Wednesday 6th June 2012
NERO is now a coffee shop, Caesar a salad, and the Forum a concert hall. Today’s bread and circuses are burger baps and live bands.
It starts to spit with rain as I reach the hillside, expecting games and revels, this being the fourth and final day of celebrations called in honour of Her Majesty the Queen.
The land here is green and pleasant, but if these cold slopes and watery spears are our idea of summer…
Some of the lads’ and lasses’ umbrellas interlock above their heads, like the testudo battle formation of centuries past. Although lamb, pig and chicken are being sacrificed, the rain abates not.
I traverse the field, water sloshing off my top hat; spot several dependable camp-followers with faces painted red, white and blue; natter with twin sister nurses; jest with security staff about the spirit of these islanders; recite Hadrian’s Wall on local radio; overhear talk of:
“Defying the elements… only a passing shower… maybe if we sat in the car long enough… hose-pipe ban… best of British…”
When the video screens show the weather forecast for the next few hours – large buckets, to be followed by more large buckets – the tribe raises grins and tins of beer.
On the edge of the encampment is a stage, from which comes the sound of violins, horns, and percussion: the Bath Philharmonia Orchestra, in full pomp, despite the circumstance, swelling to crescendos of traditional British hope and glory.
Later, to the amplified guitars and strong vocals of younger musicians, I watch brave dancers, some barefoot, stepping and swaying to the rhythm of tomorrow’s entertainers.
Seeking shelter under a tree, I close my eyes, and wonder… what roots were planted on this hill, what rituals observed, say, two millennia ago, when the worship of Sulis Minerva saw a coming together of Roman and local tribal customs.
And I conclude, of course, that the emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius was right, when he noted:
“That which comes after always conforms to that which has gone before.”