Rising above the circumstances

Lewis’s Tower (Humberstone Gate, Leicester) Beware of the gatekeeper!

ascend |verb| to rise, to climb, to mount, to go up

As uncertainty crept into our lives, it became fairly obvious that the big adventure that my husband and I are currently living would require a fair amount of sacrifice in exchange. The first thing it would ask of us would be to spend some initial time apart. As a gift, I gave him a beautiful map in silver and fluorescent green and yellow that I’d bought in a quirky first floor shop on Columbia Road.

I told him that the map was my love letter to him. Home is where you are, I said. And so a big commitment slipped in inadvertently through the poetics! Damn… that’s how I really ended up in Leicester.

Life is made of many shades and this week, I’m struggling with Leicesterhood, for reasons that are too uninteresting to recount. Some people take to wearing pajamas all day, drinking G&T’s at 9 am or watching 90210 (or all of the above)… I’ve taken to ascending (but not without a twist of insomnia).

My first attempt was to try and conquer the Lewis’s Tower in Humberstone Gate, Leicester. I’m smitten by it every time I walk by. Its 1930’s chalky white machine age enamourment leaves me weak at the knees. It’s also got a certain nautical tease about it, which makes landlocked me long for the water’s edge – the place of dreamers, just like my birthplace. Of course, the tower’s art deco fabulousness sticks out like a “Soar” thumb (1) within the horrendous cheap-franchise riddled high street that holds it prisoner. So the Lewis’s Tower stands tall, forgotten and proud, like a penniless lady of noble birth. Ironic that it is now enclosed in a cultureless high street bank.

But my desire to ascend the Lewis’s Tower isn’t only an aesthetic whimsy. I find a bird’s eye view of the place where our life’s dramas are played out, very therapeutic. When joy is dampened, it is good to extract yourself from the sticky details and refocus on the big picture. Get back to the essentials. Put yourself back into your life and not just in your circumstance. I wanted to come to terms with the place where my home now inhabits, instead of trying to coax it into being something it is not. Oh my! – am I the Lewis’s Tower stuck among the Gregg’s and Primark franchises of this world?

So I circled the tower quite a few times before I managed to take an educated guess as to where the entrance may actually lie. (A bit reminiscent of the Sputnik-like BT Tower in London – another edifice that makes my heart go thump, thump. It magically hovers over London, yet is somehow elusive if you actually try to get to the foot of it – apparently a deliberate design feature. It’s J.D. Salinger in a building!) In my case, as it turns out, the keeper of the Lewis’s Tower was a high street banker who was all smiles and suspicions – typical combination. Apparently, she hadn’t even realized there was a landmark incorporated in her place of employment. “Really?”

She reminded me of a summer in college I spent in the Cape Verde islands doing volunteer work. One of my many hats there was to teach a small group of children in a village called São Pedro in the middle of arid São Vicente Island. We realized one day that, despite having very little to occupy their time, the children had never been up the small peak at the foot of which lay their village. Ever. I had difficulty understanding how they had never been curious. So the next day, we walked up and were embraced by a breath-taking view of the blazing turquoise sea beyond (which is the only fertile thing on the island). This lady was just as curious as those kids.

Anyway, having received a big fat smiley “no” in response to my request to ascend, I pulled out my sense of humor (fresh supply hopefully coming soon) and sought out an alternative – rock climbing.

I’d found a nice looking climbing center on the outskirts of Leicester, so I mosied on over to take a look and quickly found myself at the top of the bouldering wall with unknown arm muscles wailing at me for mercy.

Climbing is also a therapeutic form of ascension, but in an opposite way from the Lewis’s Tower. It is not about introspection, but about leaving your frustrations on the ground for a moment and focusing on something else that requires your full attention, should you choose to avoid slamming into the mats embarrassingly, as nimble little 8-year old monkey boys look down on you smugly.

Perhaps it’s about showing myself that an apparently torturous path can be made up of individual, bearable steps. Perhaps therein lies the key to – I dare say – enjoyment of the apparently insurmountable hurdles. Perhaps the fact that every Lestonian’s default response is “there’s nothing we can do about it” or the sleazy club that has undiplomatically popped up on my front doorstep or the general grime of it all will only serve to make gems like the Lewis’s Tower or Belgrave Road shine even brighter through the dreary weather.

I’ll engage body, mind and heart to trust, to pace myself, to strive and maybe I’ll find myself at the top of that proverbial wall (but certainly not without slamming into the mats a few more times. Hiss, hiss to the monkey boy.)

(1) Ha, ha, ha. Get it? Maybe that was too heavy a Leicey reference. Leicester is cut across by the River Soar. I’d certainly like to cut across it with a few other things as well – like a bull-dozer. Except for my lovely Lewis’s Tower, of course. Change that ha to ah, in that regard!


2 thoughts on “Rising above the circumstances

  1. I climbed it once, half-cut, on a Sunday night. The rest of the building had been sadly demolished and the ascent was a drunken homage to it. There was no security and no problems getting access. We clambered up external scaffolding until we found a way in and some stairs to complete the climb. Then we lay on top for a while, enjoying the view and the air, calling down to the odd confused passer-by. We did the descent, covered in dust and clutching a handful of outsize lightbulbs, which I still have. Funny though, I suffer from vertigo these days & can’t quite believe it’s something I did, but it’s a precious memory. I wonder how many others did it?

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