Stonehenge – Friday 21st September
Tarmac is being spread over one of the tracks at Airman’s Cross. A man on a bright yellow roller is driving slowly behind a vast tipper truck. It’s busy.
We arrive at Stonehenge as a walkie-talkie announces, “Five coaches on their way up in about 10 minutes”. Oh boy.
Mark settles by the chain link fence and starts an ink drawing. A large older Australian woman walks up to him and barks, “So how long are you going to be doing that today?” Mark says, “I’m so sorry, but you’re standing directly in front of me,” and the woman huffs audibly and marches off.
Some people just don’t get art.
An Austrian school party walks by – girls and boys, mid-teens. “Wow”, they say, and stop to look. They’re incredibly sweet and polite. “May I take a photo?” says one. “Yes”, says Mark, and they all rustle in their jackets to pull out phones and compact cameras. They stand quietly for a while and watch intently. “Are you a drawer?” asks a girl. Mark smiles, “Yes, I am”. “Did you go to art school?” “A long time ago”, says Mark. “Thank you”, says one, and it’s echoed across the wider group. “Have a nice day,” they chorus.
Some people do get art.
Outside the fence there’s a couple taking photos through the wire. “Look at that,” says the man. “There’s a guy with a big round thing, with a cross or something on it.” He’s pointing to one of the tour guides carrying the lollipop sign for one of the cruise ships. “Maybe he’s a Druid priest or something,” he says.
We thought we’d missed the cruise day, apparently not. It’s incredibly busy.
On the byway, the campervans and buses are gathering for tomorrow’s equinox. Already there are about twenty vehicles parked up, by the end of the day there will most likely be more.
The light is watery, the sun pushing through the haze of cloud.
Passing us along the path is a wave of people. Five coaches worth have to pass by. It’s quite a crowd. It really isn’t the ideal time people wise to be drawing here, but it is the time when the sun is still illuminating this side of the stone circle. In a couple of hours it will be plunged into silhouette.
Outside, there are a couple of Russian ladies loudly trying to get a shot through the fence. Their small pink compact camera digitally beeps between spoken exchanges.
The main demographic here right now seems to be the retired visitor. I’m aware of creaking bones and aching limbs as people limp by.
“May I take a picture of you?” asks a bright young Asian woman of Mark. Makes a change from the lenses being pushed through the holes in the fence behind us. It’s the desperate consumption of everything that palls in the end. It makes people less civilised somehow, not more. It’s become a treat when people take the trouble to ask if Mark minds if they take a photo of him and /or his work.
The starlings have arrived early today. They line up along one of the lintels of the trilithons, competing for space with the jackdaws. In the distance there’s gunfire, the MoD on manoeuvres. Farm traffic rumbles past on the road, tractors with Heath Robinson type devices attached and large trucks piled high with bales of hay and straw. The crowds are relentless, a continuous trail of coach parties marching round, photographing everything and anything.
“The lens was inside the hole!” Says an American woman behind us, outside the fence, “But I got the corner in anyway.” “Take it again”, says her husband. “Oh look, there’s an artist.”
In front of us, a tour guide explains the layout of the site in fabulously clear tones to a sizable party of young people. His vocal projection is phenomenal. “Factor in the shop,” he says, “and I’ll meet you back by the coach at thirty-five past.” It’s 11.05am. That gives them 20 minutes to go round Stonehenge, 7 to 8 minutes to get to and through the shop and 2 to 3 minutes to run back to the coach. They certainly keep them moving.
“It’s interesting,” says a man outside the fence. “You can pay to go in, but you don’t actually see them any closer than here.” The paying visitors continue to arrive. “There’s a lot of history, a lot of story,” says the man outside, “but most of it is, of course, speculation.”
A little boy in a striped top stops in front of Mark. He shuffles and fiddles with his audio guide as he watches Mark drawing, “That’s cool,” he says.
A primary school gathers around Mark, “Get out of his way,” says one of their teachers and they obediently separate either side of his drawing board. “You should be on Britain’s Got Talent,” says a boy to Mark in wonder.
It’s an interesting idea….