The other day I found myself dangling precariously from a rope halfway up the face of a cliff, approximately 50 feet off the ground, my whole body shaking with fear.
‘Don’t worry, relax, you’re in no danger’.
I peered down to see our rock-climbing instructor Graham smiling back up at me.
He is one of those relentlessly cheerful human beings, the type who, if pulled out of a written-off car by paramedics after breaking multiple bones in a horrific high-speed motorway crash, would give the thumbs up and a cheery wave.
‘You’re pretty high up now,’ he added. ’Just watch you don’t slip – you’d have no chance of surviving’.
It was around this moment that, along with starting a new book and buying tickets for the FA Cup final, I regretted not filling out a proper will and testament.
The reason I was in this predicament was because I was on a stag do in the Lake District.
The vast majority of us wanted to spend the weekend in a warm and welcoming hostelry, but annoyingly the groom is the sporty type and insisted on an outdoor activity day, beginning with climbing.
Now being outdoors is fine by me. I’m into that kind of thing myself, regularly walking from the front door to the car.
But climbing is a problem for as I am – and this is putting it mildly – terrified of heights.
I’m pretty sure it stems from when, as kids, my twin sisters – five years older than me – used to hang me over the edge of the bannister.
They’d hold on to a leg each and as I dangled upside down, staring into the abyss (well, the bottom of the stairs), would shout things like ‘don’t tell mum and dad we spilt Vimto on the carpet in the lounge or else you’re dead meat’.
It was a bit embarrassing as I was 27 at the time, but they’ve since apologised so I’ll let bygones be bygones.
My fear of heights is very specific and, in my opinion, very sensible, in that it only applies if there’s a chance I can fall off something and die.
So I’m not scared of being in a lift for instance because I’m enclosed.
However, if I’m on the top level of, say, a shopping centre, and there’s a sheer drop to the ground floor, I get this irrational fear that I may clamber over the safety barrier and throw myself off.
Rock climbing, therefore, isn’t a great choice of activity. But when on a stag do with eight other blokes you can’t really say ‘actually chaps, if you don’t mind I’m going to give the climbing a miss.
‘I’ll wait in the cafe and nibble on some lemon drizzle cake until you’re done’.
And so it was that I found myself putting on a harness and setting off up a mountain, pretending I was perfectly okay with what was to come and saying manly things like ‘grr, can’t wait to get up that cliff’.
It wasn’t, if you’re being picky, proper rock climbing. There were pegs hammered into the side of the mountain that we had to clip ourselves on to as we went along.
‘Now remember to always have at least one clip pegged on,’ grinned Graham, ‘otherwise you’ll plummet to your death’.
How we laughed.
This was a seriously worrying state of affairs.
It was down to me to remember to attach my clips, yet I’m the sort of bloke who, if holding a dirty piece of kitchen roll in one hand and a five-pound note in the other, will accidentally throw the fiver in the bin and then have to spend the next 10 minutes rooting through rotting vegetable peelings and empty drinks cartons in a bid to find it.
I’m absent-minded, which is probably the exact opposite of what you need to be when attached to a cliff-face by only two small clips.
The good news, at least for my family and close friends if nobody else, is that I didn’t die, though I did chicken out before reaching the top and had to be winched down in slightly embarrassing fashion, tears in my eyes.
Indeed on the way down I passed a seven-year-old girl half-way through her ascent, who looked at me with pity and asked if I was okay.
I’ve learnt, as I suspected, that rock-climbing is not my forte.
On the upside, they did serve a belting lemon drizzle in the café.