I have a secret that I want to share: I do NOT plan to throw myself off a tall building.
To be honest, if I did have suicidal tendencies, hurling myself into space from a lofty position would be the last thing I would do. The reason? I am afflicted with is acrophobia: an irrational fear of heights. Like many co-sufferers, when I venture to uncomfortable heights (usually about fifty feet will do it), I feel as if an unseen and unknown force is drawing me to the edge of the precipice with the sole purpose of flinging me to my death. How stupid is that?
I admit it – I am being totally and utterly ridiculous about this. There is no invisible entity lurking in the shadows next to a cliff waiting to push me off. So why am I so scared? I really don't know. And the worst thing about this is that I am getting steadily worse. My fear of heights is increasing at a rate that is directly proportional to my age. As a child I don’t recall being afraid of tall structures. In fact I distinctly remember jumping up and down, as a child, on the glass floor at the top of Blackpool Tower. Something must have changed in all those years but I simply cannot recall ever being in a position of jeopardy at a great height that might have triggered the descent into acrophobia
Despite my fear, over the years I have scaled some of the world’s tallest structures; the Eiffel Tower, The Empire State Building and even the CN Tower in Toronto in order to combat my fear. Each time I have failed.
Take the Eiffel Tower for example. I climbed up to the second level of the structure, gripping the sides in sheer terror. I then went to the top in the lift and was perfectly fine. You see my problem is that when I am enclosed I am okay. At the top of the Eiffel Tower, I was caged in and there was no chance of falling at all. Same with the CN Tower – I had absolutely no problem walking around admiring the view.
Sadly I came unstuck when I visited Sydney in 2005 and Mrs PM persuaded me to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Knowing that my fear of heights might intervene I asked the check-in assistant:
“I’m scared of heights! Is that going to be a problem?”
Her reply was:
“Don’t worry about you fear of heights. Leave it on the ground, mate! No worries.”
When the assistant offered her advice I had a moment of spontaneous insanity during which time I paid my fee and agreed to do the climb. This insanity lasted until the point of no return when, after a pre-climb and health and safety briefing, I found myself walking along catwalks with wire meshing at my feet that were approximately 170 feet above the ground. The insanity departed and absolute terror took its place. My heart started beating faster than a Cozy Powell marathon drum solo and leapt up into my mouth.
And then it got worse. In order to cater for all levels of fitness, the actual climb to the summit of the bridge took ages and ages. Our guide was superb and asked if everybody was okay. Only Mrs PM (to whom I was clinging) was aware of my discomfort.
“Look, there’s the Sydney Opera House”, people said. “Wow, what a view!”
I didn’t look until I had to.
I clung on for dear life but somehow managed to completely fool everyone in our party that I was fine, using a combination of Oscar worthy acting, strategic eye-closing, deep breathing, using Hulk-like steel grips on Mrs PM’s arm and lying my bloody arse off to the guide when he asked if was okay. Nobody suspected that I was absolutely crapping my pants all the way up, all the way across and all the way back down again. We were all perfectly safe, harnessed to the bridge itself and each other and under the protection of a superb guide. There was absolutely nothing to fear – apart from the height. What seemed like an eternity later, we were back down on solid ground. The climb had lasted a couple of hours and I have never been so relieved in my entire life. Thankfully there is photographic evidence to prove that I made it.
I will endeavour to try to understand why I am so idiotically afraid of heights, starting with a trip to Hong Kong in November, where I shall undoubtedly crap myself as I stand at the bottom of one of the countless skyscrapers in that formidable city. I’m just glad that Mrs PM will be there to hold my hand, though if she suggests abseiling down the Bank Of China building I shall retire to the nearest bar and leave her to it.