I have explained before that the roof is pitched at just about the maximum which can allow a mere human to cling thereon unaided. I went on to say that the sun-blessed south face of the roof remains moss free and comparatively safe but that the north face, particularly in the winter, is mossy and treacherous. Of course my ascent, of necessity in this case, was on the north face and I was without crampons and ropes.
I'm hoping that yesterday's expedition will be the last for a long time. “Threescore years and ten” has arrived and bravado has departed.
I was on the roof for two reasons; one was to finish off a small job on the chimney I had recently built and which I have reported on at length in an earlier column; and the other was to prune the uppermost growth of the bougainvillea at the peak of the gable-end which had become just a little bit overenthusiastic up there. It had decided to explore the inside of the roof which, you will now have deduced, houses the office. Our computer filing system is chaotic enough without us having an errant crawler interfering with things either via the keyboard and mouse or directly in the guts of the hard drive.
I finished both jobs quite expeditiously but, it being a lovely spring day, I bade a while up there and enjoyed a far better view of the garden and the village than is usually afforded from the house windows. The world looks different from the rooftops.
I also mused that I had undertaken a very similar climb and a similar reverie several times nearly 60 years ago. In those days I lived with my parents and sisters in a tall terraced house in a Merseyside town and my bedroom was in the loft; it too had a dormer window. My climb in those days was up a roof of Welsh slate and as far as I can remember I was motivated only by the challenge; it was certainly not to undertake work. Perhaps it was the year when Everest was conquered or soon after and the words of George Mallory (1886-1924) had been oft quoted. When asked why he was climbing Everest, Mallory replied, “Because it's there.” I probably said something similar when eventually some concerned neighbor told my father of my expeditions and he had demanded an answer to the same question in regards to me and the roof.
The world also looked very different from that rooftop. A horizontal line of sight had me in a virtual forest of chimneys, brick-made but all surmounted by magnificent tall chimney pots, each a work of art and a credit to the potter's craft. Maybe one in every hundred chimneys bore a TV antenna, H or X. In between the chimneys I had a hazy and smoky view of the Liverpool docks and the grand transatlantic passenger ships of the time. If I half closed my eyes and concentrated I could faintly make out the ghost images of the slave ships which gave the city its wealth 150 years previously.
Below me, and probably more interesting at the time were the back yards (English meaning) of our neighbors' houses with their coal-heaps, outside WC's, bicycles and still a few rusty Anderson air-raid shelters.
My more recent muse-on-a-ridge-tile took in the various greens of our mountainsides and the fields of our beautiful valley. If one can call my juvenile thoughts back then a muse, then the only colors which might have been involved were shades of grey; certainly there was very little green involved. Grand buildings of white or honey-colored stone were black at the time and assumed by all to be naturally black. The people who may have come into view would have been the boys in their knitted “Fair Isle” cardigans, droopy shorts and possibly their dad's old battledress jackets, or the young girls in their dull and ill-fitting home-made frocks brightened up by a little embroidery and their hair in ribbon-ended pigtails.
One of the grownups I may have seen was the coal-man carrying his one hundredweight (50 kilogram) sack down the “back-alley,” a narrow alleyway barely a yard wide which separated the high yard-walls of the back-to-back terraces; or perhaps the window cleaner who managed to walk the entire length of the street on the nine inch-wide garden walls of those back yards and, having reached a regular client, was able to place the feet of his ladder at exactly the right spot to enable him to step aboard on about the tenth rung and launch out to land his mount against the house wall at exactly the right place and angle to start his chore without ever having to touch the ground. It is possible that he never set foot on the ground for the whole of his working day.
Sitting astride my Turkish ridge tile last week I saw many cars drive past and, though I was not conscious of seeing pedestrians go by, had I done so it might have been a “walking bush.” A walking bush seen from ground level has a bottom half-meter of human legs visible underneath a two meter-diameter ball of vegetation destined for his goats. From a roof vantage point I would only have seen a two meter green ball apparently rolling down the road. Most village ladies viewed from above would look much the same as each other, being large of build and headscarved.
The modern-day Turkish scrap merchant drives a diesel truck and his call comes via a PA system. His call is as incoherent as ever but interestingly the calls of England-then and Turkey-now have a feature in common; the final two syllables of the call are delivered in distinctive musical notes; to my ear perhaps the fifth of the octave followed by the lower tonic. The England-then “Rag and bone man” walked and made his call down the back-alley for its superb acoustics.
The world looks different from a rooftop; there are no telephones up there, no computers or televisions and a chap is very unlikely to meet another living soul. Nature remains close by and one may well be joined by an inquisitive bird or two. The birds in the trees are a mite closer up there and their songs significantly more so. The rodents who live under the ridge tiles will probably be sleeping during daylight hours but would not make themselves known in any case. The same cat who mocked your clinging-on when you were building the chimney may be unable to resist showing off by trotting across the tiles and throwing the occasional “heels,” and she may well bring along a family member or two for a chuckle. The sounds, and indeed smells, of the valley drift up to the rooftops to augment the sights, and one may see colors more clearly than from below or when the world was young. One may also encounter that strange time-warp phenomenon and be transported back in time half a century or more.
The world looks different from a rooftop.