On Doing Stupid Things

I like doing things with a bit of danger involved. Along with my penchant for climbing there are several things on my 101 in 1001 list that a lot of people, on hearing I want to do them, say “Why would you want to do that??”. The bull run in Pamplona is probably the biggest example of this confused disbelief. My usual answer is “Why not?” but if I’m honest I don’t really know why I want to do these things, other than the vaguely unsatisfactory answer that I want to be able to say I’ve done them, to have a story to tell. Shark diving is the latest one that’s been put in my head, and if there’s a possibility the shark will attack the cage, even better.

But it doesn’t even have to be dangerous, just something with a consequence. I like pushing my luck, taking risks, whether it be an outrageous bluff in a game of poker or seeing if I can get home before the petrol runs out. I’m interested to see how I handle things if it all goes wrong. How do you really know where your limits are unless you go beyond them? “Here would be a good place to stop doing this, but I wonder how much further I can go before I really have to stop?”. How far across that log can I get before I end up in the water? How much further up this tree can I get? What part of the house can I get to and be back in the kitchen in time to stop the washing up overflowing?

I’ve been called an adrenaline junkie but I’m not sure that’s right, not in the sense it was meant. It’s not like I go base jumping every week or anything (although I’d love to give it a go) but I do enjoy the anticipation of getting ready to do something stupid. I love the nerves and and the excitment of something like sitting in the basket on a crane going up for a bungee jump but I get the same sort of buzz from driving past the last services for 40 miles when the petrol warning light is on, albeit on a smaller scale. Of course every now and then it does go wrong and I’ve found myself walking back towards those services through the undergrowth and fields alongside the motorway with a petrol can in one hand, some humble pie in the other and a wry grin. Don’t get me wrong, I love the adrenaline rush of doing a bungee jump or getting to the top of a tough climb  but I savour the build up as well, and you can get that build up from little things as well as big things. Even acting can be an adrenaline rush, going out on stage in front of a large group of people knowing that, despite all the time you’ve spent learning your lines and moves there is still the same possiblility that your mind will go blank and you’re stuck. Coming offstage without that happening is a buzz but sitting backstage waiting to go on is almost as good.

For the really dangerous things, the bungee jumping, sky-diving, bull running, climbing, etc I think a big part of it is the fact that I’m doing something that could kill me. Of course I take every precaution against that possibility, I’m not reckless and I certainly have no interest in relinquishing my breathing privileges just yet, but I think a big part of the rush of doing this stuff is a primal “I’M STILL ALIVE!!” feeling. It’s a caveman thing, poking the sabre tooth tiger with a stick and getting away with it so you can poke him again another day. There’s always the chance that the tiger will catch you, that a rock will come away under your hand, the parachute won’t open, but if all goes well and you survive  it’s a heady mix of endorphins and relief and it is addictive, as well as the feeling of invincibility that comes with it. The fact that you’ve got away with it once makes you think you can get away with it again, so you try again. And again. And again until it goes wrong or you get bored. The downside to getting bored is it means you go and find a bigger tiger to poke, it’s a bit of a vicious circle.

It’s the being bored part that makes me play stupid games with my petrol gauge and the other, less dangerous risks I take. I hate being bored. HATE it. I feel like I’m wasting time if I’m bored so when there’s no other entertainment to be had (such as on a long drive) I have to come up with this sort of thing to stop myself chewing on the steering wheel. I also have a lot of curiousity, “I wonder what would happen if…” is a common start to all this stuff for me. The small, harmless risks keep me from doing the really stupid stuff more often as well. If I may flog the petrol example to death, if I get home with only fumes in the tank I can spend a few days feeling smug and invincible and I’m less tempted to see if I can dash across the road before that bus gets to me. Think of them as adrenaline patches, a bit like nicotine patches but with a better kick.

Maybe I am a junkie after all.


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