This post and all others have been moved to this sites new home on www.peterneill.eu
This latest entry doubles up as the nearest I have yet come to creating a world wide diplomatic incident, my closest yet to starting a war, while at the same time becoming an Icon to many and an enemy to even more. This one is bad.
The year was 1995 and I was on work experience on a chat show on national TV. My work experience stint was only a brief one, but more than enough time to have a disaster!
On one particular episode on which I was working, Salmun Rushdie was a guest and was been interviewed by the host about his book "The Satanic Verses". As many of you know this book is hated by many of those who follow the Islamic faith and has lead to many threats and attempts on the life of Salmun Rushdie.
Anyway during the interview, the host signalled for a commercial break as one of the lights above the set was flickering.
Now fixing this light was going to be a tricky operation, one that would involve going hand and knee along a large girder in order to get to the light to turn it off. What would make this operation all the more daring was that since it required someone to crawl right above the heads of the host and Salmun Rushie, it would have to be completed before the advert break was over due to the noise level of someone above and the possible danger of them falling on top of those been interviewed below!
Can you see where this is going?
As you have probably guessed, yours truly was asked to crawl along this girder to fix this light and get back in three minutes.
What the person who asked me did not know was that :
a) I cannot deal with heights
b) I made strange things happen, albeit usually to myself
However, in order to not sound unwilling I accepted the task and climbed a ladder up to a metal walkway and psyched myself to begin my crawl.
I knew the clock was ticking and I had to be quick, I got on my hands and knees and shakily started my crossing. For the first few feet I moved very very slowly and then when I heard a two minute warning, I speeded myself up. Thankfully I managed to get to the light, across the remaining ten or so feet within about 25 seconds and was quite proud of myself that I had not yet panicked.
Now at the light I set about my task, a simple one, I just had to reach around the light and flick an off switch. The heat up there was astonishing and I found myself sweating terribly, which was made worse at the sweat was landing on the girder, just making it slippy. However I did not let this stop me and I reached around the light and turned it off. Achieved. Next thing I hear is another guy on the work experience with me shouting up to me that I had only 45 seconds to get back. I tried to turn around to make my way back but I panicked. Not only with this added pressure was I now getting seriously freaked by the height I was at, but the surface of the girder was wet with my sweat, and seriously slippy.
In a lunge I managed to turn around without slipping, but once I had I completely froze, I could not move an inch.
To make matters worse I had begged the other lad doing work experience (whom we will call Joe) not to tell the floor manager that I was still up there on the girder, as I was embarrassed and afraid I would get told off. Unfortunately he conceded and instead watched the whole process unfold.
As soon as I froze Joe tried to get me to move, telling me that I would be fine and that I just needed to come back slowly. This started to work and I could feel myself calming slightly, until.....
A shout went around the studio: "10 seconds everybody, 10 seconds till live".
I completely froze again, I knew I could not make it back in time and with this pressure I totally and utterly locked up, I could barely speak. Worse still Salmun Rushdie was sitting directly below me and as the commercial break ended and the show restarted, the topic of conversation was the various attempts on Salmun Rushdie's life since writing The Satanic Verses.
At this point Joe had stopped trying to get me to come back as the noise of me moving across the girder would be too loud and instead told me hold tight until the next advert break, thirty minutes away. He waited at the end of the girder, as if he was to descend the ladder to get help or let the others know, he would make too much noise too!!
The next thirty minutes were the longest of my life, added to the stress I was under, the fear of falling and the slippery girder, I was now getting seriously hot because of all the studio lights around me. This was a mere discomfort at first, but after about 15 minutes I started to feel extremely faint. I began to think I was going to indeed pass out, and drop straight on to the head of Salmun Rushdie, most likely accidentally succeeding where many had failed.
Thankfully my friend Joe was on the ball, and as if sent by angels he noticed there was a half full bottle of water sitting on the metal rig on which he was standing, left there earlier by one of the technicians. He managed to throw this to me, a risky manoeuvre in case I either failed to catch it and it hit someone below, or, if in my attempt to catch it I fell to meet Salmun Rushdie and my maker. Thankfully the third and the least likely option occurred, I caught the bottle. This crucial drink allowed me to survive the final 10 minutes before the commercial break, after which Joe came onto the girder and without incident guided me back to safety.
To this day I honestly think that half full bottle of water saved not only my life but Salmun Rushdie's too. He will never know just how close he came to destruction and I never came so close to becoming an icon to the many whom had failed before me where I nearly accidentally succeeded.