Saturday, 4 July 2009

Getting stoned

“Got any drugs man?” the scrawny teenager with bad hair asks. One can only assume his eyes are bloodshot, but it’s hard to tell in the 2am darkness.

After the third stumbling random approaches out little group, my friend gets the balls to ask if we look like drug-dealers.

For all intents and purposes we are an unlikely crew – a nurse, another healthcare professional, a teacher, a lawyer and a journalist. Maybe it was the striped purple blanket my lawyer friend was wearing to keep warm that gave the wrong impression – I had dubbed him Joseph and the technicolor dreamcoat.

Indeed, old Joseph seemed to fit in quite well with our surroundings – an eclectic mix of some 35,000 people, druids and hippies, and a mass of rocks plonked in the middle of an English field known simply as Stonehenge.

It was the summer solstice – the shortest night of the year. A big date on the druid, hippy and new age reveller’s calendar.

Every year they come in droves to Stonehenge to pay tribute to the rising sun at the ungodly hour of before 5am.

While the real reason for the existence for the massive stone circle is unclear with much disagreement over its mystical and ritualistic significance, there is the distinct fact that the stones are perfectly aligned along the sun’s axis on rising in midsummer and setting in midwinter.

And for years, people have taken up the opportunity to “camp out” all night to await the first rays of light while seemingly getting away with sampling herbal and synthetic substances despite a strong police presence.

The teenagers asking for drugs are the least interesting of the sun-worshippers. It’s the others that are so alluring – it’s a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” environment.

They wear cloaks, with flowers in their hair and wizened staffs in their hands. Some are in need of a finding a hairdresser, others a shower. Many need to revisit their toilet manners and potty training (in my mind, long grass is not classed as a human toilet).

There are drums of all types, tin whistles and even a guitar played with a bank card. And all the time a lingering pong permeates through the air.

The hard part isn’t really trying to stay awake until the 4.45am sunrise; it is trying to stay warm. Our massive tarpaulin soon becomes a plastic blanket around a group hug. I have to admit the cold is good for one thing – it keeps the nudists at bay.

But if it was warm you were wanting, being crammed in the middle of the stones with several hundred other people dancing to the beat of bongo drums and tin whistles is a pretty good way to go. It is also the place for an inside picture of the summer solstice frequenters – a guy with a shrunken head on the end of a staff, another with a musical instrument a cross between a horn and a didgeridoo. Between foot-stamping and chanting the revellers irregularly whoop and cheer loudly as if calling on the gods. It's a frenzy to say the least.

As sunrise approaches we all stand around waiting with anticipation, almost expecting some giant cavern to open in the centre of the stones and for Armageddon to be upon us.

But it is an anti-climax. Should have guessed the awesome British weather would get in the way. Sun? Ha, there is no sun. And after 15 minutes of waiting, just to check there are no sacrifices of interest, we follow the masses back towards civilisation, a strong coffee and a warm bed.

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