Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Slacklife: My first piece of published writing!

My first ever published piece of writing! Very happy with it...lots of photos and an awesome video to watch too, here - http://www.maverickslacklines.co.uk/2011/11/uk-slackline-collective/

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

SlackLondon: A peek into the SlackLife


Friday

It was one of those mornings that started with sweaty sex.
The kind that burns calories. Fellas know that if you want to start your day jacked and natural, relieving the morning glory is a good way to go.
And if that wasn’t enough, what is it about walking round someone else’s apartment, naked, air-guitaring to Jimi Hendrix that is so invigorating?

With more energy than expected from my packet of chocolate buttons and a fromage-frais breakfast, I decided to set myself a mission.
Not two days ago had I bought a cool earring, and I’d taken even less time to lose it.
My mission - to find it.
Needle in a haystack.
Earring in London.
You get the idea.

But I felt lucky.
Sat on the tube, I ran a montage. There, before my feet was the silver ring, glinting, as if the sun had found the sacred spot. I felt like Indiana, mounting that medallion onto his staff.

The tube took a sharp turn, and then another ten. Jerked from my daydreams, I rationalise the ridiculous probability of finding my earring. I smile to myself, taking a deep breath in as 8 civilians cram themselves into a 3-man spot, along the train’s aisle and along my face.

I was off to Victoria Park. Not only the sacred burial ground for my earring, but the location for the 2011 SlackLondon festival, which I was rumoured to have been organising.

In true balls out fashion, I had set Victoria Park as the location disclosed to the public, yet not cleared our slacking permission with the park’s ranger service. And, the previous day on my first visit ever, I had managed to lose something. Things were looking bright.

Friday, during a British September, doesn’t conjure up images of perspiring brows or uncomfortably aligned underwear. Yet that’s what half of the city of London was experiencing. With an extra third of my body weight in rucksacks, I waddled into the park’s grounds, mentally grinning at the weekend ahead of me. What would it hold? Who would I meet? Who else’s shower would I operatically dismantle before clocking awkward eyes with the neighbour? Universe, give me a sign!


Bags down, roughly the same number of paces from the trees as you sat yesterday. Look for bottle cap dug into floor, and snapped twig the width of a chippolata sausage.

Looking. Found the cap. Still Looking. Found the twig. 15 minutes later, but still no earring. Sweating. Hopeless. I quit.

I bent down to pick up my bags, letting the frustration of losing something wash over me. Just then, as my hand reached for the backpack strap, the most glorious glint pierced my gaze like a heavenly gift.

That was it.
That was the omen.

From here on in, everything would fall into place, and I, into a deep sleep.
Blanket down under a shady canopy, Tom Sawyer position. I lit a pipe and drifted slowly in to my central city siesta.
The slacking wouldn’t begin for another hour or two. Perfect.

I awoke to a vibrating lump of plastic, hovering over my chest. Nothing to worry about. Friends were calling to say they had arrived. A dump of internal chemical excitement hit my veins. I was wired to go!

The first thing Aborigines do when they arrive at a new location is to set and burn a fire. With nomadic slackers, they rig lines.
The three of us put up what lines we had. Not just to slack with, but to show presence. SlackLondon was born. And it felt incredible.
Tunes, sunshine, slacklines and an open invitation the whole of the country. Things were looking peachy indeed.








Britain was in a good mood, and that was reflected in its sky. So good in fact, that Jake was able to set up his solar powered sound system. It wasn’t long before the public were captivated. City workers stopped their stomps momentarily, squinting their eyes to see if we really were levitating. A couple even joined in and tried the lines out. From 3 we grew to about 30 plus. Not bad for a facebook event’s page and a paper plate sign I ductaped to one of the park’s infinite gate entrances.





A few hours in and the rangers had pulled up.
‘Sorry mate, but we don’t allow slacklining in this park.’
Heart drops to my arse. It was an inevitable situation, but still, the imaginary version didn’t have the same, gut-wrenching quality to it. Think fast. Faster.



‘Well, in fact, I cleared it with Jivesh just the other day brother. He said it was all cool,’ I recited, in an on-the-spot manner of Event Organiser superiority.
The dialogue continued.
I name dropped as best I could.
I mentioned how Saturday was going to be the big one, how people from all over the country were coming to jam with us.
Still the head honcho wasn’t going to budge. His authoritative position meant too much to him in front of his colleague.
So I tried a different black-belt method of diversion.

‘All the kids coming tomorrow are so excited. If you take us out now, they’ll be so upset. Hey, in fact, why don’t you have a go, man. Here, I’ll help you walk the line.’

Laughs all round.
Suddenly the conversation turned from competition, to cooperation.
They declined the offer of trying the slackline.
‘Wouldn’t look too good doing it in uniform now, would it?’ they said, grinning.
Suddenly they didn’t seem so bothered about winning the battle of shutting us down.
I held my ground, for the good of us all and for the sake of SlackLondon. It paid off.
‘Well, I can’t stop you guys from doing it, I s’pose.’

And that’s all I needed to hear.
I beamed a smile of smugness to all the slackliners as I confirmed to them all, and to myself, that SlackLondon was going ahead. Result.







The sunset Friday night was just beyond majesty. I faced west, tilting my eyes to the sky, wishing I could somehow kiss it. Slacklines bordered my peripheral, gentle tunes accompaning my personal postcard. What could have been better? This is heaven, I thought. This is SlackLife.

With hardly any light but the effervescent, tangerine glow of the city, we de-rigged and de-littered our spot. A pint was in order, sadly not to be shared with other slackers, but that didn’t matter. They would return tomorrow.
Ben, Jake and I took ourselves to the nearest watering hole we could find. We re-rigged the sound system as we sat outside – the first time being our own DJs at someone else’s pub.



It was fantastic – the public’s mood shifted into a bubbly sense of euphoria the moment Jake’s funk collection hit their ears. Our excitement for Saturday couldn’t be contained. Even the barmaid was slung information on how to find us the following day.



Back in Jake’s palatial van and Ben wasn’t feeling too good. We’d scored a wicked park up spot, right along side the park’s western section. What better way for us to leave our mark than for Ben to projectile vomit over a whole section of fencing? Lads on tour indeed, even after only 2 pints.
Something for the squirrels I suppose.



Together we smoked ourselves out, listening to some fine Dub and lounging in the twilight of a small lamp. Kids passing by obviously heard, and thought it would be funny to shake, rattle and roll the palace from the outside. It definitely got our attention, and nearly caught my temper. A swift shout and flinging open of the door found no one in sight. All part and parcel of a travelling SlackLife.
The three of us drifted into our mellow slumber, smiles all round.


Saturday

The radiating heat of the morning sun was filling the van, prying us from our reclined status. The pangs hit us simultaneously. And so did the headaches. We needed to find a greasy spoon, soon. Neither of us had drunk enough water the day before. Topping that off with a couple of pints and some pre-sleep-rum-swigging meant that we were all missing the back section of our skulls. A fry-up and some caffeine required. Together, we trotted with light feet on a blurry-eyed grub-mission.



On the horizon read ‘BREAKFAST – 10 ITEMS FOR £5’. Done.
‘Had a rough night then lads?’ said our waitress.
Did we look that bad? We’d had 30 hours sleep between us!
Must have been a dirty fingernail giveaway.

Out came a plate the size of my torso, filled with meat and chips. We must have devoured a pig’s worth. Hangover cured and fuelled for a day of slacking, for less than a tenner. It’s deals like that that gets us pumped.
Excitedly, we blurted to our waitress where she could find us, and together we witnessed her realise that we were travelling slackers, not homeless drunks. Relief!

A leisurely lunchtime approach seemed the perfect time to rock up at the park. But not before visiting one of Jake’s contacts for the use of a shower.
Feeling new, we were ready to get on to day 2 of the weekend. We wheeled a whole trailer full of gear back to our spot. As soon as the first couple of lines went up and the sound system started pumping, it was show time. The public’s attention had been captivated with ease.



Gradually numbers of people began to accumulate on our lawn. Local indoor rock climbers came to check out the day, bringing with them everything they needed for a good sesh – from bags of fruit and nut, to lines of nylon tubular.






At the peak of the day, I recorded a whopping 13 lines that were rigged for everyone to try. Most were trick lines, but it wasn’t long before the 30+ meter lines came out. And then, the 56m ‘Widow Maker’.






The tension was the issue. Out of the ten plus people who tried, only three people sent it. And that was after we had to de-rig and re-tension. Before that, no man could tame the beast.



It was a personal battle for myself. The longest line I had tried to date. I didn’t feel pressure from surrounding slackers, as such. But I knew what it meant to me and what it would take to send it. That created a pressure of its own.
Somehow, I locked in and found the pocket. I had sent the beast and felt stoked as could be.
Unfortunately, I returned and found Jake had bailed and given himself mild-concussion. He couldn’t remember shit, so I figured dowsing him with beta on the Widow Maker wouldn’t sit well with his state of confusion.




The twilight of the day was drawing in, my favourite time. The skies opened up their chambers of super nature for us all to gawp upon in awe. Sunset lines and barbeques. I was in sending-celebration mode, and went to stock up on feast material. Sat round together, we chomped and chatted away, reminiscing on highlights of the weekend. Getting to know everyone there was a real pleasure. Some real diamonds had come out to play.



As darkness fell, we played out the SlackLife in full, packing and de-rigging with next to no visibility. Out came the head torches. We marched the trailer and all our gear across the park, only to find that we had been locked in! Again! Between four of us, we hauled the beast over the fence, tunes still pumping, much to the surprise of the locals drinking in the park’s border-lining pub. Trawling the streets with tunes would be our final chapter. We missioned to the nearest kebaby, all in the name of chips. Jake and Ben managed to confuse our cashier so well that he forgot to ask them for any money. As the four of us sat on the curb, barely able to keep our deep fried delights within our palettes, from laughing so hard, it dawned on me that I really was in the pocket. This really was heaven.

Sunday

A lazy Sunday morning came around in a haze. SlackLondon had played out its scene.
We awoke, all in level positions. Falling out of the palace, one by one, we realised we’d been done. The front right tire had been slashed. Along with about 50 other cars down the street and in the immediate local area. Mindless, infuriating vandalism, and yet, we couldn’t be happier. We juggled for the neighbours, admired the yuppie dressing gown talent, and even scored a free cuppa each. Locals lent us tools, and together we got on the case and changed the truck’s tire in street circus style. I’d like to think our grins were contagious. Thanks to the hot middle-eastern chicks for the tea!






Most of the slackers had retired to their abodes to rest. However, a few of us remained that were keen for some final day action. Dan brought his line to rig, and in between rain spells, we eventually rocked up to the park at 6pm.
A 64m was on cue, myself and Jake’s longest challenge yet. Internally and mentally, I was still in the pocket from sending the 56m the day before. Keeping that presence, I sent the line first try and back again, and so did Jake. It was a taste of bliss, I’m sure. I was so relaxed and so aware. I felt like a nylon Buddha.




Our final mission was one of style. All that was left was to say our goodbyes and figure out how to leave the sprawl that is central London.

Right by the station, the final three musketeers, Jake, Ben and myself, called in at the most badass Indian restaurant I have ever eaten at. This place had tree houses in it, man! We all double took as we walked past the window. Realising this would be the greatest novelty mastication had ever seen, we piled through the door and waved a ‘three’, pointing to the tree house cabin. We scored our own unit – 4 or 5 steps up a ladder, looking out over the whole restaurant. The waiters climb the ladder to serve you, and yes, clearing the table was both nerve wracking and hilarious. Yet they didn’t drop anything. God forbid. A stray item of cutlery from our cabin’s altitude would have resulted in a lawsuit. Or even another concussion.

We ran through the flavours of East laid before us. We laughed at all the discrepancies and raucousness of SlackLondon and how incredibly well it all came together. One conversation in a sub-urban park of Swindon a month previously, had manifested itself into a waking dream; 3 days of living in the pocket with friends and a whole selection of new people to add to that title. Incredible.

So excited and late for my train home, I legged it with 25 keys of gear strapped to my torso, up one massive, broken escalator. My legs gave out, I slipped on my sweaty flip-flop and sliced my foot clean open on the side of the metal step. And I missed my train.




Back to the palace for a smoke with the boys then?





Hazardous Davis


Photos: Hazardous Davis
Matt Locke
Lubos Horvat - www.luboshorvat.com

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

True Self-Expression; Juggling; My First Juggling Convention

I had only looked at the poster in the local, sleepy, supermarket.

And yet with that small glance, I had just aligned the planets.
I wouldn’t realise the implications of looking upon that half-empty notice board for another 48 hours.
Then it would hit me; I’d stumble upon my seat for synchronicity’s rollercoaster.

Oh shit!

Hello, is this the Juggling Lab?’ went the call. ‘I’ve seen your poster and want to come along, what’s the deal?
I wanted enough information to make sure this wasn’t going to be a horrific embarrassment. Suburbia was never known for its cultural exuberance. Turning up to a Juggling Club, in a foreign country’s arse-end, was tipping my risk assessment towards my paper bin.

We meet in a school gym. Just come along,’ she said.
Do you want a slackline?’ I threw it out there, not expecting a catch.
Yeah bring it along, why not.’ She sounded casual. Open, almost.
'Risk it for a biscuit,' I thought.

It was my first night driving on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of a car, using the wrong hands for all the right controls.
Miraculously, I arrived alive.

3 other people stood waiting to get inside.
My premonitions about suburbia had come true. Our juggling club was open to all of 3 members. And now a mono-linguistic challenge had turned up, with 25m of nylon to deal with.
A recipe for disaster.
Or magic.

Ciao, I’m Harry,’ I blurted, trying to bypass that awkwardness that always seems to lurk when meeting new members.
Hey, I’m Marco.
I figured he was the teacher. He had the performer’s goatee. The glint in his eye that said ‘experienced’, the black hooded jumper that read ‘natural’ in bold, white letters.
And he had the keys to get in.
The door opened. Lights flickered on; the bulbs not warm enough to illuminate the gym beneath them.
As the filaments gained confidence, an Aladdin’s cave of circustry unfolded.
Clubs, climbing frames, mats and a multitude of juggling necessities, everywhere.
A ton of fun for 4 people.

So tonight, you teach slackline. Is OK?
It was half-question, half-command.
A rebounding ‘Yeah, OK’ bopped out of my mouth.
A hint of confusion, as I thought I came to learn to juggle.

Whilst setting up, reams of bedroom-jugglers - all adepts of the unusual- just flowed through the double doors. A few minutes further and I could feel the excitement bubbling. Circus crews have some weird ability to charge their surrounding molecules with enthusiasm. When a whole gym does this, you can’t help but vibrate, too.
With the help of a translator, I taught a full, buzzing class of 25, open-minded participants. Questions, laughs and the odd squeal of amazement coalesced and seemed to juggle themselves, within shared space.

Not even half-way through and Marco told me about the Convention coming up at the weekend.
This time it was a full-bodied command. I was going whether I could get there or not.

Non-verbal communication unifies feelings and emotions between people that share compatible interests. It’s that silent magic that renders rapport. We barely spoke the same language. But all of us knew we were on the same page.
Before I could calculate it, I had a lift to Italy’s largest Juggling Convention; 3 days of electric, European eccentricity. In just 48 hours, suburbia had swallowed me backstage, into the chambers of the circus. And now I was about to be spat out, right into the spotlight.

Friday

I was thinking we should try this out?’ said Nico, margherita slice in one hand, Moroccan hash in the other. ‘What do you think?
Before I could give an answer, a third limb came into play. He was steering with his knee, chewing his pizza and skinning up a spliff, all at 100km/h.
We were definitely on our way to the Convention.

Nico thinks in 3 languages. He’s not your average Italian.
He drives a German car with a broken clutch, lifting the pedal with his foot after each gear change. To show off, he once showed me he could lift it with his hand.
He drives a bus at the local airport, whilst trying to battle the three multi-lingual devils on his shoulder blades, whispering sonnets of escape.
He would be my partner in crime for the weekend. German organisation with Italian I don’t rushness. A blinding combination.

Nico was no stranger to the fundamental elements of the road trip. We didn’t have tickets, but that was of no concern.
His friends were already at the Convention; they would slip us a wristband so we could get in cheap.
Apparently.
His car was full of beers, cushions and a boombox. And he was rocking the most exotic pair of shit-catchers this side of Arabia - Princess Jasmin would have been jealous.

We pulled into the Convention parking-zone in darkness.
It was warm-up performance night.
Out of nowhere, the roar of the crowd just exploded through the marquee walls, over the fence and into our wagon’s cockpit.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!’ we both screamed in unison, with uncontrollable excitement. The hair on my neck was even looking to exit the car.

The clouds opened, so to return the shots of the heavens, I unleashed my pop-up tent. No wet gear for us; Elements – 0 Jugglers – 1.
We met with Nico’s friends to arrange the necessary accreditation. The security guards weren’t employed at night; like ninjas we slid through the shadows in to the arena – the epicentre of those roars.

We picked out the last seats.
The marquee was rammed.
Friend’s had saved us spots and we supplied spliffs.
The hiss of popped beer bottles echoed into the uncanny silence, as the mass of bodies sat still, waiting for the next act to deliver.
What I proceeded to witness is beyond my literal capabilities of description. Some of the most original displays of human creativity, and I’d only been there ten minutes.
Juggling, Miming, Human-Hula-Hooping; just the most fantastic array of competence and this would be only the warm-up.

The site for the ‘Convention di Gioceleria della Brianza’ (Juggling Convention of Brianza) was miniscule.
Perfect.
1 minute from your tent to the arena.
One minute from the arena to the Palestra (indoor juggling gym), and one minute from the Palestra back to your tent.
A truly intimate triangle.
There were showers and squat-n-shot toilets (an experience!), a bar and food stall, a kids’ playground and even a unicycle assault course made from pallets. This was the 5th year of the convention; performers and fanatics from all over Europe would arrive to experience the delights and wonder in the world of Circus.

Nightfall had well and truly moved in, and the fire-spinners joined. I pulled up a seat and watched in hypnotic appreciation. A variety of flaming sticks, chains and fans created illuminated patterns of combusting kerosene. Between moments of being mesmerised, I conversed with the few in attendance that spoke English. They sounded surprised that this was my first ever Convention. I was in the presence of veterans. Fortunately, my recent moustache won me acceptance – I was addressed as ‘Malaysian Pirate’ and attracted the attention of fellow moustachers.
One in particular, Orzo, would prove to be so eloquent, yet so eccentric, that he even appeared in a dream I had later that night.
I was standing in the melting pot of vivid personality; Orzo was the result when Salvador Dali met Darcy Bussell; one of the many charismatic concoctions of the weekend.



I walked down a set of gritty steps and through a dimly lit porch, skimming a puddle with my heel.

Then it hit me.

I’ve never seen so many people just like me!’ flashed immediately through my head. Dreadlocks.
Colourful, expressive clothing.
Bare feet.
Everywhere!
Juggling balls, clubs, rings. All bouncing in the air as if swapped for atoms and particles. It was overwhelming.
I know it sounds like a bomb had just hit a commune, but it wasn’t that hippy. There were tracksuit bottoms. I spotted some water bottles. People were doing things, not just signing ‘Peace’ with their two fingers.
Never before, had I felt such rapport, such social proximity, with a mass of people that were complete strangers to me.
And yet with such elation, came confusion.
I didn’t quite know what to do.



Suddenly, I began to feel very self-conscious.
All these people looked so comfortable, so at ease with their surroundings.
And yet this was all so new to me. So foreign.
Somewhere inside, for some time, I’d been searching for a room like this.
Now I’d found it. And all I wanted to do was sit in the corner.
But not to sulk. More to watch, to glare in amazement at the thousand or so characters all practicing their tricks and expressing their under-layers of personality.

After a while, their energy rubbed off on me.
The self-consciousness disappeared.
All I wanted to do was get on my feet and juggle; to have a sesh!
Only 4 months juggling experience mattered no longer.

What resulted was something most profound.
Thanks to the hashish, I acquired an ability to manipulate time.
As I began, I felt myself zooming in on each ball, focusing on its every movement, every rotation. It was as if nothing else existed.
I was the Alchemist, creating the Philosopher’s Stone from three, charged elements.
I found myself learning with extraordinary focus – 3 new tricks, at 3am.
Welcome to Psychonautic Juggling.

The Palestra was open 24 hours. It was a massive sports hall, transformed into a juggler’s paradise. Come pre-sunrise, when the rains swept in, it was busier than ever. Jugglers rest from dawn to lunchtime, a body clock format that I had since trained myself out of.
I decided to take my new tricks to my tent as I left my fellow jugglers behind me. I caught glimpses of little ones tucked up on camping mats, fast asleep, as Mummy and Daddy, too, learnt new tricks at 3am.
What cool parents to have,’ I thought.

Saturday

Who would have thought two blobs of wax could save a life.

If there’s one item I don’t travel without, it’s my ear plugs.
Those things ensure a tight night’s sleep, whether you’re in a luxury hotel, or a field clouded by thunder storms.
Come dawn, it wasn’t noise that woke me up.
It was the sensation of an over-heated, sweaty top lip, that interrupted my slumber. The forecast of a brutal weekend of rain storms wasn’t holding true. The sun was practically melting my tent porch and with a moist patch on my lower back, I hurled myself out on to the grass.

Arriving at your destination in darkness, then seeing it in light the next day, brings a delicate magic with it. I spent a few minutes just soaking in my now visible surroundings.
No sign of life.
In that case, time to shower, before the other 2000 woke up!
Festival showers have a reputation for being appalling.
And there’s validity in that infamy.

However, we had struck gold this year, having access to showering facilities within the sport camp.
But still, I wasn’t quite ready for the shock.
These showers in particular were communal.
Turns out jugglers’ balls really do get themselves everywhere.
Bordering on emotional scar tissue, I scrambled out of the toilet block, trying not to mangle myself upon the lethal combination of flip-flops and wet tiled floors.
I felt fresh and clean, but had to laugh at this tragic case of bollock exposure.
The ‘British Reserve’ really has no place amongst shared nudity.



Although this was a juggling festival, there were plenty of slacklines about the place.
I happened to set up a Rodeo line (no tension), which produced amusing results, and seemed to keep the clouds at bay.
Across the weekend were a variety of free workshops; everything from clown performance to tight-rope walking.
By accident, I happened to set my line up at the scheduled time of the latter.



Are you the teacher for the workshop?’ people began asking me.
Officially, no. But we can start one,’ I replied, now somewhat acquainted with teaching people to slackline by accident.
As I result, I helped to teach 5 lads as best I could, how to mount and balance on the line.
Then the real teacher showed up.
He had brought with him a mini-tight-rope rig, that would prove to be bring lots of fun. And lots of blood.

Sandro was from Bologna and had studied at Circus School. He spoke no English, but his body language said it all. About 15 of us magnetised around him, anticipating the release of his secrets, as to how a human can send a piece of steel cable, and not fall off.
He demonstrated some fantastic warm-up drills (that I now use in my workshops); we all partnered off and drilled for the first section.
Then we all tried to walk the line.
Based on our performance, we would split into two groups; those who needed more practice, and those who needed even more practice.
As a little ego boost, I will add that I sent the line first go. All 3 meters of it.
That qualified me into the more practice group.

My first impressions of walking on steel; Pain.
Without shoes, it really chops at your feet. It was like walking in a straight line on sharp stones. Great for conditioning your soles – but a couple of people did have to pull out due to the hurt.
I put my shoes on. The session had begun.
Sandro taught us how to turn, and to walk with more grace and flare.
I thought I would be clever and try to lunge on the line.
It worked.

I then got even more cocky, pulling off a double-drop knee on the steel.
Everyone cheered and clapped.
I got down, despite my now inflated head wanting to float away, and realised my shin was leaking red everywhere.
I had taken a chunk out of my leg, ripping off an old scab. Now the blood was running down into my shoes.
Not so clever.

Macho-ism kicked in.
I still felt smug for pulling it off, even though I now looked a bit of a twat – I’d fashioned a bandage from an old football sock, tied around my leg.
However, ‘Warrior’ was sent my way, and I couldn’t disagree.
Sometimes you just have to take one for the team.



Sandro’s workshop was a great success.
I had to migrate to the areas of shade, as the UV had caught me unprepared.
It was only a couple of weeks since being fully-lobstered in Switzerland, and with a body of new skin, I wasn’t up for reliving the crustacean nightmare.

A spot of lunch in the sanctuary of the Palestra and then it was off to watch some live Capoiera. An international spectacle of music, singing and combat dancing.
Only to be cut short by the eruption of the skies.
The heat had proved to be too much.
An aerial dump of water ensued, turning the sports ground to a semi-floating, refugee camp. I took shelter in my tent at this point; with no pegs. The best I had to offer was my own body weight.
I won’t lie. I was shitting it. Rain was coming in the back. When the lightning flashed, it reflected off the zippers. Too close for comfort. Memories of swimming in Thai pools during storms, and how stupid that was, came to me. All I wanted was my siesta. And now I felt like I was reliving a scene from Jumanji.

However, the wax worked wonders, yet again.
I arose heavy-eyed and off balance, like a lion with a hangover.
Afternoon-recharge was complete.
Countdown to the Gala; 5 hours.
Saturday night’s show was the big one. I couldn’t understand, but I knew everyone was talking about it. Previous years were said to have been funny, but not so high in skill. This year would be different. The card was international, and rumour had it that some super original treats of walking sticks and LED clubs would make an appearance. I was excited.

Earlier in the day, I had met a wizard.
He had a shaved, bald head, with a tiny tail of hair at the base of his skull.
On the top, he had a tattoo of a circle.
He had big, black, ear tunnels that looked like miniature wine barrels.
And of course, no wizard is complete with out his own designated pair of Shit-catchers.
Alessandro showed me into his van; his royal palace on wheels.
I think I’ll be paying for this for the rest of my life’ he laughed. ‘Since coming back from India, this has been my home.
He told me stories of how he had been studying with a guru out there; a 65 year-old Sadhu, with the full dreads-and-robe rig, and how his guru found him, not the other way round.
He lent me a book on brain-breathing; a Tantric science, similar to the breath skills of Pranayama, but a lot more knarly. A perfect esoteric text to compliment my surroundings.

Post-prana digestion, and off to the Palestra to shelter from the storms.
Out of the corner of my eye, I’d noticed some hand balancers.
The fact that they were the only characters upside down must have caught my eye. Amongst them, I noticed a chick really kicking ass. She was pressing effortlessly, holding her poise as if second nature.
That’s who I want to teach me,’ I thought.
I plucked up the balls to interrupt her practice; something I dislike to do. Especially in a foreign, broken language.
To my surprise, she was Swiss, and had a cool name.
Mya had driven down from Zurich with her crew, specialising in balancing and club juggling. I asked her if she could help me with my technique, to which she responded with utmost Swiss-precision.
It’s not about strength,’ she stated. ‘If you’re getting tired, it’s because you’re using your muscles. This is about balancing.
Since sustaining a back injury, I thought my ability to clown upside-down would have diminished. To my surprise; ‘You’re not far off. You just need to close here and open here.’ And she didn’t mean the former to be my mouth.



Mya was also a bit of a genius at the partner acrobatics, or Acro-Yoga as it’s sometimes known. In the UK, apparently it’s difficult to get started in the formal stages of Acro-Yoga without sufficient training and experience. Well, I had zero experience, and an injury, but I was invited to try. My friends who told me about the Convention were already quite adept at the partner-acro stuff. To describe it when man and woman take part, would be like watching male and female energies unifying. It’s like they’re making love, but without the sexually intimate nudity. It’s intense, yet graceful. And you definitely have to trust your partner. You don’t have to be of opposite sex to try, however. My first attempt was spotted by my friend Marco. I tried the Acro bit, he supported me.

Tricky.
I then played spotter.
But with Marco’s Mrs.
Her hands were supporting her weight, in vicinity of my crotch.
And yet Marco seemed fine with it.
What a Man.
I was over the intimacy pretty fast.
I had to support a full, inverted human being, lying on a mat that would not save the both of us if gravity should win.
To my delight, I didn’t kill Marco’s Mrs.
In fact, I only pulled my groin (strain, not mischief).
If you want to try this sort of thing, don’t bother with Acro-Yoga classes if they require lots of experience. Instead, go to a circus workshop. They’ll show you the way.




Post-groin failure and my appetite was peaking.
By accident, I bumped into Marco once more, who then invited me to his magic house-bus, for a meal of Fajitas and red wine. Four of us lounged within his 1970s Mercedes wagon; a most hospitable of machines. Dinner in Italy is never a rushed affair, so for the next 3 hours we chopped, smoked, sipped and split our sides with laughter, whilst Marco did the honours.
With side windows open, we decided to spread the wings of hospitality even further, offering mini shots of grappa to anyone walking by.
Voi un GRAPPINO?’ would become our chant of choice, shocking unsuspecting passers-by into accepting traditional Italian apparat√≠fs.
In a field, you make your own humour.

Stumbling out of the food-cart, half-pissed and half-jedi, we made our way to take our seats for the grand Gala.
The result was truly amazing.
The crowd enthusiasm was at new levels; shouts and cheers were flung at every interval.
Real empathy filled out that tent.

My favourite parts of the show were: a simple, 3-ball juggling act, in which the balls were swapped for ball-size balloons without the audience guessing.
And the opening act; a high-tech, LED juggling-club performance involving a doctor and his human robot-experiment.



Words can’t do the acts justice, however.
Every single spectator left that tent on a high, feeling inspired at what they had just witnessed. You could just feel it. People were too happy to be in a rush to leave, despite thousands of them trying through one exit point.
At any other event, tempers would have erupted.
Not at the Convention.

The Gala would prove to be the introduction for an epic night ahead.
Whilst at the show, nightfall had set itself around the grounds, sparking ideas for a fire-pit in the minds of the flame-spinners.
Everyone would gather outdoors on an old basketball court, to witness a truly tribal performance of humans and fire, accompanied by African djembe drumming.

One of Nico’s friends was taking part in the unofficial flame show.
He had caught my attention the first night I arrived.
His specialty was fire-poi; twin chains attached to cylinders of flames.
When he was practicing, and even performing, he would just go into his trance; 110% focus, tuning out everything around him.
He was one of the few people that I really noticed this with.
He just had this glint in his eye; a reflection of his poi.Wheeling and spiralling lines of hypnotic light, encompassed around his retinas.
You could tell he loved what he did.
This was his path. His form of expression.
I’m not really into fire-spinning. But this unknown friend left a smokey trail of kerosene-induced inspiration behind him, something I would later transform into my world.


The djembe drum circle had decided to move indoors.
I was already pretty high, and I had asked the crew when outside, if I could have a go. Nobody was willing to give up their drum.
We drummers are funny like that.
We don’t share our craft easily.

Instead, I was hauled off my arse by some friends, literally dragged into a dance circle that was forming.
2 or 3 wizards had set the pace.
In their fearless approach, they decided somewhere inside of them, that tonight, they were dancing. Surrounded by jugglers, they got to it. Within ten minutes, their energy had replicated itself into the bodies of another 40 people. This was contagious. This was music in its most primal form; everyone in that Palestra was tuning into frequencies so hard-wired by evolution, you couldn’t help but move.
The dancing waves of energy seemed to feed the drummers.
They absorbed, translated them into their instruments, then boomed them back at us via pulses of sound. This was an unbreakable cycle, and went on for hours. I even managed to join in on the beating – a 10-minute unbroken attack of hand-swelling rhythms. That took a good deal out of me, and apparently I wasn’t the only one. Just after I had stopped, we were shut down by the local mayor for ‘noise pollution’.
It was 5.30am.
Unfortunate maybe, but it proved just how powerful a collection of acoustic drums and the correct company could really be.

I was polarised from it all.
I couldn’t finish there.
I still had more to give.
What better time to learn a new skill, than just before the sun rises?
I had been watching people juggle clubs all weekend. I didn’t really want to learn how to do it. I was comfortable pushing the boundaries of fusing psychotropic drugs with rice-filled balls.
But if there’s one thing juggling has taught me, it’s how my brain works when it learns something new; somehow I can navigate that process.
With a body and mind full of fresh tribal energy, I wanted to test myself.
I wanted to juggle 3 clubs before receiving a solar audience.
Not for transcending club-limits.
For personal ones.

I started hopeful.
Clubs crashed all around me, so I found a spot in the corner to reduce casualties.
A couple of tips on how to get started and I was off.
For the first quarter, I don’t think I took a full breath.
Relentlessly, I kept picking up my juggling shrapnel, trying to burn the new neural pathways in place.
After fifteen minutes, I had a couple of cycles.
After 30 minutes, I was up to ten.
Those in my company couldn’t all believe what they were witnessing.
Apparently, learning the basics of clubs in under half an hour is not possible.
I was truly the anomaly, doing so and at an unholy hour.
Within 60 minutes, I had a cascade down.
It wasn’t perfect. But it flowed – think pre-pubescent waterfall.
I was thrilled with my achievement. And juggling clubs actually felt good.
We friends finished the night with a spliff, before returning to our tents for some well
earned rest.
After all, Sunday had already begun.


Sunday

There she was.
I knew she liked me before she opened her mouth.
And she was in my way.

Sitting there’s not such a good idea,’ I stated. ‘Maybe wait til I’ve finished this.
In any other foreign situation, I would have either been slapped, or looked at as if I’d escaped Mars.
Fortunately, she spoke English.
She also gave me the eyes.

Sometimes, it’s that split second look from a woman that dictates your future.
I was cavemanning it, in a field. Unshaven, sweating and trying not to burn under the ultra-violet air strike.
She had a dry, dancer’s physique. Her hair was blonde, straight and clean. And she wasn’t hairy – unlike the many gravel-bagged bodies I’d witnessed back in my village.

Many people had asked if I would teach them to slackline on the last day of the Convention. With my new drills, roasting weather and some bi-lingual talent on offer, I wasn’t saying No.
For the newly pilfered workshop drills, I strategically chose Maria as my partner.
Making eye contact was a bad idea - I found myself looking down into the greens of a rainforest.
I was lost in an optical illusion.

Concentrate!

Teaching her to slackline had won her over.
It was that simple.
Except, I hadn’t noticed.
I was too busy trying to be a Man.
To be cool.
After all, my subconscious was ticking, formulating a strategy for getting her back to my semi-molten tent!
I racked my brains for impressive tactics.
Mating dances of tropical birdlife flashed through my mind.
In all my cringe-worthy genius, I had decided it was time for the human equivalent: Handstands.
With my newly acquired Swiss-skills for hand balancing, I attempted to show Maria how it was done. I was going to get laid tonight. And I would do so by walking on my hands.
In hindsight, only one word comes to mind.
Twat.

Cue the Crash and Burn.

I was at a Juggling Convention. Yet still it came as a surprise when I found out that Maria was a circus instructor, teaching kids how to handstand. For a living.
Not only could she juggle more balls than me. But when it was my turn to help her with hand balancing, she didn’t even need my assistance.

Trying to repair the chasm unfolding before me, I suggested we grab some lunch together.
She accepted.
Result.
But so did her friend.
In a panic, I reeled my closest Italian companions to join us.
There was no way I was entertaining by myself.
We shared what tent-warmed produce we had, dividing chunks of sweaty mozzarella on to the last slabs of stale bread.
This was a crumbsnatchers’ picnic, accompanied by an array of awkward silences.
My companions knew they were only there to assist my image. The played a strategy of their own – saying nothing.
I found myself picking at the remaining broken shards of crisps, as tumbleweed threatened to cut through our circle.
I would have laughed at it all until Maria pulled out a penknife before I did. Being outclassed by a female with utensils is enough to jerk the tears from any man.

The comedic tragedy didn’t stop there. In fact, the embarrassment and irony would spread even further.
A super stud hand balancer, performing on the outdoor stage earlier in the day, had also spotted Maria. He was a popular show-man, performing for the crowds stunts of calibrated equilibrium. Upside down.
I didn’t have a chance. This dude could invert himself upon another man’s shoulders!
I watched, as if back in the classroom, as he coaxed her back to his luxurious campervan. She had been swept off her feet by a man on his hands.
And it wasn’t me.
The mating ritual was over.
I’d been officially outclassed.

Laughing at my own humiliation, the day transformed itself. Strangely, I felt much lighter. I no longer had the need to impress. I could just relax, enjoy the atmosphere.

Crowds gathered outside to watch Europe’s best jugglers compete in friendly battles for number one. An American, Wes Peden, destroyed all his opponents. He won both the clubs and ball competitions, throwing his prizes in to the crowd like a superstar. I looked on in amazement, in between winces of pain, as my friend master crafted new dreads for me. Sunshine, tunes, expression and creativity. The four elements of a memorable Sunday.




A lot of people left on the last day. We were staying for the full whack. Sunday night was the Renegade Show – a kind of Italy’s Got Talent for Circus Freaks, that involves making an arse of yourself for free booze.
Fortunately, just turning up was enough to receive beverages at no cost. Crates of beer were handed out to the spectators, much to their surprise. I got my hands on to a can or two, and proceeded to sit and glare, as the Italian sense of humour erupted through the audience.
I witnessed brick-juggling and nose-balancing. A fellow Brit even got up, made a complete dick of himself, pissed-off all those in attendance, and still got a free drink. This was truly bizarre. I hadn’t attended the previous years of Renegade Shows, meaning that I left after I noted no more free beers were available.

I waltzed to my tent on a high note, ready for rest and recharging.
I lay on my mat, smiling to myself at how crazy the whole weekend had been.
I felt like this field was home. I’d hardly spoken to anyone in Italian, and yet I felt like I knew all these people.
With most festivals that go exceptionally well, you don’t want to leave. The weekend had left a magical impression on me that was most remarkable and would not be forgotten.
The following day, driving home on the highway, Nico and I shared the last spliff.
We were exhausted; 3 non-stop days of invigorating pupil-dilation were finally coming to a close.
I returned to the clouds one last time, leant my head back and gave an outward breath of completed adventure.

Thank you, Brianza.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

True Self-Expression; Psytrance; Liquid Soul




Liquid Soul, my favourite Progressive Psytrance producers for a few months now.
Here's a live set for you to listen to,
Enjoy!

Liquid Soul "remember live set" by Liquid Soul

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

True Self-Expression; THE SWISS MISSION - PART 3; A LION'S GUIDE TO WATERLINING

A Lion’s guide to Waterlining

I.

Monday mornings are supposed to be predictable. Unless you’re in Switzerland with a secret weapon.

As I attempted to rig my weapon – the slackline - in the University of Lausanne’s campus grounds, Alain appeared in my peripheral, crash-pad-packed and ready to go.

I thought we’d rig a waterline today,’ he casually let out, with a hint of a smile that suggested fun and nothing short of it. Whilst a sea of Swiss students cleared the nuggets of sleepy dust from their eyes, preparing for their early morning lectures, Alain, a 22yr old prodigy from Lausanne, had other ideas on how one should perform the dull, Monday-morning, wake-up ritual.

There’s an amazing spot just down by the lake that I have got to show you before you go,’ he added.
And amazing wouldn’t win the award for understatement of the day.

A waterline is essentially a slackline, rigged at high-tension between two points, over water. The bit Sherlock didn’t tell you was that this water could have a visible depth, or continue into the murky realms of Poseidon’s lair. It could be soft sand under foot, or you might be calibrating your balance skills over outcrops of rocky talons with the potential to sink a fleet. The water might be warm, but until you take a good, unexpected dunk, you’re balls aren’t gonna know whether it’s necessary brace’n’gloat or just grace’n’float. There is really no end to what conditions exist when one rigs a waterline.



I was expecting to send a 30-35m longline over dry land, and had only gone as far as to mentally affirm to myself the previous night, that whatever went down, I would send the line before returning on the cross-country train ride back to Italy.



I had no idea what to expect when Alain suggested the waterline - that’s the beauty of spontaneity. All I was sure about was that I was keen as a mere cat to give the waterline a shot. That might not have come across as genuine as I had intended.
My line of vision was constantly being fractured by my jumping attention; towards pieces of hot, Swiss-ass, left, right and centre.
And the female levels of distraction weren’t going to stop there.
If there’s one place you want to practice improving your concentration, set up a slackline pretty much anywhere in Switzerland and try not to notice how many gorgeous women protrude your peripherals, innocently crossing your sights and yet putting you off in such a way that you’re convinced their scheming on you.

As my neck jarred itself back to centre like a spring-loaded stocking toy, Alain signalled that this was our metro to catch.
I decided to bunk the journey to get to the lake – I had managed to reach day 3 with only 24 Francs in my possession, and my last 5 weren’t going on tickets – not when there was Swiss-cheese and beers to grab.

A moment or two later, and we had arrived at La Tour De Peilz, a sleepy little shepherd’s port that quite casually sat itself on one of the largest lakes in Europe, soaking up one of the most majestic views I’d ever seen to date.


A brief detour through the supermarket to stock up on slack-snacks was in order. Alain, I could tell over the weekend, was already a seasoned-pro when it came to picking out European snackage that came at an impressive price but at an even more prestigious taste. The basket seemed to fill itself with an array of breads, cheeses, fresh strawberries and cold beverages – along with a fat Hazardous smile as I pictured the future outcomes of mixing waterlines with alcohol.
I trustily handed over my last 5 Euros with gratitude.
I was privileged to be in on some insider-knowledge, at how to eat Swiss-style when setting up a line for the day; which really is an art in itself once you experience it.
Believe me.

Shuffling out of the supermarket, back into the sunlight, like the end of a winter’s hibernation, and there it was in front of me. I unfolded upon the most breathtaking of images. All I could do was utter a sheepish ‘Wow’ towards one of Nature’s greatest visual accomplishments, humbled like a peasant amongst costumes of emperors.
I won’t proceed to try and describe what I saw.
I’ll let the pictures do that.
Besides, stringing words together would probably only offend those very mountains. They seemed to encompass me, like those intimate hello-hugs at a train stations.




Alain took it all in his stride.
He told me how his friends’ grandparents had been backpackers passing through many years ago, only to now be the owners of a humble building which would easily fetch a million or two on today’s property market. He mentioned how he would spend most of his summers down there, just chilling by the lake with his friends, his guitar or his slackline. And apparently the sunsets, each and every one, were heart-stoppers – the depth of which they penetrated one’s being, I could only just begin to fantasize.

I had burnt calories just absorbing the landscape in all is superiority. Before our rigging, it was time to tuck in to our dejeuner – an education. The Swiss-army knife seemed to pull itself out of Alain’s pack – what could be more Swiss, than to reaffirm your utility within an image conquered from a postcard?
This, after all, was what the knife was made for – cutting cheese to put in your French-stick.
Lakeside.




We weren’t the only one’s to encompass the flavours and visuals for lunch time. Countless youths appeared to be spending their lunch break down by the lake, the elite few staying on beyond the bell, bunking the days’ classes, as Alain did, in order to experience life with a little more substance.

My lectures today were with a ‘Pessimist-Environmentalist’ anyway, so I think I can afford to miss his words,’ Alain confessed in a grin, only to be validated by our surroundings, at how minute the sin he had committed really was.

With only a couple of hours until I had to catch my ride back through the valleys, we patched ourselves up in our jackets, in order to work up as much a sweat as was possible before getting dunked. Within a few minutes, the churning Swiss-cow mouths of the local public paused, as they tried to configure what on earth these two loons were doing with some string and key rings.

Do you want to try first?’ Alain asked me, once he had flicked the line, like an oversized cello-string, to check the tension.
Sure, why not?’ I replied with a semi-break in my voice, masked only by the thick throat I’d achieved from eating so much cheese.



At this point it’s important to note that this is a Lion’s guide to waterlining.
I’m a Leo by nature, and last time I checked, I didn’t see Aslan battling Phelps for a podium finish.
Neither has the Lion of Judah shed any wisdom on how to cross a waterline, so I figured it was my vocation to do so. The astrological fact in itself, for those of you in the know, should clarify why I went through what I am about to describe to you.

Until I actually began to mount the line, the build up of nerves had been solely on a sub-conscious level. In hindsight, as beautiful as the setting was, I think the water had the biggest part to play in rocking my boat. Along with being in the company of someone much better than you, naturally wanting to make a good, macho-impression at how capable and non-pussy you are.

I wouldn’t realise the water bit until much later.



For those of you that have never sent a splashline before, and for those of you with Lion-legged tendencies, allow me to fill you in on this water aspect:

Depth
What scared me most about the depth was that I had no idea just how deep the water was. Despite the clarity of the water – apparently some of the clearest in Europe – ¾ of the way down the line you couldn’t see beyond 2 feet deep.

Rocks
In conjunction with not being able to see into the unknown, we were surrounded by rocks. Not just rocks, but boulders that acted as erosion defenders to the country’s lakeside populace. They positioned themselves both in and out of the water, exuding an attitude of mercilessness. Somehow, your subconscious decided to conger up these flash-card images in your head; you fall in, smash yourself on something you didn’t even know was sleeping subsurface. Broken and bruised train ride home.
Great.



Temperature
This wasn’t so much of a big deal. However, later on I would experience the sheer speed at which your core temperature would plummet after a good dunk. ‘Don’t fall in or you’ll have to spend ages warming up again,’ started to play on loop, in my internal-dialogue collection.

Mirror-Effect

This aspect wasn’t just me being a pussy. I assure you it was actually real. This I figured by Alain asking me ‘Does the sun’s reflection bother you?’ If he sees it, then it’s there!
The only way I can describe this effect was like there was an invisible man sat subsurface with his own signalling mirror. He’d flash your retinas with laser rays, right when you least expected it.
In time, the only solution I found to work; to accept it. And frown. Frowning seemed to narrow your eyes just enough to cut away the major part of the flashes.
Alain suggested that if I sent the line from the other side, there would be no mirror issues. However, there was a stunning bronzing-blonde with her arse out, so if the water’s reflections weren’t going to put me off, reflections off the Swiss-buns would.


Disorientating Flow
This element was just weird, something I didn’t even experience until I started hitting the half-way mark.
You’d focus your gaze so intensely, on one fixed point on the other side of the line. But then it seemed like your brain’s spatial-awareness centre would begin to meltdown, like post-pocket chocolate at lunchtime. Trying to combine a fixed point, over a matrix of moving, shimmering water, proved to smother my mind’s ability to cope.
It was like trying to compete in an arithmetic competition, during a coastguard emergency.
Not happening.
You’d have split seconds where you’d become cloaked in dizziness. It was like having a bag over your head then being punched square on the chin. At this point, you’re relying completely on your muscle-memory to keep you from taking a dizzy dunk in to that icy bath below.
You’d either bail; potentially lethal over a geological obstacle course.
Or you’d successfully fade back into reality, like opening your eyes underwater and surfacing again.



The above outlines some of the water’s crippling components.
The very substance that can seem so innocent when poised in a glass, yet so menacing when you add some rocks and reflections.
Most of all, I think my nerves trembled most from the rocks and depth elements. The other elements started to present themselves as I began to relax.
But this wouldn’t happen until much later on, and they’d still be wearing masks.


Everyone has 20:20 vision in hindsight.
Somehow, we’re able to pinpoint everything we did wrong, yet at the time of committing the crimes, we’re oblivious.
Whilst documenting this waterline session later in the week, I realised how I could have debunked my water worries with one simple question to Alain;
How deep is it?
Funny how that never even occurred to me during the day.
Perhaps I did ask, and his answer of ‘Less than your height,’ just wasn’t convincing me. Or maybe I registered his answer but my macho-ism took over. A man would rather not look a pussy, than prove his fears to be ridiculous, right?
A strange species plagued by paradox, is man.

With what felt like a medieval battalion kicking off in my stomach, I tried to compose myself and mounted the line. Alain was spotting me, just in case I lost control and split my melon on one of the granite widow-makers. That provided some relief. But to be honest, in the state of macho-ism, the last thing you want to do is end up in your spotter’s arms, like a scene from Cabaret.

In a nutshell, it didn’t happen. So much for first-go glory.

Alain attempted, then concluded that the tension was a little off.
Relief.
My failure wasn’t all due to my incompetence. I could at least cast some of the blame on physics.
Line re-tightened and Alain full-manned it (walked all the way, and back) straight off the cuff.
Shit.
No more blame could be shed on the conditions.
Like a whining workman with a new box of tools, it was time to man up and take control of myself.

Easier said than done.




I proceeded maybe 10 or so times in a row trying to mount the line.
But then I would just shake uncontrollably, like a cheap pudding on the back seat of a 4X4.
The biggest shock of all was my inability to breathe.
Taking a full deep breath just proved to be impossible.
Somewhere, the connection between brain and breath must have been severed.

It was a notable moment for me. Never have I felt so restricted in my cardiovascular department. It was like you’ve just completed a bleep test, wearing a straight-jacket.
Except I hadn’t even been running.
All I was physically doing was standing up, on a line, over water.
And I couldn’t even breathe.

The unintended result was that my body froze like a cryogenic tragedy, creating so much unnecessary force, the line just ricocheted it all straight back at me. It was like a human catapult proceeding a drum roll.

Hindsight later showed me that I was refusing to admit my fears welling up inside me, and there was only so much resistance I could provide. The fears persisted with even more force. They weren’t going anywhere.


Alain noticed that it wasn’t going to plan.
The irony of trying to hide my fear from my company only meant that he picked up on it even more.
Just sit, chill and meditate for five minutes,’ he suggested.
At some stage or other, every slackliner has been at the point where composure is the only factor that will bring success, but the only skill not in your arsenal.
Alain’s advice would prove to do something quite powerful.
Cue meditation.

Before I describe how I conquered what arose within me, I’ll break the fear down for you, again into its components.

Dialogue
Imagine a room, big enough to fit 1000 people in it. They’re all voicing their opinions in a low voice. Not too loud, not too quiet.
Now for every one of those opinions, include a sentence, explaining exactly why you shouldn’t be doing what you’re attempting to do.
Transfer this room to your own head and you’ll be experiencing the kind of dialogue-soundscape I felt I was trying to navigate.
Trying to quiet this noise takes up a good chunk of your concentration reserve.

Adrenaline
Out of nowhere, adrenaline just starts to dump itself throughout your body. As it courses through your veins, your heart starts to pound with such force your throat feels like a subwoofer.

Breath
The most important element, and definitely the most profound of the day; not being able to breathe complete and deep breaths.
Your heart’s pounding so hard, when you breathe in, you just stutter. It’s like a silent speech impediment.
You become gassed, which compounds so much you eventually can’t ignore it any more. Lack of air is the first thing the human body notices. I felt like the majority of my supply had been confiscated, yet there was still a task to complete.
This shocked me a little, as my Pranayama practice had shown good results of breath control.
Not quite the case when your bedroom floor is swapped for a lakeside mountainscape, with a line through the middle of it.

Tension
As a result of incomplete breathing, your body tenses up. It’s like you connected eyes with Medusa, the stone is setting in.
That tension drastically reduces your ability to calibrate yourself to a dynamic environment such as a waterline. Instead of absorbing any shockwaves that come through you from the line, you repel them. They magnify until you’re no longer in the way. I felt like a statue, dropped on to a trampoline, and then commanded to not bounce off.
This whole process creates even more dialogue – ‘You can’t do this, you haven’t got a chance,’ etc and the cycle repeats itself again and again.



Fortunately, having someone with more experience in my company, meant that they understood what was happening and could advise on how to go about calming down and regaining a sense of composure.
I sat up straight on the rocks, half-closed my eyes - through which I focused on a point in front of me - beginning to pay attention to my breath.
Sit and observe.
That’s all.

The process is so simple but so profound, like raising a flag in surrender. I finally became aware that I couldn’t even take a complete breath inwards without there being jitters in my cadence.

Something had to be done!

I only began focusing on my breath out of habit. When I have meditated in the past, that’s the first port of call. But to my horror, I couldn’t even breathe as I intended to, so my mission for the next few minutes was simple; to take one, single, in and out breath. It sounds easy, but so does climbing Everest, when you boil it down to putting one foot in front of the other.



Gradually, I began to take a hold of my diaphragmatic spasms. My body began to obey. First, one complete breath, then 2, 7, all the way until 10 complete, deep, in and out breaths were no longer an issue.
Although this only took 5 or so minutes, I felt a new sense of capability begin to brew within, like an alchemist on the brink of transmutation. Somewhere inside I knew that if I could control my breath, I could accomplish what I’d come to the lakeside to achieve.



Now I could actually breathe. The stuttering slithered away like a serpent in hunting company. My heart was assured its casing was no longer giving up on life, and it too began to taper it’s beat. Then the tension started to drain from my limbs, as if I had been a plasticine model exposed to the heat.


With my new found, breath-led composure, I set off on my new journey of conquering my fears.
I wanted to feel like a warrior victorious. I wanted to return to Italy as if my train was chauffeuring me home. I wanted to experience what it would feel like to have my face crochet in on itself, from grinning so hard at reminiscent thoughts of success.
If I really wanted to prove myself, and prove that I could send this line, then I would have to up my focus.
That meant blocking out the beautiful, gallery-standard mountains.
It meant reigning in subtle neck turns to check out hot girls’ bums.
Most of all it meant asking myself one question; ‘How bad do you want it?



II.

Conquering the Fear




Meditation
Sitting on the rock with Buddah-eyes, paying internal attention to my breath, was the starting point. For someone interested in meditation and its applications to various aspects of life, this approach would seem obvious. However, in the heat of the moment, wanting to cross the line so bad, meditation was the last technique I thought that would get me there.

Breathing Completely
After sitting, when I mounted the line, breathing how I wanted was no longer an issue. My lungs felt liberated. The straight-jacket had been removed. Breathing as you wish would prove to be worlds apart from what it’s like being subjected to shortness of breath.
Results presented themselves immediately. I began to get further across the line; 8,9, 10 steps. Not too far from half-way.
Cue confidence-surge.

Removal of Tension
Once you’re in control of your breath, the tension has no foundation. It is then up to you to calibrate yourself to your environment. Instead of repelling those shockwaves, I started to resonate with them, until they dissolved. I felt like a Tai-Chi master, floating on a polyester dojo.

Trusting the Line
This is difficult to explain.
With the body's tension removed, you begin to fully trust the line to be able to take your weight. Factually, you know that the rigging is strong enough. Yet if you’re tense, you can’t commit your weight to your steps. Now I felt I could place each foot with almost gymnastic definition.
This is what relaxing feels like,’ I would tell myself, as my kinaesthetic centre began smiling.

There’s a massive life lesson in trusting what’s around to take you’re spiritual weight. I felt I’d just graduated my first class from Life-on-the-Line school.
A state of effortlessness cannot be reached with effort.
Previously, I was trying to relax into the line by being tense. That only reveals itself as truly absurd when you spell it out, but that’s exactly what I was trying to do.




Alain shredded the line some more. He busted out some fat tricks midway, taking the line as his prisoner. And what way to entice a lion’s appetite than to dangle the kill in front of its face?




In the time Alain was busting his moves, I felt my core temperature cruise into the glacial realms. It was a strange feeling. I knew I should be hot. Everyone around me had skin to bare. I just couldn’t seem to start my internal fire.

After what felt like half the afternoon, I reached a point of warmth that would suffice to become semi-naked once more. There were 25 minutes on the clock until I had a train to catch; a journey that would either be a cruise through landscapes of elation, or dragging through passages of regret.

Personally, I thrive under pressure.
I used the absence of time to my advantage. I recognised the effort I had put in to make it to Switzerland. I calculated just how much I had been practicing.
Most importantly, I asked myself ‘How bad do you want it?’.

Fucking bad.

When the boys ask me back in the UK ‘So, did you do it?’ I want to be able to pause, escalate the suspense, and then crush it all with a fat-grinned ‘Of course I Diddddd!’
My body wasn’t exactly at the desirable temperature, but waiting for the perfect moment only helps to ensure that it never comes.
I proceeded on my epic journey, mounting the line, breathing out like a cross-wired vacuum.
Still I fell off.



The dialogue started to rear its ugly head once more.
What if you don’t make it across before you have to go?
How’s it going to feel to have come all this way, only to fail?

All I could do was answer the little devil on my shoulder blade with a fat ‘Fuck you. Not crossing is not an option.

And with that I just hit Terminator mode. I would plummet into the icy lake, resurface, wading out like I had just seen T1000.
Again and again this went on, each time a fragment of my fears was smashed and left to sink beneath me.
For those next 25 minutes, that’s all I did. I got further along each time. But my feet were aching. My lips felt like I’d been making out with charred embers. And my skin was making the lake’s crustacean population jealous.
My inner biceps looked like the better end of a train wreck where I had caught the line’s recoil, repeatedly.




In a montage moment of recollection, I remembered how a teacher of mine long ago had once said to me ‘Sometimes you just have to conquer your daemons. You know what I mean by that?’ Back then, I didn’t. Now I was about to find out.
I mounted the line with all I had left. Breathing like a god of tornadoes, frowning like my eyebrows were mid-bench press, and drifting in-and-out of states of dizzy-induced delirium, I channelled every last molecule of oxygen towards my point of focus.



Line sent.

I sprung onto solid ground at the other end, for the first time. I couldn’t quite grasp if this was reality or not. Gradually, the reassurance of elation started to flood in. I began to realise that my internal battle had been won.
I had conquered the waterline.
I had conquered myself.
Man, I was so stoked!
I yelled some cries of manly success, pumping my fists, like donkey kong upon a drum kit. The smile that charged its way to my face would stay with me for the rest of the day.



The whole saga of crossing that waterline could be summed up with two points.
In order to know if you’re capable of doing something, you only have to ask yourself one question; ‘How bad do you want it?
And once you’ve asked yourself that, and achieved what you set out to do, you’ll understand that it really is all in your head.

All your hopes, your fears, your expectations. All a selection of brainwaves that take place behind the mask.

In the end, sending the waterline was not a question of skill.
When you want something bad enough, the skill will create itself.

Right after I made it across, I walked back around and got on the line again.
About ¾ of the way across, Alain moved himself in the background, crossing from one segment of concrete to another. I fell off.
Was it me that made you fall?’ he called out, preparing himself to be the cause for my failure.
No,’ I bounced back. ‘I was just thinking about how good it felt!

And that’s the beauty of it; once you know it’s all in your head, you can actually begin to enjoy it.