One of the events that had been trailed throughout the whole length of the course was the event known as Phobia Day.
I had seen footage of the day on the Paul McKenna showreel on the net. People handling snakes, and going up to do public speaking – neither of which I thought was a particular problem. I mean, we all know that snakes are lovely warm things, right? I’ve handled them, they’re dry, they’re slightly scaley and they are utterly beautiful. Public speaking… well, getting up in front of a whole crowd and speaking… that’s just the same as getting up in front of one person and speaking. If you can do it 100 times to one person, then pure mathematics says that you can do it once to 100 people. Right? So these were phobias that I considered utterly ridiculous.
But on the showreel there were also the spiders. I recall footage of a gigantic spider the size of a man’s hand being lifted from a glass case and placed in someone’s hand. And when I had watched it, I had felt myself shrink inside, as if the little shadow that was my soul was withdrawing inwards to the darkest recesses inside. My heart pounded, my knees quaked – and I just didn’t know what to do. The spider was utterly terrifying. As it walked, stretching its long brown/yellow legs with a slow, menacing movement, I recalled all the nightmares and imaginary horrors of my childhood. I remember the spiders in Mirkwood in Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, and their monstrous mother in “The Lord Of The Rings”. And all the times that my own mother had been reduced to a quivering wreck by a sudden move on our worn red carpet by the fireplace when I was a kid. “The Valley Of The Spiders” – a short story by H G Wells… that one had really got me. Spiders were scary.
When I was a kid, my brother had picked spiders up without fear. He had brought them, cupped in his hand, for me to look at. But seeing my fear, he had then decided what a good game it was to wave them near my face. My sister was the same as me. It was, to be frank deeply annoying.
So it was that on that Saturday, as I walked into the Ibis Hotel in Earl’s Court, that I thought I had all this history on my shoulders, carrying it around like a pile of baggage. What was different, though, was that I didn’t have the deep sense of dread on me that I had expected to feel beforehand. To be frank, my head was so cleared out of rubbish already, that I didn’t quite know what to make of the day at all. However, I did have a sense of quite deep resignation to the day. And it was with that sense of resignation that I went back into that room where so many strange things, so many amazing transformations had happened already – not just to myself but also to everyone in the room – this time to face my fear.
I walked in with some anticipation.