White Heat

As this blog must have mentioned by now, I have a number of fears which are sufficiently widespread in the general population to have (relatively) well-known words to describe them.  As so often, we take our lead (and words) from the Greeks and so I suffer from acrophobia and claustrophobia (that I am willing to admit to here, at any rate) – that is a fear of heights (more the associated drops) and enclosed spaces.  I refuse to accept that either of these fears is irrational – though I will admit that I have not troubled to calculate how many micromorts I have spared myself by avoiding the objects of my anxiety.  Having an overly good memory, I can recall some of the sources of both of these fears – Southwark Towers and Spalding each spring to mind as catalytic in their development.

By chance, I have washed up less than five minutes’ brisk walk from a climbing wall, and so I decided to try and tackle the acrophobia head-on.  I have hazarded a climbing wall once before, a little more than 8 years ago, somewhere in the Gower peninsular as part of the events arranged to mark my brother-in-law turning fifty (or was it forty?  All I know is that he is much older than me!).  On this occasion, whilst my musculature was much admired (or at least remarked upon with surprise) I failed to move any distance away from the ground – frankly, my head is further from the ground when I stand-up normally than it achieved in my last attempt at a wall-based ascent.

This evening brought the fateful hour when I, along with another seven keen students of wall-climbing, assembled to – quite literally – be shown the ropes (and a harness and a carabiner).  To my surprise, I was not the oldest student (or so I think) and the instructor was significantly my senior – so I could not fall back on my age as an excuse for failure.  After learning how to connect myself safely to a rope and a belay, and having practised belaying another, I had to face the wall myself.  The wall was some 6m (or a shed-load of feet) high with a variety of gaily coloured and curiously shaped hand-holds firmly (I hoped) attached.  On my first attempt I ascended some 3m, then 4m and then managed three ascents all the way to the top (6m ladies and gentlemen) on two quite separate sections of the wall!  Oh yes, to my considerable surprise, née astonishment, I can climb – really quite quickly and even using the wall itself as one (or occasionally two) of my points of grip/contact.  My flabber has never been so well and truly gasted.  Weirdly, whilst climbing I didn’t really think about the height at all – though I did once make the mistake of looking down from the dizzy height of 6m, but even that only fazed me momentarily.

I suppose it shouldn’t have come as so much of a shock that I can climb, given that I have long limbs and have a reasonable power-to-weight ratio, were it not for the fact that my limbs have not grown in the last 8 years and I suspect my power-to-weight ratio hasn’t improved much either.  Lesson 2 comes next Monday, so we will have to see whether today was a fluke – but at the moment all my objectives for the three lesson course have already been achieved.  The experience was really rather exhilarating with the knot-tying and belaying proving by far the most stressful elements of the evening.  Nonetheless, readers need not worry that I will now become a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie – the thrill of a well-stage play or a good book remain enough for me.  Plus, I have a week to spend in the rather prosaic activity of practising my knots using an old shoelace – so my manual dexterity may also gain a boost from this attempt to face my fears.

And the title you ask, surely you remember the most famous line from the film White Heat?

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

It seemed strangely appropriate given the circumstances, though I do realise that at most one reader will be my actual “Ma” and would like to reassure readers that no gas canisters were harmed in the making of this post.


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