I've been fighting the fear of heights ever since childhood when I once had to be rescued screaming from an oscillating horse on a roundabout. How those drivers on the A2 avoided me I'll never know. In my teens I joined a climbing club and went to a place called "High Rocks" in Kent to practice abseilling down sheer faces and crawling up chimneys - I spent a lot of time quaking with fear and should have noticed the clue in the name of the location. Refusing to give in, at College I went to Tremadog Cliffs in North Wales with a London Climbing Club and was doing OK until I had to be hauled up the last stretch of a "moderate" having frozen with terror on a ledge. Again, I should have noticed the last 5 letters of "Tremadog".
I don't mind sloping heights such as you get on a normal route up Snowdon or Scafell Pike, it's the sheer precipice drops that send me into a dizzy spin. Perhaps it's just an acutely developed sense of self-preservation?
Over the years I've managed to avoid heights where possible. Occasionally, such as the time I booked my son-in-law into "Go Ape" and took his place when he declined to proceed, I've tried to confront the white knuckle terror. In that case I got to the top of the second tree and gave up in blind panic. Or there was the time I went across a Spanish homemade suspension bridge near Granada. Oh the flashbacks!
So it gave me a sense of pride and relief at the weekend to find that my Grandson Finlay who lives in Derbyshire has become a proficient and skilful rock climber, thinking nothing of scaling a 15 foot pitch solo without ropes or protection. Just confidence.
The only trouble is, Finlay was having his 4th birthday party on Monday.
Finlay's house is at the top of a steep rise and the back garden has a rock wall with iron spike railings backing onto the roof of a bus shelter and a 15ft drop. In front of the spiked railings is a garden shed. When I emerged from the back door at Finlay's Garden Party, I saw the children all playing on the lawn in playhouses and a paddling pool, the mothers all drinking tea on the decking and... no Finlay. Glancing up I froze in horror. Finlay was standing on the shed roof waiving a sword with the iron spikes and the 15 ft drop immediately behind him.
Yelling something or other I rushed past the mothers, most of whom appeared to be more concerned to know whether I'd been "cleared" to attend a childeren's party, and sprang into action! I vaulted up the sharp iron railings , clambered over the wall and stood on the roof of the bus shelter where I was able to clutch the unwilling 4 year old and pass him over the fence to his mother.
Pausing briefly to respond to an imaginary round of spontaneous applause from the Mothers and the local people gathered outside the pub and in the streets (none was forthcoming), I started to approach the spiky fence with the sheer 15 ft drop and suddenly went off the idea of returning that way.
Everyone carried on about their business and I was left standing there like a lemon.
"Would you like me to get the ladder round?", enquired my daughter.
"Er, if you wouldn't mind", I lamely replied.
As I eventually made my way gingerly down the ladder, all I could say was "Thank you, Step daughter".
This is what it felt like: