memories came back as I drove through the beautiful moonlight. It
would be a perfect evening, I thought, to climb the tower again. I
had to drive on to the next village where my son worked in the local
pub. It's a lovely old inn with white walls and thatch. All the way,
I debated the idea with myself. Cars are great places for talking to
yourself. I often have some of my most intelligent conversations when
there's no-one else around to answer me back. It was a mad idea of
course. It was one thing getting into trouble for trespassing in your
twenties, but a completely different thing when you're a responsible
forty five year old. Not to mention bringing a sixteen year old along
with you. A crazy idea.
My son got
in. As usual, he smelt of David Beckham aftershave and chip oil in
equal measure. I'm not sure which one's worse. As we drove along he
bombarded me with his thoughts on tomorrow's football. How Arsenal
had dramatically improved since signing Ozil. At first, I misheard
him and thought he said Worzel. This conjured up a wonderful image of
a scarecrow running into the penalty box and booting the ball into
the goal, straw flying this way and that around the Emirates.
drew level with the lay-by and the tower.
thinking, I pulled over. Maybe it was something to do with the moon.
we doing Dad? Are we going to bury a body?'
with me. And keep quiet.'
the same gate that my friend and I had clambered over twenty-odd
years ago. There was the field rising towards the clump of gorse
bushes. No sheep. No tractor. No grandfather clocks. We started
walking. My son took the situation very seriously and decided to
demonstrate his prowess in flatulence. Instead of the usual guffaws,
he was met with a stern reprimand. 'This is private land. I don't
want to get caught!'
By the time
we'd reached the gorse I was completely exhausted. New fences of
treacherous barbed wire criss-crossed the field. More baffling, I
couldn't see the tower. But I didn't want to give up. We hurdled the
last of the barbed wire and I managed to alter the design of my jeans
with a brand new vent. For the first time in decades, I probably
looked halfway fashionable. My son had climbed at a spot where a
cattle trough was on the other side. 'Careful' I said just as he
stepped right into it. He cursed loudly but at least it would help to
tone down the smell of David Beckham and chip oil.
further forward into the moonlit wonderland. Something was badly
wrong. I couldn't see the tower. Plastic labels hung down from the
barbed wire. Even in the moonlight, I could make out what the
lettering on them said: You Are Being Watched and
a picture of a pair of binoculars. I scanned the trees half-expecting
to see CCTV cameras recording my every move. I climbed another fence.
Then I saw it: the tower making a silhouette amongst a wiry clump of
trees that I didn't remember seeing before. To reach it we'd have to
cross a field of what looked like sweetcorn in a horror film growing
before us. Thick, impenetrable stuff that would be exhausting to get
through. The car already felt like a very long way behind us. As did
the carefree past with its freedom, hair and spontaneity.
around the platform, scanning the ground and fearing the worst. If
he'd fallen over the edge how was he ever going to go bald, have
children and become atrophied by responsibility?
his face appeared in the doorway. 'God', he said. 'How can you stand
out there? Let's go down quick. I can't stand heights.'
somewhere between claustrophobia and a fear of heights, our mission
to climb the tower was a great success. Maybe someone should build a
monument to us after all. But something a bit shorter with lots of
first three steps or so, it turned blacker than the interior of a
my friend was the proud possessor of a silver Zippo. He thumbed the
wheel and we had a naked light. The mellow flame added just the right
ambience to our adventure.
was never steady and the yellow flickering cast beautiful shadows
about the stone circle. But oh, it was tight in that spiral. We were
forever turning around on ourselves and every sniff or scuff was
I began to
panic. It felt like we'd been in there for an eternity. The only
cure, like so much else in life, was to concentrate on the moment,
take it one slow step at a time, banishing the image of the ogre
farmer who might be waiting outside the door for our return.
spiralling, I followed the light of the Zippo. The tower seemed to
narrow as we got higher. The walls brushed my shoulders. What if
there was no way out?
beginning to experience full on claustrophobia. And then a miracle.
My friend had stopped. There was a sudden expanse of daylight as he
pushed the door at the top of the tower open.
onto the viewing platform. Trees and forests stretching away forever.
I leant over the iron railing and sucked in good clean air. The panic
began to evaporate. I turned to say something to my friend but he
back in business. Baldness and children still a long way over the
further mishap, aside from my friend planting his white shoe in a
glistening cluster of sheep dung, we made it to the tower.
At the top
of the plinth there was an arched door.
slightly ajar and propped shut by a house brick. We surveyed the
landscape once more. The coast was clear. I picked up the brick. I
have always been something of an expert when it comes to bypassing
high-tech security systems.
were met with a beautiful sight: white steps cleanly cut and rising
in a spiral.
stepped back and allowed my friend to lead the way.
sat at the wheel. Behind his glassy cab some trick of the light gave
him a greenish tinge. He wore a green cap – unless it was another
trick of the light, and looked like he'd just bitten into a lemon.
His nose twitched like an animal that smells something bad. Then he
opened the door of his cab. When he stepped onto the grass I realised
it was nothing to do with the light: his skin definitely had a
greenish ogre-like tinge.
paralysed with fear. I lay in the gorse and nettles and tried asking
the ground, fairly politely, I think, to open up and swallow me for a
while. My body was so tense; it was as if I was made of wood. My
heart swung on a pendulum. It's beating was very loud. If this
carried on any longer I would turn into a grandfather clock. That
would give the green farmer something to talk about. 'I found this
here grandfather clock worrying my sheep...'
on. I think that twenty years must have passed before the farmer
grunted and clambered back into his cab. Oh what blessed music it was
to hear the Massey Ferguson as it drove away and disappeared from
view. From that moment on, the Massey Ferguson Concerto would always
figure pretty highly in my list of Desert Island Discs.
up. Leaves and grass in our hair. It was a Walt Whitman kind of
experience. My body stopped impersonating a grandfather clock. The
nearest sheep stopped regarding me as if it was Socrates and started
doing sheep-like things again.
was getting louder. It was no longer just a puttering sound. The
tractor was now a physical object. A blood red Massey Ferguson. We
stare, turned and bolted.
particular signifier signified big trouble.
there was a bank of prickly gorse bushes and viscous nettles to dive
into. We embraced the razor prickles and accepted the stinging
caresses of the friendly nettles as if they were long lost friends.
sheep continued to show any signs of sentience, initiative and
intelligence. They bleated and wandered philosophically while we lay
timidly trembling and wondering what to do next.
faced with a problem of agricultural proportions. Several acres, I'd
say, of trouble.
was a monument to some old General who had fought in the Egyptian
had commissioned the tower which was a nice thing to do but I don't
think mine will do the same for me.
of the associations with Empire, this tower was a beautiful thing.
white round tower set on a plinth. A ball of stone set on its crown
like a grey planet. A viewing platform surrounded by a wrought-iron
complication being that the tower was on private land. To get to it
meant trespassing. Lots of open land: precious few places to hide if
a tractor should come into view. The other problem was that you had
to leave your vehicle in the lane. After a while, someone was likely
to guess what you were up to.
we were very sensible about it and completely ignored these
up and set about our mission.
bleating in the fields. The sun shone. There was, it has to be said,
the disquieting sound of a tractor puttering around somewhere nearby.
But we couldn't see it. There was also the odd ricochet from a shot
gun echoing from the woods interspersed with what sounded like a wolf
really, to get worried about.
young, we were still in possession of Led Zeppelin hair.
ambition of having children and going bald with worry hadn't yet
occurred to either of us.