I was just taking a walk in town. A sunny day, no rain in sight and above all armed with the camera. Then I saw the sign, “Tower open today” and decided it was now or never. For such an excursion you should be wearing flat comfortable shoes, but unfortunately it was one of those spur of the moment things. My feet were clad in black suede hoes with a small heel and as was the fashion at the time, with rather long points on the sole. How often had I seen people on the outside balcony looking down and envied the view they must have. Taking my courage in both hands, and feet, I decided to achieve what I always wanted to do; to stand outside on the gallery looking down and watch people crawling along like ants. The adventure began.
Why do those steps always look so simple at the beginning; just a spiral staircase carved in stone. Although the tower was small compared to others in the world that I had climbed, I was now fifty years older and so were my legs. There was another problem that just did not occur to me. Wearing sneakers would have been so much easier. The steps were narrow and just a little bit too narrow to accommodate the long points I had on my shoes. “Come on” I thought, “You have taken steps in life more difficult than this.” I was the mother of two children which was not an easy task in life. “Remember when you climbed the Monument in London. Now that was really just a spiral staircase leading to the top.” These thoughts did not really calm my nerves. I was then about sixteen years old and my legs could have carried me miles and I would not have got tired. Today just ten steps made me pause and rest. I was not the only person climbing today. It was summer and the tourists were here. Tourists are never alone: a mother, father and two small children were on their way to the top. I decided to move to one side and let them pass. Luckily there was an alcove accommodating a large window and I moved into this for safety.
“Did you see that lady, mum” one of the children said “she had to move so that we could walk past her.”
“Of course, dear, you know she is not as fit as we are and cannot walk so fast.”
The family had already turned a corner on the steps and probably thought that when I had problems with walking I also had problems with hearing, but everything echoed on the stairs and I heard all.
I was wondering if this spiral staircase came to an end when I met some people making the descent and our paths crossed.
“Not far now” the man said “just a few turns and then it is straight up with no curves”.
I was reassured but still felt uncertain. Why did I have to do this? The mountaineers always gave as an excuse “because it was there”. I suppose I could say that as well, but I did want to take a few photos from the top. Suddenly I felt some fresh air and as I turned the corner a wooden staircase met my eyes. This went upwards for a while, made a curve and a second staircase turned a corner and again ascended, but to where? As I looked upwards I could see the reverse side of the wooden stairs. I suppose I should have felt a feeling of relief, knowing that the spiral stone stairs were left behind and a new phase was greeting me on my walk. Again I felt isolated with my unsuitable shoes. Were these wooden stairs deeper? They were wider but again not deep enough to accommodate my stupid shoes. I reflected on the builders of the tower. What were they wearing? Probably some sort of leather sandal with a sensible structure covering their bare feet. The tower had been built in the middle ages and then the people did not have problems with fashionable leather shoes and high heels.
On the next curve I saw a large bell hanging from the rafters of the ceiling. I checked quickly on my watch and was glad to notice it was some time in the middle of the afternoon, and no bells would be rung. I had already envisaged suffering a heart attack, or a circulatory collapse, but I did not want to go deaf as well. Memories came flooding back of my ascent in St. Pauls Cathedral, London. There was not just one bell, but many and it took some time before my ears stopped whistling with the effect from the noise, but there again my ears were then much younger. I then had the brilliant idea of taking a photo of the bell. This was easier said than done. I was suffering from the effects of the climb and I discovered that I could not hold the camera still as I was trembling. I leaned against the wall which steadied me somewhat and took the photo. On and on the steps went and I even managed to photograph the view of the steps from my perch next to the wall.
Somehow the sound of voices above became clearer and I realised that my target was almost reached. A few more steps and I entered a small room where a young man gave me a ticket and told me three francs. Not only had I braved near death on the way up, but I had to pay for it. There was a door leading to the gallery outside, but I first of all sat down on a chair which was probably reserved for the dying before they took their last look at the world from the outside gallery. I decided that after five minutes rest I should move. In the meanwhile another elderly lady had arrived and was looking with envy at the chair I was sitting on. I stumbled towards the exit, brushing past a collection of leaflets that the young man had on his desk. Unfortunately they all fell to the floor and I spent the next five minutes helping to put them back again. I think I was still shaking from the ascent, but nevertheless I walked out onto the open gallery. Yes, I said open. I always thought they covered these things in case someone had the intention of putting an end to their days on the earth. This tower had more trust in the people and the protective railings only reached to my elbows.
The time had now arrived for the photography session. I think the idea was to lean on the iron railings and take a photo. I leaned back against the walls of the tower for support and took my photos just as well. What I actually photographed I was not sure of. I just walked around the tower, being grateful that I came back to the door where the exit was and made my photos. I decided that there was no point standing outside, my duty had been done and I was feeling a slight attack of vertigo. It was time for my descent. I did not see any people crawling like ants from the view I had, but I just did not stand out far enough.
It is funny really, but descents always seem to be much quicker than ascents. I am sure I was at the entrance to the tower again in half the time I took to climb to the top. I walked back home, just a kilometre down the main road, and arrived safely.
“See anything interesting” my other half asked when I arrived home.
“I took a few photos” and the whole ascent was just worth it to see the expression on my husband’s face. Writers Block Challenge #47