2005-08-09 : Here’s to the Eastenders !
There's a certain category of activity which can be described as “It seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time”. Wow, what a rush. A very bizarre way to behave, but a totally exhilarating experience!!
I am of course talking about the much discussed & publicised abseil down Guy's Hospital Tower to raise money for Cancer Research UK. I can't believe it's finally over !
Paul & I were a few mins late, and I think Em was having suspicions that we'd bottled out… 'Twas not the case though, and we all signed in & were advised we'd have to wait about an hour and a half before going up. That's brilliant, isn't it ? We've all been bricking it all morning, and now we've got a leisurely hour to really take in how tall that sucker actually is.
We got harnessed up, then taken up to the 33rd floor (the lifts only go to the 30th floor), and sat around for a bit chatting with the volunteers and admiring the truly awesome view. I've always said that if you're going to admire a view, it's often a good idea to stand on top of the ugliest thing in the neighbourhood – that way you don't need to look at it. Alas, we weren't allowed to take cameras up.
As almost an afterthought, we were given some “training” which consisted of about a 15 foot abseil off a stairwell to familiarise ourselves with the concepts involved. It was at this point I discovered that the gloves I'd been given had a big hole right in the cradle between thumb and forefinger, and in hindsight, I'd have been in some trouble if I'd gone down the main rope with that – being a crux point that the rope passes through.
As she was the instigator of this activity, Paul and I decided that Em was going first (although by happy coincidence that *did* give us a little longer to chat up the cute Brazilian chick at the top). She didn't seem to have any issues with this, and virtually before we knew it she'd popped over the edge.
Paul was next, and I'm led to believe that his experience was made more interesting by some wind which blew him slightly off course and had him clambering against windows, and spinning around – at least he got a nice view of the area though.
Then it was my turn.
There's something quite illogical about stepping over the side of a perfectly servicable building, somewhat akin to leaping out of a plane without real cause for doing so. I'm also ever-conscious of the fact that Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation means that I'm going to have a more urgent tendency to move towards the Earth than the other two would have done. The first bit was fine, but then it occurred to me that I was extremely limited in my options as far as slowing down were concerned. The way to control your descent with abseiling is to keep the main rope behind you and lock it off by twisting it and thereby setting up enough friction to slow your downward progress. In this case, as the rope was about 120m long it was also extremely heavy, and therefore nigh impossible to twist/lock off. So I had to make do with gripping onto the rope tightly and letting the friction of the glove do the slowing down. Thankfully we were being top-belayed (meaning that there was a guy up top controlling a 2nd rope, which acted as a brake should we come unstuck) so that took a bit of the trouser-panic out of the equation.
The most intense bit for me wasn't the first tip over the edge – adrenalin and bloody-mindedness took over that. For me it was when I was about 2/5 of the way down, and it felt like I'd been up there a while, yet looking up it didn't seem like I'd come that far. So I'm there, halfway up a building, with the knowledge that I've got to get myself down – no point in freezing up or waiting for a more opportune moment. All of that sort of meant that I was quite focussed on the task at hand rather than taking the time out to admire my surroundings, so I suppose it was a good job we had such a lengthy wait at the top.
Upon reaching the last 60 feet or so a couple of things happened – I could hear the crowd gathered across the road cheering (oh, it was enormous – there must've been about 3000 people there, I swear. All chanting “Go Frisky !”), which was a bit of a buzz. However as the remaining rope grew lighter, I seemed to move faster (less friction due to the downard pull on the rope, I guess). I was running out of options for controlling descent though because my glove was starting to heat up considerably, and as well as that my arms were getting fatigued from gripping onto the rope all the way down. I declined the opportunity to turn and wave and concentrated on the last part of my descent. Of course it all went without incident, but let's face it – dangling off the edge of a hospital is hardly the most relaxing position to be in.
Upon detaching from the rope at the bottom I noticed 3 things –
1) a distinctive burning smell, coming from my gloves.
2) they had a St John volunteer down there ready to administer first aid, should gravity have taken over proceedings completely – I didn't have the heart to check his first aid kit for a big spatula, or look around for any strategically placed fire hoses.
3) my forearms were quite tense and swollen, and I found it awfully hard gripping things with my fingers – I prayed that this didn't mean I'd be sipping my celebratory pint through a straw.
So that, in a nutshell, was my Saturday ! Great fun – not something I'd do again in a hurry – and a decent result for Cancer Research UK I think too ! Between the 3 of us we capped £1300, which means we raised about 4.3% of the target they were aiming for with this event !
Shame we didn't get the Brazilian chick's number though…
Afterwards we went for a scenic stroll around the Borough area before settling on a place for a well-earned pint. Not a bad little turnout for the day – we had Craig & Kate, Toby, Jason, Hannah, Liz, Dave, and Em's parents & brother.