Category Archives: Mysteries

Marina In The Mist

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Marina In The Mist

Once upon a time the great city of London, England was shrouded in a fog so thick, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. My parents told me about those days. Not great for the health and certainly dangerous getting about in such a large city. They happened quite frequently back in the 1950s. During the Great Fog of 1952, I was just a year old living in East Sheen, near Richmond, the west of London. It was the worst fog/smog in Europe’s history and killed between 8-12,000 people.

Parliament was slow to act, having been used to fogs. The city’s homes had coal fires as did all businesses and industry as well as automobile fumes and diesel fumes from the buses. In 1956, the government finally passed a clean air Bill and people gradually converted to other sources of heating other than coal. But it took time and another big fog hit in 1962 causing around 750 deaths.

Today, London  smog fogs are fairly infrequent. They happen on days when there is no wind and the pollution count is high. Hot weather  and cool mornings can cause havoc too. On clear, cold days when the night sky has been cloudless fogs occur, but not all the time. We’ve had some dillies, but not so much of the really thick smog. Still, London air is never as clean and clear as, let’s say, the Green Party would like it. There is a peoples’ movement called Clean Air in London that monitors the city’s air quality. And there is the clean air zone to persuade drivers, especially of commercial vehicles, to reduce carbon emissions in the centre of London. It’s all a slow process and after all the years since 1952, the battle continues to get clean air for London.

But clean air these days is subjective. Nowhere on earth is there a haven of pure air, not even at the Poles or on top of Everest. And fog can roll in from anywhere. Just add cold air at ground level to warmer air from above and there you have it. Mist and fog. As you can tell, I’m not getting too technical about this. It is, after all, a common occurrence all over the world….a natural phenomenon. It’s only when you add polluted air that the Smog hits. Just ask the good folk in Los Angeles. They know Smog. so do the good folk living in Chinese cities.

So, I get up one lovely English morning to find that much of the outside of our boat is shrouded in the mists of time, space and atmospheric conditions. One of those days. Glad I’m not driving anywhere, either in the car or on the boat. Dangerous out on the cut in these conditions. Chilling. Best stay put, in the marina, get back into the boat and make a hot cup of java. But before I do that, I think to myself, ‘would the readers like a couple more photos of the marina in the mist?’ Of course they would.

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In the marina looking toward the canal outside.

And there you have it. I can barely make out my fellow boaters’ boats. I think they are still all there. It’s all very unclear. The mystery of standing at the end of our jetty, staring out into the gloom, overwhelms me. But not as much as realising I have just stepped into a pile of fox poo. Didn’t see it. Forgot to look down. I was too preoccupied with the mist. Time to go rinse my shoes under the tap at the other end of the jetty. No sign of a fox. Wonder if he got confused and fell in. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I’m leaving the cold air of England and heading for the Caribbean on a cruise. Never been on one of those or to the Caribbean. But I’m told I’m of an age when you do these things….if you can afford them, which I can’t. But I’m going anyway. At least there ought to be plenty of Blog material out there on the high seas, a vast difference to the canals of Britain. And….there may be fog. That would be weird, at sea in a fog. I’ll let you know when I get back. Anchors away.

 

 

HALLOWEEN 2

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It has been a year since I wrote about Halloween in the marina. A year later, things have gotten much bigger. Blame our neighbour Mimz for this. She went on a shopping tear last year after Halloween and purchased all things scary at a ridiculously low price. My best friend and I added a few items to the display this year at full price. The results were spectacular.

Halloween is actually the melding of two celebrations, Samhain and All Souls Day both having to do with death. The ancient Celtic day of Samhain (pronounced Sahwin or Savin) which celebrates death and rebirth was, as has been the case with most Pagan celebrations, taken over by Christians to become All Souls Day (1st of November). Put them together and what have you got? Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo….Halloween.

Since those more serious days of celebration, we have turned the whole adventure into a night where kids dress up as anything and go from door to door collecting treats. That began where all commercial things begin….America, the good old USofA. It has, I fear to divulge, become larger here in England now. Every year it gets bigger. The shops are full of Halloween festooning decorations and costumes. I hear people complain that it’s just another reverse colonial move on the part of Americans to commercialize everything. Actually, young mums love it because the kids insist on having it and it can be fun dressing up and filling bags with sweets.

Years ago, I was a Christian. The hardliners (like my folks) hated the celebration because they thought it promoted demonic goings on. Whereas there is always an element who use the night for doing dastardly deeds, most people walk about, going from door-to-door, dressed up in costume and saying ‘Trick or Treat.’ Most kids over here don’t even know what that means. They are still novices in all things Halloween American style.

So, here we were again. Another year and another display. Mimz never does anything in a small way. She invited anyone she met to come along at Halloween for sweets, hot chocolate, hot dogs and adult beverages. They weren’t just coming to see the boats. We had the whole area set up like some haunted graveyard that had been left derelict for years, complete with cobwebs, spiders, gravestones, lighted pumpkins, bats (rubber) and a gateway over our arch that read ‘Keep Out.’ Black cloth hung from the sign, shredded into strips to add that scary entrance quality that completed the effect.

At the end of the jetty between Eddie’s and Mimz’s boat and ours, we have a small fir tree. Over it I put a white sheet with a skeleton face in it that we lit with a torch (flashlight). Such are the lengths we go to raise money for the hospice where Eddie works and Mimz volunteers. We raised over £150 during the weekend leading up to the big day and the money keeps coming in. The weather didn’t cooperate, blowing a gale and scattering some of our decorations hither and yon. But we rallied and fixed the old graveyard each day. Fortunately, Halloween was clam and quite mild.

My werewolf costume scared the little kids half to death. Result. One little girl was so traumatized, my best friend told me to remove my mask and smile at the little creature. I did and she cried. Oh well. Meanwhile, Eddie’s Bose speakers belted out spooky music and Freddy Kruger  scared even more kids. The hot chocolate flowed and the hot dogs were consumed. Sweets disappeared and batteries wore down. Kids showed up in an array of costumes from skeletons and vampires to a devil princess and a pumpkin. Even Harry Potter made an appearance.

At this juncture, I would love to have shown you some amazing photos of the display, the costumes and the night. Alas, the camera I ordered from Amazon didn’t come on time and my mobile phone snaps turned out black….all of them. Spooky.

Ship Ahoy Redux

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Ship Ahoy Redux

I was born in London, England in 1951 near Hampton Court beside the River Thames. In 1955, my parents moved us to Canada and I didn’t return to London until I was 22 years old in 1973. I wanted to see everything. But the site that captured my attention the most was the large ship moored just before Tower Bridge. She (that’s the designation for ships….don’t get all PC on me now) was the HMS Belfast, the Town-class light Cruiser that saw action in the Second World War and beyond.

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Looking back at the Belfast from the stern (rear)

I swore to myself then and during every subsequent trip to London that one day I’d go aboard and hang the expense. 44 years later it happened. And, I did not regret one penny of the expense. I get senior rates now, so it only cost me £12.80 to go aboard. I’ll bet it was a bit cheaper in 1973. I tried to find those prices, but came up with nothing on Google. My best friend found a number to call, but I’m not that interested. Still…cheaper I’ll be bound.

We came off our own boat for a while and were looking after someone’s flat near London Bridge while they were off somewhere exotic. My best friend went to visit her grandkids and I had a day free. What to do? I know. How about finally going aboard the HMS Belfast, not my best friend’s idea of a good time, but mine definitely. My dad was with the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in the war, so there was always an affinity with the navy.
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The above picture was taken in 1941 of RAF Swinderby where dad was seconded by the FAA because so many RAF personnel were lost during Dunkirk. I thought I’d give context to a rather bleak yet astonishing part of Britain’s history.

Meanwhile at sea, the HMS Belfast ran into a mine as it blockaded German ships in the Baltic in 1939 and was 2 years in dry dock for repairs, returning to action in time to help sink the German battleship, Scharnhorst, in the Battle of North Cape on Boxing day 1943. the Belfast was there during D-Day, covering the landings on Gold and Juno beaches of Normandy. After this, the Belfast went to the Far East and served later during the Korean War.

Over the years, HMS Belfast had several re-fittings, modernizing radar, various electronics, even the haul and so on. By 1963, the Belfast had served its purpose and was being prepared for scrapping. Fortunately, a group of Members of Parliament who had been navy men, one of whom had served on the Belfast, saved the ship and after several more changes of hand, the Belfast ended up the property of the Imperial war Museum.
It was good that I waited so long to go aboard. Apparently, until 2011, only certain parts of the ship were accessible to tourists. Since then, the whole ship has been opened and I was able to explore most of the ship and enjoy its history through TVs at various points telling stories of the Belfast.

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Forward munitions room. Shells were placed in the center tubes and sent up to the forward gun turrets.

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Forward 6 inch gun turrets.

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One of the original torpedoes, the kind that finally sunk the Schornhurst. Nasty piece of work indeed.

As an added feature, the rear 6 inch guns give the visitor a taste of what it was like to be in the turret when the guns fired. The noise was incredible (while being told the recreated sound of the guns was nowhere near the actual sound), the turret shakes when the gun goes off and I nearly fell over, followed by cordite fumes coming up from the guns vent, filling the turret with the smoke.

The beautiful thing was, I had the whole ship to myself for quite a while. I was first on at 10am the day I visited. Off I went, all over the ship, into the boiler and engine rooms, walking by one of the torpedoes used by these ships to sink the Schornhurst, along to the bakery and kitchens, down to the boiler and engine rooms, back up to other work areas (like the rum room), forward to the sailors’ mess and sleeping quarters, sick bay, down to the munitions bay where the shells and powder charges were sent up to the gun turrets, back up and up to the admiral’s perch, down to the captains lookout and back to navigation, up to the radar room and a look around at tall the anti-aircraft guns, then forward to the main front gun turrets and finally to the bow.

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Boiler room.

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Boiler Room

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Engine Room

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Engine Room

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Rum Room

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Forward Sailors’ Quarters

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Bakery

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Sick Bay

There’s more, but it would take ten Blogs to give all the details. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of stuff to see. And….well, I stood at the bow peak and, yes, did the obligatory, ‘I’m the King of the World’ thing. Had to be done. You’d have done it too. Not the Titanic, I know, but a very big ship all the same. Fortunately, no one was around when I did it.

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‘I’m King of the World!’ Tacky wot?

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From the bow, looking back at the 6 inch gun turrets.

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Tourist and commuter boats pass us by.

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Inside one of the forward gun turrets. Not a lot of room to move around.

I worked my way back to the stern, looking up at the huge smoke stack and other equipment on the main deck. I used the toilet, had one more look back and left the ship along the gangplank that links ship to shore. It’s a rather long gangplank and I stopped half way to look along the old Cruiser. 44 years. Glad I made it.

I was on my own as I said. Had my best friend been there, she probably would have talked sense into me when I arrived at the gift shop. I am a sucker for tat (touristy junk). On this occasion, it was a tossup between a brass rum cup (for my even tattier shot glass collection from all over the world) or a Bosun’s whistle (also brass….with wood). The cup had no writing on it. Could have come from anywhere, but the whistle….well, it said it was authentic. Who am I to argue?

I bought the whistle. Never mind how much it cost me. After all, I live on a boat and I have been known to pipe people aboard using my mouth as the whistle….entirely unsatisfying.  So, when I got back to our own boat, I drove everyone crazy practicing with my new Bosun’s whistle. To my credit, I did go online to see how to blow it correctly.  I was working on it until the other day when I went to get it to practice and couldn’t find my Bosun’s whistle anywhere. Where could it be? I’ll have to ask my best friend if she has seen it.

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Anti-aircraft gun and the Shard in the background.

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London City from the Admiral’s Perch.

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London City Hall from the upper deck.

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The Captain’s Perch

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An officer’s cabin

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Looking back and up at one of the smoke stacks.

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Looking back at Tower Bridge from the Belfast’s stern.

 

 

MERMAID MIMZ

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MERMAID MIMZ

I have always loved being by water. That’s probably why I now, after many years of being a landlubber, live on a narrowboat on the canals of Britain. And I like to go swimming when I can. Not too much chlorine please. I have snorkled off the coast of Cyprus, southern France and Majorca. The fresh water lakes in Ontario, Canada are my favourites. Years ago I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia. I have even gone swimming in the sea in England. Well, not swimming actually. I stood waist deep in the English Channel off the coast on the Isle of Wight. ‘Twas quite cold.

In my 2 years of living on a canal boat, I have never gone swimming in a canal or the marina. Not the kind of water you want to be in….on, yes. In, definitely not. You see, so many things end up in the canal that you’re never sure how toxic the water, if it is actually water, is. Some areas are worse than others. The Welsh claim that their canal, the Llangollen, is pure. You could drink out of it. But then the Welsh claim many things that just ain’t so. Unless you are Welsh, then, naturally, they are so. Still, one day when we cruise the Llangollen, I won’t be either in or drinking the water.

Then there’s always the accursed Weil’s disease, otherwise known as Leptospirosis. That’s the fancy name. Others call it mud or swamp fever. It only kills between 2-3 people a year in Britain. Rodent, cattle or pig urine in slow-moving water is the cause. If the water gets into cuts or scrapes, the lining of the nose or mouth etc., the disease may manifest anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. The most severe cases cause a shutting down of vital organs in the body. Canals are very susceptible to producing the illness.

That’s why we try our damnedest not to fall into the canals or go for a swim in the marinas. Just not conducive to our health and well-being even if the weather is hot and the water inviting. In 2 years on the boat, I have yet to fall in. My best friend has been spared that privilege too. I nearly went in once, but that was at the end of the jetty…..our old jetty. I was trying to reclaim some solar lights I had wrapped around the wi-fi pole at the end of the jetty (dock). I had borrowed another boater’s workmate bench to reach the top. It collapsed and I was left clinging to the pole in the hope that I would not go into the water. I wrote about this elsewhere. Anyway, my inevitable plunge was delayed and I am still a fall-in virgin.

My neighbour, Mimz, was not so lucky. Not during the same episode as the pole, I hope you comprehend. It was later. The circumstances are just now being revealed and the details are finally known. This was no ordinary dive. This was one for the ages and I missed it. I was too busy trying to get to sleep on a very hot and humid night.

We have had mishaps in the marina before. In fact, at least one person died after falling in, hitting his head and wasn’t discovered until the next day. He was dead. Poor chap. A few other neighbours have also gone into the drink but were rescued. Alcohol is usually involved. But other times it can be a simple case of one step too far or a slip. You have to be aware at all times.

Mimz had knocked back a few at a party over on the dark side of the marina. They were celebrating the wedding of a couple recently married who live in the marina…on a boat. Even my best friend attended. I was in the city that night with a friend, celebrating something else. According to all reports, the proceedings were delightful. My best friend left a little early and went to bed. I came back a little while later from the city. Upon my return, I heard the distinctive voices of Eddie and Mimz at the party, laughing and carrying on.

I fell into my bed as soon as I got into the boat. As I lay there, I heard the sounds of what I thought were Eddie and Mimz coming home from the party. It seemed to take them forever to get into the boat and no one was talking. Not long after, I heard Eddie’s voice and he was being a little loud for the time of night and not long after that, more voices. By this time, my best friend had leapt from her bed and, as she passed me, yelled, “I think someone’s gone in! Get dressed.”

I did and joined the gathering throng outside our boat. There stood Eddie, Nick, Ali, my best friend and a very soggy looking Mimz. Eddie had thought I was still out, so, apparently, he had run down to Nick’s boat to get help. Nick stood there, in his underpants, hands on hips. “Think I’ll get you a cape, Nick,” says I, “You’re a superhero.” Nick and Eddie had dragged poor Mimz from the canal.

Well now….turns out Mimz had returned just before Eddie, tried to get the key to unlock their boat, slipped and went head first into the canal. Fortunately, she’s a good swimmer and doesn’t panic. But, she had imbibed, it was dark and she was under water. She ended up under their boat, found her way out but was trapped in a small space between our jetty and the boat, so she swam back under and went under her other neighbour’s boat, ‘Last Chance’ but found no space to get out there either.

What to do? Well, she came back to her own boat, hung on to the side as best she could and treaded water until Eddie came back. That was only 5 minutes later, but a lifetime in the canal. Eddie couldn’t see Mimz anywhere and called out, “Moo (his name for her), where are you?” She replies, “Down here, in the water.” Eddie looks down, incredulously, and blurts out, “What you doing in there?” “Having a swim,”she says facetiously, “What do you think I’m doing in here? I fell in!” Eddie tries to pull her out, but with soggy clothing on, he can’t do it alone….hence Nick.

By this time, Eddie is more shaken than Mimz (my name for her. Real name, Miriam). We are all contemplating what might have been. Why didn’t you yell HELP!? we all ask. “I did call out Jenny’s name (my best friend),” she offered, “But I kept it down because I didn’t want to disturb anyone at this late hour.” Typical British reserve that. Anyway, Mimz went and had a shower and I made her and Eddie a cup of tea when they got back from the shower block. Super Nick and Ali had returned to their boat by now. We sat under the stars, contemplating the universe and life. We were so very glad our Mimz was still with us.

The next day, Mimz and Eddie were off to a wedding in Dorset. When they got back a couple of days later, Mimz was all aglow. “Look,” she says, “The cuts on my feet have healed.” They had not healed over in a while. We were all stunned. And what was our first thought? Let’s bottle this stuff and become snake oil salesmen. Move over Lourdes.

 

Henge Madness

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I was in Swindon not long ago. Not my favourite town. The people we visited are though. Nice couple. My best friend and the lady of the duo used to work together in London in the Civil Service. The male is a Doctor Who fanatic and has a collection of memorabilia that does the doctor proud. He also has other Super Hero stuff and a bunch of comic books. Shades of The Big Bang Theory (TV program for those less erudite among you).

No one goes to Swindon for a holiday or for cultural reasons. Even their football team was relegated to a lower division this year. And the Chinese restaurant we went to in town was closing that night after 14 years of trying to get Swindonians to eat more exotic dishes than Sunday roasts. Not a happening town. Unless you live there I guess. The last time we visited, the couple in question had moved from one new house to another, better built home, across the road from a farm and fields that were a protected property. Protected from greedy developers that is.

The protection comes from another source than it being a farm. You see, out there in that field lies what is commonly known as a Stone Circle, an ancient grouping of rocks that quite probably had astronomical and spiritual significance to people thousands of years ago. Their real purpose is lost in time, but some good guesses have been made over the centuries since. Mostly, many of these sites were abandoned for whatever reason eons ago and locals pilfered the stone for building and such and no one appears to have written anything we know about or have found that indicates their actual use.

But that doesn’t stop the theories or groups of wannabe druids, witches, pagans and the like adopting the various stone circles as the birthplace of their particular religious practices. Groups gather at significant astronomical times of the year….winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and the autumn (fall) equinox….to sing, dance naked, wear other ancient garb or offer various sacrifices to whomever or whatever as a way of maintaining harmony and balance in the universe. Works for some.

Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, has long been the ‘go to’ site for all and sundry, from pagans to Chinese tourists. Nearby is Avebury, not as spectacular but definitely worth the visit, a collection of  various sized stones and a big ditch around it. At other places all over Wiltshire, these stone circles abound. Some have completely disappeared. Henges are a little different because they involve earth works around them and sometimes they are wooden circles, but all these  circles and henges are understood to be linked together somehow. It is estimated that around 1300 stone circles exist in Britain. Many of them are dotted in and around Yorkshire. Some chappy estimates there are some 31 in the county of Wiltshire.

They missed one. Ours. Well, not ours, but I’m claiming it. It has a name and apparently it is now protected. Only 5 stones remain and they are fairly flat to the ground. It’s now known as The Coate Stone Circle. I didn’t name it (Googled it later). I just found it again when it had become lost. Out of sight, hidden from the masses and all but forgotten. Sit down and let me tell you a tale.

So, here we were, visiting our friends in Swindon…or just outside. They live in a very new housing development. As I said, bare fields lay across the street. We visited there once before, heard tell of said stone circle and carried on with the visit with the promise we would go to see it sometime. But this time, I said, ‘let’s go see this stone circle. I’m feeling quite nostalgic and stuff’. So, we put on our shoes and off we went.

It’s all so new that we had to gingerly walk across a patch of freshly laid and evened out soil over the road that led to the fields. They hadn’t even put down the sod yet. Our footprints were left all over the neatly groomed surface. Couldn’t be avoided. Our quest had to be fulfilled at any cost….or nearly any cost. We didn’t even know what to look for or where to find it. I guess that’s why it’s a quest.

We made it to the fields, the intrepid 4. A path lay before us. You needed a path because the grass and other weeds had grown as high as my waist in some places. And we were supposed to find a stone circle in this. Not a marker anywhere to be seen. No sign board with historical data….nothing. Very disappointing. But we were determined to find the stone circle if it took all day (it was 4pm and we had a dinner reservation for 5:30, so not that determined).

We waded through deep grass, sweeping aside huge swaths of the stuff to find some sign that the stone circle did, in fact, exist. Over this way, back that, crisscrossing the large field until, BINGO! there it was. A large rock, gnarled and worn. One of us stood on it while the others went searching for other stones. We found 2 more, smaller stones, buried deep in the grass. Progress. I stood on this one while our intrepid friend went wading off looking for more. So far, all we had was an arch of 3 stones.

Eureka! He found 2 in a row pointing west to where the summer solstice sun sets. That was our conclusion. 5 stones, which I was later to discover is the exact amount found by those experts who rate these places as the real stone circle deal or just another bunch of rocks in a farmer’s field. Were there other stones here? Probably. We may never know. What went on here? Like with the other stone circles and henges we may never know.  We have some good guesses (like ours), but no certainty. A mystery.

There shall probably never be a crowd of tourists in this field as at Stonehenge or Avebury or the like. But we intrepid 4 marked the place and wondered back through the ages as we stood on Coate Stone Circle what kind of folk stood here and what they were doing. And, I hear tell, a group gathers here at summer solstice to dance naked around the stones. They’ll have to cut the grass first….then I’m in.