“Julian, how do you feel about climbing a pole at the Great Yorkshire Show?”
It wasn’t the usual type of question, but Emily was busy planning the filming schedule for Channel 5’s programme, Today at The Great Yorkshire Show.
I had got to know Emily while she was working on The Yorkshire Vet and she was a good friend. I could trust her completely and so, even though what she was suggesting had shades of the scene in Bridget Jones, when Bridget was filmed from an unfortunate angle sliding down a fireman’s pole, I felt I was probably in safe hands.
“OK, go on then,” I replied, with only a very slight hesitation, “if you think it will be a good thing.”
My inner competitor already had me rising to the challenge. I had climbed lots of things in the past – many rock faces at Brimham Rocks, Scugdale and Almscliffe. I had been to the top of near vertical ice faces in the Scottish mountains in winter and I had climbed the steep sides of many alps, both with ice-axes and rock climbing kit and on skis. How hard could an eighty-foot tree trunk be?
But without any practicing whatsoever and with a huge crowd watching (and also a crowd of about 1.6 million viewers as it would turn out the following evening on Channel 5), I felt strangely apprehensive as I donned my harness and the specially designed spikes which tree climbers wear for their work.
We watched one of the pros run up the huge pole like a mountain goat, sprinting to the top in a mere 10 seconds. Then it was our turn.
I wished Jules (Hudson) good luck. He was outwardly chipper, but obviously just as anxious as I was and probably further outside of his zone of comfort. But he was a proper TV presenter and must have done this sort of thing many times before.
I thought about the classic Blue Peter feature from the 1970s, when John Noakes climbed up Nelson’s Column by means of a wooden ladder. Today should, at least, be a safer proposition than that heroic exploit.
We shook hands (or did we pump fists like successful batsmen, I can’t remember?) and then waited for the starting whistle.
It was hard at first, mainly because I could not find a rhythm, but also because it was vertical. I fumbled, slipped and cursed that I had not had the chance to practice at all. Surely, I would not be humiliated on my home turf of Yorkshire and on national telly?
I glanced across to see Jules several feet ahead of me, relaxed and in a rhythm. I looked up- it was miles to the top. I looked down – I had not progressed far.
But with gritted teeth, I somehow managed to get to the top of the pole, which was swaying vigorously with both the breeze and from the movements of my climbing. It took me 86 seconds, versus 149 seconds for my competitor and my fellow presenter. I was happy to have made it to the top first, although I would have liked to go sub sixty seconds. Maybe next year?
In the meantime, we had another TV interview to do. Then there was book signing, a radio interview and an appointment with a farrier, who was going to teach me how to make a horseshoe.
I really wanted to head over to the cattle classes – they all look so magnificent and I’d promised to call and see some old friends. I never did make it, nor did I get to survey the sheep.
It had been the most hectic Great Yorkshire Show of all; but it had definitely been one of the best!