Stonehenge – Wednesday 19th June
It’s hot. No thermals needed today. It’s also strangely, weirdly, windless.
As we drive up to Stonehenge the continuing preparation for Solstice unfolds and it is a huge operation.
The field where revellers will be parking up is bordered with miles of temporary metal fencing. There is a fleet of portaloos, container huts and temporary surfaces making roads across grass. There are lighting units and generators, cranes delivering more hardware, caravans and, of course, a unit announcing the reassuring presence of St. Johns Ambulance. This obviously costs a fortune, and everyone can come for free.
Up by the monument, today’s car parking is restricted to the overflow field as the hard standing is filling with the ever expanding control unit for Solstice evening.
We came to last year’s solstice when everything was already in place. Watching the whole scenario materialise is actually fascinating. And the mad thing is, at this stage, no one has any idea if it’ll be attended by fifteen or thirty thousand people.
Mark sits and draws on the tarmac path, other visitors stop and look, photograph and film the artist at work. I don’t know if it’s more challenging in the cold and the wind or in the still heat.
The chafer bugs are still here in numbers. Visitors swat the air and brush insects off themselves and each other. “Sie bissen”, says a woman, frowning seriously and nodding. I’ve been told they don’t. But I have no direct experience to back this up.
A little girl starts stamping. The bugs are landing on the path and this is so much fun – squishing beetles at Stonehenge. I wonder which bit of her visit here will most impress itself on her memory.
I’m standing behind Mark and a very petite Japanese woman comes to me waving her camera, nodding and beckoning me. She doesn’t actually attempt to speak any Japanese to me, it’s probably quite obvious I wouldn’t understand, but she also doesn’t speak any English. It doesn’t, however, stop me. I chat away, just assuming we’re all communicating clearly. “Oh, of course. Just a minute and we’ll let these people pass. Okay. One, two, three”, and I hand back the camera. “Just check it”, I say, and her husband tells her to “check”! Happily, it’s there. A sweet photo of a retired couple with the mighty Stonehenge rising behind them. The lady beams at me and puts her thumb up. I reply with my thumb. As she walks away down the path she turns and puts her thumb up again.
The young starlings flit around the stone circle, some on the lintels, some pecking around the grass between the sarsens. The cloud is low, stifling the oxygen supply and most people are sauntering to a relaxed warm weather beat.
The sun suddenly breaks through and prickles. Mark has left his hat in the truck, so I offer to go and fetch it. This is no time to be getting sunstroke.
Back in the car park the preparations for solstice continue. Another truck is off-loading small generators, presumably for the lighting units, and a vast stack of metal fencing panels awaits its fate.
A helicopter flies over, a ‘Squirrel’ I believe. I’m wondering now if I’ve been given these preposterous names as a joke.
The helicopter disappears over the horizon and the skylark takes over as master of the skies, its song momentarily drowning out every indication of man’s intervention in the landscape.