“Yeah, we’re abseiling down a wall for charity,” explained Tony. “It’s a big’un, about 200 feet. An old warehouse on an industrial estate. The Fire Brigade have organised it. I’ve put your name down, now it’s up to you to collect sponsors. And money of course - it’s going to a cancer charity in memory of Robbie.”
“Sounds like fun, what date did you say?” replied Bryan, thankful that they were speaking on the ’phone.
“May 20th. That gives you about four weeks to sign up loads of sponsors. And try to get the money up front. I’ll bring the sponsorship form over tonight.”
“Great. See you then,” said Bryan, severing contact by snapping his mobile closed.
“Great, just great,” he repeated under his breath. For there was nothing Bryan disliked more than heights. Well, perhaps there were a few things. He wasn’t too keen on Brussels sprouts or Elvis Presley, but then again neither of those were life-threatening. Abseiling 200 feet down a wall definitely was. He knew that somehow he’d have to find a way out.
True to his word, Tony turned up that night with the sponsorship form.
Bryan managed to procrastinate for a couple of weeks, not mentioning the event to anyone and not collecting any signatures or money.
Tony collared him in the pub one evening. “How’s the sponsorship going?”
“Great, just great,” said Bryan, lying through his teeth.
“Nice one, knew I could count on your support. We’re raising money for the hospice where Robbie spent his last couple of weeks. I tell you mate, there’s nothing worse than seeing your only son die before your eyes. But me and Katie feel that if we can all raise as much as possible to help the hospice then …” Tony shrugged, and Bryan could see tears welling in his eyes. It was just over a year since Robbie had died. And now he had lied to his friend.
There was nothing for it. He’d just have to grit his teeth and get on with it.
That night he dug out the sponsorship form, and the following day he trotted it round everyone at work.
“That’s lovely, Bryan,” said the delectable Trisha, patting him on the shoulder as she parted with five pounds. “Very brave of you.“ Somehow she hadn’t spotted the big yellow streak down his back. Quite how he was going to manage to get up a 200ft wall, let alone get back down, was beyond Bryan’s comprehension.
May 20th arrived all too soon. Bryan had contemplated feigning illness - a dose of ’flu? A bad leg? But he’d collected over £300 and couldn’t face giving it back. Doing so would have made him feel like he’d really let Tony and Katie down, and he couldn’t afford to pay that amount of money out of his own pocket to salve his conscience.
So at nine o’clock on Sunday morning Bryan drove to the industrial estate, hoping for a car accident as a last-minute reprieve. But no - he joined the group of foolhardy souls assembled by the chosen wall. He felt his stomach do a loop-the-loop as he looked up at the vast expanse of brickwork. Never mind 200 feet - it looked more like 200 miles.
“Now we’ll be taking you up in batches of five,” explained the fireman in charge, indicating a platform attached to a pulley system. It had a handrail around the edge but looked like the sort of thing that builders used to transport bricks to higher levels.
They were instructed to form a line, from which they would be picked in groups of five. There were about 30 participants in total, men and women. Some seemed little more than children, which made Bryan feel even more of a wimp. He took a middle position in the line, feeling his heartbeat quicken and his mouth go dry with anticipation.
The first batch went up, up, up. And down they came, effortlessly, one by one.
“That was fun!” said a girl barely out of her teens dressed in a fairy costume complete with wings. “Can I go up again?”
All too soon it was Bryan’s turn. Almost rigid with panic, he shuffled onto the platform and braced himself for the jerky ascent. Mustn’t look down, he repeated silently as the platform lurched ever upwards.
He barely focused on the instructions given as he was bundled into the harness. Mustn’t look down, mustn’t look down. His legs felt like jelly, but somehow he had to get back to ground level. Wherever that may be.
He started his descent, gradually releasing the rope. He jerked earthwards just a bit too quickly.
“Not so fast, mate”, barked the fireman in charge at the top of the wall. “Just let it go gradually.”
Bryan concentrated hard on releasing the rope just a little at a time. He inched his way down the wall, his feet scraping awkwardly against the brickwork. Some of the others that he’d watched had come down in leaps and bounds, but his descent was more like that of a crippled spider. He felt giddy, then realised he’d forgotten to breathe. So he concentrated on breathing and releasing the rope gradually. Foot by foot, he descended the precipice.
To his amazement the ground appeared under his feet, and Bryan stumbled to his knees.
“All right, mate?”
Of course, Tony had to be there at the bottom.
“Yeah, great,” mumbled Bryan, staggering to his feet. “I didn’t realise I’d reached the bottom already.” He attempted a grin, but his lips were so dry they felt like they were splitting.
Bryan was glad that everyone was paying attention to the rest of the abseilers as they came down one by one, thus giving him time to get his breathing under control and steady his nerves.
By the time the last group had made their descent he felt almost human again.
“See you in the pub, mate,” called Tony, seeing Bryan getting into his car.
“Sorry, Tony,” mumbled Bryan desperately. “Gotta hurry home, the, er, window cleaner is coming.”
“Okay, mate. Well, thanks once again. We’ll have to do it again next year.”
Bryan began to think that emigrating to New Zealand might be a favourable option. There was no way his nerves could ever cope with more than one abseiling experience in his lifetime.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015