Friday, March 20, 2009

Terror in Lewes

The small mediaeval village of Lewes in Sussex is renowned as the last place in England that burned witches. Grim things have happened in this village. The Guy Fawkes night bonfires are famously dark with effigies of the Pope burned each year along with other figures of hate or derision. But these pale into insignificance when compared with the terror that unfolded before me this morning.

Having consumed a reasonable amount of beer and wine throughout yesterday, I headed up to my allotted sleeping chamber at Steve Guthrie’s house. This turned out to be an open loft space up a ladder in Steve’s guitar room. It was only on reaching the top of the old ladder that I realised that it just barely reached the landing and that there was nothing at all for me to hold on to so that I could complete my journey in to the loft. After a few slightly drunken moments of confusion, followed by a large rush of fear, I nervously slid on my stomach across the floor to safety. Lying on my back in relief, I realised the horrible truth that at some stage tomorrow I was going to have to come down.

And so through the night’s slumber I would wake periodically with the first thing in my mind being the 15 foot drop to the floor below. My first waking thought on every occasion involved me being perched high above the earth’s surface and facing a sheer drop to pain. The real drama began around 6am when I woke up with a dire need for a piss. How long could I put it off for? How was I going to get down? I peered over the edge with major trepidation bordering on sheer terror. The desire to piss vs the fear of falling. I could picture the ladder toppling backwards with me somewhere around the top rung plummeting downwards on to the pointy bit of the desk, my head slamming into the wall, my legs shattered by the fall. Not a pretty picture. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t really that high but the shaking in my legs indicated I wasn’t really convinced of that. I spent perhaps half an hour contemplating how I was going to get down. What if I was too scared and was still there that evening when Steve got home from work. Just me and a puddle of piss because surely I couldn’t hold it in that long. Even another 10 minutes was looking unlikely. I was busting.

I’ve always had a major fear of heights. A totally irrational sensation of overwhelming fear that can make my stomach churn and my legs go to jelly. Up on a cliff I can’t go too close to the edge for a ridiculous fear that somehow my body will forget what it’s meant to do and I’ll just stumble over the side. Or perhaps a gust of wind will pick me up and blow me over like a leaf. Like I’ve ever been blown anywhere by a gust of wind. Even getting on to the roof of our house is problematic. Some days there’s no way I’m going up that ladder. One day down at Black Rock, while climbing up a steep grass bank I just froze. Some 80 feet up with about 40 to go, I just freaked out and became like a complete invalid. Unable to control my limbs or my will. Somehow I crawled agonisingly to the top but not without aid from Tori and a complete sense of powerlessness. Even watching Jazzy and Finn clambering over the peaks at Hanging Rock was enough to get my fear going. I couldn’t stand for them to be too close to the edge. What if a gust of wind picked them up and wafted them over the precipice? There’s no doubt that heights are my kryptonite. It could only be worse up in that loft if there were also large furry spiders crawling around.

So I sat contemplating how I was going to get down to safety and ultimately to the relief of the toilet. I toyed with the idea of calling Steve to get him to hold the ladder. Perhaps that would make the whole process easier. I knew that I would seem like a complete wuss but I was prepared to deal with that and maybe some jeering and coaxing was what I needed. But Steve wasn’t around. I edged to the side of the loft and peered over the edge, images of poor Leonard in Full Metal Jacket on the top of the obstacle course wall. “Just throw your leg over Greg” I could hear ringing in my head. Surely it must be simple. And how did Steve get all this stuff up here anyway. A mattress, bedding and guitar cases. Obviously not a man with my phobia. Perhaps I could phone him and get him to come in and help me. I knew I sounded like a pathetic fool but this is what heights will do to me. I took some comfort from the fact that a very small rock could render Superman completely powerless, but then realised that actually that was only a cartoon and felt even more pathetic. And I really needed a piss. And Steve’s mobile phone was still turned off. Suddenly, overcome by a sense of “come on, get your act together you wuss” I stuck a leg over the side and reached around with my foot to find the ladder. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Stay calm. Deep breaths. Where the fuck is it and how come this first step on to a ladder is the most difficult. How does that coordination work where you spin your body around to be facing the right way with your legs comfortably on the rungs. Eventually I found that rung and had one shaky sweaty foot placed on it. If only I can get the other one on then I’m in business. This too was finally achieved, my hands clinging to the edge of the loft ledge for all they were worth. My terror only just held in check I edged down gingerly, pulling my t-shirt away from the ladder frantically because surely that was about to get stuck on the top and pull it and me down in a crashing heap. When I finally got to the bottom, I felt as if I had been through a major ordeal. My heart was pumping. I felt completely spent. And it was only 6:45am. I shook my head and breathed deep as I flushed a strong and steady stream into the bowl. At least I’d managed to actually get down and the immediate reward was bladder relief.

The whole experience had shaken me up. It affected my whole morning. I hadn’t slept properly through the night due to fear of the impending task and then spent almost an hour contemplating how to get down a ladder that in all reality wasn’t actually that high. Though it’s funny how heights look much greater from above than below. The emotion of it all replayed itself continually in my mind for a good hour or two after. What a shit way to start the day. One thing’s for sure. I won’t be going back up there tonight. Or ever. I think I’ll just sneak off and secretly sleep in Libby’s bed. Anything to avoid another morning like that. The horror. The horror.

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