Monday, 20 June 2011

On the occasion of the summer solstice - An atheist's diary.

Well, happy new year all. Before I'm deafened by the collective "What?" allow me to explain.

For lot of years I've taken today, the summer solstice, to be my own little new year. To me it makes a bit more sense than doing it on 31st December.

There's something nice about greeting the dawn alone on the longest day (And before some pedant points out that dawn and sunrise are different things, I'm generally up during dawn in readiness for the event and anyway dawn's a prettier word and it's my bloody celebration).

This morning I greeted the sun with fire and spirit, or more specifically, I stuck my head out of the attic sky-light, downed the last of my birthday port and lit a cigarette. I had a few minutes quiet reflection on how appalling the last twelve months have generally been and made the sort of resolutions I can stick to viz: Do a bit more, make the most of the opportunities which present themselves and get started on that novel. Then I went and made a cup of tea and had a cuddle with the cat.

Some people like to go to stone circles and get together with like minded individuals at summer solstice but previous bitter experience informs me that half four in the morning is not the best time for me to be humouring vegans.

I do like to think of Stonehenge at this time of year. I have this little picture in my head of half a dozen shivering blokes out on the heath in Wiltshire five thousand years ago with some sticks and a rope getting ready to put the markers down for the heel, slaughter and altar stones. I like to think the conversation went like this; "Look Terry, the missus has got this grand plan for a rockery and if we don't set it up in the next half an hour it'll be another year of moaning. You stand over there with Eric and when the sun comes up I'll tell you where to put the sticks in the ground. Then we can all bugger of back to bed. And well done for not bringing that bloody dog of yours. Last year was a farce."

And there's the problem. Nothing much is sacred for me. When I was about eight I told my parents I didn't believe in god because it didn't make any sense and could I not go to church any more please? Being the awesome parents they are they said that was fine. I've been a more or less evangelical atheist ever since. I still envy those with faith, but I just could never understand how chucking a disembodied third party in to the mix simplified things.

The solstice has the benefit of being a measurable instant in time and space. By one reading a dull and mathematical coincidence resulting from the predictable orbits of two roughly spherical bodies under the influence of gravity and some other stuff. On the the other hand the maths doesn't do justice to the scale of the dance we're unwitting partners in. This day each year I look at the ground I'm standing on, and the sun over there and think "Aren't we tiny?". It's refreshingly humbling and about as close to spiritual as I get.

There's also a deeply pragmatic reason for doing new year now. There's more to look forward to in the immediate future than the other new year. There's sunshine for a start. We're a couple of months from those lovely late summer evenings when it gets dark early but you can still feel the last of the sun's heat off the pavers and the sky's clear enough to see the stars. Much better than the depths of December when all there is to look forward to is trying to get the tree back in its box, realising for the umpteenth year in a row that Blu-Tack and wallpaper don't mix and waiting for the post-Christmas credit card bill.

And best of all I didn't end up in the embrace of some sweaty drunken stranger trying to sing a song neither of us either know or understand the words to.

Happy new year!

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