I travelled 150 miles today for a 34-second experience.
Five years after I treated my newly-qualified civil engineer Firstborn to a trip up Anish Kapoor’s Orbit in the Olympic Park in London, he treated me to a trip down the slide that now weaves in and out of it. Created by the German artist, Carsten Höller, it is, at 178m, the world’s longest tunnel slide as well as the highest.
For most of my life I’ve been afraid of heights. My feet and knees tingle if I’m near a drop. I am the person who, aged 19, bumped on her bum all the way down the tallest of the towers in Sagrada Familia in Barcelona because she couldn’t stand up on those steps.
A year later I tried caving and drove my fellow cavers demented at the time they had to spend coaxing me down pitches.
When my children were small I took them to an indoor play area where they, but not I, could launch themselves onto a 4m high vertical slide.
It was seven years ago, when I couldn’t stand on the glass floor of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai but discovered I could crawl on it that I realised the solution to this had to be mind over mind.
Going up the Orbit five years ago was part of that process and today I was determined to enjoy the slide. I told myself it couldn’t possibly go faster than 15 mph which had to be safer than going four times that speed on a motorbike (which I’m quite happy about).
In the queue I realised my palms were sweaty but I did not feel scared. Every now and then I felt a small amount of adrenalin in my body then it faded. I saw the people before me fitted into their bags and told to hold on. As some went over the edge I heard excited screams. From others I heard nothing. Then it was my turn and yes I was going to relish every one of those 34 seconds. Head and elbow protection donned, feet in the bag, hands holding the straps, head slightly up, body eased toward the drop… and over.
Some of the slide is in the light, but there are also dark sections where my body was suddenly flung round a bend in a direction I wasn’t expecting. But five seconds later in the next dark section not only did I know what to expect, I was also prepared for something unexpected.
And I loved it! I got off at the bottom laughing and wanting to do it all over again.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking round what’s now called Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, looking at how it’s changed and visiting the velodrome which was too packed to get into five years ago. My only regret: it didn’t occur to me to take a repeat of the picture I took five years ago. Instead you have Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre.
In extras, a couple of low-sun shots at Reading station on the way home.