Journal: Friday 22 December 1995
I am always more aware of the day of winter solstice than I am of Christmas itself. The solstice for me is a time of change and rebirth, new beginnings. In England midwinter is a dark time when day is barely distinguishable from the long protracted night, but also a time of hope. In Egypt, the hours of day and night vary only slightly throughout the year and I found myself content with this natural balance and happy to follow its rhythms. On the morning of winter solstice 1995 I woke with the sun casting a misty rose tint on the Theban Mountains across a luminous river. This was my last day in Egypt! I sat on the balcony of my room for a long time basking in the growing warm glow and bidding the mountains a lingering farewell. Below me the gardeners were already out to tend their flowers of vibrant scarlet, cerise and yellow and one old man, Mahmoud, looked up and waved at me before continuing to hose down the footpaths, ready for the new day. How different this day would be in England.
As our last day, this one had to be even more special than all the others. My friend and I decided to go back to Karnak Temple and we hurried to be there before the crowds. How wrong we were – the coach parties were already arriving as we stepped out of our taxi at 8.00am. Once inside we each went off to try to find a quiet place. I headed straight for the sanctuary and sat there alone for a few peaceful moments studying the carvings, the picture of the sacred barque, used to transport the god’s image, and I imagined what this place would have been like in ancient times. Did those priests recognise the turning of the year? They certainly watched the starry heavens and recorded events. I wandered across to the sacred lake, shimmering in the morning light and I followed its edge all the way around. There were a few stone steps leading down into the lake and I went down and dipped my fingers into the green water – an echo of the daily purification of the priests. It was perhaps a symbolic gesture, a bonding with a bygone time and with these stones as they were now shaped. It was a thanksgiving to whatever gods there are for allowing me to be here at this time. I didn’t make a wish, rather a solemn promise that I would be back, whether to the gods or to myself, I couldn’t say. But someone must have been listening because I have returned to Egypt at least once each year since that time.
The flight home to England later that day both ended and began my love affair with this ancient land.