Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dark Thoughts In Gunwharf Quays

The last time I was in Portsmouth was some five years ago to catch a 7am ferry to France. Portsmouth has always had that very functional feel to me: it’s a dock. An island city which admittedly sounds kind of exciting, but little more. And yet now I found myself going to see Portsmouth in its own right because, in those intervening five years, Portsmouth has gained a new addition, dominating its formally modest skyline. I’d noticed this new addition some weeks earlier, as I stood on the verge of the New Forest: it didn’t seem much from there, but then I was practically in another county.

At 170m tall (558-feet, non-metric lovers), the Spinnaker Tower may be very much Burj al-Arab in Dubai’s kid brother, but it still has a striking effect in a town who’s architecture has never really recovered from being flattened 60 or so years ago. So up I go.

There is a glass plate floor in the Spinnaker, allowing one to step across the clearest of glass, beneath which the dirty water of the docks splashes against the quayside some 360-feet below. I have mixed feelings looking at this glass plate. A significant part of me has no interest in such things, but an equal part of me feels I am letting the side down – and rendering the whole visit to such places pointless – if I don’t get stuck in, regardless of how little I enjoy it. I slip my shoes off and step out into the centre, forcing myself to look down as I take each step, rather than cheating my brain by staring off into the middle distance. I surprise myself at how little fuss my amygdala is making: I’m not relaxed, I’m not entirely comfortable, but I am not in terror. Another thing I am not is keen; keen on the children buffeting me that is, making my already exaggerated sense of imbalance that bit worse as they tear across the glass, do rolly pollys, and skid across it on their knees. A couple of them gather in one point and begin to stamp, eagerly chirping to each other “let’s try and smash it!” as they jump up and down. Now, that sort of thing just makes me nervous.

I reach the end of the walkway, and urge it to shatter the moment my foot leaves it: right at that moment, there is nothing more that I’d like to see than their three little bodies tumbling through the air into the sea below, with its hidden spikes of jagged metal just below the oil stained surface. When I was going up the
Eifel Tower last summer, I remember one particular irritating person (even by tourist standards) remarking to his companions “What would happen if, like, the lift cable, like, snapped right now?” “What the buggery fuck do you think’ll happen, Einstein incarnate?” is what I want to say to such people in such situations. I don’t say these things though. I just allow my already frazzled nerves to jangle a little more, and then fruitlessly remember these idiots for years afterwards, wasting valuable brain space.


conroy bumpas said...

i was up the blackpool tower years ago. my gilfriend like torchering me coz im no to good with heights. they have the glass theing and she trotted of and walked on it and called me a wuss. i was standing therelooking and birds flying from the top. when i had only ever seen birds flying from the bottom. it was odd. i couldnt bring myself to walk on it. i stood therelooking waiting. my ex was taunting me. so all i could do was in for a penny in for a pound JUMP ON IT. two foon stomp slap bang in the middle like a kid to scared to get into the swimming pool. it made a much louder bang than i entended. and 1 lady and my ex bouth screamed. then my ex punched me in the face.

thats what i got for trying to conqure my fear

Dancinfairy said...

Oh my god, I stood at the bottom, looked up and felt dizzy and sick. Had to go to one of the many chain bars to drink a pint to get over it.

Anonymous said...

I really can't believe you walked across it...I'm so proud of you. Liked your story about last summer...made me laugh :) Ah, memories!


Shane said...

You people in the south with your glamourous attractions...

Will have to make do with super-casinoless Blackpool for my own kind of exotic day out. Though I do have a football trip to Blackburn coming up in a couple of weeks... 'woo hoo', as a woo-hooist would say.

Chris said...

I still haven't scaled it. It looks impressive but it seems to have been built to smooth Portsmouth's steady transition from historic naval city, to a seamless chav-filled shopping complex. Or maybe that's just because I associate Portsmouth with feeling scared before the Hampshire Country Swimming Championships.