It is the summer solstice already. The weather is still grey, damp, and distinctly un-Summery. Fuck. I might have to emigrate to the sun at this rate.
There is not much hope of having a more satisfactory Summer here. I recently read Tacitus’s description of British weather two thousand years ago: “Their sky is obscured by continual rain and cloud.” He also describes the manifest British religion of Druidism. Not much has changed by the looks of things (except that the Druids aren’t ripping out human entrails with golden sickles).
The last (and only time) I went to Stonehenge was three years ago by my reckoning. It was an interesting experience not so much for any earth-womb spiritual malarky. It was interesting because the flock of rag-tag pikeys and trustafarians (dreadlocked middle-class hippies with public school educations and trust-funds) who descend on the soggy plains near Salisbury exemplify a strange aspect of modern British subculture.
Apparently 30,000 people descended on Stonehenge for the solstice last night. When I was there it must have been a quarter of that figure. I was in Bristol and at some point late in the evening Dave the Craggg and I decided to jump in the mighty Steed and motor on down to the fields of the crusty folk.
I remember that Dave packed two of his comfortingly-battered old canteens, filled with deliciously sweet, milky tea. I also remember discovering that he had hastily munched down a pungent pasta with tomato sauce when he let out the most incredible belch in the car. I do not remember ever having to open the car window before just because someone had burped, and I reckon I won’t ever have to again. Then again, never say never…
Anyhow, we stopped in the middle of the Salisbury plain for Dave to orate some poetry about stars while I grumbled about how polluted the night sky is in London.
When we got to Stonehenge, it took a moment to recognise the stones because they were covered with punters (the solstice is the only time when the prehistoric monuments are accessible to the public. I could see that half the cred-lock crowd had decamped from Bristol to slum it with genuinely penniless hippies. There were big plastic bottles of scrumpy cider swilling from mouth-to-mouth, heavily pierced cyber-chicks twirling poi and fire-sticks, and generally loads of munters stumbling round with plastic bags full of intoxicants. It was the usual scene. It was like a big after-rave party with abnormally few casualties.
The pikeys were having lots of fun threatening the rather un-amused policemen with their lewd bottles of cider. I remember a vegan activist talking with joyful anger to a druid about one of the things that irritated her about the world. My friends who I bumped into were confused as to whether or not they should be raving, and whether the lack of the music mattered to this point. All in all it was a curious event, neither a party nor a spiritual occasion (at least for the majority).
What I find interesting about hippies is not their hypocrisy. Condemning commercialism, capitalism, and materialism whilst their lifestyles are underwritten by the bank accounts of mummy and daddy. That just gives a good reason to give them the abbreviated name ‘hippies’. Fifty years ago these young ladies and gentlemen would have had good late-imperial careers ahead of them. Now there is nowhere for them to put their idealism.
A lot of the politics which goes along with the modern hippy culture in Britain is preposterously conspiratorial. The environmentalism is great. But the often severely judgmental view of popular culture, economics, and politics is helping no-one.
For this drifting element of our society, the Solstice is the time for them to have their say, to dance on a boulder without getting pushed off by the police, to feel proud of their opinions. Either that or it’s a good excuse to get fucked up on cider and crap their underwear in public.
In the end no-one new exactly when the sun rose because it was so cloudy (like last night I gather). It was a bit of an anticlimax as you would imagine. Sporadic fits of cheers spread over about half an hour is not quite what I had in mind. Bah. Nevertheless, wiser for the experience, Dave and I left the muddling crowd to their boggy revels as we clambered back in the Steed and home to Bristol.