Monday 22 June 2009

Another Solstice

Though it didn't enjoy the perfect clear sky at sunrise, the 2009 Summer Solstice at Stonehenge was a memorable one. Falling as it did on a Saturday night / Sunday morning, it was expected to attract a large crowd...

...and it did! Normally, there is a small queue to get into the car park, but this year it was nearly 5 miles long, stretching back from Amesbury, and running all around the Stonehenge site. I finally turned off the road some time after 2am, and was lucky to be one of the last cars allowed into the parking field which was almost completely full. With miles of traffic still lining the horizon, it's a mystery where everyone parked.

Despite the sea of cars, and the crowds walking the mile and a half over to the monument, the number of people on the site was staggering. Attending the Solstice on many previous occasions, I'm used to the dense press of bodies around the stones but this was unlike anything I'd ever seen. With a vast carpet of people sitting and sleeping all around, it was a challenge to move about in the darkness without treading on anyone - and to those 3 or 4 who yelled "Ouch!" I can only apologize.

The night seemed to pass easily this year - rain makes the hours drag but the weather stayed dry. More than 35,000 people watched the horizon at 4:50am as dawn approached, but the perfect sunrise was obscured by an unfortunately placed cloud-bank.

And yet, it didn't seem to matter. The mood was largely happy - there seemed to be few arguments between the visitors and the authorities, and the party in the centre of the stones went on as though the sun had broken through.

Photographers, who in previous years have made themselves unwelcome by showing little sensitivity to the event, were less apparent this time around. As a result, it was possible for those of us with camera to move around and record the event respectfully and peacefully.

So, a good Summer Solstice to witness and be a part of. Let's hope that next year's can be even better.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Brideshead Revisited

It has taken some time, but I have at last finished Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Reading it after seeing the excellent ITV series was an unexpected pleasure. Often, a novel puts its adaptation in the shade, but in this case the page and the screen seem to be perfectly in synch and there is almost no difference between them - they are the same beautiful, tragic account of Charles Ryder's involvement with the Flyte family. Perhaps it needs 11 hours of TV to properly convey 330 pages.

I had always been put off this book because I had heard it was just 'a story about a gay couple', but in the event this was simply not the case - to describe it that way would be to miss the point entirely, as well as overlooking the majority of the plot. It deals with the distance between people - distances of class and faith - and how life (and death) can surprise the most stubborn person as to how near or far they are from where they thought. Its elegant, if somewhat archaic, style lends a sense of immediacy to the past and I found the uncompromising ending strangely satisfying.

Certainly, it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like the idea of a wonderfully sad period piece, Brideshead Revisited is well worth a read.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Now showing on StreetView

I don't want this to turn into a Google StreetView blog, but I was pleased to find one of my photographs is featured in their new User Photos feature. Quite a few of my pictures show up in Google Earth but this is the first one I've spotted in StreetView. I took it just by the junction of Lombard and Hyde in San Francisco, and though it's not one of my best it's nice to see it in there, especially as I dragged my camera bag all the way up that hill from Beach Street on a very hot day! Of course, all this exercise built up a fierce appetite which later called me home to The Cheesecake Factory overlooking Union Square but that, as they say, is another story...

Monday 1 June 2009


I'm currently working on a crime novel and I sat down yesterday evening to do a little more research on different parts of Bristol. I've been using Google Street View, which is a great tool for writers who want to know what a place looks like without the expense of train tickets. Trying to figure out where a minor character should work, I thought I'd start in Clifton and explore.

I've been to Clifton several times. Much of what appears in the opening chapters is based on places and shops that I've actually seen. About the only thing I made up was an Internet Cafe, where the killer whiles away a couple of hours before stalking his victim back to the station. So imagine my surprise when I turned a corner in Street View and saw this:,-2.609109&spn=0,359.999187&t=h&z=21&layer=c&cbll=51.464459,-2.609103&panoid=qFfaQI1Y9hQpklja43Rnkw&cbp=12,52.08,,0,13.09

I've never walked down that road. However, if you pan the camera to the left you should just be able to make out a Sainsbury's sign - just below it is one of the green canopies from the Starbucks restaurant, and a little to the right is the entrance to Clifton Down Station, both of which feature in the story.

It's an odd feeling. Writing about a serial killer is bad enough but finding an internet cafe just a few hundred yards from where I placed a fictitious one? Brrrrr.... that gave me the willies!