Abroad IV Nothing actually prepared me for the immensity of it. I literally turned a corner and there it was looming down upon me. I stopped in my tracks and started laughing and pointing.
'It's the Eiffel Tower.' I kept saying. 'Look everyone … it's the Eiffel Tower.'
Then it struck me. No one else seemed to care the way I did. Parisians ignored it as part of the landscape. Other tourists fiddled with cameras and group shots. But I was the only one standing there just looking at it, my eyes tracing the lines of the structure trying to work out the construction, trying to imagine how something like that could ever come into being.
It was an almost religious experience. This was the first time I understood I was going to fulfill another of my ambitions in the space of twelve months. This thing I'd always been looking forward to in the back of my mind, this image which I'd been seeing for twenty-seven years was here in front of me. And I was going up it. Right to the top. Madness. I stopped again, still trying to take it in.
'It's the Eiffel Tower.' I kept saying. 'The Eiffel Tower.' (I take my monuments very seriously)
My hands shook as I handed over my first Euros to pay for my ticket.
'To the top.' I said.
The clerk printed a ticket, matter of factly and handed it over. It was a paper and printed. Like Charlie when he won a chance to go to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, I wanted my ticket to be made of gold.
The trip up the tower was everything I expected. Tiny lift filled with tourist chatter. By now my initial shock had died down and I became curious as to what I'd find up there. I stopped halfway up for a picture. Then began the wait for the list to the summit. This is a twisty windy metal queuing system. The entire time the couple in front are French kissing like mad. They don't care. I don't care either. This everything I thought Paris would be about. A group of Japanese tourists don't have tickets and fight there way backwards through the crowd. Every tuts. A man passes by wearing a sweatshirt with a New York Fire Department logo on it, reminding me the anniversary isn't too far away.
Looking at Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower just made me curious. This is a massive city, but it's also a very green city. Between the ancient architecture are tree after tree. The tower itself is surrounded by a massive park. I just kept plodding around, avoiding the people and taking photographs. I was still in a fantasy world. I used a whole camera film because in some ways I didn't know what else to do.
And then I decide there is only one thing for it.
I should interject here and say that I hadn't told anyone I was going to Paris apart from my parents. I went out with all my friends two nights before and didn't mention it at all. Only one reason. I wanted to surprise my friend Chris with a postcard and I knew what I wanted to write on the back. As I've mentioned previously, one of my top ten television moments is the time Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were up there. The scene was written by Douglas Adams and I always thought it would be fun to actually stand on the spot and imagine what had gone on between takes at Baker and Ward fell in love (they married not that long after - but time is relative). So the night before I went to Paris I transcribed the piece, so that when I sent my postcard I could include the scene on the back of the postcard. So I had the scene in my pocket.
I got it out. I started to read. Out loud.
(THE DOCTOR and his companion ROMANA stand on the top of the Eifel Tower in Paris looking down at view below.)
Doctor : Nice isn't it?
Romana : Yes, marvellous.
Doctor : Marvellous, absolutely.
Romana : Absolutely marvellous.
Doctor : Well I think it's marvellous.
Romana : So do I. Though it's not quite as you described it.
Doctor : Really? How did I describe it?
Romana : You said it was nice!
Doctor : It's the only place in the world where onecan relax entirely.
Romana : Mmm! That bouquet!
Doctor : What Paris has... It has an ethos. It has a life. A.....
Romana : A bouquet?
Doctor : A spirit all of its own. Like a white wine, it has...
Romana : A bouquet?
Doctor : It has a bouquet. Yes. Like a good wine. You'd have to choose one of vintage years of course.
Romana : What year is this?
Doctor : Ah well, yes. It's 1979 actually. More of a table wine shall we say? Hah! The randomiser’s a useful device but it lacks true discrimination. Should we sip it and see?
Romana : Ooh! I'd be delighted. Shall we take the lift or fly?
Doctor : Lets not be ostentatious.
Romana : Alright. Lets fly then.
Doctor : That would look silly. We'll take the lift. Come on.
[full script here]
My Tom Baker impression is only serviceable. Imagine John Calshaw the impressionist with a cold. My Lalla Ward is non-existent. So I didn't read it that loudly – also for embarrassments sake.
When I’d finished, an American turns to me.
‘Are you sermonizing?’
‘No.’ I say.
‘What was that?’
‘Erm …’ I say. ‘Did you ever see Doctor Who?’ And I end up telling him the whole story. About Tom and Lalla. About how it was filmed just were he was standing. He asks for a photo. I get one to. Then he totters off his wife close behind.
‘What was that about Bob?’ She’s asking.
I took in the view a bit more and then head downstairs. I have a coffee and chocolate waffle in the café and write Chris’ postcard. I write another to my parents, dabbing it in the chocolate drips on the table. There is a post office on the tower. I send it there. A Euro for the two. In all I probably spent about two and a half hours up there, but it felt like years. This felt like Christmas Afternoon. All of that build up and it's over in minutes. I might go up the tower again, but it won't be my first time.
I look over at the Arc de Triumphe.
'You're next.' I say.
I start to queue for the lift down. From behind an American voice can be heard.
‘Oooh look Mary – it’s Doctor Who….’