A few weeks ago, I stood at the top of the highest tower of a very high castle indeed. I savoured a thousand-year-old view, swathed as it was in sea mist. And I wondered what those soldiers, almost a thousand years ago, must have felt, as they patrolled its damp, cold walls waiting for the agression of others.
Those tiny pawns had been watching out on the site for even longer. Even Roman soldiers could be insignificant links in a vast chain of authority, trudging back and forth with feet they could not longer feel because, lets face it, Britannia is Britannia, when all is said and done. If you want warm feet, get posted to Egypt.
They stood waiting for something to happen.
Very occasionally, it did. In 1216, the soldiers here watched a siege take hold, with men scheming and streaming like ants below.
Much later, the nearby cliffs gave a view across the sea which helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives and guarantee a country’s freedom, arguably the freedom of a much wider free world.
That view, that’s an important part of making oneself safe and comfortable. One can see the danger as it appears over the horizon, as the dog demonstrates so ably so very often.
Despite all the advances in canine psychology, and all those dog whisperers out there, no-one has yet managed to communicate to our four-legged terrier friends that we are no longer in the Stone Age.
Therefore, when it is bedtime, our canine family member spends three fastidious minutes treading down rushes which aren’t there. Round and round and round and round, on what is actually a flat, fairly comfy cushion. Pointless.
His choice of vantage point is equally primeaval.
He has a certain place in the house where he brings his conquests.
His beloved party bags, stolen furtively while children play happily and unawares; a slice of pizza, passed under the table by the man of the house, who knows such transfers are verboten; a french loaf, filched by teetering on some kitchen stool to access the kitchen working surface.
All are transported shiftily to Macaulay’s Special Place. It sits at a cruciform junction in our singluar house. From it, the dog can see who is about to walk through the front door; who might emerge from the kitchen to reclaim that loaf; potential party-bag-retrieving search parties coming from upstairs; and any approach from the chief threat to his foraging, the woman of the house.
It is unfortunate for the hound that our house has much the same number of traffic and people movements as Clapham Junction station.
Vantage is no boon, when the world overruns one’s chosen sanctuary. The dog rarely gets away with anything. And even if he is allowed to keep his pizza, there is a chuckling audience reviewing his every guilty chomp.
In the pages of a tempestuous book towers my favourite vantage point. From it, a woman bereft of her wits must go through many kinds of hell.
She sails across the world in the grip of insanity, from the warm shores of the West Indies, and by the time we meet her, she has the highest view in the great mansion of Thornfield Hall.
Her name is Bertha Rochester, and her husband is Edward Rochester, the man who sweeps a little governess called Jane Eyre off her feet.
Just as children were often pensioned off to the highest room in the house, the taciturn Mr Rochester gives his wife a room on the top floor.
She must have ample time to watch his courtship with the successor he has chosen. It must be intolerable to bear his scheming towards the ultimate betrayal. How very far away those warm shores must seem.
Of course she is a very dangerous woman, as all the books tell us. But in The Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys attempts to put her imprisonment in context, to give the woman with no voice a story of her own.
Her story shows us that a clear view of the opposition does not necessarily lead to safety or happiness. Her very height becomes the instrument of her undoing.
I have just returned from a night run. A good friend came with me, and we ran up to a place which has been a vantage point for thousands of years: an iron age fort.
As we headed out, without torches, it was dusk. I have just this minute returned, happy and muddy, in pitch black.
I know the fort like the back of my hand, but tonight this flat plateau was like another land. I could not see the forest cascading away. I could not even see the ground at my feet.
Once upon a time, this ground was crowded with squat round houses. On a warm evening such as this in 500BC, there would be people sitting out, watching the ice blue last vestiges of light above the trees. There would be cattle, and enclosures for farming, and a form of companionship and civilisation.
But no light must mean no vantage, mustn’t it? If you can’t see the agressor coming, they can attack so much more effectively. Tonight I perceived a whole new layer of meaning to the words ‘under the cover of darkness’.
Time has brought us a vantage point: invented by Thomas Edison, the light bulb will illuminate future visits to the forest. I won’t forget my torch next time.