When Team Building Goes Horribly Wrong

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start here:

Being suspended by my bollocks, 15 metres above a forest floor in the middle of Belgium is not my idea of fun.

The all-consuming nature of the pain, indeed, the exponentially increasingly eye-watering and stomach-churning intensity of it all is something that I really would like to avoid experiencing ever again.


OK – glad we got that out of the way, after all, I wouldn’t want you thinking that I was some kind of secret masochist who was into kinky outdoor ‘self-loving’ in his free time*

(* - if that’s what you are interested in then feel free to check out my other blog: http://www.ThingsILikeToDoWithaStickofCeleryUpMyArse.blogspot.com)

As excruciating as this experience undoubtedly was, my situation was further compounded because not only was I suspended by my bollocks, 15 metres above a forest floor in the middle of Belgium; I was suspended by my bollocks, 15 metres above a forest floor in the middle of Belgium in the full view of friends and colleagues.

Many of who, it has to be said, were trying their best to stifle back giggles of laughter, apart from a few who didn’t even bother trying to hide their obvious amusement at my unseemly predicament.

Not only do you know who you are but I know who you are too…

Of course some blame has to be apportioned here. I mean, it’s not like I suddenly found myself, without warning, swinging from a tree 15 metres above the ground in a harness that would not have looked out of place in a fetish club - a harness that was increasingly cutting off the blood supply to my family jewels.

So just how the hell did I get myself into this mess? Just who do I have to blame for finding myself in such a compromising and less than flattering position?

Well, the answer is quite simple really – the blame lies squarely at the feet of my employers as this rather embarrassing episode of my life took place whilst on the company weekend a few weeks ago.

Regular followers of my website will already know that in the past my employers’ functions have had me singing karaoke in an Italian restaurant with the string-vest-wearing owner, ‘volunteered’ for a swimsuit beauty contest in a transvestite cabaret show and walking through the sewers of Antwerp on a hot summer’s evening.

It’s also worth mentioning that on another occasion, an event that was organised for representatives from important clients, my employers had taken them to watch the Antwerp Diamonds tennis Tournament and then afterwards on for a few drinks in one of Antwerp’s many gay bars. And I’m not talking “gay” = “happy” here, although by all accounts there were many happy people there – I’m just not sure how many of those would have been our important clients.

Now I’m not saying for a moment that I was suspended by my bollocks 15 metres above the forest floor in the middle of Belgium for the whole weekend. No, no – not at all – in fact for the most part my bollocks were pretty much left well alone. More’s the pity.

Looking back, the weekend had started off fine, with the midday sun greeting me on the Friday. Still on the night shift in those days, I had managed to get the Friday night off which meant that I could go check into the hotel where we were staying – a fine country retreat in the Limburg countryside - anytime from 14:00 onwards.

I duly obliged and it wasn’t long before I had checked in, unpacked, ordered a bath robe for the swimming pool and err, gone to the bar with my book for a glass of red wine (or seven) in the afternoon sun.

The hotel was lovely – and I found the occasional ping of golf club on ball quite the relaxing backdrop to my reading, smoking and drinking. Yes - I was quite content in my little reverie that Friday afternoon, completely oblivious to the torture that I was two experience less than 24, short, hours later.

A meal and a quiz (in Dutch) had been organised that evening as part of the festivities and both went down really well.

With everyone else.

Unfortunately, the only thing that went down with me well that night was the red wine, of which copious amounts were consumed by yours truly.

Not that I noticed at the time of course.

But oh dear me, how I suffered that next morning. The Hangover from Hell is not even close to describing how I felt that Saturday morning when I eventually woke up, too late for breakfast.

I rarely suffer from hangovers, which is a shame because of course the hangover is nature’s way of telling us not to abuse ourselves with such wanton destruction. Blessed or cursed – depending on which way you look at it – my body seems to cope better than most with the alcoholic rigours of a night before.

However, when the hangovers do kick in they tend to be excruciatingly bad. This was one of those rare occasions.

Head pounding like the base drum of the Shankhill Young Defenders Flute Band, eyelids like sandpaper, mouth tasting like I had been licking the dust from Ghandi’s flip flops all evening instead of drinking fine wine and with a seriously bad dose of sweaty teeth thrown in for bad measure, I greeted “The Adventure Day” feeling anything but adventurous.

When we signed up for the company weekend, according to the agenda, we had to make a choice between the two organised events on the Saturday afternoon. The problem for me was that the agenda was in Flemish, so instead of labouring through all the text, I quickly skimmed through it looking for words that I recognised.

Of the two events on the zaterdag, we were able to choose between an “Avontuur Dag” (Adventure Day) or a “Kroegentocht” (pub crawl) which included “gratis pintje” (free beer)

I’m sure you know which one I chose.

However having plumped for the latter of the two, it turned out that the “pub crawl with free beer” wasn’t all that it seemed.

More family-oriented than the Adventure Day, it involved playing a few old Belgian games that the kids and adults could take part in together and yes - whilst there was free beer - it was just that - a free beer.

Having discovered my mistake a couple of weeks earlier, I hastily changed my choice of event to that of the Adventure Day – with a little bit of peer pressure from colleagues/friends that shall remain nameless.

The location was gorgeous – Bokrijk – a big parkland between Hasselt and Genk in the Belgian province of Limburg, the weather was fantastic and the lunch provided was lovely but oh how I was ruing the decision to sign up for some ‘adventure’ lunch already providing me with the adrenaline rush of trying to force my lunch down and more importantly, to keep it down.

Shortly after lunch and a quick beer to steady the nerves (THE NERVES – NOT THE SHAKES) the time came that could no longer be avoided as a group of around 20 of us headed off to a corner of the forest, where I imagined all manners of torture to be lying in wait for us.

As it turned out, I wasn’t far wrong.

Kitted out in ridiculous looking safety helmets and tight-fitting harnesses that left nothing to the imagination, things started off tame enough, with an event involving traversing logs without falling off the 2 foot drop into the crocodile-infested waters below. Sorry, the imaginary crocodile-infested waters beneath. OK, so the last one span around on its axis but no big deal, not too scary at all. The crocodiles were, after all, imaginary.

Next up, was an obstacle made of rope, consisting of a climbing wall and then traversing across a net before climbing down the other side.


At this point in proceedings, it was decided that we split into two groups, the other group made up of a mixture of over-eager kids with some rather worried looking parents headed off in one direction, whereas our group, consisting only of adults – 4 male and 3 female headed for…

…The Death Ride.

I actually let out a nervous laugh when our instructor for the day, a diminutive but stocky guy who had introduced himself as Jannick, nonchalantly made this remark, hoping that he had just cracked a joke.

It was only as we followed after him into a quiet corner of the forest where “The Death Ride” waited for us - its next victims - that it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t joking at all. There was even a jolly little wooden sign directing us with the words “DEATH RIDE” etched on it to further prove the point.

We craned our necks to follow the rather shaky-looking rope ladder with wooden rungs and a few car tyres thrown in for good measure all the way to its end, a small tree-hut about 50 metres above ground level.

I felt dizzy just looking up at it.

Whilst Jannick explained the workings of the safety equipment to us, his colleague proceeded to demonstrate how we should use it, climbing up the first few steps of the ladder.

“If you feel tired, just lean back on the rope – the equipment will keep you in place until you feel ready to continue”

As I watched the guy do this I thought to myself that it was all well and good to do this just a few short feet off the ground but would I really trust the equipment that much so that I would be able to recline back and take a breather, as if I was relaxing in some comfy recliner with my feet up watching the football?

I didn’t think so.

Next thing we knew, like a rat up a drainpipe, his colleague scurried up the ladder to the tree-hut above. He must have done it in half a minute flat, making it look as easy as going to the corner shop for a packet of ciggies. All be it a corner shop made of wood and nestled in the branches of a huge tree. I had a good idea that, come my turn, I would take considerably longer than that.

Not even realising that it had left me, I started to feel the hangover returning. Or perhaps it had quite simply been replaced with a nauseous, cold-blooded fear. Either way, all was not well in my world.

“To descend from the tree, you will then have to take the Death Ride.”

What? There was more to this torture?! I followed his finger to where he was pointing.

Apparently too pre-occupied with my impending death, I hadn’t noticed the cable descending at an angle into the field next to the forest and stretching into the distance as far as we could see from our vantage point.

Aha! My spirits were suitably buoyed by this unexpected development. Now I knew what The Death Ride was. It was one of those flying fox rides that you see in many an army assault course or, if like me, you’ve never been to an army assault course – the last obstacle in the final event in TV’s Krypton Factor. (RANDOM FACT: Presenter Gordon Burns is from Northern Ireland)

First up to take the challenge was a gung-ho Dutch colleague of ours. Not looking too graceful as he ascended the ladder, he did however succeed in reaching the top without too much trouble and his yell of joy as he set off on the Death Ride moments later was all the motivation I needed.

Needed to at least consider the idea of attempting it that is

One by one, the girls in the group attempted and succeeded in beating the Death Ride. There were only three of us left and one of them – again, who shall remain nameless – decided by this stage to bail out, leaving just the two of us to have a go at it.

I was shaking with nerves and nauseous at the prospect but as I watched my colleague begin his ascent, I resolved to do the damn thing. The opportunity for bragging rights over my “chicken” friend provided a powerful motivator.

Faster than I’d hoped, my colleague reached the top and it was all of a sudden my turn.

I began nervously enough and, without looking up (for fear of seeing how far I still had to go) and without looking down (for fear of seeing how far I had gone), I slowly made my ascent up the wobbly ladder.

True to form, I did not trust the equipment to hold me as I took an occasional rest, opting for the less flattering but oh so more reassuring technique of holding on for grim death, to a point where imprints of the ladder where left as bruises on my arms for several days afterwards.

Eventually, I made it to the top where I was greeted not by the six-pack of cool beer, nor the leather recliner that I had hoped for but instead, without getting a chance to breathe some much needed gulps of air into my lungs, I immediately got hooked up to The Death Ride itself.

Taking little baby steps to the edge of the platform, I looked down below me ahead in the distance to where one of the instructors was waiting for my descent.

Rather than taking time to compose myself, I merely charged off the small wooden platform and flew down the Death Ride with as much grace as a bloated BSE-infected cow. If a bloated BSE-infected cow ever found itself on the Death Ride in Bokrijk, that is.

The wind flying in my face and through my ridiculous looking safety helmet, I screamed “ NORN IRON!!!” at the top of my voice as I plummeted towards the instructor on the ground.

Now I have to admit, what happened next came as a bit of a surprise to me.

As I neared ground level, I expected the instructor to get busy with some sort of safety catch to initially slow down and then eventually stop my rapid descent but as I quickly approached, it soon became apparent that he was stood down there having a sly smoke break.

The twat.

Passing the instructor at what could only be described (but hopefully not self-fulfilling) as a breakneck speed and with panic starting to set in, I wondered just how in the hell I was going to stop.

This was a question that needed answered with more and more urgency as I hurtled through the field over the hedge and into another part of the forest heading straight for another equally big - and solid-looking - tree.

Already seeing the headline in the Ballyclare Gazette back home, “LOCAL MAN KILLED IN DEATH RIDE” and for once it not referring to a joyriding accident, I prepared myself for the impact.

But of course I needn’t have worried.

Yes, the cable along which I was travelling led back up among the trees but thankfully at a safe distance from actually hitting any trees.

Having slowed down to a stop by nature’s very own force of gravity, I then started returning in the direction from whence I came, gathering speed and then passing the smoke break-enjoying instructor for what was the second - and already two too many - times that afternoon.

I then proceeded to go back and forwards until I eventually came to rather ignominious end to my Death Ride experience. My cigarette enjoying friend, put out his cigarette and eventually helped me down from the ride.

A ride, admittedly, that I had enjoyed tremendously. Once I had got up that bloody ladder, that is.

However, the worst was still to come.

A couple more obstacles negotiated, such as climbing walls and another ‘mini’ death ride (a Major Illness Ride perhaps?), I was feeling quite pleased with myself and my afternoon efforts. A sunny Saturday afternoon that had begun with me hugging a toilet, convinced that I was going to throw up had progressed to me feeling like something akin to John Rambo in First Blood.

And then, we moved on to the high wire assault course.

Ah yes – the high wire assault course.

A wonderful collection of obstacles designed to provide the adventurous amongst us with the task of getting from tree to tree whilst balancing along connecting cables, 15 metres above the ground.

I took one look at it and initially balked at the idea but the girls in our group continued to put the males to shame and looking at their determined expressions, I knew that I would have to tackle it.

It was suggested by the instructor that we paired off to help each other switch from safety cable to safety cable after each tree. There were tiny platforms allowing us somewhere to rest and compose ourselves for the next task.

Looking back, my partner definitely drew the short straw.

Having successfully (but with no little effort it has to be said) negotiated the first two stages; I was then expected to walk along a cable whilst holding onto nothing other than a rope for balance.

Balance was something I had been struggling with all afternoon, no doubt caused by the excesses of the night before. I had been experiencing many a wild wiggling of the hips that would have done me proud on the dance floor at the disco later that night, but when suspended 15m above the ground, it was the last thing that was needed. Believe me.

Halfway across the cable and in complete no-mans land I felt the uncontrollable shakes building up. I stopped shuffling across to try and steady my rapidly gyrating hips but it only served to further my predicament.

I then made the mistake of looking down at the forest floor beneath me and noticed the concerned expressions of some of my colleagues looking back at me. Realising I must have looked a right eejit, I did the only thing that I could do under the circumstances – I fell off.

As if my embarrassment wasn’t bad enough, I struggled for a moment to get back up on the cable. I would have had more chance of Angelina Jolie in full Tomb Raider attire coming to my rescue and in truth – I froze.

Unable to do anything to rectify my situation, I looked despairingly at Jannick who was below me looking at me with a worried expression on his face. I can only begin to imagine the expression on my own.

“Try to get back on the cable!” was the less than helpful expression that came my way from Jannick.

“I can’t!” was the even less helpful response that I gave.

“Can I just release myself from the cable and jump down?” Ah yes – the logic of the frightened - I’ll just deftly fall to the floor into that comfortable bush of nettles below me. That would be so much better.

Actually – considering the pain in my nether regions anything would have been better…

“Stay there, I’ll come up and help you!”

As if I’m going to go anywhere, I thought to myself.

And then true to word, Jannick - and not Angelina Jolie - came to my rescue.

To do this, he had to do the obstacles already successfully negotiated by me, which in truth was less than half of the course. He did it a damn sight quicker than me, skipping past my friends and colleagues that were waiting to continue with their adventure - stuck in a gridlock caused by an eejit Irish man suspended by his bollocks.

Eventually he helped me back up on to the cable, I got back to a tree and then he used a kind of self-made pulley system to get me safely back to the ground, much to my eternal embarrassment but equally as eternal gratefulness.

OK – so he didn’t save my life, but my bollocks were certainly very thankful of Jannick’s assistance that day.

The rest of the day passed off rather well, with just the one more obstacle to tackle – a team building puzzle which we failed at miserably.

In fact, the best team building effort of the day had to be when upon returning to my car, I realised that I had left my car keys back in the forest, presumably too preoccupied with counting my bollocks. About half the company was involved in retrieving them.

And that was how I ended up suspended by my bollocks 15 metres above a forest floor in Belgium.

Thanks for listening.

BTW – For the perverts amongst you that actually clicked on http://www.ILikeToDoItWithaStickof CeleryUpMyArse.blogspot.com - your email address has been recorded and forwarded. Expect a visit from the relevant authorities ....... YOU DEVIANT FREAK!!