Friday, July 10, 2015

England: Stonehenge Part One

Dearest People,

I haven't been eaten by the Britons! Hooray! I am not dead yet! I disappeared because we have been staying in places with not internet. But now I have some and I will share this piece of writing with you that I did for my Travel Writing class. \it is super long so I will post it in two parts.


Lucy Rose

Night Climbers, Stonehenge and Julie Andrews 
Part One

My younger brother Paul-Hugh is a night climber. He and his band of friends have tried to climb most of the buildings in our small town in the the Czech Republic. When we were both teenagers and living at home, there were evenings when cleanup from the family meal would drag on and he would get impatient to finish so that he could go climb. Our cleanup process was complex and lengthy— each family member was expected to pitch in. He couldn’t stand the tedium of the nightly puzzle to match the leftovers to the perfect size of Tupperware when he knew that his friends were already down in the dark, deserted town waiting to start. 

My parents gave both me and my three-years younger brother two first names. When Paul-Hugh was younger everyone used both of his names, but later he going by one or the other of the two names. Usually he goes by “Paul”, after my father, but my parents, other two brothers and I often refer to him as “The Hugh”. The word “The” makes him seem like a force of nature or a phenomenon as the titles “The Clash”, “The Tempest” or “The Big Bang” also connote. This title suits the brooding young man who enjoys a Byronic saunter over the mountains around our home and who delights in developing and producing a series of alien sounds with his mouth for the satisfaction of creating something that “no one else can make”.

Doing something that no one else can do has always been a fascination with The Hugh. I think that is one driving reason behind why he goes night climbing—he wants to get up to a place where no one else has been. 

Eventually Paul-Hugh began to offer to wash all of the dishes when he got home from his excursion so that he could leave immediately after eating. He didn’t often share his plans with us, because my mother would have worried had she known what they were up to. But he was proud of his escapades and told me about them afterwards. He would return at around twelve or one o’clock in the morning and creak in through our noisy front door and past our whining dogs. I would be sitting in the dining room still working on drawings for my art high school and he would get a box of apple juice form the fridge and sit down with me. He was would launch into a detailed description of the night’s escapades and provide me with a detailed account of how they had managed to climb whichever building they had chosen for that night. 

Once they climbed the roof of the old people’s home which used to be a monastery. The Hugh told me about how they had tried several evenings in a row before finally discovering a route which led them to the roof over the laundry rooms. He couldn’t hide his pride as he poured himself a huge glass of apple juice. It is obvious he was pushing back a smile in order to maintain his teenage suavity. The amount of juice that boy drank made me think that it was the magical liquid which fuelled his efforts like Popeye’s spinach which allows him to wrestle Olive Oyl away from his rival Bluto or the Grecian god’s ambrosia, which when drunk by humans, gave them immortality.
There was a group of men who climbed the buildings of Trinity College Cambridge and although they do not mention apple juice, my guess is they also indulged in copious amounts of the strengthening liquid to fuel their own night climbs. In the early years of the twentieth century they were pioneers of something that is now a popular sport. They called it Whipplesnaith so that people would not know what they were talking about and they would climb at night in order to stay out of trouble. The leader of the band of young men climbers was Geoffrey Winthrop Young. He was a mountaineer at the time when mountain climbing was just beginning to be an official pastime and a serious sport. Night Climbing was a way for him to keep in shape during school so that when he returned to climb the Swiss Alps in the summers he was ready for them.

Young published the first edition of The Roof-Climber’s Guide to Trinity in 1900. He meant it to parody the Swiss guides to mountaineering that were just beginning to be published and popularised. The guide offers several different routes to getting onto the roofs of the college’s various buildings. Each chapter begins with a quote about something related to buildings or climbing and then the short chapter gives detailed instructions for the route. It even includes tips on the best techniques. Here is a line of advice given for climbing the chimney stack in Cloister Court: “Holding with the right hand to the summit tiles of the gable and turning the face to the chimney , the left arm must be stretched to its utmost round the stack until the parapet can be reached and grasped, the body and legs the while drifting aimlessly on the steep tiles.”  

Along with being intrepid explorers and skilled climbers the Night Climbers were pranksters. They would leave strange objects on the tops of buildings they had visited as a mark that someone had been there. An example would be a Santa Claus hat or a chamber pot on a statue’s head.

Unlike the stones at Stonehenge people are a lot less willing to stand still in order for me to draw them. I was sitting on the edge of the strip of grass designated for people to stand on in order to take photos of themselves in front of the rocks. I took my couple snapshots of The Henge on my phone, but then I settled down to draw the people. There was a son who took a photo of his mother being hoisted into her husbands arms in front of the stones. Their story was so much more captivating to me than the story of the prehistoric people who supposedly created the monolithic structure. 

Another thing that was stopping me from fully engaging in the story was the fact that my audioguide was in Polish. I had chosen Polish because I thought that I would enjoy hearing a Slavic language, which would remind me of home in the Czech Republic. I thought it wasn’t going to be a problem. I said to myself, “This’ll be great. I speak Czech. Polish is not that different. I can work on my Polish skills at the same time as I learn about Stonehenge.” Turns out that Polish is different enough from Czech, that I went away from my audioguide experience believing in the theory which claims druids were the ones who created the Henge for their rituals. A couple days later I was set straight by some friends (who had had the English version of the audioguide) after I tried to say something smart-sounding about the druids of Stonehenge. 

“Didn’t you listen to the audioguide, Lucy Rose?”
“Don’t you remember how they were saying that because of resent carbon dating we now know Stonehenge was definitely not created by druids?”
“My audio guide was in Polish.” 
“Do you speak Polish?”

To be continued...

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