Travel: On Wednesday the sun disappeared for a bit, allegedly snuffed out by an eclipse - or was it the work of the tourist industry?
Sunday 15 August 1999
But the funny thing was that I was already having premonitions of a creeping darkness. Was it my imagination, or was the sky already shot through with a strange light? Weren't the blue patches unusually luminous, given the poor light quality? And the clouds overhead - motionless - why were they so black? It was as though they were the clouds at the end of the world.
It goes to show how sophisticated the media is these days. According to the advance publicity campaign, this comically microscopic event had been programmed to happen a million (or a billion?) years in advance. A highly localised two-minute shut-out in the sun's light on a certain planet at a certain time on a certain date. The scientists who were able to predict this alleged conjunction a century or two in advance must have been awesomely clever people indeed.
But not half as clever, I began to fear, as the universe itself. A horrid feeling had stolen over me that nothing on earth in a million years was going to stop this black shadow in its tracks. I had clambered up onto my cliff-top only to find it already encamped with hundreds of people. French, Irish, German, Malaysian, Belgian, Dutch, American... all apparently convinced of what the media had been telling them: that a vast black shadow was about to come from across the ocean, swallowing up everything in its path.
The light was changing as inexorably as the second hand on my watch. It was better than a train time-table. Much better, in fact, than a train time-table. At the same time I was perishing with cold. Perhaps it was just an improbably cold day for August: a sign of the coming autumn. But it also felt like the cold that you would feel if the sun was dying - the cold you would feel if, alongside half the population of Europe and Asia, you had spread yourselves out along a narrow line from the west of Britain to the Bay of Bengal to witness the last event of your lives. Had the tourist boards of all the world united to create this special effect?
The descent into darkness began to gather speed, like a ball rolling down a hill towards an infinite precipice. It was true then. All the talk had been true. The moon had no other trick up its sleeve. There was to be no last-minute deviation. Only now did I begin to see that the French tourist board had bitten off far more than it could chew. Having arranged for the world's tourists to descend on this part of Normandy, it was as though they had forgotten one important thing: that the bloody sun was about to go out.
Well OK, it came back a couple of minutes later. It was fine. But it had me scared. And it confirms what I have always believed. That the tourism industry needs to be controlled before it does something really dangerous.
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