The Virtual City Diary: Virgin to eclipse BA's shadow chasers

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The Independent Online
DARTH GRUMP, our man in charge of shouting, telephones. "Where is it ?" he shrills. He is incoherent with rage. I think he was expecting more musings from Komme Towers.

Well I'm sorry ducky - some girls do but Dot doesn't. If John Lewis isn't open for business on a Monday then neither am I. Darth Grump is less than gruntled but I am not in the least bit impressed.

He may well have a six foot light sabre but he does not light my barbeque. I am off to Lily's Totally Blitzed Cheese and Wine breakfast this morning and if the sauce is with me then I may just give young Grump a slap.

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HE IS NOT the only one facing a bad eclipse day. I have bad news for Bouffant Bob Ayling's press flacks.

A gushing missive informs me that British Airways is sending up a squadron of Concordes to follow the long awaited umbral shadow.

Biggles and Ginger are breathless about their supersonic solar spectacle and claim that the aircrafts' first contact with the total eclipse will be made somewhere over the Atlantic at 10.45am.

Unfortunately, at 10.31ampassengers on Virgin Atlantic's overnight flight from Los Angeles will have the first close encounter with the eclipse as it begins around 180 miles south of Nova Scotia.

Where it is safe and appropriate to do so, all Virgin flights today will head for the line of totality and every passenger will be provided with a pair of safety glasses for their viewing comfort and pleasure.

Passengers flying with Virgin today today include Richard Branson himself, whose flight for Antigua has a take off slot that is timed exactly for the moment the umbra reaches its first landfall.

Mr Branson is taking a well deserved business meeting on his private Caribbean island of Nekker. I have not been asked to join him but then he has not been invited to Lily's Totally Blitzed Cheese and Wine breakfast.

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I HAVE always found the young boy Branson a cheerful chappie although I have more of a soft spot for his wife Joan who once rescued me from a lonely dinner in Hong Kong while her husband was enjoying a knees- up with Ian Botham.

He has every reason to be cheerful, having just heard he has beaten off stiff opposition from United Airlines and won the right to London to Chicago service, which Virgin will launch in November. United are a little miffed I hear but they can't have everything. My man at United tells me the airline has taken a booking on a transatlantic flight to London from a very important traveller. The date is 31 December and the traveller is Peter de Jager, a long standing harbinger of Y2K doom. (By the way, I am Y2K compliant and my 2000 calendar now reads Januark, Februark etc).

Only five years ago Mr de Jager was quoted as saying: "if you hear I am up in a plane you can rest assured that my wife has been given a cheque for $50m and it has been cashed."

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I AM SURE Mr de Jager's confidence in United's ability to make the appropriate inflight changes as we move from 1999 to 2000 is well founded.

If it is not, let us hope the subsequent investigation is more forthcoming than the one that was described recently by the news agency Reuters in the following terms.

"An Air Fiji passenger plane that crashed last month into a mountainside in the South Pacific island nation was flying too low, according to a report by three Australian investigators."

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HAVING CRASHED myself on Monday I popped in yesterday to the Fount of All Knowledge for a quick sharpener.

I made my way to the Snug Bar and ordered my usual Sloe Comfortable Screw Up Against The Wall and was immediately approached by a grubby little man offering murky tales of Life on the Trading Floor.

He is quite disgusting and all I can say is that phrases "blanket coverage" and "coming into some money" have taken on a new meaning for me. I am saved from further squalid revelations by the arrival of Mildred Worthington- Milde who is learning how to be a soothsayer and teller of fortunes.

She assures me that magnetic fields from the eclipse will play havoc with the lottery and therefore the numbers will be 7, 17, 27, 33, 40 and 44. Mildred is a bit of an amateur and I caught her at the weekend trying to read the entrails from a pack of Tesco's finest boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

At my Pimm's and Pie Party she took a nasty tumble when she took a couple of steps backward and tripped over my Planter of Pansies. If she had been any good she would have seen that coming.

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