1. Stonehenge – Wednesday 9th January

      You can tell the holidays are over as you approach the Stonehenge car park. It’s quite empty.

      Mark Anstee drawing on Wednesday 9th Jan

      The crows are doing their thing, flitting and cawing around the edges of the adjacent fields and up by the monument. There are more birds than people here.

      Mark has brought his silverpoint study up for another session. It’s the afternoon so he won’t be able to do more than a couple of hours work before the site closes.

      As soon as he’s settled a coach party arrives on the tarmac path. A man with a Brazilian flag draped over his shoulder asks politely if he can take a photo of Mark and his drawing. This is a large group of South American visitors, all ages – a little ’un in a pushchair, teens, parents and a couple of elders. The man with the flag unfurls it and poses for photos in front of the stones. There’s a nice atmosphere here. People are chatty and happy, many of them intently concentrating on the audio guide.

      The teens cluster in groups for photographs on the grass walkway. The jumping shot doesn’t seem to be big in Brazil. These visitors line up with their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, like a big cuddling conga.

      The man with the Brazilian flag comes by. He’s wrapped it round his  neck and is wearing it as a scarf. Three of his fellow travellers ask him if they can borrow it for a photo (no I can’t speak Portuguese, but I’m almost fluent in people watching) and he happily obliges, even taking photos for them. They line up holding the flag in front of their knees, a green and blue altar cloth, and beam widely in front of Stonehenge.

      A Brazilian visitor photographs Mark

      The spiders are back today, weeny little insects that parachute in on the breeze and crawl about the pages of my notebook and across Mark’s drawing. It doesn’t take long before the swell of people pass and Mark is left alone on the tarmac path. Just him and the ever present EH staff guarding the stones.

      An older lady walks past with a small boy. “Jesus was born two thousand years ago and these were here long before that!” she tells him. It’s still very difficult for me to get my head around the time-scale here. I wonder if it makes any sense at all to a small person who’s been on earth for less than ten years.

      Three tall young women walk onto the tarmac path. I don’t know what’s going on but one of them has her jumper hitched up above her waist while another adjusts something for her on her back. The sight of exposed flesh makes me feel particularly chilly. I’m in several layers and intend to remain fully swaddled in these temperatures.

      A jet pierces the air describing a dotted line in and out of the cloud, it’s boom lagging behind it as it goes.

      And now another swell of visitors. A coach or tour-bus full, people from different places speaking different languages; South East Asian, English, German. It’s a steady trickle rather than a flow. I guess we’ve entered the quiet months.

      The sinking sun begins to throw pink streaks across the western sky.

      As we pack up to leave for the day we meet a lovely young man carrying a large roll, and being nosey we ask what he’s doing with it. Turns out he’s looking to recruit two willing visitors to hold his banner for a photo. ‘Goal Posts’ he says he needs. And it’s for a new organization called Parcels for Soldiers.

      We’re so used to witnessing military activity up here but it’s very removed from a singular individual encounter and today we chat to a bright, communicative, sparky young soldier who tells us about his experiences in Afghanistan first hand. He tells us of being posted in remote areas where there is no possibility of extra, often essential supplies apart from the occasional parcel received from families months apart. And of course, many young people in the forces don’t have the support of their families so don’t have the odd pair of socks or shower gel or sun cream or razors or sweet treats sent to them. So he and his friends have started an initiative to help each other out on the more difficult tours of duty and to allow the public to help if they’d like to by sending stuff directly. And it doesn’t cost to send a parcel out to serving forces.

      The details are on their site www.parcelsforsoldiers.com– and here’s a photo of me and the artist being ‘goal posts’ for a very good cause.

      Holding the banner ‘parcels for soldiers’