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High-wire walker's reflections on life
OFTEN called a daredevil, Jacob Hirsch-Holland says what he does is more akin to meditation.
“People might think we’re adrenaline junkies but we’re not,” he said. “We’re ‘calm junkies’ - we’re looking for calm. If you’re looking for adrenaline you’re not going to be able to do it.
“It’s not adrenaline; it’s not an extreme sport where I’m ‘walking in the sky’. It’s anything but that. It’s far closer to meditation.”
Something else that confuses people when they see Jacob walking a line is why anybody would want to take such a stroll in the first place.
The instinct against falling is so strong that walking a line is a psychological as well as a physical feat, even with a safety harness. Jacob quotes a famous experiment in which babies were placed in a room with a glass surface over a drop. Even though they were at no risk of harm and had never encountered such a situation before, they refused without exception to venture over the drop.
“I’ve always loved good views,” he said. “My favourite thing in highline is to stand in the middle and Turn to Exposure, which is to turn sideways. I take in the view.
“It’s just the feeling it gives me, the feeling anyone gets when they stand on top of a mountain or a tall building.
“Nothing else matters. When it’s really difficult everything else is gone out of your mind. If you’re thinking about anything else you make mistakes. You fail.”
Jacob recently saw a documentary about astronauts that resonated with him. “The one thing that strikes all of them the most is looking back at the Earth and seeing it in a different way. They see everything as one thing and that everything is connected.”
Standing on his line at the Spectrum building, surveying the scene from 50 feet up as children watched and tried out the lower practice wires he’d set up, Jacob was reminded again of this. “I could look at it all and it was pure bliss to be there.”
Jacob grew up at Lower Shaw Farm, the Swindon cultural hub run by parents Matt and Andrea that hosts everything from writing and theatre workshops to circus skills training.
Jacob has two sisters. One is an international aid worker and the other a clothing designer.
Jacob went to Greendown School but was also home schooled during his early teens.
“School education is not for everybody,” he said. “There are many different avenues for education that are not mainstream.
“I’m not going to make out I was intellectually above what they were teaching – I wasn’t. I wasn’t bullied and I wasn’t a bully.
“It’s a straightforward way of teaching in schools, a straightforward way to learn. It doesn’t offer much choice. I was not a normal kid. I didn’t have little plastic toys, I had things like diabolos.
“I didn’t go to Center Parcs, I went to festivals. When kids go away for summer holidays they go away, but we run holidays here.”
Jacob was still a child when he began learning circus skills. By his teens he’d discovered a love of teaching those skills. His pupils have ranged from children in schools across the borough to high-powered executives three times his age on team-building courses.
Becoming involved with slacklining in the late 2000s, he was among a small number of the ‘early adopters’ who popularised the sport, and was its first UK champion in 2011. His slacklining and highlining have taken him all over the world and seen him do everything from lie in a hammock 450 feet above the Moab valley in Utah to taking a stroll along a line suspended at an old gas storage structure in Swindon.
The latter, done with a friend but without the permission of the site’s owners, generated controversy which still bemuses him.
“That was a disgusting little brownfield site for however long and we did something beautiful there. I think if anybody tries to deny that that made an ugly space interesting and useful for that one morning, then they’re denying themselves the beauty of life.”
Jacob has some strong advice for anybody wanting to walk a line of one kind or another: learn from people who know what they’re doing and learn at a height that carries no risk.
“People need to stay at ground level until they have learned it with other people. There’s no such thing as a fast-track course.”
Jacob’s fundraising can be assisted by visiting www.gofundme.com/4ptq9w
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