“Why don’t we all go for a walk with Beauty?” my mother suggests.
This really did wind my father up.
I heard a familiar roar of a Triumph Bonneville coming up behind us. Thankfully my father’s friend Bruce appeared alongside us. The tension eased as Bruce and my father greeted each other. The beers came out for them. We have our sandwiches and the queue is moving ever so slightly. My father decides to take off with Bruce on the back of his motorbike, leaving my mother to get on with it. I watched them; as Bruce accelerated down the other side of the country lane, tantalizingly empty.
“What if something is coming the other way,” my brother says.
“The grace of God is with them,” says my mother “please lets not think of that,”
I buried my face in my pillow. I imagine what is happening ahead. I can hear the bike in the distance. I wonder how many blind corners they’ve taken and what if they crash.
My mother eventually reaches the entrance where there are various signs leading to the blue, green or red campsites. We drive slowly across two fields until we reach the green campsite. My mother comes to a halt on a flat grassy pitch next to a hedge and we all pile out. Beauty is happy to relieve her bladder right where my mother is planning to pitch the tent.
Somehow we manage to haul out the poles and build the frame of what is to be our home for the next three days. I look around at the hundreds of colourful tents in the adjacent fields. Our field is relatively empty. I spot my father walking towards us; he seems a little pale and subdued.
“Come and help us get the tent up,” I shouted.
My father swiftly and efficiently put the canvas over; I helped him go around the outside putting the tent pegs and guy ropes in place.
My mother brought out her bits of carpet and curtains, table and chairs, kitchen utensils and cooker. We put out sleeping bags and mats in the bedrooms. Then I find myself exploring the site with my father. As we are approaching the main stage, I hear a huge rumbling roar of an aeroplane. I look across and see Concorde coming towards us at an earth shattering speed, very low in the sky. It looks like it might crash into the main stage but miraculously it begins to rise up again. The noise from Concorde completely drowns the loud rock music.
“That must have been a very near miss,” my father gasped.
It’s a sunny August day and my father and mother and sisters and I are heading towards the Lizard to the Total Eclipse Festival. The highlight being the total eclipse of the sun due to take place at 11:11 am on the 15th of August 1999.
A whole year has passed since I have seen my father. He still looks the same, with his long grey hair and beard. In fact when I think about it, that’s how he’s always looked. He appears to be relaxed and we are in deep conversation about eclipses. He knows a lot and I learn quickly.
“Did you know that the last total eclipse visible in Britain occurred in 1927 and lasted just 24 seconds? The next one will not be until 2090” my father states.
I was thinking how is it that the sun, hundreds of times larger than the moon appears exactly the same size when viewed from Earth.
“What are those people selling?” asks Freya, my sister.
They appeared to be eclipse sunglasses made with dark lenses and thin cardboard. Apparently without them your eyes could suffer irreparable damage.
My mother pulls over in out large comfortable Peugeot estate and we all buy some cheap cardboard glasses. We quickly get on our way again and manage to travel in convoy with my older sister driving her beaten up BMW. I choose to travel with my father in my mother’s car. He told me that eclipses can produce intense emotional responses within people and in prehistoric times the sun and moon would have had immense religious and symbolic significance in peoples lives and must have been the cause of great excitement and trepidation.
I was feeling a mixture of excitement and fear of the unknown, trying to imagine thousands of people were to share that moment.
We see some large colourful tent shapes in the distance and head towards the festival site. No queues, no hold-ups, so far, so good. We arrive at the ticket office and my mother and sister go off to sort out the tickets. My father and I appreciate our time together and agree that we mustn’t miss the 15th of the 8th at 11:11 am at the further most point of the Lizard.
We all get bands to wear and my mother drives in the direction of the “Directors Field” which is where those appearing on stage or those connected with them stay. The advantages were hot showers and back stage passes. My mother managed to deal with a roadie for her tickets. She wasn’t bothered about the backstage passes, and loved the idea of hot showers. I wondered what if I met someone famous in the showers.
We set up out huge frame tent with my father taking the lead role, directing us to do this and that until eventually our home for the rest of the week was assembled. My mother has gone completely over the top with her accessories. Out tent has curtains and windows, nice rugs and candle lanterns. My father brings out his Tilly lamp. I suddenly remember the pumping action needed to increase the light and how flies used to swarm around the encapsulating glow.
I feel quite agitated waiting to witness this historic event. The days pass quickly, I spend a lot of time talking to a beautiful girl called Emma who lives in an ashram in India. She shows me how to make giant bubbles with an oversized circle shape made from wire. Three times a day a ‘Doritos’ machine drives into the arena and proceeds to fire bags of 3D cheesy Doritos into the crowd. We collect our fair share of Doritos on a daily basis.
Eventually the morning of the eclipse arrives and people are beginning to congregate on the headland. There appears to be much excitement and people are laughing and drinking beer. My father and I make our way towards the further most point of the Lizard.
“It’s a pity there is no sunshine, just cloud,” he said.
As the time of the eclipse approaches I notice an eerie silence. Birds are flying back to roost. Through the cloud a watery sun becomes visible. The sky begins to go dark and the crowd watch with awe as the moon’s disk perfectly covers the sun blocking out the daylight but allowing the sun’s bright halo or ‘corona’ to be seen. The crowd cheer and clap, the whole experience feels very powerful.
Some people next to us emerge from their small tent and ask us the time. They suddenly realise they slept through the total eclipse of the sun.