The Silence of the Stairs
I have a secret and I’m coming out with it. You might have caught a whiff of it in my last post about Gorey Castle. My secret is this; I am afraid of steep steps.
That’s it, I’ve said it! I have only two phobias. The first is wasps; which is a result of standing on a nest as a 5 year old and practically disappearing into a cloud of them. This resulted in nearly a decade of wasp related nightmares and anxiety. I’m pretty Ok with them now provided there’s not too many – I have consciously tried to get over it as leaping around pub gardens squealing does make you look a bit of a twat. Phobia number two is really steep stairs. Random; I know. I think it stems from being taken to ancient old castles and tall ships etc as a child and they always have those crazy-steep, crooked, spiral staircases and there’s always someone behind you trying to make you descend faster than you want to, you can’t go back up, there’s nothing to hold on to and it’s all really very terrifying. As you can imagine, encountering stairs steep enough to be scary doesn’t happen very often and I usually forget that I even have an issue until I’m looking down them and my brain does that weird cartoon swirly drunk thing.
The last time this happened was in Egypt; firstly when I wussed out halfway into the Red Pyramid but most notably whilst I was attempting to descend the 3750 Steps of Penance on Mt. Sinai. You know that’s going to be fun just from the name. Being the kind of person who finds all phobias irritating in the extreme, and being also the kind of person who thinks that it is ridiculous not to do something you want to do because of such irrationality, I was reluctant to admit to my Egypt travelling buddy and bestest friend Karen what my problem was. In the end I sucked it up and decided I had better explain myself though. In her usual gracious manner she behaved like it was perfectly understandable to be afraid of dodgy stairs. My problem is that I just don’t have faith in my own feet and I’m convinced that I’m going to fall. Put me at the top of a really steep step-like bank on a horse and I’ll have no fear of going down at all because it’s out of my control; I’ll know there’s nothing more I can do to help the situation so I’ll just lean back and relax. Put me at the top of the steep steps and tell me to pick my own way down though and I’ll be hyperventilating by the time I hit the bottom because it’s all on me. I’ve got no one else to depend upon to stop me tripping or stumbling, no one else to blame, my life is in my own wildly incompetent hands. I’m pretty sure Karen thinks I’m mental. She is the exact opposite since she only gets scared when situations are out of her control.
I should explain the steep step phobia is mostly about going down. Up is pretty much okay, you can just look at the stuff directly ahead of you. Up is exhausting, down is terrifying. Its like a kind of vertigo; the ground just disappears ahead of you and you know that if you fall you’re just going to fall and fall forever. The scariest bit of the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is when Sam and Frodo are on that bloody secret staircase by Mordor and Sam is going back down and starts to fall… I shit you not when I say Hitchcock has never freaked me out as much as that. Actually if you’ve seen that film then you know what Mt. Sinai’s Steps of Penance were like – just like that. Except boiling and covered in slippery patches of sand and gravel. The guide stayed with me the whole time holding my arm, “its ok, you’re just so tired, its ok,” he kept saying.
The night before on the way up Karen had told me a story about a girl she’d climbed a mountain with in Thailand. This girl had been pretty obese and she’d really struggled to do this climb but when she’d finally made it to the top she’d burst into tears.
“She was so proud of herself for doing it?” I offered.
“No! She was just so grateful it was over!”
Not the punch line I’d been expecting from one of Karen’s inspirational speeches, but I relate to that fat girl. Every time I stood on a broken step and it wobbled under my tread threatening to launch me off into the abyss my breath would catch in a terrified yelp, my arms and legs trembling with white-hot fear and exhaustion. I felt like I would be on that mountain forever; like a hell designed just for me and it was getting hotter, the sun started to scorch at my cheeks. When finally I landed on solid ground with not a step in front of me I was physically and mentally exhausted. My feet were blistered and I was boiled in my layers.
Karen put a hand on my shoulder. “You did it!”
I stifled a sob and a few tears squeezed over onto my cheeks.
“Are you crying?! I bet you’re so proud you did it now.”
“I’m just so fucking glad it’s over!”
She laughed and hugged me.
I made a concerted effort in Jersey to address this issue again; you see I like to force myself to do these things, then that way I’m not beaten by the madness even if it ain’t much fun. Gorey castle was fun though; there were a couple of flights that just looked too slippery and narrow but I feel good that I did some pretty scary ones and managed not to die. It didn’t help that there were lots of flights with no sign-posting to let you know if there was anything worth risking the clamber for at the end though. I took a few photos which were terrifying enough to make Saw movies redundant once and for all and got laughed at by a guy I had to explain myself to. Overall I’m improving though and I will continue to win the fight against unreasonably dodgy steep stairs!