slowly along the tracks at the exact time of the birdman’s second descent and Freddie landed flat on his back in an open-topped container of sheep fleeces. The greasy wool had caught him as securely as a baseball glove and there he lay, finally leaving at a reasonable speed.