Opportunity Knockers !!! -‘My God!’ ‘s worst nightmare As far as lives go, I’ve so far lived quite a sheltered one. I mean, I’ve never been assaulted or attacked and I’ve never really had any major accidents. Or not life threatening ones anyway. Fear is therefore quite an abstract thing in my mind – just a few far distant memories of being lost on shopping trips in ASDA aged 3 and the one serious car accident I was in when I was 10. I’m not fond of spiders…or heights. However, as you can probably imagine, I generally find the world to be safe, reliable place, especially if it’s open to the public- I mean regulations have got so mean something haven’t they? Not anymore. There are around 374 steps up to the top of the tower at Durham cathedral and considering I walk up around 50 to get to the bus stop every day, I didn’t really think the climb would arduous or to be honest, really anything more than marginally tiring. I knew we’d be relatively high up but, we’d be protected by a 900-year old stone wall and as far as I’d heard, the view would be so good we’d hardly notice it. It was for a combination of all of these reasons that on one foggy, December day myself and my friend Sophie decided to undertake the climb in the absence of a teacher, name of Mr Fuller, who, should he have been in, would have taught us for the next 2 hours. I’ve always loved the Cathedral and so, as usual, we dawdled in order to observe the beautiful Rose Window and the Tomb of Saint Cuthbert, both of which are responsible for our cathedral being known to the outside world at all, in spite of all its splendour. We even examined the famous sanctuary knocker, wondering just how many criminals had used it in their time of need. Perfectly calmly, we approached the desk and paid the £3.00 tower contribution necessary for our passage up to the top. The two elderly stewards were very friendly and asked if we wanted them to care for our bags as ‘it got very narrow up there’. Thankful to leave our heavy textbooks behind, we agreed readily, not thinking of the implications of what they had said and, eager to get to the top, we began to hurry up the stairs. Reminiscent of a Harry Potter film, part of the hit movie being filmed there, the staircase was wide and we walked easily side by side. Looking out of the windows, we realised that we weren’t too high up and even felt confident enough to name the courtyard below ‘Edward’s View’ after a character in a novel that we were both currently obsessed with. It seems trivial now when you consider what were about to face, but we made sure that we could see it as we rose higher and higher up into the belfry, just to make sure that we could keep everything in perspective, you know. Finally, after only a small amount of puffing and panting, we were there. The air as still as I held my breath and stepped out onto the silent landing. There were no windows. The top wasn’t even supposed to have a roof. As our footsteps creaked my heart slowed to meet them, their rhythmic beat a requiem to my ears, knelling me across the old coffins of creaking floorboards towards the door at the other end of the landing. ‘Tower, this way’ You had to be kidding me. We weren’t even half way. I knew why we had left our bags at reception now- there was barely enough room for our bodies themselves, never mind our school bags. Cautiously rising, we thanked the Lord that we had not been blessed with big feet as we were in great danger of missing our footing as it was and falling would, no doubt, be fatal. Privately, I decided that this was the least of my worries. This was far higher than I’d ever dreamed possible and, as far as I knew, the fiery pits of hell were meant to be beneath us, not above. Perhaps God was intending to throw us from this summit of the 900-year-old heavens that belonged to the clergy; two fallen angels heading back to the depths of an unknown master within. Fear had consumed me and the altitude of foreboding had once again increased inside my body. Naturally, I didn’t voice this opinion, however much I might have wanted to have been committed right now. Were those footsteps ahead? How on earth would we let them through? Oh no. Now we really were at the top. .‘We’re here!’ I shouted, confidently striding towards the bright light of day. ‘Thank…’ There were holes in the ‘solid stone walls’ and they were big, only having a wrought iron bar down the centre to prevent us from falling to our deaths. I was not going out there. Ever. Sophie could if she wanted. I wasn’t. I had to- what would have been the point of coming all this way just to stand and look scared? My heart quite literally in my mouth, I half crawled, half walked outside behind her. Had I been able to see more than my impending doom, it would have transpired that the view was utterly awe-inspiring as miles upon miles of both town and countryside sprawled out against the patchwork landscape below. We were moving forward and we hadn’t fallen off yet, so this had to be good. Hundreds of people had jumped here, but we hadn’t. Alone apart from a couple who seemed comfortable enough to be within the confines of a safe and padded cell, we climbed onto the roof and looked around. As my confidence grew, I followed the unbelievably gutsy Sophie to the other side and we tentatively began to take the required photos: some for our project and some as proof of our nerve to show our friends. Amazingly, I grew confident (well I could breathe anyway) and I finally began to enjoy myself a little as I watched my college and the workmen on the green down below. All too soon however, it was time to leave. Thankfully, our descent was relatively uneventful, apart from a very tight corner with a scout pack coming up the very narrow bit of the stairs. We laughed and joked as we passed ‘Edward’s View’ as it really wasn’t half as high as we’d imagined it to be first time around. The photos had worked out and Sophie promised me she would send them to me over MySpace later that evening (sitting looking at them now I can promise you that she kept to this) and we informed each other of our plans for Christmas and Birthdays. As we were nearing the bottom, another group of intrepid explorers rounded the corner. ‘Any good?’, joked one as he passed us by. ‘Very,’ I replied, smiling in spite of myself. ‘It’s a little bit scary at first mind, if you’re not too brilliant with heights’ ‘I’m sure I’ll be fine,’ he smiled as he loped up the stairs and disappeared from our view. Fool.
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