Thursday, 29 April 2010

Ziggifield Follies

They had proceeded thus two or three miles further when on a sudden Clare became conscious of some vast edifice close in his front, rising sheer from the grass. They had almost struck themselves against it.

'What monstrous place is this?' said Angel.

'It hums,' said she. 'Hearken!'

He listened. The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tone, like the note of some monstrous one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare felt the vertical surface of the structure. It seemed to be of solid stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally...

'What can it be?'

Feeling sideways they encountered another tower-like pillar, square and uncompromisuing as the first; beyond it another and another. The place was all doors and pillars, some connected above by continuous architraves.

'A very Temple of the Winds,' he said.

The next pillar was isolated; others formed a trilithon; others were prostrate, their flanks forming a causeway wide enough for a carriage; and it was soon obvious that they made up a forest of monoliths grouped upon the grassy expanse of the plain. The couple advanced further into this pavilion of the night till they stood in its midst.

'It is Stonehenge!' said Clare.

(Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Ch. 58. Angel Clare and Tess Durbeyfield attempt to escape by night from the murder Tess has committed.)

I was taken once as a child to Stonehenge. It wasn't impossibly far away from Titchfield, a village between Portsmouth and Southampton, where I lived and went to school between the ages of 5 and 13 and which I count as my true home, to which I should like to return at the end. Provided you went by day and didn't crash into it at night by accident, as Hardy's characters did, you could run about inside it, dodge and hide, jump about on the collapsed stones. Or, if you were sensitive to the texture and origin of those extraordinary granite blocks, you could run your hands over them and marvel at the energy and determination of the ancient people that brought them here from South Wales. Not to mention the incredible maths needed to construct this massive solar calendar.

J. and I went there last March, on our way from Slough to Corfe Castle. English Heritage have taken it over now, and you can only appreciate this extraordinary witness to our ancestral civilisation from a safe, roped-off distance. As an Englishman, I feel disinherited by English Heritage. I know I shouldn't. I know I shouldn't object to paying. I know I shouldn't be reluctant to share this part of my birthright with coachloads of tourists, many from clearly alien backgrounds. But I daresay the original guardians of Stonehenge were even stricter about who could be admitted and on what conditions. Maybe things haven't changed much. Maybe I was very lucky to have been a child at a time when there was free and unconditional access. Maybe I've just become a mean old git. Oh dear. That it should come to this.


ziGGi said...

Darling Ghris - I feel exactly the same way, I loath English Heritage with a passion, indeed they will be first against the wall come the revolution! Thank you for a wonderful post :)

As I am writing this Dave is photographing me cooking - ha ha ha ha ha

ziGGi said...

Oh bugger I spelt Chris wrong!

Sarah said...

I rode pilion from Bristol to Stonhenge on the back of a motorbike of someone I had only just met, in the middle of the night.(It seemed like a good idea at the time!). In order to watch the sun rise through two particular stones,... Summer solstice. It was cloudy and we never saw the sun!! We did sit in the middle of the circle though.
That was in 1976....Never been back.

Sarah said...

Ziggi tell dave to put the camera down and help.

Geoff said...

I tried running my hands over some stones in Ireland. I quite enjoyed it and I can't explain why.

Vicus Scurra said...

I am pleased that finding myself in disagreement with you for once, it is over so unimportant an issue. You may have inspired a blog post from me. It's either that or swearing an awful lot about David Cameron, or even going to bed. Thank you.

dinahmow said...

Last time I was near the Henge some policemen said we couldn't "gor arp thar" on account some other people were already arp thar.
Next day in the paper - a photo of Boring Ken (from Coronation Street), all dressed up in white sheets.
Either a Druidic or a KKK event, apparently.

Rog said...

Bring back ritual sacrifice of the coach parties I say - Health & Safety gone too far you know.

Were you known as the Titchfield Thunderbolt? Was that Sarah on the back of your 250 Bantam?

I, Like The View said...

I don't think you're a "mean old git" at all - if you were you'd have gone to town over the "many from clearly alien backgrounds". . .

I too can remember touching, climbing, running and jumping on and around the stones - and also, year later, many years later, feeling sad that my children were kept at a " respectable" distance from them

(did you type the quotes up or find the book online somewhere?)

Christopher said...

Zigs: Thanks. We must see those photos of you typing with one hand and cooking with the other. The Rev. is still with you, I presume. Maybe you've taken him on as your personal chaplain/confessor? Or has he stowed away in your larder?

Sarah: Rog seems to think that it was on my motorbike that you rode pillion to Stonehenge in 1976. So it was you! Ah, what larks, eh?

Geoff: This reminds of a lady HMI (art) I once had to put up with, who said, rubbing both hands up and down the trunk of an ornamental cherry tree outside my school, 'Get the children to feel the masculinity of tree trunks, Mr C-H.'

Vicus: So you chose to stay up late?

Dinahmow: Hi. Good to see you! KKK definitely, aka English Heritage. Love the Wiltshire accent!

Rog: Yes, Wicker Man Coach Tours is what we want. And yes, Titchfield Thunderbolt, aka '38 minute express'. And yes, BSA Bantam - but how did you know? Sarah may deny your allegations. Be prepared.

Jax: Too kind. No, I wouldn't really deny anyone the possibility of visiting these monuments. It's just that...well, I don't know what it is. I'm reminded of a couple of lines from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself:

Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I typed this out, too!

mig said...

I feel the same Christopher.

Perhaps I wouldn't mind paying if it didn't seem such a cheapskate arrangement to have nothing better for your money than a circular amble round a neat, distant perimeter. It's a devastatingly unimaginative way to deal with such a powerfully evocative structure.
(What a wonderful Walt Whitman quote :)

Dave said...

I've just been down there, but deliberately din't go near Stonehenge, having played on it as a child (yes, Vicus, while it was being built).

I did go and look at a few other Prehistoric bits and pieces though. This is not a reference to Ziggi's cooking.

Christopher said...

I can't pretend I haven't been terribly worried about you in view of the panic reports and pics coming out of the Ziggurat. It may already be too late to stop publication tomorrow.

Z said...

I completely agree with you, too. At least the plan of burying the road in a tunnel has been abandoned - I think that English Heritage actually just wanted people to have to pay to see the stones at all. I love the little thrill of seeing Stonehenge when trundling dispiritedly down the 303.

Some years ago, the Heritage people found that there was an ancient round wooden structure off the North Norfolk coast. They were not content until they'd dragged it out of the water and shoved it in a museum. To preserve it. To make it pointless, I think.

Christopher said...

Exactly, Z: Just what we experienced in March, driving westwards along the A303. A magical moment, in many ways more rewarding than the paid-for privilege of seeing Stonehenge from a sanitised English Heritage distance.

I, Like The View said...

when I was young my family would make an annual trip along the A303 to Cornwall. . .

. . .I can remember always thinking how small the stones actually looked - but perhaps it was just that we were really quite far away from them?

however, a view is a view (is it not) and noone should really be deprived of it