Flo Wales Bonner volunteered to try anything. So you challenged her to balance on a saggy tightrope line…
I stroll across the knee-high grass of Clapham Common towards a muscular man covered in a tangle of nylon straps. No, I’m not appearing in a ‘special interest’ DVD, I’m here to try slacklining. It’s a sport similar to tightrope walking, but which involves balancing on – yup, you got it – a line that’s slack.
My instructor, Harry, who ties slacklines between trees all over London (and then balances on them), gives me a quick pep talk. He explains that slacklining feels a bit like ‘doing yoga on a wobble board’. I assume he means the thing Rolf Harris uses – cue unpleasant mental image of Rolf in a half-lotus.
Harry shows me how to get on to the slackline by bending my knees and putting my arms above my head. To help my balance, he suggests I focus on a spot of fungus on the tree in front of me. I choose a patch that bears more than a passing resemblance to Russell Crowe, take a breath and launch myself up. It’s no good. My knees shake madly and I fall off the line. Harry tells me to get in the ‘zone’. Difficult to do when you’re trying to banish visions of Rolf Harris in a shoulder stand. Wearing shorts.
I try getting up a few more times, and start to get the hang of it. I take one wobbly step, then two, then five. ‘You smashed it!’ shouts Harry, in an unexpected, Tulisa-style whoop of enthusiasm. But soon the ‘zone’ vanishes, and I’m slipping off the slackline at every attempt.
I don’t like to point fingers, but I have to blame it on dogs. Turns out man’s best friend can’t get enough of slacklining. Before my 45 minutes are up, half of Lambeth’s canine population have poked their hairy muzzles into the lesson. A small dog in what I can only describe as a blue frilly dress scuttling under the slackline is the final straw-my concentration is shot to pieces.
With my last bit of energy, I get back on the line. I try walking backwards (difficult) and bouncing (weirdly, a bit easier). Then, noticing my pained face, Harry asks what’s wrong. After a pause, I explain that I suffer from a self-diagnosed condition I have called ‘stress foot’. When my feet get anxious, I clarify, they clench tighter than Arnie’s buttocks. ‘Your feet are stressed?’ Harry asks, with what I take for caring concern. I nod. ‘Probably a good time to stop,’ he decides. I agree. ‘But you’ve done well,’ he says. ‘You’ve done better than this girl I taught last week, and she’s done all kinds of weird shit.’ I take this as a compliment, and wobble off.
Fancy taking lessons? For more info, see harrycloudfoot.com.