At seven years old, Kent Silverhill wanted to buy a totem pole. He’d seen one on a visit to the American Museum near Bath, and there was nothing he desired more. He would be the envy of everyone, particularly of his classmate who had a plastic model of Thunderbird 4.
Unfortunately, totem poles were a little tricky to get hold of in England.
Undeterred, Kent decided to carve his own, but even at his tender age, realised that tackling a log would not be easy. His parents would certainly have something to say about him dragging a tree trunk into his bedroom. He went for the downsizing option and got as far as whittling the bark off a small stick before abandoning the venture.
This set the tone for many future ambitious projects, like the one where he planned to build an underground fort in the back garden. After excavating a hole large enough to put his foot in, he came to the conclusion he wasn’t cut out for manual labour and his dream of living in subterranean luxury came to an end.
One project which actually bore fruit was the building of a hang glider when he was fifteen. He teamed up with a couple of friends and they embarked on the project with plenty of enthusiasm but little skill. They found some sturdy lengths of bamboo to use for spars, an enormous sheet of builder’s plastic to use for the covering, and several balls of string to lash the lot together. A fine wing was constructed and carried ceremoniously to a nearby park, which was to serve as the launching ground. At one end of the playing field there was a steep bank about twenty feet high, and on the day of the test flight there was a strong breeze blowing up it. The would-be aviators took a long look at the contraption they had made, and two of them were rather relieved when Kent volunteered to be the test pilot.
It was only when he stood at the top of the bank, holding the wing above his head and grasping the main spar in his hands, that Kent had his first misgivings.
How was he going to steer the thing?
His friends assured him all he had to do was go in a straight line. There were no obstacles in front for quite some distance, and there was no need to turn. All that was required was to descend gently. Reassured, he ran forward a few steps and launched himself off the top of the bank.
Instead of sailing gracefully down the slope, he rose a little and edged forward against the breeze. His friends’ faces turned up towards him as he floated forth and the ground dropped away below his feet.
His earlier misgivings came rushing back. The ground looked awfully far away. How was he going to guide his wing to a lower altitude?
He was saved from making any attempts at aerial navigation by a disconcerting noise from the main spar. The strain had proved too much, and the bamboo had cracked. Kent and his fragile craft plummeted to the ground.
He landed on his rear end but miraculously escaped major injury. Rubbing his bruised posterior, he hobbled home and never went hang gliding again.
On leaving school he spent some time dithering about what to do next, then started a series of jobs including working as a waiter at a drive-in roadhouse, a supervisor in a plastics moulding factory and a layer of brick paving. During this time, he studied engineering and became an Industrial Engineer. Later he changed careers and became one of the “turn it off and on again” brigade.
In the workplace, he learnt more about what makes humans tick than he had anywhere else in his life before. He realised people have a lot more in common than they have differences.
Now, with three grown-up children and two cats, he thinks he just might grow up too.