Alan Murton reflects on one of those events when everyone can recall where they were.
How familiar are the words of Genesis 1vv 1-31, particularly: “God said: ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness?” How many of the millions who stared skywards on August 11th 1999 remembered those lines?
For over a year Cornwall was beset with fear of the visiting hordes that were predicted to add to the August rush of visitors. A Brigadier General (Retired) was put in charge of the emergency plans to cope with the worst scenarios: “Gridlock” on the roads into and within the Duchy: water shortages and hose-pipe bans: food supplies drying up because supermarkets couldn’t move supplies: Armageddon from an Anarchist attack in Penzance and convoys of New Age Travellers destroying the environment.
Patrick Moore led the invading army of astronomers and scientific academics only for most of them to spend a frustrating morning gazing through a classic Cornish mizzle at a sky that refused to clear. There was no sign of the Anarchists and not much evidence of the thousands expected to swell the bank accounts of the speculators turning fields into camp sites and setting up camp festivals. Mammon caught a cold – at least many of the “Make a quick killing out of the eclipse brigade” did. Despite some effort by the Council one colony of New Age Travellers invaded the cliff tops under St Agnes Beacon and parked there for a while before they were evicted. Disappointment then for many, not least for some of the prophets of doom!
Our family all came home for the Eclipse and spent what turned out to be a magical couple of hours with hundreds of others on the dunes on the cliffs overlooking Perranporth Beach.
After a beautiful dawn the sky got greyer and greyer, it was chilly and we could see rain squalls out in the Atlantic and over the land away to east and south. Just five or six minutes before “Totality” small patches of blue sky appeared and the cloud thinned, a spontaneous cheer echoed from every vantage point as the sun came through, perhaps 80% in shadow, and we were able to view it right through the corona and “Diamond Ring.” The darkness sent the gulls shrieking out to sea, streetlights came on in the village below us and a ripple of camera flashes flickered around the porth. Why we should have been so lucky I don’t know. I am not ashamed that the emotion of the moment brought tears, but was it the sheer beauty of the sight or was it once again coming face to face with the great mystery of Nature or consciousness of the incredible gift of humanity? The astronomers and scientists can make of it what they will but I will remember it as another reminder of how small is man in the totality of Nature. I’m afraid I’m probably dangerous when I get philosophical…
Can you remember the full eclipse of the sun? I do because I was among the lucky ones who enjoyed the sight of the clouds parting a few minutes before totality. Next morning I met a friend outside the local shop and we passed the time of day in our best Troora Boy accents…
“See the ‘clipse yessday did ‘ee Derek?”
“No boy but I lissunned to un on the wireless!”
Truro born and educated Alan Murton returned to Cornwall in 1994 with Writing as a key aim in early retirement after a course with Open College of the Arts with Cornish poet Philip Gross as his mentor. He sent some of his writing to Cornwall Today and was soon a regular in its pages until the West Briton took it over. He joined Truro Creative Writers in 1995 and worked with them, for 20 years as Chairman/Secretary.
Apart from competing in Old Cornwall Society competitions he wrote for two subscription magazines and has been published nationally as well as locally.