Jonny McCambridge: When hopes soar high, just like the kite

There’s nothing more demoralising than having your hopes raised, only to be let down by the realities of life.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 5:00 am

It’s like every time I get a call on my mobile from an unknown English number. Against all reason, there’s always a part of me that believes that it might be good news. Perhaps some publishing giant has noticed one of my stories and is calling spontaneously to offer me a million-pound book deal.

Which makes it all the more bitter when it inevitably turns out to be someone asking if I’ve been in an accident in the past five years.

And that’s how I’ve felt about kites from childhood.

I’ve always been enchanted by the concept and intoxicated by the possibilities of controlling a gracefully soaring object high above the tips of the trees.

But experience has taught me that they never work.

I endured a series of disappointments with kites as a child, both amateurishly homemade ones and cheap, garishly coloured items bought from shops.

The story was always the same. A confusing, untidy mass of sticks, string and plastic which stubbornly refuses to go into the sky.

Foolishly I’ve run along beaches and fields trailing the limp objects behind me, like a reluctant dog being taken for a walk. Occasionally a gust of wind might lift it a few feet into the air, bringing howls of excitement, only for it to crash back onto the ground seconds later, limp and flaccid, like a seagull which has been shot with a rifle.

And then I end up throwing the cheap kite away, recording it as just another of life’s broken promises; another little bit of innocence lost.

Now, I’m not suggesting here, as a blanket statement, that kites don’t work. I’m not saying the whole concept is a complicated hoax. Of course, people who know what they are doing, and who have a properly made kite, can enjoy the hobby quite successfully.

It’s just that, for a child, the practice was not immediately accessible. It never worked quickly or well. Therefore, it gets recorded as a misadventure. It’s one of the many things which is just not as good as you hoped it would be.

And now, as a parent, the story has continued with the same narrative.

A few years ago, I bought my son a kite. It was a complicated looking creation, painted with eyes and bared teeth. He was full of excitement as I began running along Newcastle beach.

But within five minutes he had abandoned it and was off collecting pebbles as I vainly tried to convince the wretched article to soar above ankle height. There was plenty of wind, but it made no difference.

The fact that there was another father on the beach dazzling his children by controlling a flying drone only increased my sense of inadequacy and witlessness.

It was bad enough when I couldn’t get a kite to work for myself. But the wound is left even more raw when I’m trying to explain to my own boy why I can’t get the kite off the sand.

Which meant that I was left with a queasy feeling in my stomach when my son came home from school to tell me that his class would be making kites the next day. I didn’t want his hopes to soar, knowing they would inevitably end up crashing to the ground, just like the kite.

But I didn’t say this to him, and when he returned the next day, bursting with pride at the Mr Men design he had drawn on his little white kite, I smiled and told him it was wonderful.

And, naturally, he wanted to see it fly immediately. So, we undertook the short drive to the forest park.

As we were walking to the green area my little boy talked incessantly to his mother about his pride in the kite, showing it to her again and again. I walked a step or two behind, already mentally rehearsing what I would say to him when it didn’t work.

We walked into the middle of the field. My son handed me the kite, grinning nervously. I examined the object - small, white, triangular, held together by sticks and with long ribbons sweeping out below. It looked like a well-made kite.

I unravelled the string as I felt the wind begin to rise. Then I started to run. I ran for some time before I looked back.

When I did the kite was high in the air. Very, very high.

And what’s more, it stayed there.

My son danced below it with unbounded joy.

We stayed in the field for a long time. The kite flew high for me. It flew high for my wife. And, most importantly, it flew high for my son.

It was almost too successful. At one point it was being pulled so forcefully by the wind that my son seemed to think he was going to be lifted into the air alongside it and yelled ‘Daddy, I’m scared!’

But I was quickly beside him to hold his hand and tell him that he was doing brilliantly.

Over and over I kept repeating to nobody: ‘It works, it really bloody works.’

Even after my son had got bored and decided he wanted to go to McDonald’s, I was still running around with the kite, until sweat stained my shirt.

Then we left the field, feeling a little bit more satisfied with ourselves than the mere flying of a kite probably warrants.

And as we walked back to the car my mind was full of thoughts. There are many things in life which don’t turn out the way you hope and it’s all too easy to become cynical and fearful. But every so often something does happen just the way you wanted. Then you might see your little boy dancing with joy. And the world seems to be a slightly better place.

As we got back to our car, we met the mother of another child who is in my son’s year at school. She greeted us and noticed me holding the kite.

‘We took ours out earlier, and it really works!’

‘Yes,’ I responded. ‘Yes, it does.’

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Alistair Bushe