Scenes From an Eclipse
We didn't have a cabin on the ferry going over to France. Neither did most of the other people travelling, as far as we could tell. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free were kipping down in sleeping bags all over the boat, dreaming of a better life. Or at least a family holiday in an overpriced resort somewhere on the continent. So we went off to lay out our sleeping bags on a spare piece of ship.
Two of us lay down, thought how remarkably comfortable this was, and settled down to sleep soundly through the night. The third thought that it would be more fun to run around the ship shouting a lot for several hours. As Steven was driving the following day, I drew the short straw.
I confess I didn't score many points in the Patient Mummy award that night. Marianne was threatened with all manner of unreasonable horrors if she didn't shut up and go to sleep. And she didn't. At one memorable moment Marianne turned to me and said "Please don't throw me in the sea, Mummy. It's naughty to throw people in the sea."
We wandered all round the ship searching for somewhere quiet and dark. I suppose I had hoped that Marianne would wear herself out with walking and fall asleep. But the ship was bright, and there were people trying to sleep all over. The only dark spot was the bar. But it had a disco. I tried to buy Marianne some milk, but they only had proper drinks. So I got Marianne an Orangina, and me a bucket of Heineken. Maybe that should have been the other way around.
Eventually I found a quiet piece of corridor near the first class cabins, and finally persuaded Marianne to settle down to sleep at about quarter to five in the morning. At half-past five they woke us up because we were getting into port.
The plan had been to go and look at some of the beach towns in the morning. Unfortunately, our beach babe spent the entire morning comatose after her nocturnal excesses. So we just had to stalk the topiary brontosaurus at Villers-sur-Mer instead.
Travelling south to Normandy's cheese country, we arrived at our gîte, and waited for the other two cars full of fans, who we were expecting any minute. After some hours, Anne Wilson, Michael Abbott, Lilian Edwards and Christina Lake turned up. "We were a bit worried about Naomi, Austin and Caro," they explained. "We couldn't spot them on the ferry." It emerged that the plan had been that Naomi would pick up Austin & Caro from Cambridge at nine in the morning. Once we knew they'd missed their ferry, we generally agreed this had been a rather poor plan. They eventually rolled in at three a.m.
Livarot was a good place to visit in eclipse week, because it was also the weekend of their cheese and wine festival. There was an infinite amount of each of these, much of which we bought. We also bought lots of cider and perry. The highlight of the festival was a dance routine by an entire case of red wine fairies.
In the UK we have majorettes, in America they have cheerleaders, and in Livarot they train their little girls to be fées du vin rouge. Being France, the older ones looked like tarts, while the younger ones stood around looking sulky.
We argued at length about the proper planning for the day of the eclipse. The gîte was about thirty miles south of the zone of totality, so we would have to drive north. We were divided into those who wanted to get up very early, or possibly even go the night before and sleep in the cars, and those who thought that seeing an eclipse sounded all right if it wasn't too much trouble. Eventually we compromised on getting up at five-thirty and leaving at six. We were worried that heavy traffic might cause the cars to become separated. So following the example of Julius Caesar, we divided the cider into three parts. We discussed the possibility of sacrificing a virgin to guarantee clear skies, but our virgin was busy feeding the ducks.
It doesn't look 3-D to me
Synchronising our watches, we left the gîte in darkness and headed for the Forêt de Brotonne -- the only substantial area in the zone of totality south of the Seine. We were worried the bridges would be blocked. In the event, both other cars on the road clearly thought so too, and we arrived comfortably in eclipse country by eight a.m.
So we sat in the countryside and waited; watched the sun wane gradually, wondered if the clouds would clear. In the end it wasn't clear, but it was clear enough to see the disk of the moon and the corona behind it. Once the eclipse was over, we could relax and enjoy the rest of our holiday. So we did. We hung around on beaches rather better than Bracknell, read trashy novels, watched Marianne on the bouncy castle and made offerings to the Sun god.