It is now Wednesday morning -- midweek. Seems like as good a time as ever to pen my weekend write-up on how I spent Midsummer (and whatnot).
On Saturday morning, cheshcat
and I woke bright and early, made ourselves look nice, then piled into Peter and drove to Birmingham. The occasion? A certain very special bunnypip
was graduating and receiving her Bachelors degree -- first class and with honours! Needless to say, we were proud as punch and quite eager to support our dear Bunny... so off we went!
It is no secret that I find graduation ceremonies to be exceedingly tedious. Like greeting cards, they are something that I do because they are important to the recipient... not because I think all that much of them in and of themselves. Indeed, I even skipped my University-level graduation ceremony when I received my doctorate -- preferring, instead, to present at a conference on that day! The conference seemed to be a lot more productive -- and a lot more interesting! -- than a graduation ceremony! I gathered friends, family, and colleagues for a celebration and party when I defended my doctoral dissertation; that had a lot of meaning to me, as I was actually doing something important there. Graduation ceremonies? Not so much.
Nonetheless, I had not been to a graduation since the extremely talented resourceress
had finished massage therapy school, three years ago. Thus, to show my pride in my beloved bunnypip
's accomplishment, I made certain that -- come hell or high water -- I would be present to watch as she graduated. One thing that became strangely apparent to both cheshcat
and I, sitting in the audience, was that British graduations are very quiet. As each graduate was called to walk across the stage, there was clapping from the audience... but no cheers! What's up with that? I am much more used to cheers and hollers and whistling from the audience to loudly show their pride. No matter. Even if no one else in the audience would cheer, cheshcat
and I resolved that we
would do so for our Bunny -- she deserved it! And so we did, taking the rest of the audience a bit by surprise. After that, though, the crowd lightened up a bit and became a lot more vocal; I guess that they just needed someone to break the ice. Happy to oblige!
Once the graduation had ended, cheshcat
and I headed home so that I could grab a short (~1hr) nap before the evening's festivities. Being Midsummer, it was time to make my way back to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice. In recent years, English Heritage has opened up Stonehenge -- usually roped off for viewing only at a sterile distance -- for the whole of the shortest night. For the past two years, I have arrived before the sunset and stayed until after the sunrise.
This year, dr_jen
accompanied me to the Stones. The first seventy miles of the journey went smoothly, covered in a little over an hour. The last four miles? Not so much. Those took four hours, as we got caught in an enormous vein of traffic -- all headed to the same destination, of course! The magnitude of the queue caught me by surprise; there had always been traffic before... but never like this! I think that the heavy additional delays stemmed from (a) record attendance at Stonehenge, and (b) a much higher police presence than in previous years. The long delay meant that, even though I had built traffic time into our travels, we did not arrive in time for the sunset this year. Indeed, we did not pull into the Stonehenge car park until just after midnight! I suppose that I should consider us lucky, though -- as the night went on, I noticed a long line of slow moving (or stopped) headlights waiting to get into the site was present until about half past three in the morning!
As usual, spending the shortest night at Stonehenge was intense
! Ancient Stones, drums, dancing! All very good stuff! Also, I feed off of crowd energy, which makes the whole site -- and most particularly -- the inner Circle of Stones a very intoxicating place to be. Even without drugs or alcohol!
Having been to Summer Solstice at Stonehenge three times now (and Winter Solstice once), I feel like I can make some analytical comparisons about the event -- as opposed to my first time
, when I all I could really express was astonishment at the intensity of the experience. Compared to last year, the weather was much better; that counts for a lot. In 2008, it rained all night -- this year, it was cloudy but dry... and not particularly cold. Also, in 2008, my companions spent a large portion of the night sitting by the Heel Stone, rather than in the actual Circle (where most of the energy is). However, as mentioned, we missed the sunset this year, and there was also a much more intrusive police presence. I mean, they even had a flying spy drone (compleat with flashing lights) hovering above the crowd filming us! How obnoxious!! The crowd was larger this year but, overall, fairly well behaved. There was one incident where a fight broke out near us and I came close to getting drawn in whilst trying to protect bunnypip
, but overall people were about as civil and polite and friendly as you can expect in a crowd of tens of thousands packed into a small space!
Overall, I think that my favourite year was my first: 2007. That year, cheshcat
and I had the best of everything! We had dry clear weather, minimal police presence, no long queues to delay us, plenty of time spent dancing and whatnot in the inner Circle, and we got to see sunset along with the Druid ritual that accompanied it. It seems like each of these things was absent in either 2008 or 2009.
At dawn, many of the revellers was too drunk (or something) to notice the time... but a group of us gathered at the Eastern edge of the circle and watched the sky. Unfortunately, the cloud cover prevented the Guest of Honour, Sol, from making an appearance. Alas, this makes four Solstices that I have attended at Stonehenge... and I have yet to witness the sun rising through the Stones. I know that this is England, and I am told that the odds of seeing sunrise at Stonehenge is about one in ten. Yet I am a persistent Nomad and will have to continue attending Solstices there until I can witness something like this
After the dawn, bunnypip
and I spent some time wandering the site and greeting the Stones before it was time to meet up with dr_jen
. Then we made our way back to the car and I drove us home.
Back at the Flat With No Name, bunnypip
and I woke up cheshcat
and chatted for a bit before falling over. We had time for a few hours sleep, plus some quality alone time, before she needed to leave to return home and pick up her children. I could have used some more sleep, but opted to go to St. Giles instead and ring bells for the Sunday services. Still, it was a mellow evening and both cheshcat
and I ended up going to bed early to gather our strength for what we knew would be (and is) a very busy week!
Overall, I enjoyed Summer Solstice at Stonehenge... but I seem to be the only person I know who really likes it. Of the four other people I know who have attended both the Winter and Summer Solstices there, I am the only one who does not overwhelmingly prefer the Winter Solstice. Thus, after three years of spending Midsummer at Stonehenge, we are likely to do something different next year -- Solstice at the Rollright Stones
seems to be the top contender. This is quite okay with me, because I do like to have a variety of experiences. I do love Summer Solstice at Stonehenge... but I have done it three times now! In any case, I shan't be leaving Stonehenge behind, as everyone
is [quite] ready and [very] willing to continue doing Winter Solstice there.( Obligatory photos behind cut )
 Save yesterday or the day before!
 To be fair, I did attend the [much smaller] Department-level graduation ceremony a few days later.
 When I went in 2007, on a weeknight, there were 20,000 people there. When I went in 2008, on a Friday night, there were 28,000 people there... but it was raining. This year, on a Saturday night with clear weather, a record 36,500 people attended! That's nearly double what I encountered with cheshcat two years ago!
 Thanks to some new police chief who obviously feels the need to compensate for something with a loudly proclaimed "ZERO TOLERANCE" policy that did nothing to stem the flow of alcohol and drugs onto the site. All it did do was make delays.
 This is the reason, for instance, that I made certain to be in Times Square, Manhattan, on December 31st 1999! Millions of people! Hooray! I've never experienced another crowd -- or energy -- quite like it!
 One of the combatants grabbed my hair in an unpleasant manner when I tried to break things up. Nothing more than that -- he did not manage to land any punches.