Learning to read stone

20 Nov

It is around 4am, I am 19. seeking a moments peace in a night of excess, I stumble from the beach party on Newquay’s Towan beach and around to the next cove and sit beside a large rock, my back against it. I stare out to sea. I enjoy a cigarette, spend a few minutes trying to send myself a text saying: ‘You’re awesome! numsaying?’ (yes, that’s true!) and assess an enjoyable evening. I don’t know how long I’m sat there before I’m joined by someone else nor how long after that before his hand brushes me the first time, then again and then again, I look over. My new companion is gently running his hands over the stone, he has his ear pressed against it and his face is a mix of concentration and elation. I ask him what he is doing, he says: ‘trying to learn to read.’ I make plans in my head to leave soon, he carries on telling me that rocks have been around longer than anything and they’d been watching and storing their memories so they are not lost, ‘it’s all there for us to read, we just need to learn how to unlock  it’. I diplomatically ask if he’s worried about never learning to read stone and he smiles, ‘I probably won’t, but I’d still like to try, should we stop trying things because we may fail?’ I’ve never forgot that.

I’ve written every day for as long as I can remember, these days I write on a laptop, but once upon a time I wrote on paper, a lot of paper and I saved it all. I’ve recently been reading through some of my old writings, stuff going back to my early teens and it’s been both interesting and insightful. I’ve remembered lots, discovered one or two gems of phrasing, pretty much proved the words of a friend that, the only time adult men will experience the thought patterns of a teenager is if they ever suffer serious bouts of mental illness, more interesting than this though I’ve noticed trends. There are certain themes that influence my writing today that have been fairly constant and the earliest theme I found was around the evocation of earth.

Throughout the writing, whether prose or poetry frequently there is support from imagery of the earth: a short story about a man who finds he’s dying and sets about engraving so the stones won’t forget him; a poem about an  man making a book of sand, stones whispering secrets to the night, soliliquys of stones and it goes on. It appears to me an entirely subconscious decision from an early age, I certainly didn’t make the decision to go all earthy, but earthy it seems I am. In terms of the elements: Air, Wind, Water, Fire I have always felt a greater enjoyment and deeper sense of connection with Water, but imagery of water is infrequent throughout my writing.

Sometimes the things that we resent most growing up are the things we end up being most grateful for when we’re older. My parents used to take us to a range of stately homes, archaeological and heritage sites across the UK when we were growing us, sometimes I thought they were boring, but mum loved history and felt it important we see such places. I remember how much my mum loved stately homes, her usual, worry-frowned expression replaced with wonder, awe and excitement, she’d smile. I remember she would walk slowly around making sure to take everything in, read every exhibit, sign and notice, see every artefact and touch as much history as she could. Like my companion on the beach at 19 my Mum was trying to read history from the objects that were there and that saw.

It’s funny how wrong we can be, child me sometimes found it boring visiting those homes and 19 year old me thought trying to learn to read stone was a futile exercise. One of my favourite things as I’ve got older is visiting archaeological sites and I always try and touch as much as I can, searching for that deeper link to objects brimming with stories to tell. Wht not try this: next time you visit a historical site, touch as much as you can, maybe if enough of us do it, we’ll learn to read.



4 Responses to “Learning to read stone”

  1. Mary McKenna November 20, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    I live in Northern Ireland & around here the stones speak to us. We have many fine sets of stone circles & court tombs are ten a penny – just part of our contemporary rural landscape. It’s the standing stones, and especially those around Glencolumbcille in Co Donegal, that I like the best. I like to seek them out in hedgerows & back gardens and run my fingers over the designs carved on them – staring at them & wondering what the message means – but it’s hard to interpret thousands of years further on.


    • paulcoxon81 November 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      I’m ashamed to say, despite being relatively well travelled, I have never been to Ireland, but when I do the numerous standing stones are on my list of things to see. There is something beautifully enigmatic about the standing stones that little Europe, towering reminders of intentions long forgotten. We have friends who go Menhir hunting in the Italian Alps where there are stones and stone circles littered around on a huge scale. Fascinating stuff.



  1. The Second Warwick 4am Project « Paul Coxon's moments - November 20, 2011

    […] It’s about the experience; I love old buildings, the way they are infused with history that seems to whisper and echo down the ages and the opportunity to have access to such buildings at a time few others will ever see, for me, is truly magical! (For more thoughts on this see: On Learning to Read Stone) […]


  2. Mexico: Lands of the Maya « Paul Coxon's moments - March 27, 2012

    […] and 3 poorer quality codices held elsewhere in the world, but that’s it and so attention has turned to the stones and pyramids left behind by the Mayans, which has led to a lot of  the interesting […]


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