I’m moving forward, and I really think I’m going to do it. We are 25m off the ground (that’s 75 foot for any old-fashioned counters out there). I step onto the metal grid and we proceed. She is in front of me, and she sets a nice calm pace and squeaks with elation as we watch the ground bend slightly, far below us. I follow her, inventing an odd walk that seems to help – it involves bending at the knees, gripping the bars on either side and loping forward, staying low. I feel like Basily Fawlty. It’s odd but effective, and with giggles, squeals and plenty of eye-shutting we get to the end, at which point she admits she is terrified, too, and my knees agree, finally giving way to tremors and continuing to knock together for a good 20 minutes. No one came up behind us and the group in front moved off quickly, so we had the bridge all to ourselves. We did it! We’re alive, giddy with relief, hooting and cooing with the brilliance of it all: a textbook canopy walk.
‘She’ was my sister, and the canopy walk was the one in MacRitchie. The words ‘canopy’ and ‘walk’ don’t equate with someone who is terrified of heights, but strange things happen when family come to stay, you end up reverting to form – she made me do it, basically.
When family’s around I’m no longer the 45-year-old mother of a nearly ten-year-old boy with a husband, a nice little career in freelance journalism and a tour guide habit on the side. The plane offloads whoever it is that’s come to stay and suddenly I’m nine years old again, playing the little sister role just like the girl with the curl in her forehead – sometimes I’m lovely, sometimes I’m hideous, but always I am younger than the person who was in front of me on that metal gangplank. On the beach at Sentosa on her last day, beer beside her, sarong underneath her, my sister said: ‘It’s a pity you’re not just down the road, this would be fun to do now and then’, and that’s just it – we don’t want a condensed amount of time in each other’s pockets, we just want to hang out like we would do in the UK. She didn’t make me have beer, that day, by the way, I had cocktails instead. But she did make me sit on the beach and wade in the ocean with my skirt hitched into my pants.
Back to the point, though, and that crazy treetop walk. Anyone who had done the walk before had always told me it was perfectly OK, offering words of encouragement like: ‘The sides are boob-height, you’ll feel perfectly safe,’ and: ‘It doesn’t really wobble,’ and: ‘It’s fine.’ I didn’t believe any of that and I was never going to do it, but there we were at the sign that tells you either to go for it or to go home, and my sister said, let’s just walk to the entrance and see how it is, and if you don’t like it we can go home. In the end, what swung it for me (quite literally) was a nice young guy who directed us to the entrance then said, as a parting shot: ‘it’s totally fine, I’m scared of heights and I did it.’ Well, you can’t argue with that. Half an hour later, I was doing it too.
I’m not going to lie, it was terrifying, it did wobble, and if we hadn’t been in Safe As Houses Singapore, where I knew that a bridge like that would be safety tested to within an inch of its hideous steel chain-link girders, then I would have run a mile through the jungle.
‘Do you ever watch I’m a Celebrity?’ asked my sister as we crossed the mid-point and I peered through the slits in my eyes at the miles of sky around me and the tiny leaves on the very tops of the very tall trees. Her voice seemed to come from a long way away, even though I was practically treading on her heels with my odd loping walk, and even though I thought I replied ‘yes’ out loud, it felt like I was talking out of the side of my mouth like a puppet. She heard me though, because then she said:
‘Well, think of yourself as doing that canopy walk out of the jungle, only without the fireworks.’
See what she’d done there? She’d reverted to form, too, playing the role of older sister even though she was shaking with fear herself. She’s always done that; she’s good at making sense of nutty stuff, and she’s also good at bullet points and instructions, and actually I’m not so bad at that sort of stuff, too. I’m tempted to go back at night and graffiti the sign with bullet points:
- Don’t look down
- Don’t stop
- Bend at the knees
- Bring a friend
Really, though, what you need to make you do something like this is an older sister. I’m so glad I’ve got mine.