Among The Stones Of Memory

At Calanais, I reflect on time, art and memory

Nick Barlow

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It’s July 1993. I’m at a disused airfield south of Birmingham watching a man in a furry alien suit run around a stage. Then he strips out of that, leaving him in just a bright yellow posing pouch as he starts climbing the lighting gantries.

It’s July 2023. I’m standing in a field on an island in the North Atlantic. It’s raining and I’m looking at some very old rocks.

Part of the Calanais cross, July 19th 2023

It’s what we’ll later call 2323 BCE, sometime around midsummer. July hasn’t been invented yet (and neither have posing pouches or Birmingham) but the stones are there. Maybe slightly more, maybe slightly fewer than I saw — perhaps they’re adding a new one that month — but they’re there.

Some time long after that, but well before me, they’ll start calling this place Calanais, and some time after that some others will start calling it Callanish. The stones will be part of their landscape, but not as I saw them, or as the people who first placed them saw them. This land is damp and windy and grows moss, so peat forms around the stones, slowly burying them. The peat doesn’t grow quick enough for anyone to notice, but every year, every generation, the ground around the stones get a little higher, and they get a little shorter.

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Nick Barlow

Former academic and politician, now walking, cycling and working out what comes next. https://linktr.ee/nickbarlow