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Tuesday 6 September 2011

Role Reversal - February Half-Term 2011

Part 2

When I’ve got my breath back, I cross the breakwater and stare nervously at the next obstacle.  Had I not been so concerned about climbing up the rope, I might have paid more attention to Jamie’s uncharacteristically vague description of the ‘iron ladder thing.’

I suppose I’d been fondly imagining something like an old-fashioned fire escape but no such thing greets me: only tubular loops of iron, about eighteen inches apart, which stick out from the side of the breakwater.  These rough and ready ‘steps’ are constructed with a fascinating gap between rung and wall.  It looks like the perfect place for my foot to get jammed.  Unlike a proper ladder, there are no side rails, simply the rungs themselves.  They are wet, round and look very slippery.  The only encouraging thing is a short grab-bar positioned on the top edge of the breakwater.

‘What you have to do,’ Jamie instructs, ‘is kneel with your back to the drop, hold on to the grab-rail and lower yourself down.  OK?’

‘Look.  Like this,’ Luke cuts in enthusiastically.
Naturally, he makes the operation look effortless and is soon at the bottom, standing on the next narrow ledge and ready to proceed.

‘Does my stupidity know no bounds?’ I silently ask myself as I kneel, clutch at the rail for dear life and tentatively probe around the wall with my right foot until it settles on a rung.  Once I’m properly onto this makeshift ladder, it isn’t so difficult and my confidence grows.

In this way, we make steady progress, edging along the ledges, trying to dodge the waves and scrambling up and over the next couple of breakwaters.  The boys are in the lead, I’m next and Barry brings up the rear, ready to steady me if necessary. 

I’m just getting to the top of the third breakwater and beginning to feel I’ve got the hang of it all when Jamie announces, quite placidly,

‘There’s a little snag here, Nan.’

‘What’s that?  Not another rope?’  My heart begins to sink.

‘No.  Nothing like that.  It’s just that the next ladder is missing its top two rungs.  Oh and there’s no grab-rail either.’

I peer down the far side of the breakwater.  What I see makes me quail.  The top rung is a good four feet below me and, other than a rusty spike, there is nothing to hold onto above it.  Jamie is taller than I am but Luke is shorter.  I look at his little legs.  As we are still a good twenty feet above the base of the sea wall and there is no margin for error, this looks, quite literally, a step too far.

I turn to him.  ‘You won’t manage this, will you?’ I say, anxiously.

He tucks in his chin and frowns, ‘Watch me, Nan.’

Leaning over the edge, he grabs the spike, swings from it monkey-fashion, kicks out for the first rung and almost sprints down onto the ledge below.  Then he looks up at me and grins, ‘See?  Easy-peasy.’

Just in case he hasn’t sufficiently proved his point, he scampers back up the rungs and heaves himself onto the top beside me, ‘What you’ve got to do, Nan, is...’

Nan can’t do that,’ Barry says firmly.

I agree.  But I can’t face going back down the rope either.  Fortunately Jamie has an alternative plan.

‘Just kneel down like before.  Now put your hands flat in front of you and push down very hard.  Good.  That’s right.  Don’t do anything else yet, just listen.  OK?  You’ve got to gradually lower yourself until your feet are on the top rung, then reach for the spike with your right hand.  Go down a step or two, then reach for the top rung with your left hand.’  He looks concerned.  ‘Do you understand?’

In theory, I do.  It’s the practice I’m worried about.  ‘You and Barry had better hold my wrists.’  I try to sound confident but I can’t remember when I was last as scared as this.  It seems to me that the sea, ever rushing and hissing below us, is hungry for its catch.  I press with every ounce of my strength on the top of the slippery breakwater and ease my body over the edge, reaching down for the rung with my toes.  I feel it, get both feet on it and press my torso tight into the wall of the breakwater.  I know the next bit will be the very worst.

‘Let go my right wrist,’ I say. 

‘On the count of three,’ says Barry.  ‘One, two, three.’  They let go.  I grab at the spike.  It’s sharp and bites painfully into my palm.  I take a step down.  I realise they will have to release my other wrist before I can go any further and then I’ll be too far below the lip of the breakwater for them to stop me falling.

‘Don’t look down,’ I tell myself.  ‘Just do it.’  I take a deep breath.  ‘OK.  Let me go.’  I take another step down and at the same time snatch at the top rung first with my left hand, then follow with my right.  Now I’m crouched on this so-called ladder like some sort of weird insect.  But I’m stable, thank goodness.  The rest of the descent is easy and I reach the ledge safely.  Luke shimmies rapidly down beside me. 

‘Show-off,’ I tell him.

He laughs.  ‘You did really well, Nan – for a girl,’ he adds mischievously.

‘Naughty,’ I say, wishing I was still a girl.  It would have been a lot easier then.

Jamie and Barry join us on the ledge.  It’s a glorious afternoon.  At last the tide is beginning to drop and the waves are now only coming about half way up the sloping base of the sea wall.  Best of all, the final breakwater is in sight.

The guys seem ebullient.  I realise they’re relieved I’ve survived without a major incident.  I say nothing but actually I’m aching in every muscle, scratched, grazed and bruised but I’m feeling immensely proud of myself.  I’m also wrongly assuming my troubles are over.

to be continued ...

© Gill Dunstan

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