Outside it was a cold October day, the river was still and birds wheeled over the freshly harvested fields. We assembled under a structure that looked like a homemade substation. Telegraph poles reached into the metal grey sky, steel wire strung between, suspending planks, poles and knotted ropes that looked impossible to traverse.
I was trussed up with the rope; my neck craned upwards, barely paying any attention to the knots or the technique that are now familiar. As a first timer it was my prerogative to go first and I was told to start climbing. I looked down at the small woman belaying me, and wondered if I could trust an absolute stranger with my life. Throwing sanity to the wind I climbed the pole quickly, hands gripping the staples and eyes fixed on looking up, imagining it was just a ladder. It was only when I reached the top and the miniscule ledge that I realized how scared I was. A long pole stretched out ahead of me, with a steel wire strung overhead, I had to walk across it to get to the other side. My body was reacting in panic, and I just wanted to get off, but that would mean climbing down again, I was stuck. There were shouts of encouragement from down below. I imagined them to be the roar of the crowd, and I was a circus performer in spangly costume (I didn’t know there was a trapeze coming up) and took a wobbly sep forward. The smell of sawdust and the roar of the crowd filled my head. Even if it was muck spreading in North Essex and chat from the women below, it got me across. I was encouraged to see others climbing up too, and their coaxing and support got me through the next few hours of fear.