Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Battling the void

This is more or less the text of a speech I'm going to give tonight.

It’s a cloudy Sunday morning in June 2006, and I’m about to step off the roof of a 12-story building.

And why exactly WAS I about to do such a crazy thing?

Well, Mr Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests, I wanted to get into my attic.

I’ve lived in my house for more than 25 years and I’ve only ever managed to get up there twice.

I'm afraid of heights, you see.

Loads of people are afraid of heights - it's a perfectly rational thing to be afraid of. We are not birds, we're just monkeys with shoes on, and when we fall we don’t stop until we hit the ground.

It makes sense to be afraid of heights when a fall can turn you from a living, breathing human being with loves, hates, hopes and dreams into something that they have to wash away with a hose.


My own fear of heights does not make sense.

I can, for example, go up the spire of Coventry Cathedral and look down quite happily. I can lean out of our seventh floor window at work and look down quite happily. I’ve been to Surprise View in the Lake District, where you walk through some trees and all of a sudden, you’re on the edge of a cliff. There were no guard rails, there, but I could stand right on the edge and look down quite happily.

But I can't climb a simple eight-foot aluminium ladder into my own attic.

The problem is the hatch is above the landing, so when you climb up, there is a great yawning void just the other side of the banister.

Now, I say yawning, but it doesn't so much yawn as sit in the back of my mind whispering suggestively.

The void beyond the banister keeps urging me to slip off the ladder and fall, I can feel it pulling hungrily at me as I climb and trying to make my dizzy.

The void is insidious.
The void is seductive.
The void is a pain in the backside, frankly.

In 2006, I was getting so sick of it keeping me out of my own attic that I devised a cunning plan.

I figured if I picked a fight with the void’s much bigger brothers – and won, the void in my house would lose its power over me,

Clever, eh?

The void’s laughter was deafening the next day as I signed up for the Charity Abseil.

A few months passed and the big day finally dawned.

I turned up to the Axa building in Coventry city centre.

It was a building I’d walked past hundreds of times but I’d never really looked at properly.

I looked up at it now - all 170 terrifying feet of it

This was the moment when the void's big brother strolled into my head. If he had been a person, he would be a leather-jacketed thug with a dangling cigarette, tattoos, and a bad attitude.

I resolutely ignored him and went inside and up to the twelfth floor. There, some cheery folks helped me on with some canvas spaghetti which they said was a safety harness, and clapped a thin plastic helmet on my head. Thus, attired for battle, I went out onto the roof.

There, the organisers had erected a flimsy-looking platform of, planks and scaffolding on the edge.

Scaffold was the right word, too, because never did a condemned person ascend those three rickety steps with more trepidation than I did that day.

The void's big brother started his campaign of terror in my head and was now going around dropping cigarette ash and accidentally on purpose breaking things like some b-movie heavy. He offered to leave me alone if I would just see reason, give up this nonsense and go home.

No way! I’m not scared of you! I lied.

Up on the platform, there was another cheery fellow doing mysterious things with ropes and knots.

Don’t worry, he assured me, you could dangle baby elephants off these ropes. I smiled weakly back at him wondered how they knew.

Right, he said then, Go to the edge and turn you back to it.

Reluctantly, I unglued my feet and did as I was told.

The void's big brother was starting to get decidedly nasty now - he was doing all sorts of horrible things with my heart-rate and breathing.

Then the cheery man said, step off, lean back and walk down the wall.

Simple enough, surely. I’ve done stepping. I’ve done leaning. I’ve even done walking.

But never was a longer step taken by a human being. But I did it. Amazingly, I didn’t die! So I took another step, then another, and another.

This was going surprisingly well.

The void’s big brother glanced at his watch meaningfully, and gave me a nasty grin. Any minute now, he seemed to be saying.

Now I'm not very athletic at the best of times and I have a lousy body image, so even simply leaning back and walking down a wall proved too much and ,before long, I found myself slipping off, to dangle helplessly, twirling in mid-air like some kind of terrified plumb-bob.

Baby elephants, baby elephants, baby elephants, I chanted to myself, as I struggled to get everything back under control.

The void's big brother gave my heart-rate a vindictive tweak.

But, I managed to get back on the wall and continue - only to slip off again a bit further down.

I was really not good at this.

But I am nothing if not stubborn.

There were several more prayers to the infant pachyderms before I finally - joyfully - reached the blessed, beautiful, ground.

As soon as my feet touched, I was so jazzed that I simply collapsed in a wobbly heap like a great big adrenaline-flavoured jelly.

The void's big brother treated me to a final sneer, tossed his cigarette on to the floor, ground it out with his heel and strolled away laughing.

He'd won.

I’ve not been able to face the void since.

But I’ve got a cunning plan...

Does anybody know where I can sign up for parachute training?


  1. great speech Argent! that humour at the start would really pull me in - monkeys in shoes.

  2. Cheers, Niamh. It went well, got some laughs anyway.

  3. Ah you nearly caught me out with this one. I saw you'd posted and nearly read it before you'd done it

    Top quality speech - great description and atmosphere. I'm gonna have to up my game...

  4. Hahah... pure dead brilliant.

  5. Jimmy and Bug, thanks guys!


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