The Perfect Place


The perfect place for fans worldwide to gather to drink the Fan Party Toast lies not more than five miles from where I'm now sitting.  Perfect that is, if the weather is kind.  It's a hilltop, a nearly bare hilltop, the highest point of the Clent Hills.  The bareness is because there are no trees on top, just short sheep nibbled grass,  ideal for sitting upon on a warm and cloudless Midsummer's Eve.

I did write "nearly bare" because the almost flat summit has upon it certain works of man, the locally famous Standing Stones.  There are four of these, each of such a size that the average person could get his/her arms around any of them, and in height just about tall enough so that a six foot tall person would have to stand on tiptoe to see over the top of any of them.  Roughly squared off, they themselves form a square about ten feet on a side.

On a clear, warm summer night a person might sit on the ground, back to a stone, and breathe fern and flower scented air.  Above, set in a sky of the deepest purple velvet like priceless jewels laid out for display, the stars look close enough to grasp.  The moon is a bright balloon floating mere yards above the treetops.  To the north, the glow in the sky romanticized by distance is Brimingham, and now and then an aircraft moves high and silent to or from her airport.

There is a well established legend about these Standing Stones.  Down the hill half a mile is a small pond called Walton Pool.  At midnight on Midsummer Eve the Stones uproot themselves and make their way to the water, drink deeply, then return to the hilltop until next year.

If any human soul should by some ill chance witness this magical event he, or she, is forthwith seized with a fit and drops down, dead.  Or turns into a stone.  Or something else fatal.  A mysterious thing about this story is—if everyone who sees the Stones on their annual perambulation dies—how did the story start?  Dead people, as a rule, are not the most articulate of witnesses.  Interesting legend, eh?  But not very likely to scare off fans.

Actually the site's only a bit over three hundred years old at the very most.

Back in the reign of George III (confusion to his enemies!) there lived a local noble lord, Cobham or Cobbam, of the Lytteton family, I think, and rather eccentric.  It was a time of eccentrics.  The poor old King suffered bouts of madness, and, don't ask me why, one theory is it became fashionable in the "higher" reaches of society to affect some eccentricity. Myself, I prefer to think that many of the nobility were just plain crackers.  Nonetheless the consensus of opinion was that Mad Lord Cobham was genuinely mad.

Mad he might have been, but he was also rich.

And one of the first patrons of Capability Brown, though were he as mad as public opinion had it he would have employed Bloody Stupid Jones.

The noble Lord had his estate Capability-fied.  Trees cut down.  Groves planted in drifts, circles, on stark ridges.  "Ruins," various.  A "Greek Temple" facade.  A tall brick obelisk.  A "chapel."  And also, four Standing Stones, right at the top of the hill, where Lord Cobham could see them from his multiroomed mansion.

The legend of the Stones seems to have started instantly.

But there you are.  What a place for a fannish party, the top of a suitably romantic hill, in the vicinity of fake ancient Standing Stones erected by a famous landscape gardener at the behest of a nutty nobleman.  What more could you ask for?

Postscript:  Ah — but not suitable if there is lightening about.

(With absolutely no apologies to anyone, Ken Cheslin, Kench, for the 1999 celebration.  He adds, "When Catherine Mintz asked me if I would write a little something on the occasion of the 1999 World Wide Fan Party and mentioned that the date was Midsummer's Eve, a fact I'd not previously taken in, I immediately thought of Mad Lord Cobham and the Standing Stones on top of the Clent Hills.  'It's got everything,' I thought, 'A crazy aristocrat, a scenic site, and a blood-curdling legend.  A perfect place for fans to congregate and drink a toast.'  And it is, though probably not the only 'perfect' place, a really appropriate and fannish location, where one is supposed to be able to see four counties.")

Addendum.  Ken left us in 2000 for the Great Fan Party in the Sky, which I hope sometimes touches Earth at The Perfect Place.  It would only be just and a treat for his fellows, too, all of whom are missed, but not many as much as he.  Catherine Mintz.


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