Most of my Big Hand colleagues decided to retreat to the warmth of their vehicles, but I took the view that it was important to stick it out. I was there to keep vigil through those black hours while we are turned away from the sun, so that was what I would do. And during those long, sodden, dark hours many questions flitted across my mind, the most common being "What the hell am I doing here?"
What was I doing there? I wasn't there to worship the sun. Don't get me wrong, I like the sun. It's not as cool as the moon or anything, but it's pretty damn great. If it had a volume control it would be awesome. But generally I don't go around worshipping stuff because I can't worship on cue. Can other people worship on cue? Is it a skill they have which I lack? I've long been suspicious that most people are putting it on.
So what was I doing there? The only answer I had to that was, well, it's what people do. It's what people have always done, for 5000 years: They visit Stonehenge on the solstices. That's about the one certainty we have. Everyone you know, every building, every political movement, every body of knowledge, every town, every eco-system, every economy, the language you speak - they are all in a constant state of flux and will change massively and unpredictably over your lifetime. Yet people will always travel to Stonehenge on the Solstices.
Currently, things that are supposed to be symbols of British stability are on shakey ground. In a few years, the Queen will be dead. The United Kingdom as we know it could be gone if the Scottish so desire. If that happens, the Union flag - so ubiquitous and merry this year, after the National Front spoilt it in the 1970s - would be retired. The Church of England looks set to tear itself apart. The NHS is being sliced up, and the House of Lords is on borrowed time. Yet people will always travel to Stonehenge on the Solstices.
And it's not just British people either, as all the accents you hear there confirm. People come from all over the world. And why not? They are all welcome. They come even though there is nothing there apart from some rocks in a field. There is no entertainment, or amplified music. Their presence demonstrates that 5000 year old fixed points are few and far between. Even Death and Taxes don't really cut it as certainties any more, as Vodaphone's accountants and some of the wilder transhumanists will attest. As fixed points go, we've got the North Star and Stonehenge, and not a lot else.
Finally the sun rose and the rain stopped, and I was knighted by King Arthur in the sunrise ceremony. Yeah, that's right. I suppose some explanation here would help.
|Arthur and Sodden Knight|
It's clearly a nuts thing to do, but then again, fuck it.
The man wielding the sword, as you can see in the picture, is the Once and Future king himself, King Arthur. Well he certainly looks like he is, anyway. He certainly believes that he is. More importantly, he has spent decades acting like he is, which is some achievement if you think about it. To anyone curious about this strange figure I would thoroughly recommend the revised version of his life story, which is out now and dirt cheap on Kindle. I'm not one for the idea of reincarnation, but if you meet Arthur you'll recognise that he has certain qualities which make him the ideal candidate to wield the Sword of Britain.
My decision to make such a vow came about through the strange psychological processes unleashed when I first printed out a draft of The Brandy of the Damned and showed to another person. Making that vow publicly, in that place, at that time, under that sword, wielded by that man, is about as good a vow-taking as I could muster. Which is the sort of thing that it is worth putting up with some cold and rain in order to claim.
Plus, my kids have taken to calling me Sir Dad, which has got to be a good thing.