When we were in France, we visited an ancient town with a high tower on top of a hill. The countryside around was flat and we could see for miles. We debated for a while, whether we should climb to the top. In the end, we decided to seize the moment. Was it worth it – oh, yes! It is a special memory of nature, history and man’s ability to build.
We looked at each other and agreed we could do it. And so we climbed. Step after step, round and round the tower in ever higher circles. There was a hand rope on the outside or the curve. Thick and strong it was a help as we could use it to pull ourselves up as well as using just our knees. Round and round, up and up. No even an arrow opening to see how high we were climbing.
A slightly wider stair and a change of direction brought us into an enormous hall with a dining table laid for a medieval banquet. Two windows looked out over the town – added some four hundred years later than the tower was built. They were a weakness, perhaps in the tower’s defences.
We wander around, trying not to gasp for breath from the climb. At that stage, we did not know it, but the next part of the climb was twice the height.
And so we panted and persevered – for neither of us practicing any sport or specific exercise pattern. The steps were worn and thin and steep. Round and round we went, until, once again there was a change of direction and we broke out of the cramped stairwell to the brisk wind that gusted across the top of the tower.
The views were breath-taking. We gazed across the dappled apricot tiles of the roof tops, following the line of trees that revealed the course of the river, and stared across at the vineyards and open fields, stretching away to the horizon.
The bell on top of the tower struck two o’clock, startling us and turning our attention inwards. Opposite the bell was an eight-horn siren, pointing in every direction of the compass. It would have been used to warn the people of the town of imminent attack and my blood ran cold as I thought of what that would mean. The fearful sound of warning; the gathering of children; the hurrying to whatever place of safety was available, if any … and then the wait … and the awful fear of the unknown. In this, the 100th anniversary of so many battles fought on French soil, the siren seemed especially poignant.
As those thoughts tumbled through my mind the silence was split by a roar. Not of advancing armies or attacking enemy planes, but of motorbikes. They came up the steep hill and formed a guard of honour beneath us.
‘Look! Look down there!’ my friend cried in delight, leaning over the ramparts to look immediately below us. But my vertigo would not permit it, so we began the slow climb down, step by step, hand over hand, and out into the spasmodic sunshine, to find a crowd of smartly dressed people, a vintage car and a bride who had just arrived for her wedding ceremony. The groom sported a smart white had and we wondered if he had arrived on his own motorbike, accompanied by his friends and swapped his helmet for his hat.
The crowd added a festive air to the place and gave some sparkle to an everyday scene. My mind wondered at the variety of it all – the high tower, standing where it had been for almost a thousand years, the bell which had chimed so unexpectedly at 2pm; the siren – an aspect of life in one or many wars; and the wedding – the start of a new life together in the days and years to come.
Life revealed in a square tower that was large to us within it, but tiny in the scheme of the landscape and the scudding clouds across the blue sky. Life in the macro and the micro. But then – isn’t that what life’s about anyway?