私’m standing on the wrong side of the viewing platform glass at the top of ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford, イーストロンドン. The standing area here at the UK’s largest freefall abseil is narrow, and feels like the crow’s nest of a ship. The sunny day has clouded over. It’s gusty, 80 メートル (262フィート) in the air. Two wind-buffeted safety crew, Sian and Jack, hook me to ropes. My life is in their hands, and I don’t even know their surnames. Looking out over the head-spinning edge, I feel afraid. In a few seconds I’ll be descending unsupported but for a rope, from almost the height of the Statue of Liberty. To give me “my full Zen moment” I won’t have an instructor with me. I’ll be alone.
The building itself lends a trippy, out-of-your-head element to this. Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s sculptural oddity looks like a tentacle enveloping a can of Spam, or a pulled-apart Slinky. Does Kapoor know thrill-seekers are walking all over it from the outside? Is this what he wanted? I didn’t know people were allowed to do this, and wish they weren’t so I wouldn’t have to. It feels like tempting fate. What kind of people do this? And why?
“It’s urban exploring – seeing London from a new angle,” said Max earlier, as we gazed up at the disorienting loops from ground level, the sky still blue. Max works for Wire & Sky, which runs urban aerial adventures, in which anyone can traverse recognisable landmarks such as the O2 in Greenwich, または Brighton’s i360, in terrifying new ways. “It’s exhilarating to conquer fear. Makes you feel alive,」と彼は言います.
多分. Waddling in my punishingly tight harness, festooned in carabiners and clanking like a discordant bell, I sound more like Jacob Marley’s ghost.
また, life can be a gift. A group of abseilers here today are raising money for Keech, a children’s hospice in Bedfordshire. My harness helper Fran tells me she recently assisted a group of jelly-legged midwives, raising money for their local hospital. (She told them to breathe, which must have felt ironic.) Some people are here simply because their loved ones are fond of edgy presents. “This is my dad’s idea of a joke for my 30th birthday,” admits Jordan, who is going before me. Is his dad here for the punchline? “Nah.”
Despite having two safety ropes, when you’re told to lean backwards off a ledge at a height like this, your brain and (very) nervous system can’t help but protest. I look down. It’s dizzying. I’m wearing a GoPro, rented for an additional fee, and trying not to swear. “Keep your feet on the platform and lower yourself until your feet are above you,” says Jack. I’m a lobster clinging to the lip of a pot, upside down. I think about asking Jack what his surname is, or his favourite colour. Establish a connection. ああ, that’s hostage negotiation. “You need to step off now," 彼は叫ぶ. Was it like this for Neil Armstrong, with Buzz Lightyear over the radio telling him to step off? Aldrin, not Lightyear. Haha! How do I stop this happening? I can’t. I step off.
As far as mankind goes, it’s a tiny step. People do this all the time. But for one man, it’s huge, a moment of absolute trust. I surrender to Jack and Sian, to the air, to life. They hold me. And my God, the view. London arrayed before me in all directions. The metal fungi of the city offices, bursting skyward. A halo of unbuilt space around St Paul’s. The moss-like preponderance of treetops and greenery. I forget this city was built on rivers. But even more than the buildings, it’s the tiny people I see. They flow like water too, over bridges and through streets, carrying their individual stories. I see the connected stream, the blood of a living city.
I realise a torrent of them are heading towards me. To my left, London stadium is filling up, ahead of West Ham’s game against Spurs. Fans swamp the boulevard. Jump by Van Halen blasts upward, hardly the soundtrack I want. I feed the rope through my hands, speeding my descent. Tom Petty, Free Fallin’, would be more apt.
A family inside the building gaze out at me, looking sick on my behalf. But I’m fine. It’s incredible how quickly one can adjust to this. It would actually be a good seat to watch the match, おもう. As I get closer to Earth, the fans don’t look like ants any more. They’re gawking at me. “How’s it hanging?” one yells. There’s no point replying. No one has any dignity when their feet aren’t in contact with the ground. I feel like Boris Johnson on a zipwire.
I remember gravity, and the harness, as my feet return to Earth. My testes hurt, I complain to Fran, in so many words, as I touch down. “I’ll just switch your GoPro off …” she says. Oh yeah. I’ve picked up a fair amount of embarrassment during my sky journey. But what a terrifying privilege. I feel enlarged and free. I’ve conquered fear, and even turned the air blue again. How’s that for aerial dominance?
I do find myself wondering if I’m allowed to use Stonehenge as a pommel horse, or high five the Angel of the North.
Not Neil Armstrong, but still Buzzing. 5/5
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