Stonehenge – Friday 11th January
Today is a spectacular winter day. It’s mild, the sky is blue with a polite sprinkling of cloud and the sun is lighting everything beautifully.
As we walk up to the monument field the curves and dips of the Henge Ditch shimmer silver. It looks like some strange mirage, as if water has settled on every blade of grass and is sitting there on the surface, reflecting the rays of the sun straight back. But as we get closer we see fine wispy strands cloaking the grass, strands of spider web. It’s astonishing. There must be miles of the stuff here and it’s covering the ground in a giant silky woven blanket.
As soon as I sit down and open my notebook a small spider arrives on the white page.
Mark is doing another session on his silverpoint drawing of the trilithon. I think he’s done about 37 hours so far and it’s quite distinct from all the studies he’s made in pen and ink. This is no longer a study, something to be used for reference back in the studio; it’s a fully formed drawing. Well not quite fully formed. It’s going to take a few hours more before it’s completed to Mark Anstee’s satisfaction.
The jackdaws are flying about amongst the sarsens making their distinctive chirrup sound.
There are quite a number of Russian visitors here at the moment. A coach load anyhow. A woman in a black sparkly coat asks me to take a photo of her and her friend with her DSLR camera. It’s incredibly heavy, kitted out with a very expensive lens. I look through the viewfinder and suddenly feel my lovely camera to be quite inadequate. All these photos. The English Heritage staff spend much of their time on the tarmac path taking photos for visitors, especially I’ve noticed when there’s a rush on and several coaches arrive at the same time. And visitors ask each other to act the photographer all the time. More and more photos.
“Are you like videoing the spiders? There’s all these weird spider webs all over the place.” Says a young American woman to her companion as they walk by.
I watch a spider abseil from my hat to my notebook, literally in front of my eyes. “There’s ancient,” says the American girl pointing to the stone circle, “and there’s modern,” she says pointing to the traffic streaming down the A303. “Ancient…and modern. I’m going to take a photo of the countryside because it’s so amazing.” And she hasn’t seen the sheep yet.
A tall young Asian man stands on one leg with the other raised, as though he’s standing on a stone, while his girlfriend crouches down to take a photo. She struggles to find the exact right place for the shot and he gives her instructions while balancing on one leg. It’s very impressive.
A small person in a silver padded anorak, hood up, stands close up to Mark to watch him drawing. Today, Mark has put a piece of paper over one half of his trilithon to prevent himself from marking it as he moves his hand across the paper to draw the other half. It must be a bit confusing for a child looking at it. Doesn’t seem to be putting them off though. Another bigger child stands about twenty feet away swinging the audio guide around her neck from it’s long orange cord.
“Why does it feel so good but hurt so bad.” Sings a very little boy as he walks by. He looks about three or four. “Come on, Ben.” Says his sister. “Why does it feel so good but hurt so bad.” The song continues, flatly. Or at least the one line continues, repeatedly along the grass walkway. “Why does it feel so good but hurt so bad.”
Then a glorious flash of orange and four brightly clad monks arrive for a photo opportunity in front of Stonehenge. They take it in turns to pose and to photograph in various combinations. Brown shoes, grey socks, brown legs, vivid orange robes. They look wonderfully exotic.
I suddenly feel like I’ve started something. A young man has sat on the ground next to me, an A-Z of London under his bum, his back against the bench I’m sitting on, and is completely still. A woman has settled on the ground the other side of me and is sitting with her knees up and her eyes closed. One of the orange monks comes past, stops, and takes a photo of us.