I’m not a pagan; I’m a nothing,
Formally and spiritually speaking.
I might possibly be a bit of a pantheist:
Losing my head and myself
In wind, sky, silence, and landscape,
But I’m a bit of a dialectical materialist too,
With a dash of Gramscian cultural hegemony,
And a bit of rural-anarcho-syndicalism to add to the mix;
So, my trip to Avebury to witness the winter solstice
Was carried out in the manner of an observer
Rather than believer, but an open-minded observer:
A Coleridgian Wordsworthian Clareian Gramscian Marxist observer,
For that’s the set of ideas that ring a bell for me.
The day before my visit was initially bright and cheerful,
With cumulus clouds along the silver Severn,
A welcome break from this unremittingly mild mediocrity;
I know Ruskin said there was no such thing as bad weather,
Only varying types of good,
But this warm constantly cloud covered December
Has been a tad boring, hasn’t it?
No gleams of light, no rents in the cloud, no stars, no moon,
No Dorothy Wordsworth (1801): ‘Monday 21st, being the shortest day …
The snow lay deep upon the roads … I stayed at home and clapped the linen.’
No George Sturt (1890): ‘On the sycamores … the bark was very beautiful;
Green predominating, but a wonderful mauve too, with blues, yellows etc.,
All heightened and brilliant with a light reflected from the snow.’
Be that as it may, I caught the 5.35 to Swindon
(Which rather improbably carries on to Southampton),
Then walked up to Old Town
(People sleeping rough in the subway by the bus station),
To catch the 7.05 bus to Avebury,
Thence past my mum’s family’s graves in the church at Wroughton,
Through Captain Swing country below Marlborough Downs,
With stars in the west, an unraveling of blue in the east,
Splashes of orange in the dewponds and puddled ploughed fields,
And so to the Red Lion at 7.28
(‘Make sure you ring the bell next time’).
I expected the stone circle to be thronged,
But when I tentatively entered the field,
There were only two others,
And one of them immediately asked me this question:
‘What do you make of it all then?’
I fumbled out an answer about respecting others’ beliefs,
But I was a rationalist rather than a pagan and was a Marxist really.
He launched into a monologue about his life history,
And about how he had now got into Ufology,
Bought some lasers to explore extraterrestrial worlds,
And had in fact been taken on to a UFO, but had managed to escape.
I said: ‘Mate. All this is fascinating, but I really need to have some time to myself,
If you don’t mind, I need a bit of silence just to think.’
‘’Course, mate. But one last thing. In three months time
The government is going to tell the nation that we are about to be invaded from space and that we all should go into underground shelters.
But don’t, whatever you do. It’s a trick. Pleased to meet you. My name’s Tony.
(I shake his proffered hand.)
‘Well remember what I told you mate.
And, by the way, the Solstice is actually tomorrow.’
I wandered off to watch rooks circle and parliament gather
In the filigreed branches of the stone circle’s beech trees,
As some forty people, mostly in anoraks,
Rather than shawls, doublets, gowns or breeches,
Spent a silently spiritual thirty minutes staring into the eastern sky,
As the rising sun burnished and gilded the horizon’s cumulus clouds;
People took pictures – not one selfie,
Then gradually and quietly dispersed.
After a walk and a marmite sandwich,
I returned to the Red Lion to await the return of the 49 from Trowbridge,
Where a heavily tattooed man in combat gear with a backpack questioned me:
‘ Did you sleep out last night, mate?’
I mumbled a reply about coming from Stroud;
‘I slept out in a hazel thicket last night. It got a bit cold but it were well worth it.
When I woke up I saw a dragon with rainbows in its eyes. I’m from Lincolnshire meself. You look cold, mate. You want to get one of these crystals. I’ve never had cold hands since I got this one from Glastonbury. Much better than gloves.’
I tried to change the subject politely by asking him if he would like to look at the pictures I had taken on my I-pad. A touch of moisture on the lens, or some sort of refraction of light caused by my photographing the sun, had resulted in a strangely ethereal apparition appearing in a succession of pictures within the stone circle.
‘You must have the right psyche, mate. Looks to me that you’ve brought a planet or a star down to earth. Well done mate. It’s not everyone who can do that. Are you a follower of the five pointed star?’
‘Here comes the bus.’
’49 mate. 7 times 7. A magical number. That’s no coincidence.’
He stood back for me to alight first.
I promised the driver that I would ring the bell.
I went up stairs to check my I-phone.
Yes. I had indeed come to the solstice a day early.
It was a Tim Dowling sort of moment.
And this is a Tim Dowling sort of ending.
I made sure I rang the bell when the bus got back to Old Town.