A horror of heights

‘I never trusted blotters. They remind me of people who jump up and wash after sex. Ink is a generative fluid.’ Hilary Mantel 

Years ago, when I was going through a period of family ruction I dreamed I was in the Edinburgh Museum striding along a mezzanine that jutted from the central walls.

The narrow walkway was filled with countless display cases beyond which the veranda with no balcony tipped into the centre of the museum below. There was scarcely space for walking.

I led a group along this veranda when I noticed a man on my right, close to the edge. As we came to a corner where the balcony turned he stepped into thin air as though there was still floor beneath him and spun to the ground where I knew he was dead. 

I woke in panic. Such dreams of falling, the stuff of many a nightmare and a throwback to the days when I first detected my hatred of heights. The vertiginous nausea. 

Have you ever sat stationary in your car at lights and for no reason, your foot clear of the accelerator, feel your car inch forward? A sudden surge of vertigo as if your brakes have failed. This can happen when the car beside you moves ahead only fractionally. It’s as if it’s you who’s moving, at least in your brain.

These days I’m into Hilary Mantel’s autobiographical writing, essays and the like. Such a joy to read. Such wise wit and a way of putting things that causes my heart to skip beats. I have not read any of her historical fiction though I recognise there must be much of value here. So much to say about an imagined other life. 

‘My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you,’ writes Audre Lorde. Another friend, long dead, who often found herself in trouble at work meetings because she spoke the unspeakable, once told me, ‘Silence is a crime’. 

At the same time, another colleague, after I, along with others, complained of a lack of teacher feedback during our training, told us, ‘Silence is golden’. If no one says anything then you can only assume things are okay.

I take the opposite position.

If no one speaks when words are called for then I reckon something is amiss. As much as there are times when silence is all we can manage. In grief. In rage. In the intensity of feelings that cannot find verbal expression. Then silence, at least as a temporary antidote, might well be healing.

I have one of those rare events ahead: a free weekend, during which I have no fixed appointments and although I have some unclear plans, somewhere in there I will get the usual housework done and share the walking of dogs.

I will also spend time with family, including my twelve-year-old grandson who’s staying with us for a few days and is such a joy. A boy between childhood with all its curiosities and adulthood when cynicism and all things humanly toxic set in.

I hope he stays his lovely self for the rest of his life. Not every human being needs to curdle in the acidity of adolescence, but you never know.