By Stephen Pollard
December 22, 2008
If you want some idea as to how great is my fear of heights, how about this? I got married just over a year ago. It seemed that I would not last a day as a married man. When my friends and family lifted me up on the chair to just above their shoulder height, I didn't pass out - I screamed at them with rage, so convinced was I that I was on the point of death.
I exaggerate only slightly. I didn't, in truth, actually fear death. Rather I feared - no, I knew - that I was about to crash to earth and break my arms, wrists and legs and puncture my lungs with broken ribs.
So when I was asked, as JC editor, to light the chanukiah outside Golders Green station, I was faced with a dilemma. There are few things I would hate doing more than ascending in a cherry picker. One of them is ascending in a cherry picker with a lighted flame. But how could I say no? I could hardly claim to be busy for eight nights running.
I lived in fear for weeks. I knew that I would meet my maker on 21st December. At least my death would be spectacular, plunging to earth from 30 feet up in front of a vast crowd.
But then, if truth be told, I knew that the reality would be less spectacular. My death would in fact be a rather limp splat witnessed by a few people eating doughnuts.
We had friends over for lunch yesterday. I tried to be the avuncular host, but all I could think of was my impending death.
It did not start well. As the rabbi who was steering the cherry picker guided me up (Btw, just stop for a second and think about that: a rabbi steering a cherry picker. If you were to entrust your safety on a mission of the utmost danger, a feat to rival anything attempted by Evel Knievel, who would you choose? A rabbi? A RABBI?), a voice asked if the chazzan would be joining us on the platform. ‘No', replied the rabbi. ‘The platform's a bit wobbly so we don't want to risk anything'.
That put my mind at rest.
I climbed on to the platform. The rabbi pressed the various buttons and we moved up. A bit. Then a bit more. Then we stopped. And waited. In the middle of a vast nothingness. We waited. And waited. ‘Sorry about this', the rabbi said. ‘The machine's quite temperamental'.
That put my mind at rest even more.
I'd been told by friends not to look down, just to stare straight ahead. So I did, with my knuckles gripping the rail. And so it took five minutes for me to realise that the rabbi had left the platform and I was alone. Alone, with no one and nothing to stop me plunging to my death. I froze with fear, stuck.
Time stood still. Unfortunately, we didn't, and the platform started moving, out, up, down, sideways, seemingly in random bursts.
Eventually we reached the top of the menorah. At which point I heard from the speaker below the running commentary... "and this is the HIGHEST menorah IN THE WORLD".
Great. Thanks for reminding me.
The rabbi, who had clambered aboard without my seeing, made his way to me, with a flame thrower. I was somehow to take hold of it and then bend down and light the first canister on the menorah. I know not how but I managed it. Thank God, I thought, it's almost over.
But it wasn't. The move from one candle to the next would, you might think, be straightforward. Just, er, move the platform. A bit.
Nope. As before, the platform started moving, out, up, down, sideways, seemingly in random bursts. For what seemed like ten minutes. And after all that, we ended up next to the menorah, but the other way round. And so, with flame in hand, I had to walk across the ten foot platform, crouch down, and light the next oil canister.
It felt as if I was up on the platform for half an hour. Ah, I told myself, that's because when you are afraid every second feels like an age. It was probably only five minutes.
"Blimey" said Mrs P when I got down. "That went on for ever. You were up there over half an hour".
And, as you might have realised from reading this, I cheated death. Which is, I suppose, somehow appropriate for Chanukah.