You’ve got them all watching and you have to go first because you’re not afraid, they think, of anything. And really you’re not because it’s not that high and it’s been ages since you climbed a tree. All of this recent fitness will pay off and this will be a decent test of how far you’ve come since you decided to fight back against the spread of middle age and the middle age spread. You’re strong like they think you are and soon enough to they’re tiny dogs and the world has a new angle to it. Feet have left the floor and you’re more a part of the sky than the earth and my god it feels like you’re a kid again with the gentle tremble of the muscles and the cool sweat that runs along the spine. There’s a bell you have to ring and it’s just there, just a foot higher. It’s true that looking up is so much better than -.
You’ve thought this far and never for a second doubted that you’d ring that bell and be the hero, not just of the little knot of faces impossibly far below but the entire park who turn to see who’s made it to the top this time so very high up in the trees.
But beyond that things become uncertain because, although you’re all harnessed in and have seen a dozen others relent to the rope and let it lower them gracelessly back down to the ground, you can’t let go. You’ve eating the firm grip that you have on the trunk and the height you’ve gained is yours and yours only. And also: what if it should fail just this once? It would only need to fail this once and it would all change. There’d be no more hero in control but an undignified pile of you on the floor in all the wrong order. So you climb down gingerly and retrace the very footholds and handholds that brought you up here and they’re all telling you to let go. Just let go and fall back into the rope but you want it to last you tell them. You want to make the most of it and when you step down finally onto the earth they all cheer a bit and the instructor gives you a knowing wink.
It used to be that there was no corruption here; that lying and sliminess and cheating was what they did in other countries. It was this honesty, we told ourselves, that was the backbone of the nation and a trait that we would live or die by so long as we remained us. Let the dodgy foreigners with their outdated fashion sense and impervious grins win the world cups and the little skirmishes. We, were brits and we lose like brits and we’d rather do that than win like foreigners. Stiff upper lip radio shows and razor-sharp news reports that tell an international truth was our only diet and the only truth that anyone needed. Why, we wondered, do not all nations try to be like us? How do they live their seedy lives like they do and take their slimy victories with such slimy pride when it’s all so rotten?
When it all changed I’m not so sure but it has changed: the radio stations are tabloid audio competing for an audience and the telly is spread so thin on quality as so many channels fight for so little news. Even the old and trusted aunty that carried me through so many many nights alone overseas; even that national broadcaster that we have no choice but to pay for has taken ill with the disease. Maybe the point for me was when they started selling the news like it was some great entertainment – selling it to us who had already paid for it. That’s when I fell out of love with the old aunty.
It’s not on any more but one Sunday night radio show used to have a ‘top twenty’ of news stories that it counted down to like the old singles chart that was once the main stay of a Sunday evening. It was someone’s liberal brainwave one day to try and tap in to the retro past and rebuild a lost nostalgia. But it was terribly flawed. It was not based on the sales of popular music but on the gravity of the news stories of the week. Invariably the number one spot would be taken by a school shootings America or a terrorist attack in Manchester. If two such atrocities happened in the same week the top spot would be decided by the number of fatalities. I saw how awful this was as a concept the first time I heard the programme and was sickened by the faux-lamenting tones of the presenters as they put on their own act of chagrin and unashamedly relished the gruesome details that got worse as the programme went on. It lasted an awful long time before they pulled it. Maybe someone with a voice said something.