The sun never showed that morning

It was dark outside when the alarm clock went, though I could hear a few birds starting to chirp outside the open window. I lay there for a few minutes, thinking of reasons not to get up, but the nagging thought that ‘whatever was about to happen in the next couple of hours would only come about once in the next three-hundred and sixty-five days’ finally dragged me out of bed.

I quickly checked my camera and tripod, made a cup of tea and grabbed a couple of CDs off the shelf – something worthy of the occasion: Love, Jeff Buckley, David Gray, Leonard Cohen (Leonard Cohen? Bit morose isn’t it, ah well!…) and jumped in the car.

The roads were quiet: I passed a milk float, some trucks, a couple of taxis, all the while nodding my head along to Love’s 50 year old peace-and-love masterpiece, Forever Changes. Right on man, right on… “Yeah! Said it’s alright, I won’t forget… all the times I’ve waited patiently for you…” And I’ll wait patiently for you this morning, if you ever break through these clouds, I thought, looking up to the darkness.

I’d checked the night before and the summer solstice sunrise (say it!) was due at 4.44am. I made it up to the Farthing Downs in Surrey with time to spare, passing a badger and some rabbits before pulling up. I set up the tripod and snapped a few shots off to check the camera settings as Love bellowed out of the car window. “And if you see and-more-again, then you will know and-more-again, for you can see you in her eyeeeees…” Hmmm, a bit freaky when you’re standing on a bleak moor on your own in the early hours, with nothing but grey clouds and rabbits for company… Ah well, here for a reason – jump in, boy, jump in!

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I didn’t know exactly what to expect up on the Downs – maybe there’d be hippies chanting, fires raging, pagans dancing naked and running wild in the trees! “When you feel your heart beating: brum-pum-pum-pum…

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By 4.44am I’d taken several pictures of a grey, cloud-covered landscape and not seen another human. Maybe all the pretty pagans were dancing naked somewhere else, I mused. Ah well, fail to prepare, prepare to fail… Must join a naked pagan dancing society for next year!… Still, was here for this momentously overcast sunrise, even if no one else was.

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Then around 5am two women walked up with a little dog. Both fairly attractive, in their forties, wearing coloured tracksuits and matching visors, they looked like ageing WAGs out for an early morning power walk.

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“Are you taking pictures of the solstice sunrise?” the one in the pink tracksuit asked.

“Yeah, beautiful, isn’t it,” I said, ironically. They didn’t laugh.

“What time is the sun supposed to rise, do you know?”

“About twenty minutes ago,” I replied.

“Oh, well we’re going into the tree circle, down there, to wait for the sun,” she said, pointing off down the hill.

“Oh right, ok,” I said. Tree Circle, eh… Maybe that’s where all the hot pagans are gathering before devouring mind-bending drugs, getting naked and dancing around scorched-earth-pentagrams to primal beats!… Hmmm, probably not, I thought, waving them off.

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A few minutes later a slightly hippy-looking woman drove up with two dogs in her car and asked if she could park next to me. Sure thing. She and the dogs got out, a big female mastiff and a small male Jack Russell, who both started running around like mad things.

“Ah, look at them! They’re so cute together! He’s my mum’s, you see,” she said, patting the Jack Russell. “I’m just looking after him as she’s in the hospice at the moment.”

“Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thanks, yeah, she’ll probably be in a nursing home soon. I don’t suppose you want a Jack Russell, do you? He’s so great, he’s just too much for me, with the other one and a two year old at home. It’s like a mad house!”

“I’d love a dog,” I said, “but I’m not home enough, really…”

“Shame, well if you know of anyone, there’s one in Crystal Palace that needs a home… Hey, is that Jefferson Airplane coming from your car?”

“Love,” I said.

“Love!!! I love Love!! Haven’t heard them for ages – amazing!”

“Haha, cool, yeah, thought it appropriate for the occasion…”

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Her name was Katie, I discovered. Katie looked like she’d seen a few solstice sunrises in her time. Turns out, she had. I told her I’d been considering going to Stonehenge, but if the weather was anything like this, I was glad I hadn’t.

“It’s a bit packed down there anyway,” she said. “A lot of police, floodlights and burger vans.”

“Really? Oh. Rubbish. Do you go most years?”

“No but I’ve been a few times. Avebury’s better – quieter, but still with the stones and that.”

“Oh cool. I was in the Outer Hebrides at solstice once, totally by accident, and we caught the back end of a big Neolithic event,” I said. “Druids and shit around some ancient rocks. Looked pretty cool…”

“Oh, that would be amazing!”

She then asked if I’d been down to the Tree Circle yet.

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“No, why have you heard of it? There were a couple of women here earlier who headed down to it.”

“No, but I saw it on the map and thought it looked a bit, you know, special. I think it’s over there,” she said, pointing in the direction the WAGs had walked. Then, in the distance, I could make out a circle of trees on a hill and the women and their dog standing in the middle… We talked about going over there but Katie thought better of it, in case her mastiff had a go at the WAGs’ little dog. Just then, about three hundred yards down the road, a young stag came out of the brush and walked to the brow of the hill, looked at us, then slowly crossed the road and walked down the other side of the hill as we crouched, holding the dogs back and watching on in wonder.

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We chatted some more and soon enough the WAGs walked back past us. I asked them how it was and which direction you had to go to reach THE CIRCLE.

“Just down the hill, through those trees, over the gate and up the hill to that circle,” the one in pink said, pointing to it. “The energy’s amazing there! We were just meditating for ages.”

“Great! I might give it a go!” I said enthusiastically.

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After the WAGs had gone Katie said she’d been advised to stand barefoot on some ‘strong energy’ to help with a medical condition and that she might go down to THE CIRCLE to sleep. Sleep sounded good to me now, but in my own bed…  We said our goodbyes and I drove off  into the still-grey and sunless summer solstice morning, with a few pictures in the camera and another of life’s moments to add to the tapestry.

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I turned up Love, rolled down the windows and waved to the WAGs as I passed them.

Yeah! I heard a funny thing… Somebody said to me, ‘You know that I could be in love with almost everyone’…