Monthly Archives: July 2011
This article was originally posted to www.eternalidol.com back in April 2011
I wake up in the mornings slowly and switch on the BBC breakfast news to help keep me awake. I was still bleary eyed and half within the realm of dreams when the television presenter declared that two government ministers would be making an important announcement from Stonehenge this morning. Unusually, in these times of spin, where government tells the media to report what will happen, what will be said, and how to report it before it occurs; this time no-one knew what it was all about.
The announcement could be about anything, and given how totally out of touch with reality most governments of any political flag are, it could range from selling the Stones to China to help with our national deficit to announcing that elves have returned and are in communication with our military. In between these extreme scenarios sit the more likely subjects of the The Visitor Centre, or the return of the Ancestors.
As I sat in my van ready to head off to work in my business suit, I weighed up my responsibilities as a spiritual guardian of the Stones with my very real need to pay my mortgage and keep my employers happy. Stonehenge narrowly won, so I set off cross-country at the best pace that tractors and OAPs on a day out would allow me. An hour or so later I was pulling into the Visitor centre car park, past security, and I parked up. I grabbed my SLR camera which by chance was in my van and I walked to the visitor centre, where a gaggle of media, TV and national press were reading the freshly issued press releases.
I asked an unfamiliar EH Press officer for a release and was duly handed one. Shortly afterwards, we were all waved through to the underpass that leads through to Stonehenge for the press announcement with the waiting ministers. As I walked under the tunnel, I was wondering why no-one had hooked me out of this elite group of media professionals, because under some circumstances, the EH staff might want to keep the Druids and their special guests as far apart as possible. Maybe they were happy that a senior Stonehenge Druid had turned up, but it then also dawned on me that in my business suite and carrying a big SLR camera, I probably looked just like one of the media and not my familiar, white robed Druidic self.
So, with my media hat on I decided to play along.
We reached the presentation area in front of the Heel stone and everyone around me started snapping photos with the enormous cameras that the press always carry. Doing my bit, I picked up my camera and tried to take some photos, but nothing happened. I had forgotten to put in a battery! Drat. We Druids prize resourcefulness, so I utilised my trusty i-phone instead. One media guy saw what I was using and laughed, muttering something like “my editor would kill me”. Then, after a short speech from the ministers, the TV people started interviewing them in rough order of size of organisation; BBC first, local papers last, so I waited and listened.
Finally left alone, John Penrose, Minister for Tourism and Heritage, made eye contact, stepped forward and I did likewise, and shaking his hand warmly introduced myself: “Frank Somers, STONEHENGE DRUIDS”. I have to credit him with recovering very deftly from the surprise.
I congratulated him on his achievement and I had a polite and very agreeable conversation with him before eventually wandering back to my van. We might argue with the Government over many things, but when they do get things right we are happy to acknowledge this.
He said “The long awaited transformation of the Stonehenge landscape is finally within grasp.”
The plans which will improve the current disfiguring visitor facilities from the vicinity of the stones have been given a huge boost following Government moves to help English Heritage secure a unique funding mix to achieve the project.
The funding package which mixes private philanthropy, lottery cash and commercial funding, has been supported by today’s government announcement about English Heritage reserves and road improvements.
He has also confirmed that English Heritage will be allowed to access 2 million pounds of historic reserves raised from philanthropic sources, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to philanthropic support for major cultural projects
“This is fantastic news for everyone involved in the project. It is a real step forwards in making sure this world heritage site – a unique and iconic symbol of our prehistoric past – is not simply preserved, but also presented in the best possible light for visitors in the future. Stonehenge is also an important draw for tourists from all over the world. But for too long the way it has been presented to visitors has been woefully inadequate – decades of dithering and indecision have got us nowhere. So it’s only right – and long overdue – that new thinking and cooperation between parties come together to ensure the whole visitor experience is world class too.”
“It was bitterly disappointing when the country’s dire financial state meant that we had to withdraw government funding for the visitor centre last June. But I – along with EH and my colleagues across government – have been committed to finding other ways to support the project. The fact that we have now almost secured private funding is an example of the Big Society in action, with everyone working together to ensure a mix of funding solutions.”
Mike Penning said “I fully recognise the importance of preserving this iconic heritage site and I am delighted to help the Stonehenge improvements take an important step forward. I have agreed around 3.5 million pounds funding to allow the highways agency to close the junction of the A303/A304 – improving the setting at one of the world’s most popular ancient monuments and aiding its conservation. This is subject to successful completion of statutory process to remove traffic from the Wiltshire controlled A344.”
“The funding would also allow the HA to increase capacity on the TA360/A303 at Long-barrow crossroads, which will help ease congestion around Stonehenge, including for those travelling to the new visitor centre”.
Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage said “These are crucial steps which bring closer the transformation of the currently blighted Stonehenge landscape.”
So there we have it. After years of successive governments talking and holding enquiries with no progress and allegedly nearly 100 million pounds spent in the process, something is finally going to happen. That something will begin next year with two improved roundabouts, a high tech road surface for the A303 past Stonehenge that will mute the road noise, and filling in the eastern end of the old access road with dirt so that it can be grass once more, linking Stonehenge to the northern sacred landscape.
Credit where it’s due, that is good progress, and I totally approve. Well done chaps.
Thanks too must go to whoever it is that has donated freely of their own money to help with this, which just goes to show how deeply Stonehenge touches peoples’ hearts.
And Ministers please note that I was nice about you this time!
Many tens of thousands of people in the northern hemisphere look forwards to celebrating Summer Solstice.
This is the longest day of the year and the herald of warm lazy days when the corn ripens in the fields, birds sing, and families head for the beach.
It is also the time on around June 21st that between twenty and forty thousand people will point the bonnets of their buses cars and vans in the direction of one of the greatest seasonal celebrations of Mother Nature and the ancestors taking place in the world today. It is possibly also one of the oldest religious traditions, having started more than 5000 years ago. It is summer solstice at Stonehenge.
Access to Stonehenge is strictly controlled by the powers that be, and only opens up to everyone on four special days every year, including the Summer Solstice. Stonehenge is rightly designated a ‘World Heritage Site’, and wrongly treated as a money spinning tourist attraction when it is primarily a temple of the natural belonging to the people. By people I refer to those alive today and to those ancient dead buried in a circle around the inside of Stonehenge’s ditch and bank enclosure.
In 2008, without any consultation with the Druids, Her Majesties government authorised the removal of the human remains that were first buried at Stonehenge when she was brand new, and the great sarsen stones had not yet been put in place. These were likely the Royal Dynasty who belonged to a golden age in Britain that existed long before Iron brought forth war and discord. These ancestors are considered by the Druids to be the ‘guardians of Stonehenge’.
We have been protesting and fighting for their return ever since, and relations between the Druids and the secular authorities that run Stonehenge were taking a battering by the beginning of 2010. It was becoming clear concern to us by then that despite time limitations to the research licence, the establishment had no intention of returning our great ancestors for reburial.
In February 2010 I received a message from a good friend that a couple he knew living near Amesbury had made a statue and were hoping to unveil it at Spring equinox. They were hoping that the Stonehenge Druids might be present and give a blessing. I receive many requests from people to help with ‘hand-fasting, baby naming, blessings and sometimes with funerals but I have to admit that being asked to bless a statue is something new.
I phoned the artists ‘Andy and Michelle’ to find out more. They told me that they were building a statue out of steel that represented the essence of our ancestors. They told me that he represents ‘everybodies ancestor’ and that ‘we have forgotten to be grateful to them’. I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment!
He would, if everything went to plan, be finished in time for Spring Equinox and be placed next to the A303 at Solstice Park about two miles from Stonehenge. It was obvious immediately from talking with Michelle and Andy that they are lovely genuine and down to earth people. I wanted to help them. There was a strange synchronicity present in one of the Druids so tied into fighting for the ancestors to be asked to bless a statue of one. This kind of coincidence is not to be taken lightly by a Druid. I sensed that the gods had an interest in this.
Andy and Michelle sent to me a picture of the ancestors head…then it struck me…this face was rugged and strong, yet gentle. It was the face of a man with the power of a warrior but the heart of a poet and the earthy essence of a farmer. It was also MASSIVE ! I had pictured in my imagination a man my size, kneeling he would be 4 foot tall at most. Judging by this mighty head Andy and Michelle were building a Giant to stand as tall as a house. “Oh wow!” I cried.
From childhood I have always been able to draw and paint, and it is my hobby still. I can say with honesty that I am very good. Whilst at University studying IT I shared digs for a while with a gaggle of art students. These people rubbish my drawings of things that looked like life and splashed paint randomly on huge canvasses and then wrote essays about how this work expressed their feelings. The essence of modern art seems to be the story that goes with the artist, the high price tag that can go with a modern abstract is dependent upon the artists brand and not the art itself.
I will come back to this point later, but the essential truth (as I see it) behind much modern art is that it is sometimes produced by messed up people without talent or a sense of beauty. As a result we end up with animals sawn in two and unmade beds winning prizes, cities with architecture that only recognises the power of the right angle glass and steel and a largely alienated public who just don’t get it. The artists get away with this shambolic display by making such art the preserve of intellectual elite…all of whom have gone to schools of art.
Do you remember the story of the emperor’s clothes?
Anyway, back to the giant statue, being constructed by Andy and Michelle. There was bad news. Even as planning consent to locate him next to the A303 was delayed making his blessing on the Equinox impossible, he was still not finished. The artists were feeling ‘gutted’.
Let me tell you a little about Andy and Michelle. They are extra ordinary people precisely because they are ordinary. They run a small business fabricating bits for cars, gates, jewellery from a shed a stones throw away from Stonehenge but they are not the product of art school. Andy was an apprentice served car body worker for British Leyland, Michelle was a nurse. They have suffered and struggled, they have endured through life and always with a sense of optimism and vision that most of us do not have.
Around ten years ago they both decided to launch their ARMetalCraft business making whatever the community needed, yet with a passion to create things that were beautiful and which would inspire.
They do not want to be wealthy. They want to turn their skills towards helping others, teaching others who have yet to find a way, how to create with metal. And somehow, these two embody the spirit of inspiring others that Stonehenge began. They continue the ancient arts of bronze and silver working that began in Amesbury at the time of Stonehenge being finished.
Then it occurred to me. I had an idea so audacious that I laughed out loud and wondered to myself if I had any hope of making it happen. I phoned Andy and Michelle and asked them
“How would you like to bring ‘the ancestor’ to Stonehenge as an honoured guest of the Druids to greet the sun on mid summers day?”
“Really??!” exclaimed Michelle.
I wasn’t sure myself. Could we pull this off?
This was a long shot all round. We would first have to persuade English Heritage that it was a good idea to bring a 7 ton giant man into the world heritage site and sit him on grass so protected that you are not even permitted to stick a tent peg into it. Then we would have to work out how to get him in there. We would have to meet every health and safety assessment. We would need insurance, and he would need to be finished in time.
I presented a formal request to Peter Carson, Stonehenge Director, together with photos plans and the benefits to bringing him there. High up amidst the benefits was that he would provide a second focus of attention that would help ease the dense mass of people all trying to be in the Stones at the same time. Peter came to see the statue with myself and his staff at Andy and Michelle’s workshop. Still taking shape, his body in two halves, we found Andy and Michelle wearing leather aprons, covered in dust and blobs of weld down to earth as ever putting a kettle on for their guests.
I have to say that I have never seen Peter or his professional team look so excited. To their great credit they got the idea instantly. They were enthusiastic but there were a number of conditions attached. We would have to keep the ancestors appearance a total secret until he appeared in the field, lest summer solstice attract more pilgrims than it could cope with. Any leaks and the deal would be off. We would need an engineer’s report, stability test, insurance, transport, base plate to distribute the weight…..
I visited the Ancestor several times whilst he was taking shape.
Plasma cutters were used to cut ‘by hand’ thousands of steel plates of random shapes and roughly half an inch thick. These were then welded together around a giant frame designed by Andy. All of the pieces had to be assembled by eye and Michelle has that very rare ability to visualise and create in three dimensions. The ancestor is no hollow shell designed to last 30 years, the ingenious frame starts with steel beams cut shaped and bolted together with precision weighing most at the base to insure stability. I would be willing to bet that the ancestor could hold a 4×4 car in each hand and still stand for at least 300 years.
He sailed through the Engineers report.
Peter had a fairly hard time persuading his bosses but they eventually gave him the go ahead. Local Amesbury people wanted a role in this and Andy and Michelle are always willing to share with others. In strict secrecy, my Druid grove, local scouts and guides, the students of nearby schools and colleges all created decorations for the Ancestor. Andy and Michelle worked around the clock and even borrowed money to get the Ancestor finished in time.
It was so special to be a part of this. The whole Amesbury community started to come together in support of their ‘secret’ project. In the 21st century, with media, cameras and gossips everywhere empowered by the internet, the people of Amesbury built a great sculpture in total secrecy and the few local media who found out about him kept their silence too. Everyone was caught up in Andy and Michelle’s vision, and a giant Ancestor ‘returning to Stonehenge’ a place of the ancestors who’s most ancient name is ‘the giants dance’.
The day before Solstice eve Andy and Michelle, helped by a local haulage firm, carried the ancestor through the gates of the temple field. English Heritage staff spontaneously ran out to stand either side of the gate and cheered as the Ancestor came through.
That evening as the sun set all the people from the community who had helped with the Ancestor came and stood around him. I led the Stonehenge Druids in a circle of blessing, the community joined in. “We call to the ancestors, we call to the spirits of nature, and we call to the great ones…”
The following evening Andy, Michelle and the Ancestor stood alone in the field alongside Stonehenge awaiting the arrival of 25000 celebrants.
When we eventually arrived at the temple field we looked at the EH press release regarding the ancestor and it made no mention what so ever of the Druids. Bloody typical!
All night long we played music, danced and rejoiced in the presence of this great reminder of the ancient ancestors of mankind. They were great, truly great. People loved the ancestor, and wanted to know all about him. Girls took turns to pat his bottom, apparently he has a very nice one.
He received mentions on some websites and news channels around the world but in the UK he was strangely kept out of nearly all of the reports. It seems that the media often go to Stonehenge looking only for trouble to report. The story of a giant returning to ‘the giants dance’, the remarkable story of two inspired ordinary people and their art bringing a community together, the best kept secret project since the D-Day landings, Stonehenge and the Druids wasn’t what they wanted to report. Instead the main conversation was about litter.
Andy and Michelle make even ordinary things extraordinarily beautiful. Their art involves people, it tells a story, it lifts hearts and it inspires. Yet doors have been closed to them when seeking art contracts simply because they do not come from the established schools of art.
Let’s now state the obvious. The rubbish often presenting itself as art, that our councils and other authorities commission and place into our communities is usually over priced scrap that completely fails to inspire anyone but ensures distribution of public money to the already well established. Amesbury love their ‘Ancestor’ and want to keep him in Amesbury.
With the 2012 Olympics coming up and world attention on British culture isn’t it totally appropriate that a small Wiltshire community get to keep a unique, beautiful and inspirational piece of historic local art where he is?
Millions are spent preserving Britain’s historic culture in a state of mothballed stasis, but little goes to help the living, breathing and evolving traditions. Someone out there can help.
People ‘get’ Andy and Michelle’s art, it touches them. The Ancestor has made history by being probably the first contemporary art installation placed into an ancient world heritage site and certainly the first to visit Stonehenge; the only one to receive an invitation from the Druids. He is loved by the people of Amesbury, from the school children who decorated him all the way up to the lord Mayor.
Please enjoy these pictures of the Ancestor.
The Ancestor can be seen today at the Holiday Inn, Solstice Park on the A303 west bound.
Andy and Michelle can be contacted via www.ARMetalCraft.com