It crossed my mind just now that we are lucky here in Western Europe. Notwithstanding the shootings in Paris in early January 2015, we are not often confronted with armed terror or gunmen running amok. Have I ever been terrorised? Yes, but not by the IRA or Al Quaeda. The things that have frightened me the most have been of a more domestic nature. If I had to give a list of the top things to have scared me in my lifetime, they have been (in increasing order of fear, least terrifying first):
- Slipping on a mountainside (Switzerland, Stechelberg valley). Traversing snow, I once started to slide towards the edge of a cliff, but stopped myself. I wasn’t too perturbed. I had my back to the drop and it all happened so fast. My husband and friends who could see where I was headed were more shocked than I was.
- Slipping on a mountain top (UK, Lake District, Striding Edge). It was misty, there was ice on the rocks, I was inexperienced and my boots weren’t that good. My foot slipped, but I was holding on with my hands, and my experienced mountain-climber friend who was watching my every move grabbed me and saved me. Thank you, Andy Land! The seam of my navy blue jacket ripped and later on I sewed it together provisionally with tacking thread. I left those big ugly white stitches on there for years to remind me. When we returned there, 25 years or so later, I couldn’t bring myself to cross Striding Edge, even though I’ve probably been in many more precarious places since. I have a tale to tell about that occasion, too, but that will have to wait for another day.
- Having a mould made of my teeth when I had a brace as a teenager. It felt like the dentist was trying to suffocate me with a thick, warm, rubbery substance. I panicked. I still have an overactive gag reflex. I wonder if this is what triggered it.
- Taking my driving test. Especially the one I failed because the examiner had to grab the steering wheel to avoid pulling out of the slip road into the path of a lorry.
- Abseiling, specifically leaning back over the edge to start to descend. It’s not the height; that doesn’t worry me too much. I’ve only done it a couple of times and once I was moving down the wall, it wasn’t a problem, but that extended moment of leaning out is terrifying. I certainly couldn’t bungee jump or skydive or parachute.
- Ladders on walking routes. I can climb up a ladder with little problem. I don’t like that moment of stepping down on to a ladder to go down (similar to abseiling). But the ultimate intimidating ladder experience of my life was the one in the Swiss Alps where we had to transfer from one ladder to another on a sheer rock face, stepping from left to right, holding on to the thin metal rungs for dear life.
- Thunderstorms in the mountains. In the high mountains, the thunder rolls around and echoes and sounds terrifying. If you’re lying in a tent with metal poles, high in the mountains, this can be pretty unnerving. If you know your friend is sleeping a few metres away under a plastic sheet held up by two metal pickaxes, the terror level is raised. If you’re walking down a slippery path on an exposed mountainside with your family in torrential rain, you are constantly praying that you will be spared. The ultimate occasion, though, was probably two years ago when we were on the plateau below the Matterhorn in Switzerland and it started to rain heavily. We hopped on to a cable car heading for the valley, glad to be out of the rain when – flash! – lightning far away on a mountain far away. The cable car stopped. We waited. It started again, then – flash! – another distant flash of lightning. It stopped again. Every time there was any lightning, the cable car stopped. At one point we were left hanging for about half an hour, feeling incredibly exposed and vulnerable, all the time hoping we wouldn’t have to test how well the flimsy metal and plexiglass frame attached to large pointy metal objects would be as a Faraday cage. Hoping they weren’t just leaving us to die.
- Standing in the queue for a funfair ride. The one at Alton Towers for the ride that has a vertical drop. The queue was long. I had a long time to consider my fate. I had a long time to hear the terrified screams of the hundreds of people ahead of me as the queue spiralled around. Once I was strapped in, my heart was beating like never before, but there was no way out. The fear as I was hauled slowly to the top was indescribable. The experience of the drop itself was nothing in comparison. In fact, it was thrilling, but the abject terror of the queue has made up my mind: never again.
- Being chased by spiders. Not the huge arachnids that haunt Ron Weasley, but the irrational fear of my husband chasing me with a daddy long legs or a spider in a glass, threatening to throw it at me. I know it won’t actually hurt me and garden spiders are beautiful, but it’s those long legs and, especially with the daddy long legs, the wings and uncontrolled flight. Hideous! The neighbours probably think somebody is being murdered.
- The ultimate, blood-curdling moments in my life have all been completely imaginary. In fact, all in my head. The things that have raised my blood pressure and my heart rate more than any running, HIIT workout or spinning class have been… drum roll… nightmares! Fortunately few and far between, they are probably the one thing that has shortened my life more than anything else. Bearing in mind that our house was 150 metres from the sea at the top of a small cliff, when I was a pre-teen I used to dream about tidal waves sweeping us all away or, alternatively, I would be playing in my friend’s mother’s car, would turn on the ignition and be unable to stop the car driving at speed towards the cliff. In any case, at least these nightmares were easy enough to convince myself were only dreams. A couple of years ago, I went to bed every night with a feeling of dread.
I knew that if I woke up in the night and saw a red light in the room,I had to do something to stop them from coming to take us away, or kill us or destroy the earth, I wasn’t sure what, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was I had to do to avert this terrible fate and every night when I did wake up, I would know it was all my fault, I hadn’t done what I needed to do and if only I could remember what it was and do it really quickly before they noticed I was awake, I could save us all, but oh no, they’re coming and they’re going to see I’m awake and I know it’s not real but I’ve got to do something only I can’t remember what and I have to unsee that red light but I can’t because it’s there and I can’t escape and and and…
Yet this is nothing compared to the nightmares which cause me to sit bolt upright in bed, screaming a blood-curdling scream that wakes the entire family. The ones where I vault to the other side of the bedroom over my sleeping husband, or launch myself out of bed and on to the landing at a speed and agility that I don’t possess in the daytime. These dreams have no story; there’s just a creature or a beast that is there, ready to kill me, and my response is instant, accompanied by a scream that could damage your hearing and can leave me with a sore throat for days afterwards. The most recent one, when my husband was away, was so vivid that I was convinced that there was somebody in the room. I leaped out of bed, slammed the door behind me and stood on the landing staring at the door with horror. What should I do? Open the door to see who it was who had probably died of fright at my scream? Run out of the house? Go downstairs and call the police? None of the above. My teenage daughter is braver than me. She was convinced it was just a nightmare and opened my bedroom door to show me there was nobody there. Just as well.
There’s one comfort. It’s good to know my daughter feels secure.
Am I the only one this happens to? Or am I the only adult who disturbs the dreams of the entire neighbourhood? Do you have any funny stories about the times you’ve been scared? Were you awake or dreaming at the time? Do tell!
Inspired by #writeandrun31 day 20 prompt: Make a top 10 list post