Don’t die wondering

It’s not just a mantra, it’s a lifestyle. Here’s how I learned what it feels like to regret a chance you didn’t take…

If you grew up in UK in the mid-90s then you’ll know it was all about the TV on Saturdays. From mid-afternoon onwards it was rich pickings. We were truly blessed: Airwolf, Knight Rider, Baywatch, Blind Date, Beadle’s About and Gladiators. What a time to be alive!

Running for 8 series, the jewel in the Saturday TV crown was Gladiators. Presumably we all know the format: lycra-clad athletes trying to smash seven bells out of a handful of civilian antagonists.

As prepubescent teenagers, we all had our favourite Gladiator, the subject of which was the source of many a contentious playground debate. My favourite Gladiator was Jet — portrayed by Diane Youdale.

Some 10+ years after Jet left the show, I was excited to learn that she would be doing a promotional visit to my place of work. Now an adult, I would get to meet one of the idols from my teenage years.

I was as prepared as I was excited — in other words, I did my Wikipedia homework. (There’s no harm in giving yourself a helping hand, especially if it’s freely available) I’d learned that Diane was from Middlesbrough — a town in the North East of England known for, amongst other things, the chicken parmo.

My plan: ask Jet out for a chicken parmo.

Jet came to work one evening with Hunter, also an ex-Gladiator, as part of a promotion for the throat lozenge Fisherman’s Friend. The promotion featured a circuit of exercises — presumably playing on Extra Strong words from the Fisherman’s Friend branding. There was a timed rowing challenge, a pull-up bar and one of those “High Striker” games you see at the funfair, with the hammer and the bell.

Taking part in these challenges was my “in”. Not to impress Jet, but to break the ice — I’m pretty sure she wasn’t impressed with my rowing, because afterwards I nearly passed out and had to spend 5 minutes with my head between my legs, in fear I might throw-up in the bushes!

Despite the embarrassing nausea, I’d done enough. The ice was broken, and with only minor interest from a population too young to know who she was, I got some valuable time with Jet with which to build some rapport.

She’s “still got it”. Not only that, she’s polite, modest, friendly and personable. We spoke about her time on Gladiators and her time since — during which my Wiki-homework was proving useful at keeping the conversation alive.

After the dialogue had run on for a good 40 minutes, I felt as though the rapport was now strong enough to seal the deal and ask Jet out for a date. “Diane, I’m going to be up in Middlesbrough next weekend. How about I take you out for a chicken parmo?” It was immediately met with a giggle and a smile; hiding any shock or surprise resulting from the proposition.

Then the chaos came — whilst being bombarded with questions from bystanders about what a parmo was, I simultaneously tried to handle Jet’s response to a question that had clearly caught her off-guard. In the confusion, there wasn’t enough composure to handle her response of “I’m busy that weekend.” I took it as a brush-off, and settled with the satisfaction of knowing that I had at least asked the question…

The event wound down, I got my Jet autograph and I made my way home. Then came the phone call from my Teesider friend…

“Did you meet jet?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Did you ask her out for a chicken parmo?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Well, what did she say?”

“She said she was busy that weekend.”

“So, did you give her your number so she can ring you on a weekend when she’s not busy?”

“Errrr, no.”

“You idiot! Now you’re gonna have to live the rest of your life not knowing if Jet really wanted to go out for a parmo with you, and that she was genuinely busy that weekend. You’re gonna die wondering!”

He’s right! It doesn’t matter how slim a chance it was, I will never know. I dropped the ball. What an error.

In the following few days, the resulting regret was so severe that it has genuinely changed my life. I subsequently adopted the “Don’t die wondering” mantra, and have tried to live my life by not leaving myself hanging on anything of any significance.

Always get an answer. The pain of not knowing is often greater than the pain of the answer, even if that answer is not the one you want to hear…

Don’t die wondering.

The signed picture of Jet, on the mantelpiece, serving as a reminder

Plot twist

Some 6 months later I was visiting my parents. They produced a padded envelope that my mother had opened in error — my father and I share initials.

The envelope contained an A3 sized, signed print of Jet! Missing the significance of the package, my parents nonchalantly told me that it had arrived about 6 months ago and, having opened it by mistake, dropped it down the back of a cupboard, until its recent rediscovery.

It was like opening an old wound.

There were no clues as to where it had come from. And no obvious reason why it would arrive at my parents’ house instead of my own. To this day, not one person has admitted to sending the picture…