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What I learned when hanging on a wire

November 3, 2013

This week at work we went on a one-day ‘Camp’, the official mission statement for which was to ‘be bold’. Our company is going through a period of transition at the moment, potentially growing into new markets, and the day was part team-building, part knowledge-transfer, and began with an early-morning journey up the motorway to a lovely old manor house in the Leicestershire countryside, just a few miles from where I was born.

We were put into teams and asked to come up with Halloween-inspired names (we chose Ghoulies, but the way I spelt it made it rather more childish), and I found myself in a team with the Head of HR, and a colleague who is quite new, who I hadn’t really spoken to before. The teams were apparently chosen by a convoluted system of characters attributes, on a closely-guarded list, and thus one of us was deemed to be a strategist, one a doer, and one competitive. Of course, we all wanted to know who was who. “I’m not sure I’m particularly competitive,” I said doubtfully, as all the other teams raced to start the orienteering, and I went for a second cup of tea. “I guess maybe I’m strategic, but then, everyone thinks they’re strategic.”

“Maybe you’re the doer,” said Connor, the new boy. I looked at him, stirring my tea. “Maybe not.”

The bridge-building didn’t go well. We were supplied with eight lengths of wooden pole and some muddy string, and told we had 20 minutes to traverse a 10 foot stream. The longest pole was eight feet, and pole vaulting was apparently not an option. You would think, given I live on a boat, that I would be able to tie knots, but you would be wrong. “If you can’t tie knots, tie lots,” said the helpful camp leader. We did that – but it didn’t work. What we ended up with, rather than a ten foot bridge, was a nine foot raft. Some quick adjustments later, and we had a ten foot tangle of poles and rope, and two grinning teams ready with cameras to watch us fall in. Much to their disappointment, two-thirds of us crossed successfully (including, amazingly, me), but our pride was dented and our boots a little damp.

The orienteering wasn’t much better. We are not natural cheats, so it took us a while to realise we should use the technology available to us, and take photos of the map, and the clues we had to find. Synchronising watches may have worked as well, as I came in a minute late and points were deducted. I was having my doubts about being the strategist.

Goal ball was next, in which the teams are blindfolded, and have to roll/throw the ball (with bells inside) into their opponents’ net. A head, chest and ‘area’ injury later, plus a series of carpet burns, and an argument with the ref, and we were on to our final activity of the morning. This was the biggie – it involved harnesses, crates, and heights.

I always forget I am a little bit frightened of heights. I watched the team before us fare quite well – the object was to stack beer crates as high as you could, whilst standing on them, and not fall off. They got to about nine layers before the whole thing crashed spectacularly – and put the fear of God in me. I knew I would be in a harness, strapped up quite safe, but just as I have an illogical fear of flying, and spiders (not to mention flying spiders), the thought of falling off a stack of wobbly crates 20 feet in the air, in front of laughing colleagues, made me start to feel a bit iffy. The bravado that had made me put myself forward as one of the climbers, instead of the sensible stacking option, was definitely wearing off. I could safely tick ‘Doer’ off the list.

Our turn came. Upon the advice of the instructor (who clearly felt sorry for us after the bridge-building incident, and who wanted to get to lunch on time), we stacked the crates to six-high, and then constructed a staircase to help us get to the top. We were already in the lead, and still had half our time left to build up the layers. I started to walk up the staircase – so far so good – until I got to the top. It was windy. I suddenly felt very exposed. My colleagues, who were supposed to be holding the rope to which I was harnessed, were chatting (chatting!), seemingly unaware they had my life in their hands.

Frozen with fear, and not having a clue what to do, I was rescued by my other team mate, Suzanne, who briskly and efficiently put me where I needed to be and set about constructing the layers. She has kids, she knows what she’s doing. Helpless, I did what I was told, and tried not to look down. The crates wobbled constantly, the wind buffeted us from all angles, and it suddenly became almost impossible to carry out simple bodily functions, such as balancing and breathing, at the same time. I saw it coming before anyone else did, knew we were about to fall, and braced myself for the broken limbs, flashing lights and sirens.

They say that when you experience something frightening, it happens in slow motion. This was the case – but purely because it did actually happen slowly. Barely had my weight shifted from the crates than I was suspended in the air, Suzanne and I gently pirouetting around each other, bumping off crates, until we staggered to the ground. Crates lay in carnage around us – and the clock was ticking. Right. Start again.

Within seconds our staircase was back in place, and a few moments later I was racing up it again. It was no less frightening, but now I was bloody-minded. I wasn’t going to go through all that for nothing – the first team had managed ten layers, so it was 11 or bust. Up we went, clinging to each other for dear life, Connor throwing up crates and Suzanne deftly stacking them. I was doing a commendable job of ‘the third member of the team’, and we were soon on ten layers. One more was needed – with 30 seconds to go.

And here was the catch – if you fell, and your tower collapsed, you only got points for the layers still standing. We would be risking it all. “What do you think?” said Suzanne, “shall we go for another one?”
“You mentalists!” shouted one of the other teams. “Just keep still and take the points.”

“Let’s do it,” I said, and manhandled my leg into the stepping position. Seconds later (and I think our instructor was generous with the timer) and we had got to eleven, wobbling like Weebles on one stack each as the others had crashed to the ground. Victory!

And thus, as I reluctantly abandoned my perch for the second time, and dangled helplessly in the air (narrowly avoiding a wooden pillar, but crashing full tilt into the remaining stack of crates – I have a bruise), I discovered that I have a lot more competitiveness in me than I first thought, and the ethos of ‘being bold’ is one I could quite happily adapt to.

I had achy legs for two days afterwards, muddy water stains on my leather boots, and a substantial hangover the next day (victory requires spoils), but I came away from Camp feeling like I achieved something. Whether I was categorised as a strategist, doer or competitive beforehand doesn’t really matter. Although, of course it does – and I will find that list. 🙂

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2 Comments
  1. this is great. i love the syntax of your writing

  2. suzeallatsea permalink

    Brilliant! I reckon you are all three.

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