The Redlands Story – A Family Affair

14 years, 1 plane, 10,000ft, 1 mountain, countless lifts, beers & friends.

The greatest dropzone ever in Swindon has closed its doors after 14 years of mayhem, fun, parties, a lot of walking, beer fines and skydiving. Redlands was and still is a family, a sanctuary for likeminded freaks to hurl abuse and tell stories. It was a place of dreams, where Darrell got a girlfriend, Jonny Moulder was a Playboy, Aaron nearly got a job and people liked Benson.

Skydiving for me was my saviour. I had thrown myself into a relationship that just didn’t work and had found myself in a new town, friendless. A long story short, I drove a guy to Hinton who explained I would be awesome at skydiving; this turned out to be true. Even better, when arriving at Hinton I went to reception and was booked in by a skydiving goddess. Leonie is still a good friend today and we even had the same birthday. I thought it was fate but Leonie had eyes for Luke so I thought I had best be his friend instead.

I needed an FS coach and along came Brucie. I would often arrive at Hinton to find him asleep on a bench or on the floor next to his campervan. For my FS1 jump
he had to jump out of a Tiger Moth, which I felt was a little selfish. Safety was not his strong point and nor was speaking to people, but his unique training methods were exceptional and still are. At no point did I think he’d be a good CCI or DZO.

Stu Livett then called and said we should start a DZ. We had a safety meeting on Redlands runway and I said: “Don’t be silly, I have no money, but call Brucie as he books tandems”. This he did and the Redlands / Skydive London / Blue Skies Freefall Club story began.

   

Carrot sticks & waxing strips!

I told everyone that I built Redlands, but in reality I made the tea whilst John Friel dug channels, laid concrete and made a seating area that had no weeds in 14 years. Luke and Brucie did some digging and we still have Bryan Poole’s spade, which is still unused.

Redlands became my home. It was like a skydiving version of Human Traffic, everyone living for the weekend. It was a place where I finally felt I belonged. I could tell people all about myself while booking them in, but admin wasn’t my forte and Brucie couldn’t find a cameraman, so one day I found myself filming CCI Geordie Page. Geordie, then impressed with my skydiving skills, helped myself, Brucie and many others get their CSI, Tandem and AFF ratings. He was a great influence on my skydiving career, a great mentor and amazing at shouting my name from the office.

Beer fines were the centre of the skydive club, a system devised by me but claimed by Crazy (he wrote the rules on the beer board). We didn’t have a bar but one day an old beer fridge turned up. This needed filling, so we just started beer fining people for anything we could think of. This was on the premise that at the end of the day no one would pay for a beer, and for 14 years the beer fridge was stocked.

This set the precedent for all that followed and even though in the later years Brucie got grumpier and shoutier because he had to pay for a plane, he was always first to the bar, first to say, “who’s coming for dinner?” and he kept everyone together.

Students may only have exited at 10,000 ft for AFF but they had fun doing it and more fun afterwards. Some realised it was better elsewhere but most came back to party, catch tandems and even do a solo. This then created a core group, that morphed and changed with time but kept the same family/togetherness vibe.

It extended outside of the DZ too – if someone moved, did something for charity, needed a lift, a bed or a hand somewhere, someone from Redlands stepped up and helped or contributed. It was and still is the Redlands way. I’m amazed at how much help everyone offered and how many people turned up to Redlands-elated events. Some of the greatest nights of my life were at Hib with “Redlands on Tour”. If someone was attending a CSI, AFFI or TI course the Redlands massive would turn up en masse. This was mainly for the last night party, but also to help pack, go on the front of TIs (even Darrell) and run around making the course attendees’ lives less stressy.

Brucie or Geordie would always give a speech at Redlands the night before the course saying not to embarrass them and that we have standards and honour to uphold. Brucie, however, would then have one too many and try burning off his chest hair or would fall asleep on the toilet in the Hib bunkhouse. But Sally Uren has seen us at our ultimate best. The naked Phil night, complete with carrot sticks and a skateboarding Crazy trying to jump a stripping Andy Shaw, was epic. But for Brucie and Luke’s AFF the Redlands on Tour grew to 20. They both managed to pass, but with fewer points than me, and off we went to the bar. I think the proudest moment of that night was Jason Southall trying not to be sick and being genuinely shocked when Dan Morgan drank from the bin. Chrissy then produced some waxing strips, as you do, and Brucie had his back and a nipple waxed. Not to be outdone Dan Morgan went big and waxed his man vegetables.
The video is something to behold, the groans from butch men and the bewildered women with lots of “why”s is my go-to place when I need cheering up. Better still Dan pulled that night, and his Redlands on Tour legendary status was set.

The Spirit of Redlands

It’s a credit to Redlands, Brucie and Em that on the closing night nearly 100 people attended. That would have been an achievement for a big DZ, but for a small piston-powered DZ on the outskirts of Swindon it was a testament to the Redlands spirit. Redlands, as most skydiving centres are, is a family, and for me this epitomises the place and skydiving in general. Brucie ran Redlands in a Kim Jong Un stylie but he was never alone, it was powered by Em, administrated by Babs, packed by Jen and Chrissy, flown by Bob and Steve and had the best-looking instructors with Team Sexual Chocolate and most of the Joint Forces PJIs. The core team were at Redlands for more than 10 years, Team Sexual Chocolate the full 14 years. Redlands ran smoothly, everyone knew what to do and everyone helped out, even when busy. This for me is why everyone stayed so long; we didn’t get a lot of jumps but rarely were we hanging about or overworked.

Every November Redlands has a Tunnel Boogie, always won by Chrissy, and then at the Christmas do I would win several awards for best Instructor and Darrell or Cath would win Skygod of the Year, an accolade they are both proud of today. It was always fun, never raucous, no fights and everyone made it home or back to the DZ. Then in February, normally the weekend before we started back, Brucie and Em would organise a walking trip. Forty people would march up Snowdon in gale-force winds and minus temps. Brucie would team Benson, Crazy and me together and get us to be the first team. A few idiots would join us thinking we knew what we were doing. We didn’t, we normally got lost and ended up with Crazy crying on the side of a hill. In the evening Em would organise the troops, some would cook, some would lay the table and others tidy up. Those who didn’t do anything got nominated for the washing up. But everyone chipped in to make sure dinner was served and the beer was cold. The highlight was when Pieter Potgieter and Claire Briggs fell asleep on the sofa. Fair game at any DZ (party) and the photos on Facebook went viral. I will never forget Pieter’s face when he opened his eyes after Crazy needed me to shift a little for the perfect photo.

There are too many stories to tell, too many people to mention and far too many memories to write. But I think every skydiver can relate to a DZ in the same way. Redlands was, in essence, a tandem factory, run from a farmer’s field by a flawed genius governed by ATC. But it had that special something that people liked and came back for.

Photos: Patrick Holmes

By Dylan Griffith-Jones

Skydive the Mag December 2020 First published in the December 2019 issue of Skydive the Mag.

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