Sunday, 1 July 2018

Avebury and fraud

It’s been a weekend of mixed emotions! Right now, I’m meant to be in Israel, for a three day break before recording the orchestra for 100 Faces. I would appear to still be in Highgate! It’s a long story involving passports which I probably oughtn’t bore you with because it will only make me stressed, but, in a nutshell, the plan is to go out on Tuesday morning instead, and stay out for an extra two days... it’s not ideal, but sometimes needs must. It meant I got a lie-in this morning, so the positives aren’t too far from the surface.

In the process of trying to change my hotel in Jerusalem, I discovered that I had been defrauded to the tune of £3.5k from my bank account, in, what the woman from Barclays fraud department describes as the “worst one of these I’ve ever experienced.” Hotels.com were next to no help. In fact, in the hour and five minutes that they kept me on hold, whilst trying to work out how to refund a defunct card, the cost of the replacement room they were offering went up by £50. The woman from the company took great delight in telling me that “hotel room prices go up and down.” In fact, she then said, “I’d suggest booking now before it goes up again.” She quoted a new rate to me. I asked if the rate included breakfast, and in the time it took her to check, the room price rose again. When I pointed this fact out, she laughed joyously!

I should point out that the fraud on my account started the day I booked with hotels.com, and that eight of the large sums of money taken from my account went to hotels.com. So if the fraudulent activity has anything to do with my booking with them, I shall be double furious. Of course, initial attempts at complaining have been greeted with a hillock of indifference.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was delightful. It was Nathan’s birthday, and, at 9.30am, Abbie, Little Michelle and the two of us jumped in a car and headed for Avebury. A year is not complete without a) a trip to Cambridge to punt, b) hollowing out a pumpkin on Hallowe’en and c) a pilgrimage to the UK’s largest standing stone circle, which is so large that an entire village lies within.

I love that place. It feels so important. Every time I visit the place, I feel enriched and spiritually revitalised. There is true energy within those stones. Furthermore, the weather is always extraordinary when we visit, even when the weather men (and Brother Edward) predict that it’s going to rain! It’s never rained.

We were joined in the pub in the middle of the stones by Nathan’s sister, Sam and Ginny, Paul, the lovely Kate and her hilarious son, Lukas.
We had a glorious day wandering around the stones, eating far too much food, falling asleep on patches of grass and laughing like nutty bong-bongs.

Highlight of the day was almost definitely visiting the wishing tree, tucked away on the edge of the site. It’s not a single tree, it’s a set of four, with interlocking canopies, whose roots are entwined and ripple along the surface of a chalk bank like veins over a sinuous forearm. People attach scores of ribbons to the trees, with messages written all over them. Others carefully push coins and little notes with their wishes written on them into nooks and crannies in the bark.

I read one or two, and found them hugely moving. “I wish for a book of kindness and peace” and in a child’s handwriting, “I wish that everyone dies at an old age and has a very nice life.” And then in the same little crevice, “I wish that my three beautiful girls have a long and happy life.”

We drove from the mystical rolling hills and winding lanes of Wiltshire into Oxfordshire, where the fields stretch for mile after mile, like a giant patchwork quilt.

The evening sunshine made the grasses and crops look like copper and gold. Clouds of dust billowed into the horizon where scores of tractors were harvesting fields.

We were visiting the Uffington White Horse, which is another one of those places which the year doesn’t feel complete without a visit to. For those who’ve never visited, the Uffington White Horse is an utterly primitive and prehistoric carving on a chalk hillside. It’s like a gigantic cave painting; a series of flowing lines, which might be a horse and might be a dragon. A giant eye watches over the Oxfordshire plain. At the foot of the horse is the man-made hillock where St George is said to have slain the dragon.

They’ve fenced off the horse itself to protect it from erosion. A temporary measure, they say, but I have a horrible feeling that the days of sitting in Paganesque circles around the eye are gone for good.

It’s a windswept spot. A skylark was hovering in the air above us. I think he was looking for a gentlemen friend because he was relentlessly singing. We must have been there for at least an hour, and his whistling never once stopped. That’s the ultra-obsessive behaviour of one of nature’s men for you!

We walked a mile or so back to the car as the sun started to set, and listened to the London Requiem at full blast on the way home. One of the quotes I found on a gravestone which I set to music in that particular piece goes “for what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun.” As we listened to that sequence, we were driving down the side of the White Horse hill, and the sun seemed to be melting into red wax. We all noticed and pointed at the same time. It was a special moment because all three of the people I was driving had sung on the album.

The moon rose whilst we were getting slightly lost somewhere near the confusing spot where the M1 and the M25 pretend to meet but don’t quite. By then I was exhausted and ratty and Michelle and Abbie had to pretend I wasn’t being a twat! The moon would have cheered any one up, however. As would the memories of our day. “One of the best birthdays ever” said Nathan. And I agreed.

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