There was a time when my friends and I would collect and head to the nearest watering hole to exchange our thoughts on the world, women and the latest indie releases. They were good times of making plans, of it being fancy to order anything besides draft lager and of talking about women. Last night however, we went rock climbing.
I know. I was as miffed about it as you no doubt are. The truth of it is my friend Ben got a set of climbing holds for Christmas which he has affixed to the inside wall of his stable and he has been bounding across them ever since. In pursuit of our ‘most outdoorsy’ of chums, we have apparently decided to follow suit. I like climbing things as much as the next man, who was my friend Luke, who really likes climbing things, so we were set to have a good time. The issue in it for me is why people would take time out of their lives in order to climb things. We live in an age where if you need to reach a higher level, be it physical or metaphorical there are much easier ways of achieving that; either meditation or taking the stairs. There was however a part of me that couldn’t remove the opening credits of Mission Impossible 2 from my head, so I begrudgingly folded myself into the back of Luke’s Mini Cooper amidst the mass of a quarter-consumed bottles of water and takeaway wrappers.
When we got inside the fairly newly built ‘Basildon Sporting Village’, which mildly interesting fact my brother helped to mastic, we were told we had to sign a disclosure form. Nothing good has ever come from signing a disclosure form. We were asked what our level of climbing experience was. I admitted mine was climbing into bed with beautiful women while Luke and Ben fudged their way through an explanation to limit the amount of outside observation our ascents would be given.
We were then given harnesses, carabiners and a belay device. There is no getting around the fact that wearing a harness will make your genitals more obvious than Bowie’s in Labyrinth. The instructor checked Luke and Ben knew how to ‘tie on’, which is a cover for how Cub Scout etiquette the knot required to climb is before we were just left completely on our own in front of a thirty-two foot climbing wall with no crash mats in sight.
Fuck, I thought, this is how I’m going to die, In Basildon.
One after the other my friends climbed, checking each other’s knots and belay devices. It should be mentioned that belaying sounds a lot more like a form of decorative cake making than it is in actual genuine life. It’s the act of pulling in the slack in the line while your partner climbs and ensuring that if they fall, you hold their weight and stop them plunging to a gruesome but supported-crotched death. In addition once they reach the top you have to slowly give out the rope so they can repel themselves down the wall like an A-Team reboot.
Against his better judgment Ben let me hold him as he climbed. I had the incredible sensation of holding my best friend’s life in my hands. In my head the lyrics to Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time would not stop playing as I fed the rope in and pretended that if he were to slip I wouldn’t be thrown into the wall like a poor man’s Buster Keaton.
If you fall I will catch you I’ll be waiting, time after time.
Then it was my turn to climb. I flipped out at Luke twice for trying to explain to me how to tie off a line, because his instructions were like the Swedish side of an Ikea flat pack, and then I was up. Suddenly all of my qualms about why anyone would waste their time going up and down a wall were resolved. It’s actually brilliant. For people who are built like pipe cleaner replications of real humans it can give you an experience akin to being an action movie star. I was John McClane and Ethan Hunt and Lara Croft and the Spy Kids all rolled into one. I felt awesome. Aside from the fact as soon as I got over ten feet I started to shake through a fear of heights and a case of altitude sickness it was a lot of fun. I feel I should explain, as I did when I returned to Earth that I am not scared of heights, but I do have a fear of them. They are very different. I don’t know what that difference is, but it is there, and it is very real.
The issue comes when you look down and see that the person with your life in the balance is one of your friends, who no doubt probably wants you dead anyway.
I guess the lesson in all of this is to go out and try things, to embrace the things that you have a fear of, and to never forget the immortal words of Cyndi Lauper.