Norwich Cathedral’s doors have been swung wide open this summer as they welcome visitors to “ride the slide” of a 50 ft Helter-Skelter within its nave. The prospect of seeing such vibrant, modern amusement juxtaposed with the tranquil medieval architecture was just too good an opportunity to miss. In fact, any installation that invites interaction pulls me right in, as though attracted by a strong magnetic force – it is right up my street. But just SEEING it alone was not enough – I wanted to partake fully in the unique experience on offer and, as anyone who has ever been on a slide will know, that meant first climbing The Steps – 36 in total, each as steep and rickety as the one before.
Prior to tackling this most inaccessible of ascents, I had to join the 40 minute queue to claim a timed slot and then wait a further hour to be allowed on. With no prospect of a disabled queue pass, my wheelchair became my saviour; without it I would have had to admit defeat, or else shuffle painfully along on my bum as the queue snaked its way in and around the cathedral grounds. I did, of course, receive some rather curious looks as people wondered how the heck a wheelchair user was going to make it to the top of this ride. In fact, a number of people asked me if I was going on the slide – to which I replied with my word of the year, ‘Yes!’ Sure, it was gonna hurt, but there was no way my MS was going to take this away from me; no flippin’ way.
As we neared the front of the queue there was a real buzz in the air – I could sense a shared feeling amongst the crowd that we were experiencing something very special. The idea behind the helter-skelter is to allow people to see things differently. From the top of the slide you can get up close to the Cathedral’s vast ceiling and take in views of the nave that you’d never normally get to see. It also enables you to experience the whole space in a different light – a fairground ride in a Norman cathedral is a surrealist’s dream that you can’t help but be inspired by.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the climb was hard going; after all, stairs are my enemy and as I reached the peak of this spirally mountain my legs had turned to wobbly weights. Once at the top, I was required to sit neatly on a mat keeping my arms wrapped around my legs and my elbows tucked in tight, which sounds fairly easy … but it wasn’t. After the climb my weighted legs simply couldn’t do what I needed them to do, every time I managed to lift my feet into position they almost immediately pinged out of place again, causing them to flail about uncontrollably during the 6 second descent.
I was awarded a sticker for my efforts at the bottom of the slide, which I gratefully accepted before staggering drunkenly back to the safety of my wheelchair, my legs screaming in pain – and yet I’ve rarely felt more alive.
The Helter-Skelter will be in Norwich Cathedral until 18th August 2019