Dreams of glorious orbitation

I'VE never claimed to be Scott Zimmerman. All the same, the world of superflight is by no means a closed book to me. Boys, after all, as Anthony Hope put it, will be boys. . . .

Remember Frisbees? Those shocking pink UFOs that people young-in-heart used to launch elegantly through the air to each other? Personalized flying saucers of the beach and back street? Well, let me assure you, those primitive little projectiles have nothing on The Aero-bie. This sleek magic ring (also, naturally, in shocking pink) is where Scott Zimmerman comes in. It was he who, on Jan. 12, 1985, threw an Aerobie 1,046 feet (in Pasadena, Calif., where else?). His achievement has been rec ognized as the longest throw of any object in history.

Now, frankly, such an exploit presents a challenge to anyone with an ounce of boyhood left in him, and who was I not to give it a whirl?

Truth is, though, that my first, and so far sole encounter with The Aerobie contained a certain undeniable element of the ignominious. I need, it is clear, more practice. Of course, the Surrey village of Cobham is hardly on a par with Pasadena spacewise, and, although the Fenester family's front lawn is Edwardian in its spaciousness and magnificent with its grassy terraces cascading down to a splendid backdrop of enormous beech and cedar trees, it does present certain hazards for wielders of The Astoni shing Flying Ring.

For all I know, the Fenesters' Aerobie could be just the first of its ilk to arrive in the Old World. It was brought, as a present, by a visiting American. Apparently Aerobies are not easy to obtain even in the United States.

The Fenester children were at school, the Fenester husband at work, and we (also visitors) should have left half-an-hour earlier for home: Scotland takes a long while to reach by mere car. But the thought of a couple of trial throws of that flashy aeronautical halo was irresistible. The eye-message from my wife (meaning Now, Christopher, we haven't got time) should have been heeded. But wasn't.

Karen Fenester, as our excellent hostess, demonstrated the technique. She stood on the flagstones outside the front door and in answer to a deft wrist-flick the Aerobie took off soaringly, landing after a fine and leisurely passage at the farthest end of the garden. A magnif-icent sight it was, enough to make throwers-of-discuses and putters-of-shot generally give up in despair; obviously such sports are now anachronistic.

A childish excitement overtook my normally mature composure, and I charged down the garden to retrieve the volitational nimbus and return it to sender. I would guess the extent of the Fenester front lawn is approaching 100 yards. The booklet about The Aerobie's virtues and uses declares that most people can throw an Aerobie 100 to 200 yards with surprising ease.

My own attempt No. 1 was middling: The Aerobie veered to the left and came to earth far too soon. We could hardly head for Scotland with such an anticlimax hanging over us. Reputations count for something.

Right, the kid in me shouted, one more go and that's it! My wife's look indicated even less time than before. But it was tame compared with her face when what was about to occur, occurred. With supreme determination I swept the Saturnian circle of dazzling carmine -- molded in the USA from premium materials to exacting quality standards -- upward and outward. I aimed for outer space, for apogee, for resistless, perpetual motion. The theme music from ``Chariots of Fire'' sounded; the cameras whirr ed in Slow Motion. The Aerobie lifted, lifted, sped away, swung to the left, and (like Winnie-the-Pooh into his gorse-bush) flew gracefully into a very large cedar tree. And there, visible only from certain selected angles, it came to rest, stuck.

Thus it is that the little ironies of experience modify our ambitions. Now, instead of dreams of glorious orbitation (and if there isn't such a word, there should be), all that concerned me was getting the ring down to earth again -- though frankly this seemed rather less attainable than licking Mr. Zimmer-man's record.

Storm or tempest was not going to dislodge it, and anyway the family would return at the end of the day, eager for aerobatics. Cedar trees, whether Lebanese or otherwise, are known for the generous spread of their branches. The ring was at least 15 feet up, and no ladder, had one been in the vicinity, would have reached it; it was so far out from the trunk. A branch strong enough to hold an Aerobie is not necessarily ladderworthy.

Shaking the lower branches proved useless. Needles fell in my mouth, but no Aerobie. Then Karen produced her son's football. It needed blowing up, but no matter. The principle was classical: If you lose a ball, you send another to the same place, and you find them both. Unfortunately there can be a catch to this proverbial procedure, which was very soon demonstrated. After one throw almost dislodging the nasty pink ring, and after another that disappeared in the luxuriance of brambles at the tree's fee t, the football, third time, simply joined the Aerobie. It looked down at us as if, Cheshire Cat-like, it were Smiling.

By this time, wives were champing. Embarrassment was mounting. Ideas were running short. We were all laughing a lot.

How about this? asked Karen suddenly, pointing to a fallen branch on the ground. Far too heavy, I said. But it was lighter than I imagined.

A rescue, of course, should be heroic. I did my best to indicate by groans and grunts that it was a Herculean effort to lift that sturdy branch above my head and tickle the objects on high. In truth it all proved easy enough, and the next moment the ball fell out of the tree and then the Aerobie. But the heroics paid off. A loud cheer went up from the assembled spectators.

The Zimmerman standard may not have been reached, but I bet I'm the first kid in history to get an Aerobie AND a football stuck on the same branch of a cedar tree in Surrey and then manage to get them down again.

Achievements come in all sizes.

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