I just threw myself off a castle wall. I hate heights. I saw a note in a shop advertising a charity abseil off the local castle and ignored it. Then this morning, I thought: "I think I will go and do that abseil 150feet off the castle battlements." I said to the boys: "Do you want to watch mummy abseil off the castle?" They said: "No." They were watching TV at the time. I did not push it. I do not want them using their dressing gown chords to abseil out of their bedroom windows next time my back is turned.
By the time I drove up to the castle I had gone off the idea but by then it was too late. I had committed the pound for parking. I signed up and was given a harness and a hardhat and took a pair of gloves from a box. The chap dressing us looked me up and down. He said: "I have two concerns - the cardigan and the boots." I looked around. Everyone else was dressed in walking boots, tee shirts and fleecy things. I had on my brown leather boots and a rather attractive maroon silky cardigan which reaches to my knees underneath my battered fawn suede jacket. OK this was not good. I looked like the impulse abseiler I was. I took off the maroon cardigan. At this point, my whole outfit fell apart. The maroon was cleverly pulling together my maroon ruffled lace top, the jeans and the boots. I decided no one I knew was there so I could live with the style compromise. I hiked up the steep hill and through the castle gates. My heart hurt. I thought: "I wonder if you can die of fright." My mouth was dry and I thought briefly about going for a cup of tea in the cafe which is close to the battlements. I decided if I did that, I might remember an urgent appointment and have to go home. I dutifully joined the queue.
The thing about doing something as stupid as abseiling is that there is always someone even more stupid than you doing it. The two man-boys in front of me had the sort of sense of humour that made me want to slap them. One of them kept talking about how his worst fear was that someone would cut the rope. Cut the rope? Until that moment, it had never entered my head that someone would cut the rope. Apparently, he had abseiled off Table Mountain in Africa. I knew this because a. he told us and b. he was wearing a tee shirt that said "Abseil Africa." Yet when one of the organisers was telling us what to do, he seemed to have no idea he had to hold on to the rope. The organiser said: "Put your hand on your bum to stop." The man-boy dutifully put his hand on his bum. The organiser said: "You have to be holding the rope when you do that." He said: "Did you buy that tee shirt?" I think he meant on Ebay.
Mind you the organisers had that sort of gallows humour too. They said things like: "Mind, not one person whose jumped off and died, has ever come back and said they didn't have a good time doing it." Ha bloody ha. And, untwisting a rope: "I'm glad this isn't my rope." I said: "What's wrong with the rope?" He said: "It's just twisted up. It's fine for other people." You are standing on the battlements of the most beautiful castle in Britain amidst a spiders web of knotted up ropery and they say: "Don't look at the knots. If you look at the knots you won't go down." You immediately start looking at the knots. Then to take your mind of the knots, they start telling you how one little old lady who jumped off the other day, went down head first, having leaned out and forgotten to bring her feet with her when she started moving.
Too soon, it is my turn and one of them attaches a metal clip called a carabiner to my harness. He then clips me on to a black rope twisted through another piece of metal called a figure of eight. This is my abseiling rope. Another clip attaches me to a safety rope which has a bit of give in it which he says he will use to lower me down "if you die on the way". There are not a lot of instructions apart from the one about putting your hand behind you to stop and raising it to one side to go. As I am getting ready to go over the top, one of them says something about keeping your legs stretched out in front of you to avoid "smashing into the castle wall." With this cheery last tip, you climb into the gap between the two castellations.
I cling on to the battlements, face into the castle and away from the descent. I reach for the black rope with my right hand and steady it with my left hand. I think: "I am going to die. The very worst moment is this moment. The black abseiling rope is slack. Almost as an afterthought, he says: "What is your name?" I think: "If he asks me for my PIN number I am telling him." He says: "Stand with your heels over the edge." I think: "Not long now then." He says: "Lean your shoulders back." I think: "I hope only the good bits flash in front of me." He says: "Sit into the harness." And I step backwards into oblivion, remembering to bring my feet with me, and start climbing down the castle walls, swinging into and away from the rocks and the ivy. At exactly the same time as I realise I am not going to die this particular morning, I think: "I bet my bottom looks enormous from down there."