Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stonehenge Indifference

While in America I was lost for words when one young reporter told me she wanted to come to England to visit Stonehenge. I have never visited Stonehenge though I have occasionally noticed it while driving on the A303. It inspired in me feelings of - well, nothing really. Now, it seems, it was used as a burial ground for much longer than we thought. Right. I'll remember that the next time I'm passing. Meanwhile, somebody has stabilised the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This story prompted in me the realisation that the one monument in the world that fires my indifference more than Stonehenge is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If it were upright, it looks as though it might be quite nice, but leaning it's just an oddity. Stonehenge is another oddity, a folly in a barren field. I would be quite unamazed to discover it was a fake put up by Lord Byron and friends on a whim. I think I persuaded the reporter that Lincoln was a better bet.


  1. No, no, no, Bryan! Stonehenge is incredible, as are all the standing stones around the British Isles. I have Stonehenge on my screensaver and it's an eerie, almost ineffable place to visit.

    How can you not feel the connection to your ancient ancestors when you're there? I mean, it's unreal: Prehistoric people brought those stones, before the wheel was invented, from somewhere along the coast to that Salisbury Plain and set them up in that astronomically precise fashion. Why? What were they doing? And how did they do it?

    I trust other English folk don't feel as you do. Nige? Ian? Malty? Et al?

  2. I have to say, Bryan, I'm with Susan on this one. Perhaps you should stop by there someday. Experientia docet.

  3. I can't join Bryan here but I find something strangely liberating in Bryan's contrarian, deflationary set-down. Isn't it possible to genuinely appreciate it while also marveling at the inanity of the institution. As far as Pisan towers go the inanity really overwhelms any appreciation.

    If you are going to stop anywhere I suggest you stop in Avebury first (if you haven't already done so).

    Cheered me right up.

  4. I'm with you on Pisa, the point is that it might fall and you might be there when it does, and I agree with you on the henge, the chalk horses are much better. But did you ask her to tour you through some of mounds they have over there.
    And the 'lost for words' thing, I do not believe you, you just could not say them. She may well have been carrying something. Anyway, I suspect that churches were the last thing on her mind, it was something a little neared to Euripides than JOHN.

  5. Sorry Susan and Frank, but I'm with Bryan on Stonehenge. I've driven past it at least fifty times, and each time I struggle to be amazed and moved by the concepts you mention. And each time it once again seems like a pile of stones in a field. It probably stems from being driven for hours by my mother to see them, back in the days when you could wander all around them, and thinking - "whats so great about clambering over rocks in the rain that we have to sit in a car for six hours?"

  6. Seems the Americans love it and the Britons couldn't give a hoot. Much like the Royal Family then.

    Personally, I like Stonehenge, but it's always hard to feel awe when everybody is telling you that you ought to be feeling awe.

  7. It's hard to see past the guff about a thing. Stonehenge might be more impressive if you stumbled upon it while walking your dog at dawn and had no idea what it was.

    Hard not to be a 'tourist' with things like this, or places like Venice or Paris. You see not the thing itself but a cloud of images & associations from films, tourist magazines, songs, books. Maybe for Americans, coming to the UK in a state of heightened attention, this is a good thing, but less so for us natives. i remember being disappointed by my first trip to Italy, after learning the language for years...i realised i couldn't perceive anythinge except through this mist of preconceptions and expectations, a situation not helped by the touristy nature of Florence and other places.

  8. We once stayed at a B&B run by a retired army officer near Avebury on the river Kennet. Our fellow guests, a youngish Californian couple who had made money in IT, joined us for breakfast. I asked them what they did. They explained the IT bit and then added 'but now we are witches' (hence visiting lines and stones in Wiltshire). I am rarely lost for words, but this stumped me for a response. Glad to see you are back, in your boots, but where is the hat?

  9. It may be a bunch of stones in a field, but at least it inspired the magisterial Spinal Tap:

    Stonehenge, where the demons dwell;
    Where the banshees live and they do live well;
    Stonehenge, Where a man is a man and the children
    Dance to the pipes of Pan;
    Tis a magic place
    Where the moon doth rise
    With a dragon's face...

    I once had a girlfriend who was into this stuff and would take me to visit. She also believed in UFOs and aliens (but was vehemently anti-religion). My only memory is of a lot of chilly afternoons and wet feet.

  10. Moi, Susan? I'm sure there's another Ian. Not normally superstitious or particularly bothered by supernatural whoo-whoos but each time I've visited Avebury it made me feel strange. Go there and see if the birds don't sing (apart from the blasted rooks)?

    Was made to visit Stonehenge on an educational trip before the druids and the barbed wire went up, and you could freely climb all over it. It was interesting enough but we thought they could have installed a slide between two of the taller sarsens. I sometimes wished I believed in the superduper because I think it looks like a pitstop for flying saucers.

    As for Italian builders...pah!

  11. actually, Susan, it predates ''english folk'' as we know them, I believe. it's probably more to do with the welsh which is a good enough reason to avoid it.

  12. God died in 1789, Bryan died in America!

    Was it not Ken Livingstone who wanted to destroy London’s historical statuary, and replace them with those of living workers? He didn’t ask for them, he didn’t fancy them, and he did not care to be buggered about why others enjoyed them. And if he didn't look like a pig on two legs, I never saw one.

    And while we get rid of the Leaning Tower, why not flatten Paestum and bulldoze the Acropolis. Nuke the bastards! They are such a waste, both of the ingredients and our expectations. That’ll still leave us Mount Rushmore, where the glum faces of four presidents look over the South Dakota hills.

    So much more like Walt Disney...!


  13. How can you not feel the connection to your ancient ancestors

    Maybe this is my Scottish heritage speaking, but why would I want to connect with my ancient ancestors when I can hardly bear the thought of the ones just a few generations back?

  14. Location, location, location, perhaps. Stonehenge is unprepossessing because it's now right next to a caravan-haunted main road. Other circles, like Callanish, still retain a setting where it's possible to conjure up some suitable Byronic fantasies.

    I tried the Rollright Stones recently. Turned out to be sharing them with a group of OAPs engaged in a ritual of some kind. One by one they stood in the centre of the circle and stretched out their arms like birds, while a magus character tapped them on the head. Probably he was trying to see which one wasn't fully at home so he could relieved them of their life savings later. Very Byronic.

  15. Mark

    "group of OAPs engaged in a ritual of some kind"

    Are sure that wasn't a bunch of soixante-huitards on a reunion jolly?

    And Ian, all that 'the Welsh are the original Britons and the English are Anglo-Saxon newbies' guff has been exploded by the development of DNA mapping. It seems that the chaps who live in Wiltshire and the rest of the country have always lived there, they just happened to adopt the language of the new bosses. Unlike the Welsh and the Cornish.

  16. A pile of rotten old stones Susan, the druids, just Jehovah's witnesses in frocks. No doubt Norm Foster & partners will want to copy the idea one day, for the real McCoy see nigeness today.

  17. Unlike many of my compatriots, Stonehenge holds little attraction for me, although we shall be waving to it as we glide by on the A303 next Tuesday on our way to Devon.

  18. You do have a point, Peter, about connecting with ancestors and other relatives. But it does seem to me that effort by whoever did it for whatever reason so very long ago deserves a certain degree of respect.

  19. I'm regularly abducted by aliens and they inform me stonehenge was used as an inter-dimensional transporter. Ditto the bermuda triangle.

  20. I still have great hopes that Stonehenge will one day fulfil the task for which it is so perfectly suited: falling over and crushing the lumber worshiping fools who insist on dancing around it in the deluded belief that they are children of twigs and branches. I’m with you on this one, Bryan. Stonehenge is a monument to this nation’s long history of nutters.

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