Be prepared for a total eclipse of common sense

`The more scare stories we put out, and the more people decide to stay at home, the better'

EXCUSE ME, you are the head of the Eclipse Advisory Board, are you not?

Yes, I have that honour. Well, of course, I don't have the honour yet, but Tony Blair has as good as promised me a little title.

And everything is on course for the eclipse, is it?

Yes. Between you and me, we couldn't stop if we wanted to. There is only so much that New Labour can do.

Right. So it's less than a month to the eclipse now, is it?

Yes, less than a month - and please remember not to look at the sun directly.

Perhaps we can come to that in a moment.

Of course.

When exactly is the eclipse taking place?

On 10 August at 10am.

I thought it was on 11 August at 11am?

Yes, you're absolutely right. Silly slip. Although...

Although what?

Although we very much hope that a lot of people will think it is on 10 August at 10am.

Why?

Because if people go on the wrong day, it will spread the load of accommodation and traffic.

I gather that on the day itself, Devon and Cornwall will be chock-a-block.

That is the message we have been putting out.

YOU have been issuing scare stories about overcrowding?

Of course. We at the Eclipse Advisory Board want the whole thing to go off without a hitch. Ideally, the best way for that to happen would be for nobody to turn up at all. No crowds, no bother. That won't happen, of course. There's bound to be an invasion of hard-core anoraks. But the more scare stories we put out, and the more people decide to stay at home, the better.

What sort of stories are you putting out?

That the eclipse will turn you blond.

Blond?

Sorry, blind. That it will be a field day for burglars and that everyone will return home to find they've been robbed. That there will be week- long traffic jams between the West Country and civilisation. That Devon and Cornwall will run out of food. That it will be completely overcast. We also put out a rumour the other day that sunshine doesn't really cause skin cancer.

Yes, I heard that one. Was that one of yours?

I have that honour.

And what was the point of putting it out?

We were preparing the ground for a rumour that eclipses may cause skin cancer.

And what effect is this having?

I have no idea. We simply don't know what the crowds are going to be like, or the weather, or anything. It never ceases to amaze me that scientists can predict to the second when a total eclipse will take place, millions of miles away, but not when a traffic jam or a rainstorm will take place a hundred miles away.

So what are you doing on a practical level?

Nothing. What kind of thing are you thinking of?

Well, the French government has issued every man, woman and child in France with a special pair of spectacles to view the eclipse through.

That, if I may say so, is a complete waste of money. What on earth are they going to do with them afterwards? Wait till another eclipse comes?

Use them as sunglasses?

They shouldn't do that. Sunglasses can actually alter your sense of perspective and cause driving errors which may kill you.

Good Lord, is that true?

I have no idea. But it is a rumour which we shall be releasing in early August. You see, giving everyone sunglasses would cost a fortune, but putting out scare stories costs nothing and is probably just as effective.

Are you working closely with the tourist people?

Very closely. They are desperate to get people to go there and we are desperate to keep them away.

Do you really think you can keep them away?

Oh, yes. Especially when we release our super-scare story in the week before the eclipse.

What story is that?

The Eclipse Bug.

My goodness! Are you trying to suggest that people within the orbit of the eclipse will find everything mysteriously failing to function on 11 August?

I certainly am. And that's not all...

Would you like to know more about the Eclipse Bug? Just send an SAE to the Eclipse Advisory Board (motto: `For God's sake, stay home!').

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