Our next writing group challenge has the title or suggestion, ‘Precipice’. I guess most people’s thoughts would stray towards a physical, mountainous precipice, but that seems a little too limited and maybe too obvious. I grew up in Cambridgeshire which is notoriously flat even though the city of Cambridge is supposedly built on seven hills – I’m not sure many visitors or even residents would notice that. There are the Gog Magog Hills to the southeast of the city, rising to a magnificent height of 246ft. but I mostly think of the low lying fens which to me are my Cambridgeshire. This is obviously some way away from anything precipitous.
Being afraid of heights was never a problem as a child because to be honest the highest thing I remember is the diving boards at the swimming pool, and I had no fear of them. I remember standing on cliffs at the seaside, and when I was older and went to the south of France with friends, I thought nothing of the mountainous tracks we went up, or the fabulous views we looked over. Heights made little impact on me. I don’t actually know when I became a little sensitive and uneasy about heights – I won’t say afraid of heights, but now I just don’t like being up high and looking down. However, what is worse is being at the bottom of something tall and looking up – no I’m not afraid, I just don’t like it!
Back to ‘Precipice’; the first thought which came into my mind is that terrible, horrible, ghastly feeling when something has gone wrong, something has gone wrong and either it’s your fault, or it’s something which affects you in a dramatic and drastic way. In my last teaching job I had many areas of responsibility, but the absolute worst was being exams officer. It was completely outside my area of expertise, outside my abilities – I’m not methodical or meticulous, I’m dreadfully absent-minded, my mind wanders, I have sudden flashes of inspiration which divert me – absolutely perfect for teaching arts subjects or handling difficult students, but not what you want for someone who has to check on codes, numbers, dates, etc… Fortunately nothing ever went wrong, goodness knows how, but thankfully all the exam papers arrived for the right students, they all sat the right exams on the right day at the right time, having studied the correct syllabus, and everything was returned to the exam board on time. However it was an extremely anxious time for me because I knew how easily I might make a mistake. Just the thought of something going wrong and me wrecking the chances of the kids who’d worked so hard induced terrible feelings of almost debilitating anxiety and stress, and that was when I felt I was on the edge – teetering on the edge of a precipice looking down in horror. It was a sort of draining, nightmarish virtual vertigo, as I knew all that could go wrong, the consequences of it, and that it would be my fault.
I’m not sure if that gives me any inspiration for writing for my group, but having written the above, I am now feeling quite anxious and twitchy remembering it!