Take a Leap in London: 5 Ways to Leave your Comfort Zone

29 February is supposed to be the day to take a leap. From spiders to heights, here are our tried and tested ways to have fun while you to conquer your phobias.

Abseil Down the Orbit

This Anish Kapoor-designed sculpture next to the London Stadium is 80m (260ft) high. That might not sound too high, but after dangling over the side of it, let me tell you that it is high. Especially when you look down and the front half of your foot is touching the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s abseiling platform, while the back half has nothing beneath it but the 80m drop.

I was particularly scared about this challenge, because I'd already seen two other visitors abseil over the side and swore that I could never, ever do it. My tactic was to block out all thoughts about what I was about to do. There’s a lot to distract you, such as being tied into a harness that is so tight that you cannot stand up once it’s on, forcing you to walk like a chimp. There are also lots of instructions to follow, so my mind was busy with that.

Once I cleared the platform however, I started to realise what I was doing. You have control over how fast your descent is, so I just let the rope whizz through my hands and reached the ground in a few minutes. Just keep telling yourself that and you’ll be fine!

Snorkeling with sharks, Sea Life London, UK

Snorkel with Sharks 

This sounds rather alarming, doesn’t it? I don’t have a problem with sharks personally (as long as they’re not chewing my arms off) so I was mainly just excited to get in the water. I was guided into the huge Sea Life London, then through an off-limits door beyond the usual visitor route. We were standing above the aquarium’s Shark Reef Encounter tank, filled with creatures ranging from small fish to large nurse sharks. In front of us was a clear-bottomed cage, which we climbed into after we’d changed into wetsuits.

The cage doesn’t move, so the water level was never higher than our waists. With the help of snorkels, however, we were able to sit on the bottom of the cage with our heads underwater. I peered past the clear plastic bars and into the cold, dark expanse of the tank, watching as huge sand tiger sharks drifted by, completely uninterested. There’s no gnashing teeth or cage-smashing happening here. If you’re scared of sharks, then I would imagine this would be a huge challenge, but for me it was just a bit of fun.

BUGS building, ZSL London Zoo, UK

Hold Spiders at the Zoo

I find large tropical spiders to be problematic, therefore I’ve avoided them for years (which is easy in London). So, it was time to leap out of my comfort zone and into ZSL London Zoo’s BUGS building. This includes the "In with the Spiders" exhibit, with tarantulas and displays of shed spider skins, before you enter a warm enclosure with Australian golden orb spiders. I was startled - they’re loose and hang above you.

Luckily, the head of invertebrates Dave Clarke talked to me about these creatures and the zoo’s Friendly Spider Programme. ‘We spend three to four hours with arachnophobes on our course to help conquer their fear,’ he said. ‘Some can’t even say the word, but by the end they’re able to catch a house spider with a cup and card. We give participants the chance to hold a Mexican red-kneed spider, too.’ I decided to be brave and took a deep breath, peered closer and realised that golden orb spiders are beautiful.

Neil at Comedy Club, London, UK

Make them Laugh at The Comedy Store

Some of you might be thrilled by the idea of watching stand-up comedy – but how about trying it? Leicester Square’s famous Comedy Store (it’s been in business since 1979 and presented Robin Williams and Lee Evans) hosts "King Gong" on the last Monday evening of every month, when anyone can apply to perform for a maximum of five minutes. Those who survive for 350 seconds become finalists, but if you get three red cards from the audience before the time is up, a gong is banged. Two or three volunteers are picked from the audience (tickets are £10), but if you want to be guaranteed a slot, apply in advance. There are 30 contestants and I was on near the end, when the audience was drunk and noisy.

When my turn came, unfortunately no-one found me funny so I got three red cards and was gonged off after 49 seconds. King Gong at The Comedy Store was the most challenging thing I’ve done in London, but it was huge fun. I dare you to apply – take a leap!

Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, London, UK

Meet the Tarantulas

I continued my quest in south Hackney at the unsettling underground venue, Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities which claims to be the country’s only curiosity museum and filled with intriguing objects. Wynd is an author, lecturer and artist whose collection is outrageous – and disturbing. Beneath a bar on Mare Street called The Last Tuesday Society, this tiny museum has oddities crammed into every corner. There are explicit postcards and books, stuffed squirrels playing card games, and a pointy tongue darts out of the bloody face of a demonic dolly. It’s all a bit shocking. There are lots of gently humorous items here too, but once I had seen the clear plastic packages with dead tarantulas inside, my skin began to crawl and I had to get out.

Neil Simpson
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