Stonehenge – Thursday 23rd August
Pulling into the Stonehenge car park we are attracted to the presence of a dinky motorbike and sidecar combo.
Other vehicles are arriving but as yet it’s not too mobbed. We park up and Mark goes to have a closer look at the motorbike with it’s boxy white side car and fascia highlighted in red, orange and blue horizontal stripes. A Ford transit van pulls in. Three young men get out. One takes a photo of the bike on his smart phone, then they all light cigarettes and hang around the bike discussing it, admiring it. A Japanese family get out of their car and all excitedly check out the bike, and of course take photos.
Every car that parks up contains at least one passenger interested in the motorbike. It’s a BMW, a French number-plate temptingly inscribed “capable of evading high speed pursuit” just below the numbers. While it’s here, it’s going to be photographed as much as the stones.
I’m in the truck and it starts vibrating. Two Chinooks fly past low to the ground. The sheep are scattered across the adjacent field. I watch as one too big lamb head-butts it’s mother’s stomach and almost floors her. They’ll be going soon. Another crop almost ready to harvest.
Up by the stones, Mark has learnt that all the helicopter activity is the final phase of training for the next deployment to Afghanistan. The skies will be busy for the next week or so and then this batch of trainees will be in the ‘theatre’.
A father walks past telling his two kids, “That’s the same as two elephants or two buses or an aeroplane”. I’m guessing he’s talking about the weight of the stones. Mark is trying different methods of taking compass readings. There must be iron in the earth around here. The calibration is tricky.
A man stands on the tarmac walkway holding up a stick with a day-glo orange pompom on top; a tour leader with a coach party of young, petite, South East Asian men. They are marched round, grabbing photos on the hoof. A middle-aged man stands close by and talks loudly on his mobile. Russian I think. The tour guide with the pompom stick gathers his group half way round the stone circle and three stragglers run to join them. He must be very strict.
Mark has barely begun and is approached by a man asking if he can have a look. The man crouches beside Mark. He wants to chat. Mark tells him he’s only just started so there isn’t much to see. The man leaves. Mark turns his paper over and has to begin again.
The Chinooks fly back. It’s going to be a very noisy day but a very good photo opportunity for plane spotters; or are they aircraft enthusiasts?
A Dutch mother and son join the walkway and attempt a game of Frisbee. She’s slightly encumbered by a sizable unwieldy handbag that she continues wearing over her shoulder. Inevitably the Frisbee goes over the rope. The boy steps over, the mother walks away.
A man on a mobility scooter arrives at the top of the tarmac walkway. His daughter tells him, “I reckon you’ll be alright if you try it. It’s solid.” And the man bumps onto and along the grass. It’s sunny and dry today. The jackdaws are among the stones, casually cawing to each other – periodically drowned out by the helicopter blades.
A glamorous Indian family walk onto the grass and discuss the video facility of a smart phone. “Come on guys, we’ve got twenty minutes”, says the mother. The walkway is suddenly solid with people. Outside on the road, coaches are queuing to get into the car park.
A boy in a green baseball cap stands next to Mark and watches him draw. Occasionally he removes a spider crawling across him but is otherwise totally engaged. After several minutes he’s called, “Jack!” He indicates he wants to stay, “Yes!” comes the stern reply and Jack begrudgingly trudges off to join the others.
I realise that the scattered women sitting along the grass are actually a group. They gather in a circle around a slender bespectacled man and then lie down, their heads almost touching in the centre of the circle. It must be a led meditation. The man sits and speaks into a microphone, gently gesticulating with his free hand. Luckily, the Chinooks are having a break.
Alarmingly close to me a father lifts his toddler over the outside guide rope, wriggles his shorts down and helps the tot to pee.
And so it goes…