I ADMIT that the prospect of taking a walk across 1200F embers unnerved me somewhat.
Don’t play with fire is a message that’s drilled into you by parents, teachers, earnest Blue Peter presenters and scary public information films voiced by Donald Pleasence.
Nonetheless, I was invited to take up the gauntlet last Saturday night in aid of the Meningitis Trust – a charity championed by well-known fund raiser Angela Cloke.
Now there’s a story that T.E.Lawrence, eponymously of Arabia but very much an Englishman, favoured pinching a match between two fingers to put it out.
When asked by his friend William Potter how he was able to perform this trick without hurting himself, Lawrence just smiled and replied “the trick, Potter, is not minding it hurts”.
Reflecting on this anecdote as I arrived at the Silhillian Club, in Knowle, I sincerely hoped that more than a stiff upper lip would get me through the challenge.
I needn’t have worried, our flame-haired instructor, was quick to dismiss any talk that the trial was “mind over matter.” She was a buoyant Scot who swore like The Thick Of It’s Malcolm Tucker, but as a former nurse had a rather gentler bedside manner.
She explained there are physical reasons which prevent you from being burned – provided you followed a few simple rules. Don’t run, don’t stop for pictures and don’t drink before the challenge.
I wasn’t brave enough to suggest it, but I suspect that trying to clear the glowing embers in one Greg Rutherford-sized leap would also be ill-advised.
The first half of training over – and suitably psyched up – us firewalkers trooped out to see the 20ft long woodpile set alight.
When you feel the heat and see the flames lick higher, it hammers home that you’ll be walking on real stuff and not Quality Street wrappers artfully lit from below.
From here back indoors for the final 30 minute warm-up, no pun intended. We were taught “the walk” and what to say to the voice at the back of our head which insisted the challenge was suicidal. This is a family newspaper so I won’t repeat it here.
And then it was back outside to where the team were raking the fire’s remnants.
There, beneath the light of a full moon, surrounded by a baying mob of supporters, the group jostled round ready to go. Shoes and socks off, no going back.
People ran in rapid succession and soon I was at the front. “Was I ready?” bellowed the instructor. Ready as I’d ever be. I crossed the coals in maybe three or four seconds and before I knew it my sooty soles were cooling on the damp grass.
It had happened in a blur, though I can vaguely remember the wood felt springy and the sensation was strangely more similar to freezing. More importantly my toes smelt of bonfire rather than barbeque.
I’m pleased to say that the next time I’m in front of a blazing heap it’ll be for the more familiar “ooh and aahing” of Guy Fawkes Night. But I’m glad I completed the challenge, if only to prove that there’s something scarier to do on a Saturday night than watch Doctor Who…
To find out more about the Meningitis Trust go to www.meningitis-trust.org