COLUMN: August 29, 2013

ONE of the things at which I am quite good is swinging. I do not mean the pampas grass/Channel 5 documentary variety, I mean the hanging from a rope variety.

I have always had an appreciation of the physics involved, thanks to years of watching Spider-Man on the television, and, insofar as I can be graceful doing anything, I appear effortless when I swoop through the air. I would probably have made a decent trapeze artist, were it not for my poor depth perception and crippling fear of heights.

In any case, it is not really a CV skill, but it came in useful when I was made to go on an adventure trail.

This trail involved for the most part various unlikely ways of crossing a stream, including rickety ladders, spring-mounted bridges, and rope swings. I was in my element (air), which prevented me from being in not my element (water).

And behind the laughter, derision, and, frankly, insults issuing from the various children with me – ostensibly amused by the sight of a man in his early forties, in his third-best jeans, and with a crippling fear of heights, trying to get his leg over a scramble net – I detected admiration.

In short, it was not my fault that I began to feel invincible and allowed the Bad Thing That Happened to happen. It was their fault for lulling me into a false sense of security and a true sense of stupidity.

There was a children’s roundabout. But this roundabout was not powered by the hand of a slightly envious parent. It was rotated, through a series of cogs and pulleys, by an 8ft-tall hamster wheel.

As I arrived at the roundabout, there was a man running in the hamster wheel, powering my own children’s ride. On a normal day, I would have thought nothing of this, but I had had my head turned by easy swings and slightly more complicated ladders.

“That looks like fun,” I thought. “I want a go.” And with those words I sealed my fate.

I sidled over to the wheel and the man eventually, if reluctantly, concluded that his fun was over.

He brought the wheel to a stop and alighted.

I stepped into the metal wheel and examined it. “How do I get this to move?” I wondered.

This was not my milieu. I am not a hamster, I am a man. I don’t store food in my cheeks. I have never gnawed on railings, not even at school. And when I see a pile of shredded paper on the floor, I think: “You have to tidy this before somebody gets home.” I don’t think: “Mmm, that looks comfy. Time for a snooze.”

I stepped forward. Nothing happened. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the man I had displaced chuckling. “Amateur,” he was clearly thinking. I took another step, as if attempting to walk up the side, and the wheel started to move.

I continued to walk, spinning the wheel. It sped up and I began to jog, breaking into a steady run. The roundabout was turning, the wheel was spinning. It really was fun.

“Look,” I overheard the man say to his wife. “His technique’s shocking. He’s got no rhythm.”

This man had actually practised. He was clearly a seasoned hamster wheel enthusiast. “Technique? Rhythm?” I thought. “Why do I need such things?”

It was at this point I realised I had no idea how to stop. I tried to slow down, but the wheel wouldn’t let me. I had to run to stop myself from falling over. And running made the wheel move ever faster. It was a vicious circle. Literally.

I suppose I could have jumped off and let the wheel slow naturally, but I was not as acquainted with the physics of human-size hamster wheels as I am with rope swings.

Inevitably I fell, and was dragged backwards around the wheel until gravity prevailed and I tumbled over and over until my elbow was skinned and the wheel had stopped.

The Amazing Hamster- Man was still there with his wife, watching and chuckling. I felt sorry for her. If I was correct in my assumptions about her husband, she would have to listen to this anecdote all the way home, and then every couple of weeks for the rest of her grim life.

I staggered away, and stood behind an 11-year-old, waiting for my turn on the zip wire. “Stick to what you’re good at,” I thought, as I nursed my injuries. “Swinging on ropes and judging people”.

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