Stonehenge – Friday 31st August
As we leave our house, helicopters whirr above. The skies are active the whole journey up to Stonehenge. We arrive in the car park then walk up to the monument as helicopters criss-cross the Cursus, the monument field, the barrows up towards Amesbury, and circle the wider landscape. Sometimes up here it feels as though we’re a country at war, which I suppose we are.
A fellow Stonehenge visitor from the Netherlands told me a while back that as tourists to the UK from abroad her family was really aware that Great Britain is at war. They’d been to Wales and now here by Stonehenge, the presence of the MoD is very evident. Around the country they’d seen adverts for “Help For Heroes”, wristbands for sale, stickers in car windows. War was everywhere. I was slightly alarmed that this was her impression of my homeland, but being here, by Salisbury Plain, the active preparation for combat is undeniable.
Mark chooses his spot. He’s brought two drawings up with him to check his positioning. He needs a study at several degrees between two already completed ink studies. He unpacks his drawing kit and starts a brand new pen and ink work. I settle on the grass and a young crow comes and sits nearby and looks at me. I tear off a bit of bread from the sandwiches we’ve brought with us and he comes close to get it. Then two young children spot him and also come close. The crow heads off.
It’s autumn today. The season has shifted.
There’s a steady stream of visitors but it’s nicely paced.
Outside the chain link fence an Indian family are taking pictures. Two small children embrace each other in a pose for their father’s camera and then they hug him.
It’s quite chilled up at Stonehenge.
The woman with the goat’s head staff is here again today. I spot her across the stone circle, crouching while someone kneeling holds her staff.
“Iris! Stop there.” A father says to his small daughter. Iris doesn’t want to stop. She wants to go into the protected area. “No, Sweetheart!” he implores her, and wheels the empty pushchair along the grass in hot pursuit.
Two Chinooks fly low along the Cursus. Below them a red tractor drives across the field in the opposite direction. People are lying along the grass walkway – some spread eagled, catching the last precious rays of late summer sun – a few picnic-ing.
Mark is fighting with the problem of people in his view line. He’s doing very well catching all the details of the top halves of the sarsens, but the lower parts are obscured. People photograph, stand, jump or crouch by the stones. More and more photographs. It’s quite a slow process waiting for people to move on then catching the moment when there’s a gap. It’s a little like pulling out in traffic.
Mark has to tell someone trying to take a photo of him that they’re too close. It’s distracting having a lens right up against his face. The photographer backs off and away from the artist.
On the road, four motorbikes roar in and pull up by the fence. The bikers dismount and take the mandatory photos before returning to their trusty steeds.
A man, English, comes and asks Mark if he can have a look. He sinks to his knees next to him and clearly wants to chat. “How long have you been here?” he asks, “Some hours,” says Mark. “It’s coming on nicely”, he says. Mark just smiles and keeps working. “It’s really impressive”, he says. “Thank you,” says Mark. Then the man realises that he’s not going to get a decent conversation here and gets up, admires the view of the stones and shuffles off.
A couple of young men sit on the grass a few feet away speaking and laughing in a continuous flow – a kind of giggle-speak. They are filming themselves on a compact camera. I wonder if the footage will end up on YouTube? Or indeed if it will be amusing to anyone else?
The Chinooks swoop in across the road. Just about everyone turns to look, point, photograph. It is a very dramatic spectacle, accompanied by the heart-thumping base of the blades. Then as they fly away, everyone turns back to look at the stones.