The most laid-back island in the English-speaking world

There has not been much mention of the fact that the eclipse takes place in Alderney
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MY WIFE and I once stayed in a hotel in Ronda in southern Spain, a magnificent town set at the top of a magnificent cliff, of which all I can remember now is that they have a street named after Sir Alexander Fleming, and that my wife conceived there a dislike for hake which she has never quite got over. And that on our last morning in Ronda, we were having breakfast in the hotel dining room when a Swiss couple at the next table leant over and said: "Did you see the eclipse last night?"

Us: "No. What eclipse?"

Them: "The eclipse!"

Us: "Right. What eclipse would that be, then?"

Them: "There was a nearly complete lunar eclipse last night. It was very clear. Didn't you see it?"

Us: "No. Did you see it?"

Them: "Yes! It was wonderful!"

Us: "We are very happy for you... (Aside) Butter, please. (To the Swiss) You were very lucky to happen to spot it."

Them: "Lucky? We have been planning this for over two years! We knew that this town in Spain would be the best place for it, so we booked our room two years ago!"

Us: "That's pretty organised, even by Swiss standards."

Them: "You have to be organised when you are spotting eclipses."

Although that was my first and last encounter with eclipse-spotters, it gave me some idea of their intensity, which is why I am not surprised that every hedgerow in Cornwall and Devon is already fully booked for 11 August by eclipse-hunters with their telescopes, sleeping bags and barbecue kits. Nor am I surprised to see in my local bookshop in Bradford- on-Avon not one, but two books on sale about the eclipse - two entire books on something which will only last a minute or two! Has any whole book ever been written about something that lasts less than five minutes?

But there was something on the cover of these books which drew my attention. It was the fact that the eclipse will take place in Devon, Cornwall and Alderney.

There has not been much mention of the fact that it takes place in Alderney. I don't know who is handling the publicity for Cornwall, giving the impression that if you're not in Cornwall on 11 August you're nowhere, but they've done a grand job.

On the other hand, Alderney doesn't really need the publicity. For one thing, it's very small, barely half a dozen miles long, and it won't take many eclipse-hounds to fill it up. For another, Alderney is a very laid- back sort of a place, not nearly as media-conscious as Jersey or Guernsey, which makes it very comical that it's Alderney getting the eclipse, not its pushy siblings. For a third thing, if eclipse-hunters are anything like as organised as that Swiss couple, they'll have booked into Alderney years ago.

Indeed, an Alderney friend I talked to the other day confirmed that the island is already booked up for the eclipse season and that their only regret is that the eclipse is not coming out of season - coming in August as it is, it coincides with their already busy season and they won't be letting many extra rooms.

I would like to be there myself, not for the eclipse, but for the chance to see an encounter between such a laid-back, relaxed population and such a hyped-up, intense set of invaders.

Unless you have been to Alderney, you cannot imagine such a laid-back place being allowed to exist in the English-speaking world. For instance, I can remember seeing in the main butcher's window a sign saying: "Deliveries anywhere. Distance no object." This on an island barely six miles long.

I can remember once when I was there having to ring the Alderney police about something, and getting only a recorded message saying there was no one in right now but they would try to get back to me. (They never did.)

And I can remember being at the airport waiting to fly out when there came an announcement that all flights were postponed for an hour because of mist.

"But if you'd like to walk back down to the town," said the announcement, "we'll call you on the telephone as soon as we're preparing for take-off, if you just leave the name of the pub you'll be in."

I have seen several eclipses in my life, but I would rather have heard that announcement than see any of them.

A FOOTNOTE: My wife has just been reading this over my shoulder and she says I have forgotten one vital thing about the incident in Ronda. The night of the eclipse was completely clouded over and the Swiss couple stayed up all night and never saw a thing, while we had a good night's sleep. So the story did have a happy ending after all.