27. Go on a rollercoaster

20160731_121218.jpgFEAR RATING: 9

It has to be said that some of the challenges I have faced during this project have been perhaps a little niche. Many people might have struggled to understand why on earth I was scared of parking in a multi-storey car park or riding a horse, for example. Fair enough. I had my reasons but I see that for the majority they are standard, everyday activities. Surely though most people can see how going on a rollercoaster is a fear-inducing activity – not just for me but also for a huge proportion of the human race. Their very purpose is to thrill and terrify. Theme parks and their rides tend to be constructed around a narrative of dread. I’m allowed to be scared. In fact I’m meant to be.

My specific apprehensions about rollercoasters are multiple and follow thusly:

  1. Heights – as mentioned in previous posts (climbing and abseiling) I am not a fan of these. Fear of heights is an unavoidable phobia for 1/6 of the population and stems from survival instincts. No need for further explanation I would suggest.
  2. Being upside-down – feet go on the ground. Everybody knows this. We are designed to be upright. My dislike of upside-down is also the reason I have never learned to cartwheel.
  3. Being enclosed in one spot – the big metal restraints on rollercoasters make me feel claustrophobic. Although their massiveness is reassuring I find the not-being-able-to-get-out element horrible.
  4. Speed – as you may remember from my motorway fear facing, I am not built for speed. I am built for sitting down and having a cup of tea. The sensation of going fast brings me no pleasure.
  5. Adrenalin – not sure I’ve touched on this but I absolutely hate the feeling of adrenalin. The way it surges uncontrollably through the body and weakens the joints, sending the heart into a mad frenzy. Not for me. I’d rather have a bubble bath.
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Deceptively tranquil

I decided on Thorpe Park as friends assured me that it was ‘a good one’ (what ever that means). After a week in Brighton, my boyfriend Duncan pointed out that we were actually quite near Thorpe Park and could get it ticked off on the way back to Bristol. As much as I didn’t want to go, it seemed too convenient not to, so we booked our tickets online (this saves you a big chunk of money if you do it in advance) and read some of the ridiculous descriptions of the rides we would be able to choose from. Just looking at the pictures was enough to make me feel queasy. But the money was spent so there was no going back.

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Thorpe Park pals

On the day of the trip the sky was blue, the sun was shining and there was a feeling of intense doom in the pit of my stomach. We got out of the car and the sound of distant screams filled my ears. I turned round and there they were; great looping, metal, towering tracks of terror. Duncan looked like a child at Christmas. Meanwhile I was clinging to the car. But as I said, the sun was shining, and Duncan’s excitement was hard to ignore and even a little contagious. We skipped across the car park and through the gates. People all around us were smiling and chattering excitedly about which ride they were going to start with. For those of you who haven’t been, the entrance to Thorpe Park is deceptively lovely. You cross a bridge over a beautiful lake with swans gliding gracefully past. My spirits were high.

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My Nemesis

Our chosen starting point was Nemesis Inferno (they give these things the best names). From my research it seemed to be the least high off the ground so that was a plus. However it’s described on the website as a “Mad inverted Hell ride into the fiery pit of a volcano!” Hmm. The queue time was long so we got a drink (beer for me) and began the wait. The waiting area was predominantly covered by large, leafy trees. There was the occasional gap where we were treated to a view of screaming people, strapped to a metal track, hurtling through the sky. Dramatic music boomed out of the bushes. It was nice. Surprisingly though I didn’t feel that bad. I had the occasional pang of horror at what I was about to do but it came and went.

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Face of bravery…

Finally we reached the front of the queue. Whimpering pathetically, I made my way to the seat. The huge padded ‘seatbelts’ were lowered and clamped into place. Attendants whizzed along the line, checking them far too speedily for my liking. Duncan looked at me and squeezed my hand, which was already clinging with all its strength to the handle of my seat. I proclaimed that I didn’t want to do it. But it was too late now. A recorded message on a loud speaker was reminding us to brace at all times. The carriage crept forward. Torturously slowly it began to ascend a steep incline and I just knew that we’d be held in suspense for a few seconds before being thrown down the other side. I was right. Then at astonishingly high speed came disorientating twists, sharp bends that flung my body hard against the side of the seat, dips that made my stomach lurch and of course the loops. Upside down, legs waving wildly above me (Nemesis is a dangly leg rollercoaster) I wailed in distress as everyone around me seemed to be screaming with pleasure. Thankfully the whole thing was over pretty quickly and we were released from our shackles. I staggered to the exit and had to lean against the fence. My body was trembling with adrenalin, my heart raced and my head spun. But then came a different rush – a rush of pride and satisfaction. I had done it! And I didn’t close my eyes once. We danced happily to the booth where the photos were displayed and I proudly purchased one of the worst pictures ever taken of me. My eyes are open. Both of them. Just.

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Manic smile after Swarm

After the lazy river rapids (more my style), lunch and more beer, I found myself in another rollercoaster queue. This time it was for Swarm. The premise of Swarm is something to do with an air disaster. The area surrounding the ride is full of crash debris, upturned ambulances, fire engines emitting explosions of fire rather than water and giant TV screens that show an on-going news report about the shocking and mysterious event. It is as awful as it sounds. While cleverly immersive and perhaps exciting to others, these features served only to ramp up my anxiety. I felt very sick and eventually lost the ability to speak in sentences. We had a full, unrestricted view of the rollercoaster, which was much much higher than Nemesis. And did I mention that it was ‘winged’? If you don’t know what this means, take a look at the picture. Half way along, I announced that I was happy to wait with Duncan but I wouldn’t be going on the ride. I was a bit disappointed with myself but I just couldn’t face it. But when we reached the bag deposit I found myself checking in my rucksack and continuing on to the ride. Duncan said reassuring things to me, none of which I can remember except that he told me I could always close my eyes if I wanted. Suddenly we were being buckled in. A lady called Hazel (I remember looking at her badge) checked our seats and I looked desperately into her eyes and asked if it was really safe. “Totally.” She replied. She double-checked I was secure before moving on. As we began to edge forwards I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and asked Duncan when it would all be over. He replied that it would be less than a minute. We’ll see about that I thought to myself and as we hurtled down the practically vertical track I began to count out loud. Certain numbers received more emphasis in accordance with the level of terror. 27 was particularly horrific I think. I opened my eyes at one point to find myself side ways, looking down at the tops of trees which seemed impossibly far below me. Eyes firmly shut again I continued to count and at 39 we slowed to a stop.

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Disbelief that I did ‘that’

Once off the ride I laughed hysterically for a solid 10 minutes or so. My relief at it being over was so intense that I felt completely overcome with joy. I’m not sure if this is the reaction you’re meant to get from rollercoasters.
Before the day was over I also managed to endure Colossus, which boasts “a massive ten exhilarating inversions including a vertical loop, cobra roll, double corkscrew and the UK’s only quadruple barrel roll!”. It was as horrendous as you might imagine and my eyes were sealed for the full 49 seconds (I counted again).

Walking to the car park over the bridge and the lake, I looked back at the menacing silhouettes of the rollercoasters I had faced. I couldn’t quite believe that I had done it. And not only done it the intended once, but actually been on three different rollercoasters. Did I enjoy it? I wouldn’t quite go that far but I had a brilliant day and the sense of achievement was as high as the peak of Colossus.

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26. Sit in the front row at a comedy gig

FEAR RATING: 8

OK, I must be up front, I didn’t sit in the front row. I sat pretty close but not right at the very front. In my defence, the front tables at the comedy club I went to were reserved. Had they not been, if I’m totally honest, I probably still wouldn’t have sat there. It would have been a step too far. But for me, just going to a comedy club was terrifying enough. And if it wins me back any respect points I may have just lost, I did go alone.

Comedy is funny, not scary right? WRONG! They very thought of sitting in a room and listening to someone tell jokes makes me cringe so violently that I actually double over. I am yet to meet a single person who is as cripplingly scared of comedy as I am. I’m well aware that it’s really weird. My family tease me mercilessly about it and know that they can’t put on anything sold as ‘funny’ if I’m in the room. Not without a battle or some clever convincing in any case.

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Komedia – temple of laughter. Apparently.

Let me try to explain. This fear is a complicated one and I haven’t totally got to the bottom of it yet. I’ve though about it a lot though and talked it through with a few friends and am beginning to understand it a little more. There are two major ‘fears’ that I experience when thinking about watching something funny.

The first is that it won’t be funny. This matters little to me. Laughing or not laughing is largely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. My concern is for the comedian. Imagine standing on stage and being watch by people who have paid to see you be funny and not making them laugh? Could there be anything more humiliating? People reason with me that it’s their job and they’re expecting it to happen to an extent at times but this doesn’t soothe my troubled mind. I cannot help but put myself in the big, red, clown shoes of the comic and die a bit inside. I am simply unable to remove myself emotionally from the whole horrible affair.

Secondly, I am constantly tormented by the possibility that in any ‘fun’ situation, the people around me are not enjoying themselves. For some totally unknown reason, I feel it is my born responsibility to ensure that everyone has a good time. I’m not saying I always, or even often achieve this, but I usually try. There are occasions however where the enjoyment of others is completely out of my control, for example when listening to music, watching a film or eating a meal in a restaurant. I find all of these things challenging. Live comedy is the most challenging of all. My weird heightened sense of empathy for comedians coupled with the huge expectation of hilarity from the audience basically makes me want to curl up under a table and never come out.

Obviously I do not avoid all things comedic as I actually do love to laugh. But what I do not do, generally speaking, is watch comedy with others (as a result of reason two). Live comedy  has also always been out of the question (due to points highlighted in reason one). Exceptions are made if I know for a fact that thing I’m watching is going to be funny (usually because I’ve seen it previously alone) and the that people I’m with have also agreed prior to watching that it is indeed definitely funny and we’ve more or less signed a contract that we’ll all laugh no matter what. Mental aren’t I?

Going to a comedy club just had to go on the YOFL. I’ve been trying really hard to put this one off, such are the feelings of sickening discomfort it gives me deep inside. But when I found myself looking up at the jovial, stripped stockinged legs flapping about above the entrance to Komedia in Brighton a couple of weeks ago, I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. After an evening of procrastination reading about it online, I went inside got myself a ticket for their monthly event – Comic Boom. Ugh. Sounds awful doesn’t it? I wasn’t sure if going by myself would make the whole thing easier or harder. My reasoning was that it was going to be horrible anyway so what did it matter.

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Not the front row but not bad…

I turned up too early (standard behaviour) and walked round the block roughly 17 times so as to ensure that I wouldn’t be the only person in there at any point. The queue was full of smiling, chatty people ready for ‘a top night’ or something like that. I was practically trembling, my eyes wide with fear as I handed my ticket over at the entrance. A member of front of house ask me if there was anyone joining me (cheers) and I said no. He asked where I’d like to sit and I replied that I’d like go near the front but didn’t want to be in the way. In the way of what I’m not sure. So he showed me to a seat at to the right of the stage in a sort of booth. It felt suitably inconspicuous and safe.

The room filled up quickly; huge groups, couples and individuals ordering pints and greasy food, ready to have a right hoot. I drank a beer at top speed in the hope it would relax me a little. It did not. The the lights went down and there were flashing disco-type lights and blaring music and the compare was being introduced. He came on stage to decent applause and I began to wonder if it was going to be alright after all. He explained there would be three acts, a break, three more acts, and a headline act. And him in-between of course. Eight people trying to be funny. I thought I was going to hyperventilate. But there was no escaping now. Jokes were happening before my very eyes.

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He has a guitar. Frightening times.

It’s a bit of a blur. And that’s nothing to do with the beer. Honestly. My desperation for the human on stage to feel like they were succeeding in their dream of being funny meant that I clapped and laughed rather manically and indiscriminately throughout. There was definitely a lot of genuinely funny stuff being said though and the audience were warm and receptive. The greatest thing about it for me though was that each set was extremely short. This was a huge relief. In my mind I had imagined someone standing on stage for about half an hour being greeted by heartbreaking stony silence. But this went so quickly there wasn’t actually much time for awkwardness. Thankfully there were a good scattering of crazy people like me in the audience who happily laughed uproariously at anything. Time whizzed by and I relaxed a little more with each act. I never felt totally at ease I must say though and when the penultimate chap launched himself on stage with a guitar I began to plan my escape route. I stuck it out though and I’m very glad I did.

I left feeling elated. I’d actually had a really good time. And without a doubt I would go again. I would probably go on my own though – that really helped. Not concerning myself with the enjoyment of others helped immensely. Would I sit at the front though? 100% not. Each and every person in the front row was ‘picked on’. Nothing horrible but I couldn’t have handled it. They were so close they were practically on stage. Not only this but when they were chatting to the comedian in the spotlight, they were being filmed and beamed up onto big screens around the room. It was like they were in the show. No thanks. I’m really glad I went but the front row is a fear I won’t be facing any time soon.

 

25. Go to a dance class

FEAR RATING: 7

I’ve always liked the idea of dancing. I’ve been know to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers routines on repeat. As a very small person I did a bit of ballet. This was mainly because my mum used to take me to the bakery afterwards and get me an iced ring donut. When the time came move up to the next ballet class I remember absolutely freaking out. I’d looked through the glass door to the ‘big class’. The girls were so tall and beautiful and graceful and basically adults. I was terrified and intimidated. In reality they were probably about 8 years old but being five the idea of being in the same room as them was unthinkable. It occurred to me only a few years ago that they presumably would have also been moving up a class. But I didn’t realise this at the time and told my mum that donut or no donut, I didn’t want to do ballet any more.

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Clearly terrified

Later on in my childhood I tried jazz dancing with my friend George but I just never seemed to get it. I think I spent so much time feeling frightened about doing something wrong that I never really took in what the teacher was saying. I kept going for a while though because there was a rather good snack bar in the dance studio. Notice a theme? Like my ballet career it was pretty short lived. Around that time I discovered that I wasn’t terrible at singing and blending in was far easier in a choir than on a dance floor.

When I hit my teens and the horrendous era of ‘discos’ I could be found lurking awkwardly around the edges, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. I was equally afraid of not being asked to dance and being asked to dance. I mean, what are you even supposed to do? Where do you put your arms and hands? Are you meant to look at people? And how does everyone just ‘know’ the moves to Saturday Night? Minefield. Then came the welcome arrival of my good friend alcohol and with limited self awareness and inhibitions, I spent many nights leaping sweatily around on dance floors in Bristol and Cardiff, wowing crowds with my peculiar brand of interpretive moves. I loved dancing at uni. I was silly and over the top with my arm waving and I didn’t care in the slightest what anyone thought of me.

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Shaking it off

But throwing shapes in a packed out, dark, noisy club is one thing. Attending a formal, grown-up class is another entirely. It went straight on the list. Back in September some friends and I organised a Taylor Swift themed dance class for our friend Victoria’s hen-do. The teacher from AYDance taught us a routine to ‘Shake it Off’ and we performed in in our cheerleading outfits with great gusto. Again, just like at uni, I embraced the silliness of it all and had a great time. Yes it was technically a dance class but it didn’t feel enough of a challenge to blog about. Then earlier this month, my talented teacher-friend Kiel organised a staff flash-mob for the kids in a school assembly. We practised for half an hour a week after school for a couple of months and he choreographed a really fun performance. The kids went absolutely wild and the parents loved the Facebook video too. So I could have blogged about that. Again though, it just hadn’t felt scary enough. Maybe I was cured of all my anxiety and self-doubt through all of this fear facing, I mused…

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But then I realised that the dancing I really didn’t want to do was dancing with a partner. Eugh. That would be the absolute worst. Why? Well, for starters, it would involve being touched by strangers. Plural. I don’t like that. And I would have to touch them back. Who wants to do that, right? Then of course there’s the fact that I knew I’d be awful at it. I have no coordination or spacial awareness. I’m clumsy. On average I break, drop or spill at least three things a day. I would go in the wrong direction at the wrong time and my many dance partners would all hate me. I was certain.

In the first week on the summer holidays, I found myself in Brighton with a couple of evenings to myself. Perfect opportunity to tick some YOFL items off. I contacted my friend Liz, who lives in Brighton and is a keen Lindy-Hopper. I thought she’d be able to recommend a beginners class to me. As luck would have it, she was in fact teaching a beginners class and invited me along before I had even mentioned dancing to her. Meant to be, it seemed.

I arrived unnecessarily early at The Mesmerist bar and nervously nursed a preparatory orange juice, while watching the time creep ever closer toward 7:30pm. Had I not already arranged to go to the class and have a drink with Liz afterwards, I think I would have left. But I didn’t. I reluctantly made my way upstairs, secretly hoping I was somehow in the wrong place. I wasn’t. I was welcomed in by Graeme, Liz’s dance partner and the class got started.

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Liz and Graeme showing us how it’s done

After telling us a little bit about Lindy Hop and it’s origins, Liz and Graeme  gracefully demonstrated the sequence of moves we’d be learning. I shook my head to myself. If they thought there was any way my feet would be moving at that speed in such a variety of directions while my arms were doing something else then they had anther thing coming. But there I was so I though I might as well give it my best shot. Then they took us through the most basic step – ‘rock, step, triple-step’. Leads stood behind Graeme and follows behind Liz (the whole thing was a bit Westside Story). We went over the steps at different speeds, with and without music. When Liz and Graeme felt we’d mastered them, we were suddenly lined up and being paired off. Heart racing, I introduced myself to my first partner David. I explained immediately and with far too many words that I was terrified of dancing. He responded with amusement that I might be scared of dancing with strangers but I clearly wasn’t scared of talking to them. Good point Dave. Then we were instructed to change partners! David and I hadn’t even had a dance yet! The speed of this was oddly reassuring though – I wouldn’t be with anyone long enough for them to develop too much resentment towards me – hurrah!

The structure of the class was great – a very accessible pace and so well broken down. They’d demonstrate a section of the routine and then Graeme would talk the leads through it and Liz would do the same for the follows. Then we’d practise with a few different partners and slowly but surly, I began to get it. Admittedly, when the turn was introduced, I did really struggle. I tried to keep my apologising to a minimum and remind myself that everybody has to start somewhere. Periodically Liz and Graeme would stop to give a tip or pick up on common errors. This was always timely, helpful and never patronising. As a teacher myself it was great to be on the receiving end of really spot-on teaching. Now that was patronising wasn’t it?

An hour after my terrifying assent up the stairs, I was smiling and a little sad that the class had come to an end. Without a doubt I had made real progress and there were elements of what we’d been taught that I’d definitely nailed. It was enormously satisfying. And the physical contact with strangers really hadn’t been an issue. In the context of the class it was just completely normal.

Following the intermediate class, which I stayed to watch, we headed down stairs where a brilliant swing band (The Swing Ninjas) were playing and couples were strutting their stuff. As I watched Liz and Graeme whizz around the floor I couldn’t stop grinning. Their dancing was so full of life and fun and it was a total pleasure to watch. It was a Wednesday night but there was such a party vibe and it was clear that eveyone was having a fantastic time, whether watching or dancing.

I’m so glad that I went to the class and I would definitely go back. I’ll certainly be having a look at what the Bristol Lindy Hop scene has to offer. If it’s anything like the Brighton one, I’m sold.

 

 

24. Miss a deadline

FEAR RATING – 8

Deadline-Ahead1For the last couple of months I’ve been fretting about this project. Specifically about finishing it. By its very title, a time restriction is implied – I’m meant to be completing my fear-facing escapades within 12 months. As mid July, my impending 31st birthday (yikes) and designated deadline has stomped ever closer, I’ve worried with growing anguish about the fact that it’s basically impossible for me to confront and write about 30 fears in time. I’m going to need an extension and this has been upsetting the heck out of me.

When talking to others, I’ve been quizzed about the importance of meeting (or not meeting) this self imposed deadline. Naturally I’ve answered with my go-to babble about failure and letting people down and so on. My good friend and colleague Karl challenged me further though and suggested that admitting that I couldn’t meet the deadline and accepting it, was actually facing a fear in itself. At the time, we were staying late at work in order to meet a deadline I couldn’t face pushing back. Interesting.

It got me thinking about the pressure that I put on my time. I’m the type of person that will write a to-do list at the weekend to ensure that I am equally fun and productive. Next to each item I write the allotted time I will spend on it. This is sometimes useful. It is sometimes nuts. I’m getting better at moving away from this rigid approach to my leisure time but its hard. There’s nothing quite like crossing something off a list. It’s a pretty sweet high.

And there’s a bigger picture too. Turning 31 seems like a bit of a thing. 30 is just a novelty age really. Anything goes. You can do silly things like swim with sharks and go away every weekend and spend every penny you earn on apparently nothing and get a credit card and have no intention of ever saving for a house because “No one owns property in Spain!” and stuff like that. But when your 31…It just seems a bit more…serious.

But why? Well unfortunately there’s the inevitable but highly unhelpful comparison to peers lark which we all enter into an a daily basis. When many of your friends have mortgages, spouses and offspring, you can’t help but feel a bit left behind if you don’t. Especially if all you have show for 31 years of being alive is the 1/8 of your car that you have paid off and £50 in an ISA somewhere.

Now I’m not blaming anyone but myself for this. I made a very conscious decision to live for now and I don’t regret a thing. However I’d be lying if I said I am where I hoped I’d be at 31. I got married at 26 and my ‘plan’ was always to have a family ASAP, save up and buy a house where I would live in blissful happiness forever more. It didn’t work out. I remember thinking that I’d definitely have a baby by Rio 2016 and what great timing that would be. But I’ve missed my deadline. Rio is round the corner and no baby. And as for owning a house, well that seems equally as likely as the idea of me sitting down for a cup of tea and a pink wafer biscuit with Michael Gove.

So have I failed because I haven’t got some of the must-have items on the list of things you need to be a successful adult? Am I a catastrophe of a human being because I am unlikely to own a dishwasher in the next 10 years? I suppose that’s a matter of opinion. True, I am not where I had hoped to be by 31, but right now I am where I want to be. I love my job, my family, my friends and I’m so excited about the future, whatever that might bring and whenever it might be brought. There is no deadline.

I do promise that I will complete my YOFL to the best of my ability. But again, there is no deadline. I hope that you understand.

23. Get waxed

FEAR RATING: 8

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Firstly, don’t worry – this post contains NO PHOTOS. Moving on…

Waxing. Painful? Surely. Intimidating? Definitely. A feminist issue? Possibly. But nevertheless here it is on my YOFL.

I shall begin with a brief outline of my relationship with the ‘beauty’ industry to give some context to the above fear. I’ve never been what some would refer to as a ‘girly-girl’ (a term I loath). What I mean by this is that when many women get excited at the makeup counters in department stores, I plough through the gauntlet, head down, until I reach the safety of Paperchase. I mean, I usually wear a bit of mascara (I’ve had the same one for about two years – is that normal?) and I sometimes wear foundation now. Foundation is a relatively new departure for me though. In 2014 I actually sat at a tall spinny stool in House of Fraser and let the Bare Minerals woman do things to my face. And then I bought the things she put on it. And I do actually use them. But this whole experience wasn’t straightforward. I made my friend Beth come with me and basically hold my hand.

Why? You cry! It’s just makeup! Well, yes. But also no. To me it’s always seemed like witchcraft. In my teens I was lucky enough to have great skin (thank you parental genes) and so when my friends were experimenting with various creams, powders and liquids, I was recording the top 40 onto tape and writing down the Lyrics to All Saints songs. I missed it all.

Fast forward to adulthood and suddenly I’m the moron who’s never been quite sure what a pore is. I don’t have a skincare regime. I’ve never plucked my eyebrows. Not only that but I don’t even get my hair cut regularly. I just don’t feel like I belong in salons or preening facilities of any kind. The people in them are so clean and shiny and they must all think that I look like a completely unkempt scruff-bag. These insecurities could be something to do with the fact that I was called Worzle Gummidge for a time at secondary school, but that’s a story for another day.

Additionally, I don’t like people looking at any part of my body in close detail. I feel that from a distance, I can pass a normal but I’m absolutely convinced that if scrutinised closely I’ll be revealed as officially disgusting. Not meaning to go on about it but being left by a spouse really fed into this insecurity and belief that there must surely be something wrong with me physically.

So hopefully you can see why waxing was a fear for me.

I’ve been putting off this list item for such a long time. The idea of taking my trousers off in front of another human being and then paying them to look at and touch my legs was just horrendous. I have a great many issues with my legs and pretty much have to give myself a motivational pep talk every time I leave the front door with them remotely exposed. Anyway, time is running out for my YOF so I emailed a local beauty salon (shudder), which Beth had recommended, and explained quite clearly that I wanted to book an appointment but was terrified. Cleo, the salon owner, replied promptly with a lovely email aiming to put my mind at rest. It did help. A little. At the very least I was happy I’d made contact with a scary beauty person and they hadn’t laughed derisively at me via the Internet. Now because I’m absolutely nuts, I booked myself in for a leg and bikini wax. And not just a bikini wax: a Brazilian. I don’t really know what I was thinking. I suppose I thought if I was going to face the fear, I was going to do it properly. Also I’ve been toying with the idea for ages and I’ve annoyed every single one of my female friends asking for their advise so I thought it was time I just shut up and went for it.

I arrived embarrassingly early so I could sit in the waiting area and get steadily more nervous. Well done me. When Cleo came out to get me I immediately blurted out that I was really scared. She put her arm round me and gave me a comforting squeeze. This gesture, small though it seems, totally relaxed me. Well not totally. But I did feel I was in safe hands and that this lovely woman was certainly not going to laugh at me. She talked me through the process very clearly and gently and then said we could just try a strip and see how I felt. And I felt reasonably ok. I mean, obviously it stung like flipping crazy, but I didn’t scream or get tearful. So Cleo set to work de-hairing my legs like some kind of honey-wax-ninja and before I knew it they were both done.

On to the ‘other area’. Now I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s pretty intimate stuff but I will say a few things:

  1. I got to keep my pants on – a huge relief.
  2. I didn’t feel embarrassed or undignified at any point.
  3. She didn’t laugh at me.
  4. It hurt.

Cleo was so nice and reassuring about the whole thing. She chatted away and gave me a little ‘well done’ after each strip had been ripped swiftly from my skin.

When it was all over I felt amazing. Elated. Relieved. Sensitive. But mostly proud of myself. I’d been dreading the appointment all day and had considered making an excuse and cancelling it. Even when I was there I could have got out of it and just asked for legs, or said no thanks after the first strip. But I didn’t and I’m so pleased with myself.

Something I really hope I take away from the experience is that ‘beauty people’ are not scary, shiny sorceresses. They’re just people who want to help you feel good about how you look, and that’s pretty lovely I think.

22. Learn to play an instrument

FEAR RATING: 6

Learn a musical instrument was an item from the first draft of The List that I wrote, around this time last year. This original list, which was written on my phone, was lost in an unfortunate late night theft incident. I remembered most of the contents of the list, but only recalled this item recently.

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George and his guitar

I’ve always loved music and as you may know, singing is a passion of mine. Despite this though, I’ve never consider myself a ‘musical’ person. Yes I like it and can hold a tune without too much trouble, but anything more than this is a bit like witchcraft to me. At choir, when people talk about the theoretical aspects of the music, I try to avert my eyes and hope that they don’t direct anything at me. I can see where the notes go up and down and I have a very basic understanding of which ones are longer than others, but anything more than that is another language.

I’ve tried to learn to read music but it’s always been a struggle. Being dyslexic means that reading anything in a grid-like layout is really difficult for me and the notes jump around in front of my eyes. After failed attempts to play the keyboard and the clarinet as a child, I felt that I just wasn’t cut out to be a musician.

When I finished my GCSE’s in 2001, my brother George bought me a guitar as a reward. Thinking about it now, I don’t think that this is particularly normal 18-year-old brother behaviour, but then he wasn’t exactly a normal 18 year-old. He played guitar himself and wanted to encourage me to take it up as well. I began to learn to play it and he taught me some basic chords. For a while I practiced regularly and made progress. But then, I don’t really know what happened. It got harder I suppose and as an impatient teenager, I just didn’t push through that stage of it being boring and difficult. I just gave up.

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My germ uke

I still have the guitar and it’s a strong connection to George. I’ve always thought at the back of my mind that learning to play it properly would be a great thing to do in his memory. But somehow I built it up to be a scary and challenging prospect. A few years ago I reasoned that a ukulele might be a good stepping-stone. So I bought a cheap and brilliantly green one and had I go. Again, when it got hard, I just couldn’t seem to stick with it. It went up on a shelf and I did nothing with it but feel a slight sense of guilt whenever I looked at it.

Then seven weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook about a beginner’s ukulele course running for six weeks in Bedminster. Perfect! I had nothing to lose so I immediately emailed the teacher and confirmed my place for the following Wednesday.

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Lovely class

Arriving to the first session I felt nervous and didn’t really know what to expect. I needn’t have worried though as the atmosphere was warm and relaxed and I soon felt at ease. Josh took us through the basics, explaining everything clearly and at a perfect ‘beginners’ level. We practiced some simple chords and strumming patterns and I left feeling a little more confident and hopeful about my musical ability.

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Ukulele biscuits!

Over the next five weeks we played a variety of songs, all based around the same handful of chords, experimenting with different rhythms and strumming patterns. At home, when I had tried to teach myself, I had cast my uke aside when things got tricky but here, I could just ask Josh when I needed help. I have realised that I need this immediate feedback when I’m learning which is why things like YouTube tutorials don’t really work for me. I need to be told I’m doing it right, or if I’m not, exactly why.
I have really enjoyed the last six Wednesday evenings. I’ve focused a lot on physical activities and exercise in my free time lately, which has been great, but it was refreshing do something more creative for an hour a week. It’s helped me realise that it’s never too late to learn something new. Or pick up something you gave up a long time ago. I really hope that I will continue to make time to practice and progress now that the course has finished. My goal is to achieve the Holy Grail of playing and singing at the same time. Wish me luck!

21. Run 10K

FEAR RATING: 7

Almost a year ago exactly I took the first step in my running journey and I haven’t looked back since. In September I completed my first 5K, and two weeks ago I managed to up it to 10K. Here’s how it went.

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Struggling with training

After the 5K success in September, I had a bit of a break from running. Lovely events such as a hen-do and a wedding were valid (ish) excuses to leave my trainers under the bed for a bit. Then a bit became a lot. It’s not that I didn’t want to go – just that I quickly got out of the habit and it was hard to get back into the routine again. Especially when the weather started to become distinctly more ‘wintry’. I’m quite a wimp when it comes to being cold and wet (see Rocksolid whinging) so the ever increasing wind and rain, and dropping temperatures were enough to have me reaching for my pj’s rather than my running garb.

But then I had a clever revelation: join a gym! People do it all the time! I thought to myself. It’s easy. The beautiful fit people in their practical-yet-stylish gym clothes and sweat free faces are nothing to be intimidated by! I reasoned. I’m sure there’ll be at least one other person there who turns burgundy when they exercise. Hmm. I was a bit afraid. But, in the spirit of my YOF I did it and had no regrets whatsoever. It actually wasn’t scary at all. It was great. I loved going there straight from work, listening to a podcast in the perfectly temperate and totally dry gym while rain lashed down outside. I kept this up for a while, going 2-3 times per week and it felt really good.

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Pre-race smiles

When the weather began to improve I decided I really couldn’t justify the £30 monthly fee so I hit the roads again. The biggest problem when preparing for the 10K was trying to fit in training. My life seems to be quite full and busy (not bragging, just stating facts here) and getting the running in was proving tricky. People suggested training plans to me but for some reason I just couldn’t commit to one. I decided that the key thing for me was to just get out three times a week. So my housemate Gemma suggested a wall planner, mapping out when I would go, to be filled in the week before so that I could fit it around other commitments. This worked really well. After each run, I added my distance to the chart and gave myself a smiley face reward (because I’m really grown up like that). It really did help and I could see that I was making progress. Although, it has to be said, not as quickly as I needed to. A few unavoidable breaks in training prior to ‘the chart’ had really set me back and my fitness wasn’t exactly great. I was getting a lot of stitches and really struggling to run without stopping to walk occasionally. I kept telling myself that it didn’t matter if I had to walk a bit on the day, as long as I finished somehow.
The day of the Great Bristol 10K rolled around suddenly, as things your slightly dreading seem to do. My good friend James came from Cardiff to join me. I told him that I intended to stop and walk if I needed to but he was having none of it. He insisted that he was going to run with me (despite the fact that he could have done the race MUCH faster without me), keep us at a steady pace and slow down rather than walk if I was struggling. No walking. Crikey. This was a worry but in a way it was great that the strategy of the whole thing was out of my hands.

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Ready to go

After a big bowl of porridge we set of to find the start line. Numbers were attached, final toilet stops were had, stretches were done and then we were off. The sun was already blazing down considerably at 10am and it was impossible not to smile. I’d been told about the ‘amazing atmosphere’ and people kept telling me that this would give me an ‘extra boost’ on the day. I had been cynical about this but as we ran past the Bristol Samba band on Anchor Road, the Rock Choir in Hotwells and the family playing Greenday very loudly into the street from their house at the bottom of the Portway I started to get it. The whole route was lined with supporters, clapping and cheering in the sunshine. There was so much positivity in the air, you could basically taste it. Sounds silly I know, but there you go.

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Nearly there

As with Rocksolid, the first 5K wasn’t too much trouble. Then I started to struggle. My legs hurt. I was hot. I was sweaty. There was still a long way to go. James kept an eye on our pace using the mapmyrun app and poked me onwards when I started to moan. Which was quite a lot. I had made myself a super-upbeat playlist so I turned it up to full and tried to smile through the sweat burning my eyeballs as Stevie Wonder sang that ‘Everything was alright’ into my ears. As we reached the final kilometre marker I suddenly felt like I couldn’t do it. One more kilometre? It felt like forever and I was seriously struggling to drag myself forwards. Then we hit the city centre and there seemed to be people cheering everywhere. At the top of Prince Street I caught sight of my mum, dad and new boyf (!) waving flags and cheering. It put a huge smile on my face. A few metres later I heard someone call my name from the crowd – my friend Nick from work. Round the bend, a hysterical scream of ‘Go Ellie!’ this time my brother and his girlfriend, Libby. My legs were jelly-like but James pointed out the 200m marker and the end was in sight. As we approached the finish line I heard some of my amazing friends giving us a final cry of encouragement. And we were done.

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Medals and beer!

Almost everyone who has asked me about the 10K has inquired as to my time. At first I felt a bit embarrassed about it. Compared to a lot of people, it was very slow and I was finding that I didn’t want to tell people. But then I began to think about what it really meant. This time last year, the idea of me running for 10 kilometres without stopping would have been laughable. When I saw events like this, I felt so separate from the participants. Like they were from a different planet to me. One full of fit, healthy, happy and all-round better creatures. But I did it. Regardless of time or comparisons to others, I DID IT. And perhaps most importantly, I enjoyed it. Friend and running motivator, Andrew, said to me a few months ago that when doing your first 10K, the most important thing to do was to enjoy it. And I did.

Without meaning to sound too cheesy, running really has changed my life. It’s altered how I feel about my body, my overall potential and has continually improved my mental health beyond recognition. I am a happier, healthier and more at-peace version of myself when I run. Even when I run slowly. So does it matter that it took 01:07:09? Not to me.

Huge thanks to the many people who have helped me on my running journey so far and a wide variety of ways. Special mention to James for supporting and pushing me; I couldn’t have done it without you.

20. Abseil

DSC_0415FEAR RATING: 10

Last year, my younger brother Joey abseiled down the Avon Gorge to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy UK. The rest of the family went along to support him and we had a jolly old time on the ground, being impressed by his daring and deliriously happy that it was him and not us. We discussed whether or not we’d ever attempt this challenge and unanimously agreed that we couldn’t possibly.

But of course, when I wrote my blasted list, I felt that I really had to put it on. The fear I felt when watching Joey couldn’t be ignored. I also knew that it was one of the official fundraising activities run by MDUK.

Part of the reason for doing the climbing course last month was to prepare for the abseil. As you are aware, heights are not for me. The escalators in Debenhams make me a bit wobbly. I’m a sea-level kinda gal. Climbing has by no means dispelled my fear of heights, but I know that I ‘can’ physically be high up, attached to a rope, without crying. As soon as get to the top of any wall however, I do call down to Gemma “I want to come down now please!” trying not to let too much hysteria show in my voice.

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The practice wall

As the abseil date approached, I did my usual head-in-sand routine. I’d worry about it on the day I thought. Then two days before, I received an email informing me that due to health and safety reasons, the abseil could no longer take place at the Gorge. I was gutted. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely didn’t want to do it. But it was on my list and I just wanted to get it done. Then I got another email saying that the event had been relocated to a quarry just outside Weston-Super-Mare. I must admit that I was really disappointed. ‘Quarry near Weston’ doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it as the Avon Gorge. Plus, with the Gorge, I knew what to expect a little. Joey had explained it to me and I’d been there and seen it done.

My disappointment was thankfully misplaced. The abseil location in Uphill was really lovely. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the atmosphere was tranquil and almost holiday-like. Apart from THE MASSIVE ROCK FACE LOOMING ABOVE US. I tried not to look – I really did. Upon arriving we witnessed an abseiler making a very wobbly decent looking completely flustered and out of control. Next there was a prolonged wait as everyone looked up at a lady who seemed to be refusing to take the dreaded step backwards. Eventually she made her way down, in tandem with the instructor whom she was clinging to. I did NOT want to be either of these people. In fact, I didn’t want to be there full stop. But I smiled and met the other two ladies who were fundraising for MDUK and laughed about how terrified I was. Then we sang Eye of the Tiger and set of for the practice abseil.

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Going first

Relative to ‘The Big One’ the practice wall was teeny. About the height of my house. As I stood backwards on the edge, I wondered what on earth I was doing. I was shaking and I felt unbelievably nauseous. I told the instructor that he was going to have to talk to me the entire time please, which he did. Stepping back was horrible. But once I got going, I was ok; I knew it would be over in seconds and I felt reasonably in control. When I reached the ground, the second instructor said ‘You’ve done that before haven’t you?” and I beamed. Still trembling like nobodies business and breathless with adrenalin but feeling ok-ish, I looked up at the main event. Nauseous once more.

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Am I nearly there yet…?

After everyone in the group had come down the practice wall (one lady ended up upside down…) we headed off up to the top of the big quarry wall. In a burst of either madness or bravery I nominated myself to go first. I remembered from my shark dive that this had been a good strategy – get it over with! Various things were tied and clipped to me in a matter of seconds and then I was casually asked to climb backwards onto a small ledge and get into position. I reiterated quite firmly that I was terrified and that I would need constant reassurance. “Lean back. Lock your legs. Drop your shoulders. Straighten your arms.’’ Mike replied. Ok not quite the reassurance I was looking for. Secretly I wanted him to say “Lets just leave it for today and go and get an ice cream yeah?” Alas, no such luck. “Off you go.” For goodness sake Mike! It wasn’t Mikes fault of course. Here I was, leaning horizontally backwards over a cliff, about to make my way 140ft downwards and I had only myself to blame. Off I went as Mike commanded.

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Feeding the rope through the figure of eight device was harder that it had been during the practice. Apparently this was due to the height and the weight of the rope. I staggered backwards the first few steps. Blood was pounding in my ears and I couldn’t quite believe this was really happening. I tried to keep my limbs in the positions I had been told. Tentatively I fed a little more rope through and moved gradually down, taking tiny steps. “I’m going to take it very slowly, ok?” I asked Mike. He didn’t really have a choice but he said that was fine and that I was doing well. More tiny steps, releasing the rope a centimetre at a time.

After about a minute a new surge of panic rose up in me. When I’m anxious I get peculiar weakness in my elbows and I could feel this creeping down my arms. I called up “Am I nearly there?!” trying to sound nonchalant.

“Nearly half-way.” Came the reply. This was a lie. I wasn’t even a fifth of the way yet. I carried on. But my elbows were getting weaker and more jelly-like and I was really struggling to keep the rope held out to the side as I’d been told. Against all my will, my right arm snapped up to my chest and wouldn’t stretch back out. I tried to use my left had to reposition myself, but my right arm just pinged straight back up. It was an awkward position to be in, clenched up like that, but I had to carry on. I took a brief glance downwards and decided that I wouldn’t be making that mistake again! The ground was not even in sight – all I could see was seemingly never-ending rock.

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So on I went. When I became level with the tops of trees, I finally knew that I was going to be ok. As my quivering feet touched the ground I felt the most enormous surge of relief and pride. I did it! I didn’t cry, I didn’t end up upside down and I didn’t have to be rescued. My mouth was so dry that I couldn’t reply when Alan asked me how I felt. But I could manage a high five.

The two brave ladies who complete the challenge for MDUK with me were also doing so for personal reasons. I had been thinking of George on the way there and meeting these two and hearing their stories was undeniably motivating.

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Stepping backwards off a cliff is without a doubt one of the scariest things I have ever done. There is no way I will be abseiling from this height again in a hurry. But I’m so proud of myself for doing it. And with relatively little hysteria. A huge thank you to the team from Adventure Café for keeping me calm, and to the rest of the MDUK gang for being great. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Special thanks also to my wonderful parents for being with me on the day and giving me all the hugs and encouragement I needed. And to my fabulous friends Victoria and Andrew for making the journey to take photos of the day and ply me with ice cream!

 

 

19. Rock Solid Race

FEAR RATING: 8

First of all, I need to mention that although I am writing about this here, I actually completed this challenge to raise funds and awareness for a different charity – Rays of Sunshine. There’s a very good reason for this. Well a few good reasons actually, and they’re called The Smith Family.

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My first ever medal

I first met Matthew in 2012. It was my first year as a teacher and he was in my class. He was returning to school after having his lower leg amputated as a result of cancer. The thing I remember best is his smile. He had a really wonderful smile. And also his laugh. That was great too.
Liz (Matt’s mum) and I got chatting at the school summer fair in July last year and (apparently) I expressed great interest in joining her and the rest of the family on their next fundraising endeavour in his memory. The next thing I knew, I’d signed up for Rock Solid. I wasn’t sure what Rock Solid was. I’m still not. I think I’ve tried to block some of it out. But according to their website, this is the deal:

“We offer more obstacles per km than any other point-to-point obstacle course racing event. This isn’t a mud slog with a rope swing. This is a full on obstacle course.”

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Ready to go

So there you have it. I’d signed up to 10 kilometres of running, jumping, climbing, crawling, sliding and swimming (yes, swimming). Madness.

I’d been running pretty regularly so I didn’t feel too bad about my fitness. I’d heard that the running was very stop-start anyway, which suited me fine. The things that I began to worry about as the day approached were the obstacles. I had never done anything remotely like this in my life. Liz cheerfully recommended that I watch the video on the Rock Solid website to get an idea of what to expect but I was terrified that I’d see it and be totally put off. Finally, the night before the race, I sat down and forced myself to watch it. The video is FULL of people smiling. Laughing. Hugging. Basically having the time of their lives. I was not deceived. I saw beyond their smiles to the reality: to the absolute terror. I searched my brain for acceptable excuses to back out at this late stage. Nothing.

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Still smiling

So on Saturday morning I set off with Darren (a former colleague and Matt’s Year 6 teacher) and his wife Becky to meet the rest of the team in Exeter. We were all very upbeat about the whole thing and completely in denial about the fact that the weather was a bit on the cold side.

After an energetic warm-up with all the others setting off in our wave, I was feeling quite excited. The shouty man on the mic screamed that it was time to “GO GO GO!!!”. It was fine. We were running. Not only that but we were running downhill. My favourite. This was going to be easy. Then we had to splash across a muddy puddle. No problem. After that we ran through the woods for a while where the track became less even and a bit squishy. However, I had purchased some snazzy ‘trail’ running shoes that week and I skipped along with a smug smile on my face, saying ridiculous things like “This is actually quite lovely,” and “The scenery is so different to where I usually run, it’s refreshing!” It’s a wonder no one pushed me face-first into the mud there and then.

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And again. Just.

The first half of the race genuinely was enjoyable. I was surprised to find how much I relished the physical challenge of the obstacles. It really was exciting. I’ve never been bothered by getting messy and sliding on my stomach through mud-filled tunnels was really fun. As was slipping down the muddy banks and wading through the thick muddy water. All fine.

Then it got harder. Much MUCH harder. And as time went on and I became more tired, soaking wet and insanely cold, it got harder still. There were no signs to say how long was left. I had no idea what time it might be. There was more than one moment where I felt that I might actually cry. But the only option was to keep moving. I knew that staying still for any length of time was dangerous. I feel the cold very sensitively anyway (I’m a delicate flower) and the biting wind and saturated clothes and shoes really didn’t help matters. I couldn’t feel my fingers, or my face. I probably was crying but just couldn’t feel it.

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Water slide heroes

The thing that spurred me on was the constant inspiration that came from other people. Matt’s mum, dad and sister were truly remarkable. Liz, Colin and Lucy pushed themselves to the absolute physical limit. When others gave up, they kept going. Even when we got to the water slide (something I’d previously and naively been looking forward to) and most people were going around the obstacle, they wouldn’t walk away. They plunged into the freezing water, despite the fact we’d all only just about warmed up after our last icy dip. It was clear to me what was going through their minds and where they were finding their strength; they were doing it for Matt. And they were doing him proud. Liz smiled and laughed like a lunatic the entire time and her positivity was difficult to ignore. When I was struggling she pushed me on and I am so grateful for that. They really were incredible.

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Liz laughing all the way

Having known Matt and been on school camp with him, it is undeniable that strength, determination and resilience are characteristics shared by all members of the Smith family. It was an honour to take part in this event with them and in memory of such a wonderful boy.

If you would like to donate to Rays of Sunshine, please use the link below.

http://m.virginmoneygiving.com/mt/uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/displaySomeoneSpecialPage.action?pageUrl=mattsmithraysofsunshine

PHOTOS!

 

 

18. Climbing

FEAR RATING: 7.5

Lets begin by talking about why a climbing is scary. The general idea is that you go up. That is, you move above the floor and get further and further from it. I like the floor. It’s reasonably safe. As a rule, I’m very much a sea-level person. I dislike the top deck of the bus. Steep flights of stairs have been known to give me palpitations. You get the idea.

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Happy on the ground

A while ago, my dear friend Beth asked me to go to a climbing course with her. For the reasons mentioned above, I declined (sorry Beth). She completed the beginner’s course at Redpoint and insisted that I’d love it. I didn’t believe her. We even ventured there for a cup of tea one Sunday afternoon and she tried once again to coax me round to the idea. Sadly, I was still too afraid. Watching the climbers around the centre effortlessly scale the gigantic walls, I just felt like a complete outsider; I there was no way I could ever fit in here.

However, as regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been on quite a personal journey over the last nine months. Things that used to reduce me to a pathetic heap of snot and tears no longer faze me (quite so much) and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve become steadily braver. So when my housemate Gemma asked me to accompany her to a taster session at Redpoint in February, I actually said YES.

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Knot bad

When the evening rolled around, naturally I felt a little nervous. But it was just a couple of hours and if (as I predicted) I didn’t like it, I never had to go again. So off we went.

The first thing that struck me was the general atmosphere of the centre. We were there on a Tuesday after work and the place was buzzing. There were groups, friend and couples everywhere having a lovely time. 14 metres off the ground. All seemed to be completing death defying acts of physical brilliance that I could only dream of. I felt utterly in awe of these people. They seemed to be a totally different species to me and once again I felt the sense that I didn’t really belong here.

 

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Up and away

We spent two hours getting a taste of the very basics of climbing, starting with knots. However, due to the fact the climbing walls seemed to be looming over me, growing taller and more imposing by the second, I didn’t take in any of the knot tying business. My focus was entirely on getting up a wall and back down without screaming to be rescued. And I achieved my goal. With encouragement from the rest of the little group I sped to the top of the first wall, not giving myself any time to think about what I was doing. Once at the top, I squeezed my eyes tight shut and demanded (as politely as possible) to be let down. Coming down has it’s own specific set of terrors. You have to put your trust completely in the person belaying you from the ground; the climber has no control whatsoever. Frightening right?

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Gemma being rescued from a tight bouldering spot

I managed to force myself up a few more walls and left the session feeling like going back might not be a horrible idea. Gemma enjoyed the taster too so we decided to give the beginners course a go. Why the heck not? After all, as I like to remind myself regularly, I have been in a tank full of sharks.

The beginners course at Redpoint is six hours long and can be completed over three two hour or two three hour sessions. We opted for the longer sessions and picked a weekend.

At the beginning of the first day, I made an advanced apology to the group and instructor, informing them that I was petrified and would probably cry at least once over the weekend. They laughed and I felt that they didn’t quite get it. First up was the knot bit. This was a concern for me as I knew that the safety of the whole business relied on the knots being correct. What if I couldn’t do it? Or worse, what if the instructor thought I could do it and I actually couldn’t and ended up being responsible for the sad demise of Gemma? I really didn’t want to spend my Saturday night calling her family and explaining that I’d killed her.

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Traversing

So I listened very carefully. And every time I didn’t quite get something, I asked our instructor, Rhys, to explain it or show me again. He was excellent and extremely patient. He explained things so thoroughly and gave us so many opportunities to practice what he’d taught that I actually didn’t need to request repetition nearly as much as I though I’d have to. Once we all felt confident with the rope aspect we took it in turns to climb and belay. Each time I did either, I felt a little more sure of myself. I still had a few moments when I was high above the ground, clinging to some relatively small bits of plastic, when I felt like I’d like nothing more than to be sitting on a sofa. Preferably with a biscuit and a cup of tea. But I got through it.

 

Back we went the following day, ready to take on the next challenge. We began with a recap of the previous day, and to my amazement, I remembered how to ‘tie in’ with relative ease. Then it was time to move on to technique. Rhys asked us to traverse (climb sideways) one of the walls. After watching how we did, he picked out some key foot and hand techniques for us to work on. He explained everything brilliantly. It was all so logical and easy to follow and again, we had plenty of time to test out his tips. Next was a spot of bouldering, which was really tricky but very enjoyable. If you’re unfamiliar with bouldering, it’s basically climbing without ropes and has more a focus on skill, technique and problem solving. I firmly believe that this should be introduced to the primary education curriculum! After a go on the auto-belay device (a strange sensation) it was time to finish.

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Smooth landing

After the session had ended, we chatted with Rhys about what was available at Redpoint and what to do next. One member of the group asked if it was possible to ‘get over’ a fear of heights. I listened keenly, ready to hear the secret, as although I’d enjoyed myself, I had still spent a fair bit of time feeling frightened. To my surprise, Rhys told us that he was still scared of heights himself after over twenty years in the sport. He was evidently an excellent climber. How could this be?! He went on to explain that he’s just learned to manage his anxiety when high up, predominantly through breathing exercises. This was so inspiring and I left feeling hopeful.

I really enjoyed the weekend at Redpoint and will definitely be going back soon. Best of all, I can finally go climbing with Beth! It’s taken a while but better late than never.

Gemma and I both booked our courses using MoveGB, which gave us a whopping £20 off and will make future sessions cheaper too. If you’re not familiar with MoveGB and want to try some interesting activities I highly recommend checking it out.