Stonehenge – Friday 19th May
It is a little foolhardy to visit Stonehenge on a Friday. The early weekend crowds will be visiting the monument and the second-home weekenders will be queuing on the A303 on their way out West. But Mark needs the hours on his silverpoint and it isn’t raining, so we’re going.
Our journey along the country lanes is very beautiful right now. Every colour of blossom is blooming along the hedgerows and frothing up branches in the fields and gardens. The oil seed rape is brilliant yellow and the trees are filling out with the freshest of green foliage.
The works around the new visitor centre are as busy and full of people as the monument. I’ve not seen this many workers here so obviously before. An army of diggers is scooping earth, and men in hard hats and yellow vests swarm around the road works and building site.
The skies are also very active. A helicopter to our left, the enormous Hercules carrier to our right and straight-ahead a sleek shiny white jet.
Yes indeed the Stonehenge car park is heaving. But we’re going in.
“English? Press ninety-nine to begin.” Say the audio guide crew as they rapidly hand out the listening pods to the arriving crowds.
The tarmac path is crowded and dotted with soldiers wearing a kind of geometric camouflage. Their badges are Swedish. It seems that the MoD host many international visitors on the Plain. The other internationals here are tourists.
Mark has to wait a few minutes for his spot by the guide rope to clear but he gets in and settles to draw. People instantly take photos of him and his drawing.
One lady stands very close to him and watches for a few minutes before signalling to her friend to come and look. Another lady joins her and they discuss the artist in respectfully hushed tones. Then the original viewer stands close to Mark and leans in slightly towards him all the while smiling out towards her friend as she takes a photo. They’re very excited and it’s really quite sweet watching these two middle aged ladies behaving like enthusiastic teenagers.
Another wave of tourists comes along, a large party of Southeast Asian visitors and similarly, they all line up to look over the artist’s shoulder and then pose for photos near to him.
One woman stands next to me, nods towards Mark and puts both thumbs up. “His painting is very good,” she tells me. I tell her that the last drawing he did took about 70 hours and this current one will be many more hours in the making before it’s finished. It might actually take more than 70 hours to complete. Her mouth drops, then she translates for her friend and her friend’s mouth drops in astonishment. I ask them where they’re from, “From South Korea,” she says, “We are staying near Wembley in a hotel but we travel all over. To Northern Ireland and everywhere.”
Her friend touches my coat, my long waterproof, and asks me, “Cotton?” I tell her yes, it’s waxed cotton and has been an important piece of clothing this year. It’s kept me dry! Her friend translates.
She gives a thoughtful look and rubs the edge of my coat between her fingers. I have to say, I interpret this look to be one of slight envy. I imagine she might have been rained on this week.
“His painting has made a great impression,” says the woman pointing to Mark sitting concentrating, “On us all.”
And she says it’s been nice to talk, and I wish her well on her travels around the UK and Europe, and, full of smiles we bid each other goodbye.
Now where else would this happen?