Leading Article: Don't be cynical: this eclipse is a magical event

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The Independent Culture
IF YOU can get as far as Angola or Madagascar, then you have only two years to wait before witnessing the next total eclipse of the sun. Anyone staying in Britain will have to wait 91 years. A handful of today's toddlers may be around to witness both this eclipse and the next one. For most, however, this is a remarkable one-off occasion.

The specialness is in danger of being forgotten, as a pessimistic nation collectively looks on the bleak side. For those who have invested money in eclipse fever, there is indeed reason to feel dismal. Some of the most high-profile money-making events have either been scrapped or will go ahead only in a reduced form.

As for the rest of us, however, we should be grateful for what we are about to receive. Until now, the talk has been largely about what might go wrong. The assumption has been either that Cornwall, the one corner of Britain due to witness a total eclipse, will have too many or too few visitors; its resources will be swamped, or superfluous. The roads will be disastrously full, or eerily empty. You have to spare some sympathy for Gage Williams, the retired brigadier who is supposed to be co-ordinating the whole affair, and who is now being blamed for everything going wrong. As he himself points out, he will probably be blamed for every cloud over the county today.

It is hard to understand the cynicism over this event. After all, we know the total eclipse of the sun will not be the harbinger of earthquakes, as our forefathers believed, nor do we need to blame it for astrological upsets. Unlike in Tintin's world, it does not help errant adventurers in search of a Cunning Plan to avoid being roasted alive. But the event has a magical resonance, all the same.

The meteorological vagaries of this country - heavy cloud or worse expected in the south-west this morning - mean that the best views will probably be enjoyed by those outside Cornwall. But to witness this event in any shape or form - 100 per cent in Cornwall, or as a partial eclipse elsewhere - is to experience an extraordinary, elemental moment. We should not feel ashamed to revel in that fact. In other countries on the path of the eclipse, from Hungary to Iran, there has been undimmed enthusiasm for the event, even amidst the chaos. In Hungary, they thought of declaring a national holiday, on the basis that "nobody will be doing much work anyway". Here, the complaint is already about how much money might be lost.

Let's face it: there is an elegantly fitting symbolism that the millennium ends with a total eclipse. In the circumstances, we should drop the world-weary cynicism for just a moment and heed the words of the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle: "The man who cannot wonder is but a pair of spectacles behind which there is no eye." Enjoy.