by Juliet Wilson
My best friend Amy’s Dad was in charge of the local Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions. He took a rather eccentric approach to trips. Although our hike up Rivington Pike had gone without incident (apart from me falling down a hill, but that’s just me) there were times when you could question his judgement. None of us will ever forget the time he took us all on a short cut through thick bushes, accidentally ending up on private lands. When faced with the combined wrath of landowner and desperate rottweilers, he had shouted “Duke of Edinburgh! Duke of Edinburgh!” and somehow got away with it.
Amy had inherited her father’s bizarre sense of adventure. One particular day, things had started innocently enough, at Amy’s house. Her mother had given us lemonade and crisps and her father had encouraged us to go off into Worsley Woods. No-one else’s parents would have let us go into the woods unsupervised, but neither of us knew that then.
Off we went, running along and enjoying the sunshine, while Amy told me how she had won her school-yard fight with Christina.
In the woods, Amy dared me to pick nettles, jump into the pond and climb the bridge. I was a timid child, with a sheltered upbringing. Even though I knew that grasping nettles firmly prevents stinging, I wouldn’t pick them. Although I knew the pond was shallow, I wouldn’t jump in.
Amy was becoming impatient: “You’re so boring! You have to do something! Climb over the bridge!”
I stared at the bridge in dismay. This was no ordinary, pedestrian bridge. It was a motorway bridge, running over the Bridgewater Canal. Climbing would mean crawling up a near vertical grass verge and along a concrete ledge, high above the canal, which was unappealingly thick and red with iron oxides and mud. I was terrified.
“You’re scared!” taunted Amy.
“I’m not,” I lied. “I just don’t feel like going up there today!”
“I’m going to tell everyone, then you’ll never get a boyfriend.”
Not that I wanted a boyfriend (in fact I suspected my parents wouldn’t have let me have a boyfriend) but I didn’t want everyone to know that. Pulling my way up I struggled to keep up with Amy, whose father probably coached her in this kind of thing.
I could hardly move on the concrete ledge, there was so little to hold onto, and a very long way to fall if I lost my grip. I was dizzy with vertigo, but it was too late to turn back and anyway, Amy was watching me from the other bank of the canal, hands on her hips.
“See, you are brave!” she shouted in encouragement. I didn’t feel brave as I staggered down to flat ground. I was shaking and my knees and elbows were grazed and bleeding. The pretty dress I had worn in anticipation of a sedate lemonade party was torn and dirty. Amy looked unruffled, her practical jeans hardly marked.
That evening I made a phone call.
“Christina,” I said, “do you want to be my best friend?”
Juliet Wilson is an adult education tutor and conservation volunteer based in Edinburgh. She blogs at http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com