Friday, 6 July 2007

Sitting On Top Of The World (or 6 floors below it)

Jesmond Blunt was a man of many talents, not least of which was an uncanny ability to spend as little money as necessary to get through life. When fate removed one of his legs in an accident at the mill, he didn’t dash off to the nearest surgical appliance shop to buy a replacement.

Instead, he patiently fashioned a surrogate out of the leg of an old dining table that a next door neighbour was getting rid of. It lasted nigh on forty years, and went with him to his grave.

He was, in his way, quite inspirational, and if I am ever tempted to splash out on some new consumer good or other, I pull myself back and ask ‘What would Uncle Jesmond have done?’

That approach has stood me in good stead throughout life - never more so than when I found myself part of a group of journalists on a study tour of New York newspapers. This was the post-Watergate era, and images of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford bringing down the President were still fresh in my mind.

It wasn’t all work, however and, one afternoon, I found myself with a spare hour to fill and decided, on a whim, to visit the Empire State Building, the towering form of which I could glimpse from different places as I ambled around the city streets.

With the clock ticking before I was scheduled to re-join the study party, I eventually found myself outside the building, looking up at it’s err… towering form. As I made my way into the foyer, imagine my dismay when I found a queue of horrendous proportion snaking its way to the ticket desk to buy a ticket for the observation deck, which I saw was located on the 86th floor. As I checked my watch, I realised that I wouldn’t have time to make the trip, and dismay was almost settling on to my broad shoulders before a still, quiet voice inside me said: “What would Uncle Jesmond do?”

Hmmm. I guessed that the entire Empire State Building wasn’t here merely to hold up the 86th floor in order to accommodate tourists. There must, after all, be businesses and offices accommodated beneath.

I knew at once what I had to do, and strolled purposefully past the queue, towards a large block of elevators. A security guard challenged me as I approached them. “Where ya going, bud?” he asked.

Thankfully, right behind him there was, fixed to the wall, a huge board listing businesses who had offices in the building. Scanning it rapidly, I found one on the 80th floor – I forget it’s exact name now, but I reeled it off to him, and he said, helpfully “Second elevator, change floors for 80”, and ushered me past.

My exhilaration knew no bounds. Not only had I saved myself half an hour of queuing, but the ghost of Uncle Jesmond was quietly chuckling at the $15 admission fee I’d saved.

He wasn’t chuckling quite so hard when I emerged, finally, from the lift on the 80th floor, however. As I paced the corridors, I realised that there were indeed offices all around, and I knew, at the same time, that I could hardly just walk in and demand that I be allowed to look out their window for thirty minutes.

That, my friend, was where fate (or was it the spirit of Uncle Jesmond?) intervened. I spied a door that was ajar, and slowly pushed it open. I had found, in fact, a room that was being renovated. Filled with a pile of old junk, the window was half open…

I slipped into the room, and closed the door behind me. As I navigated the tins of paint and sacks of plaster, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Jesmond, and I had soon pushed the window fully open.

For the next half hour, I stared out of the window at the great metropolis set out before me on this glorious day in May, disturbed only by the distant strains of traffic and honking car horns far, far below me. My only regret was to have been alone: with no one to share the moment with, I filled my time trying to capture how it felt so that someday I could explain it to my ‘significant other’.

Naturally, I am a man, so the thought also occurred to me of how pleasant (to say the least) it would have been to have had a young lady with me at the time, if only to be able to add our activity to the list of ‘most unusual places you have ever’ etc, etc.

Sadly, I had to content myself with my own company. As I finally turned away from the heady vista, however, my attention was caught by a plaque which had been casually tossed against a wall.

For a split second, I contemplated taking it: after all, it wouldn’t be missed, would it? It was an award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, given to the building to commemorate its wonderful design. At the end of the day, though, Bill Blunt isn’t a thief. And, anyway, I still had the urgent voice of Uncle Jesmond ringing in my ear: “Don’t be such a chuffing idiot, Bill – you’ll never get that through customs,” he was saying.

Wise words, from a wise man.


Anonymous said...

I am sure Mrs Blunt enjoys that story each time she hears it ... I know I do :-p

Bill Blunt said...

Mrs Blunt knows full well that 'the old ones are the best', Anonymous.

Daddy Papersurfer said...

A delightful catalogue of prudence Mr Blunt - a chair near to Boredom Brown perhaps?

Bill Blunt said...

Prudence has never been a word normally associated with me, daddy papersurfer. But I think I know when (and when not) I can get away with something...

Anonymous said...

So it may seem!! Mr B

the domestic minx said...

What a delightful story Bill.
Oh how I wish I'd been there with you, gazing out of the window,80 stories high...
What a thrill!

Bill Blunt said...

Thank you, Doemstic Minx. I would have been more than happy if you had been there, as you can imagine.