London

The London Eye and Fear

I had to hide my terror to enjoy a ride on the London Eye.

This is the article I wrote for BucketTripper.com, called
Defying Death on the London Eye in London, England.

The London Eye is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London / Photo by Jill Browne

The London Eye is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London / Photo by Jill Browne

Here we go.

It’s a giant Ferris wheel. It appeared with the Millennium and it hasn’t gone away. It’s the London Eye, your bird’s-eye view of the world’s greatest city (not that I’m biased or anything). Should you go on it? Should I?

I only went because my friends wanted to. We bit the bullet, got the tickets online, made our way to the South Bank and started our aerial adventure.

I bought the line-skipping class of ticket, because I really hate standing there waiting for anything from buses to cups of coffee. It was a good choice, sort of. We passed the point of no return before our brains could say to our bodies, “Run!”

How to hide your fear of the London Eye

I wasn’t scared of actually getting onto the Eye. Having frittered away much of my youth at the ski hill, I thought I could easily board any uphill-bound people carrier known to mankind. It looks easy. You stand on a platform. Your Pod slowly moves from left to right in front of you. You step in.

Getting ready to board a pod on the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

Getting ready to board a pod on the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

Because the Pod was going sideways, it was a bit of a mental challenge. I wasn’t boarding a gondola. I was stepping across a giant chasm. Not so easy after all, even though the two seven-year-old children ahead of me were laughing and skipping and dancing their way through the whole procedure.

Oh sure, it’s very safe. There are well-trained attentive attendants attending. There is no significant amount of air to cross. The chasm is small. It only feels massive to those of us with gephyrophobia, the fear of bridges.

Fear of bridges isn’t like fear of spiders or clowns. I’m not afraid of looking at bridges or thinking about them. I’m afraid of getting too close to the edge. It’s part of the larger fear of falling, an entirely rational, self-protective response that all normal humans have. It’s so rational I’m not sure why I feel I should mention it except for this one thing. I don’t like to be around people who lack this rational, self-protective response. Some of them may be cute little seven-year-olds, but all of them are reckless, foolhardy and possibly dangerously insane.

The London Eye pod is comfortable

Perhaps you’re beginning to understand my inner war about the Eye. Thanks to purchasing the super-duper-skip-the-line ticket, I had to have my panic attack and get it over with while boarding, so no one would suspect.

Buckingham Palace seen from the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

Buckingham Palace seen from the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

I also had to be brave because one of the people in the Pod was already not too happy. She had oculusLondiniiphobia, fear of the London Eye. I certainly didn’t want to upset her with any contagious screams, fainting, or hysterics. Otherwise, I would have done all three.

Lots of people from all over the world got into our Eye Pod. I don’t know who they were or where they came from. Rarely in my life have I been less interested.

Big Ben seen from the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

Big Ben seen from the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

You can either sit on a bench in the middle of the Pod and look at the backsides of the world, or you can casually and imperceptibly break into a cold sweat at the Edge, where the floor to ceiling glass is all that stands between you and eternity. Here I discovered the truth about my own intestinal fortitude (I have some) and continence (fortunately, also not in doubt for me and my fellow Pod people).

I couldn’t turn around to look (or I would have died), but it sounded like a couple of people were weeping tears of bitter regret and cold-blooded terror on the wimp bench. I silently felt like joining in. Three things stopped me. My pride, my left leg (wouldn’t move) and my right leg (ditto). My friends were pretty calm about all this. One of them wants to be a Formula 1 race car driver, so clearly, she’s not normal in the fear department.

The Pod ascends. We see the water, the great river, the lifeblood of London, the mighty Thames, etc., below. So this is how I will die, I thought. Not with a whimper but a plop.

London buses crossing the Thames / Photo by Jill Browne

London buses crossing the Thames / Photo by Jill Browne

But then, then I just had to look upstream and see Westminster, and the sunlight touching the sand castle spires of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. I was forced to trace with my eyes the historic streets from there to Trafalgar Square. I looked down on Nelson’s Column, instead of having Admiral Nelson look down on me as is our usual relationship. Take that, Horatio! We’re even now!

It was easy to spot St. James’s Park, large and green and leafy. We Great Unwashed are allowed to walk there, so I already knew it was big. What surprised me was the size of the grounds of its neighbour, the more exclusive Buckingham Palace. The Queen has a bigger back yard than I realized.

Yes, the view is fantastic

Despite the gephyrophobia and not being that great at actually using bridges, I loved watching the traffic crossing them. Westminster Bridge, which we’d crossed over to get to the Eye. Waterloo Bridge, connecting the train station with Somerset House. Hungerford Bridge, with its many suspension cables.

St. Paul's Cathedral seen from the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

St. Paul’s Cathedral seen from the London Eye / Photo by Jill Browne

As the Pod went higher, the close-by buildings, towers and steeples were still recognizable but a little bit in the distance they became blocks and dots on an eternal circuit board, energized by flowing currents of red double-decker buses and black London cabs. This is London, endless and grand. And here am I, staring down the Gherkin and communing with St. Paul’s Cathedral.

These dramatic thoughts got me over the top, and by the end of the ride of terror, I could actually move from my place without suffering heart palpitations and weak knees. The little kids and 99% of the adults were having a blast. We disembarked via another leap across the Thames and onto the shore, narrowly avoiding death one more time.

I have done the London Eye and lived. That is my story and all of it is true.

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Barbara Bell
    March 31, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I so love your articles about London. Inevitably I learn something about the city that I wish I’d known while I was there. More incentive to return.

    More to the point is the fact that we share both the fear of bridges and a fear of going-up-in-a-very-large-glass-pod whichmightinfacteitherdetachitself OR fall a p a r t…with me in it. Yes, death as a plop. I would have had exactly the same reactions and probably will never go up in the EYE because I have no friends so stupid as to shame me into it. Yet. 😉
    Barbara

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