Eye concerns eclipse the euphoria

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The Independent Online
ON THE sands at Portreath children were splashing in the surf, families were squabbling beneath their beach umbrellas and a fat man looking suspiciously like the comedian Rory McGrath wandered past stuffing himself with ice-cream: Cornwall was getting back to normal.

Elsewhere yesterday, hundreds of people were visiting eye clinics after suffering sight problems from watching the eclipse without taking proper precautions. Moorfields Eye Hospital in London received more than 400 calls from people, reporting headaches, blurred vision and other problems.

But in Cornwall and Devon, which had played host to up to one million eclipse tourists on Wednesday, the biggest headaches were on the roads as many of the visitors struggled home. The locals and the regular tourists, however, were enjoying the relative calm. "I am quite relieved it's all over," said Ros Ellis, of Hayle near St Ives, sunning herself on the beach. "I think we had many entrepreneurs coming down here to try and make lots of money from campsites and so forth. I don't think that was very good."

Her friend Liz Newby, of Bicester, Oxfordshire, an annual visitor to Cornwall with her young family, said: "All that materialism is not what Cornwall is about and I think a lot of people felt like that. People like coming to Cornwall to make sand castles and explore the rock pools. For us the eclipse was a bonus."

The full judgement by the people of the south-west on Wednesday has yet to be made. In the initial post-eclipse period, the experience of witnessing totality - despite cloudy skies in much of the region - left most people rather euphoric. But yesterday many remained critical of the co-ordinators for the initial eclipse publicity which, they claim, deterred thousands of potential visitors from travelling to the region. Reinforcing this view was the announcement by the organisers of the Moonshadow 99 Eclipse Festival at Whitsand Bay, where Van Morrison played on Wednesday night, that they were cutting short the event due to the lack of interest.

Other businesses said the numbers of tourists had not lived up to their expectations. "You should see the extra supplies we got in that are piled up at home," said Lin Taylor who, with her husband Ken, runs a fish and chip shop on Portreath beachfront. "He kept saying it was going to be packed. I wasn't so sure. As it was, there were lots of people but it was no different to any other good day we have had this summer."

Those charged with trying to organise the eclipse events insisted that, with the exception of the weather, things had gone pretty well. "We were always saying that we would have up to 1.5 million people here for the eclipse and the numbers we are getting suggest we were pretty close to that," said Gage Williams, the official eclipse co-ordinator and the ready- made scapegoat for some of the moaners. "If we had many more we would have been getting very close to the upper limit that we could have safely handled."

Meanwhile, doctors said that people who looked at the sun without adequate protection have risked solar retinopathy, where ultra-violet and infra-red rays burn the macula (the most sensitive part of the retina) for which they have no treatment.

Jonathan Dowler, an eye surgeon at Moorfields, said: "I expect I will have to tell people they will simply have to wait and see how things develop."

Predictions overshadowed by reality

IF YOU woke up yesterday a bit jaded from post-eclipse celebration be thankful - things could have been much worse. Depending on which part of the eclipse's path people witnessed the event, they could have expected death, disaster or even spiritual rebirth.

In Paris the designer Paco Rabanne had predicted the Russian space station Mir would crash into the city, but unfazed citizens yesterday reported all was well. Mr Rabanne was still in Brittany where he had taken himself off just in case. In Bulgaria, Viktor Spasov, the Communist Party leader, had predicted a rebirth of Marx's ideas. There was no evidence yesterday to suggest that Sofia's capitalists had taken heed.

Closer to home, a preacher in Cornwall had predicted the hidden Sun would return accompanied by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If it happened, they probably choked on the clouds of exhaust fumes from the nose-to-tail traffic heading home at the rate of 2,000 cars an hour.

Ed Prynn, the self-appointed Arch Druid of Cornwall, had predicted his sun-dance in his back garden would ensure a clear view. "I am floating on a cloud today," he said yesterday. "It was as I said. All up and down the mystical land of Cornwall people were able to get a glimpse of the Sun." Referring to the cloud in most of the country he said: "I should have danced for longer but I got tired. "

Andrew Buncombe

A fake `Mir' space station in Samatan, south-west France, planted as a joke Christophe Ena/AP