Wednesday, April 17, 2013

(No) Head For Heights.

I'm clinging to the upper branches of the highest tree in the woods with my right arm while my left hand is employed in opening the blade of the pen knife I have wedged between my lips. I can taste the bark and soil on the handle, it doesn't bother me, I'm used to it, I'm 11 and my hands are permanently dirty. I can taste the residue of oil left from the chain that slipped off my bike about an hour ago too; normal tastes for a boy of my age in the '70s.

The tree sways in the wind, it's a wild day, it doesn't bother me, I'm 11, fearless when it comes to stuff like this. The  reason I'm up in these high, high branches today is that there's a rumour going around school that Sammy Ford has carved his name on this very tree higher than I had previously carved mine. Me and Sammy they reckon we're the best climbers in school. Sammy's not bad but I'm way better. It was me who showed him how to climb a tree when the trunk offers no limbs. It's easy once you know. You grab a branch at the end, where it's flexible and invariably a long way away from the trunk. You pull the branch down and inch your hands along until you get to the point where it offers resistance then you flip yourself up and you're away.

Sammy has indeed carved his name a good 3 feet above when I'd carved mine. Well done Sammy. Should have gone higher pal. I'm taller than Sammy, 2nd tallest in our year, in the boys. As tall as she is I don't see Sharon Marwood, who's the tallest in our year, carving her name up here anytime soon.She's not a tree climber, at least I don't think she is. I don't think she has a pen knife either. I reach up with my left hand and over the next 15 minutes I carve my name in a branch so fine I fear the bark will just churn up and then I carve out Sammy's, like he was never here.

That was over 30 years ago. Today, now, right this friggin moment, I'm 45 feet up on a free standing scaffold inside a shopping centre changing light bulbs on the over night shift. The platform is about 8 feet long and 2 feet wide, the whole contraption sways when you move. As the new guy I have been volunteered to go 'up top' while the older crew members pass pipping and boards up to me until the tower is full assembled. It's been nerve wracking. I've lost about half my weight in sweat, it seems and, although my brain knows what to do it is unable to make my body function. I believe I'm safe, truly, I do. The scaffold is solid and built to regulation but it still fucking moves. I can't let go of the top guard rail, I'm squeezing it with both hands, knuckles pure white. My feet slide across the boards, I cannot lift them no matter how hard I try. I instruct my left arm to reach out to the fluorescent bulb above me but my arm just responds, 'Fuck you.' I'm am stuck up here paralyzed by fear. I have no idea how I am going to get down never mind how I am going to change any of these lights tonight. I wonder what old Sammy's up to these days?