Total eclipse 1999

For spectacular displays that can really mindfuck you, Nature surely takes some beating.

One such awe-inspiring demonstration of Man’s insignficance and powerlessness took place earlier today in the form of a total solar eclipse.

The 2009 eclipse was unfortunately not visible from this country but, with the benefit of modern technology, people can still experience part at least of its magnificence without actually having experienced it first-hand.

I was fortunate to see the 1999 eclipse and, since blogging back then was merely a young Guido’s wet dream I’m going to blog about it 10 years later.

We were in France on a caravan holiday with my brother-in-law and his wife and we’d gone specifically to see the eclipse as the band of totality lay across Northern France, whereas in the UK it only just clipped Cornwall.

We went for 2 weeks and spent the first one in the Dordogne on a very friendly site where I got an unofficial ‘job’ as interpreter for the owner – a long story which involved an irate Brit scraping the roof of his camper van on some overhanging branches.

We headed north-east as the day of the eclipse got nearer and the night before realised that as all the campsites were booked solid – we were idiots not to pre-book – we’d have to pitch the caravan in an aire de repos, which was somewhere in the Somme region.

It was a very basic aire with parking and a small toilet block.

The toilets were truly disgusting – French public toilets are rarely 5* facilities – but at least there was room to park…

I seem to remember that the eclipse was due at about 6am so we settled down for the night ready to get up early.

I couldn’t sleep – partly due to sheer excitement but also due to the sleeping arrangements. Mrs Shark and myself had been sleeping in the awning previously but this time we were sleeping in a caravan berth and they really aren’t to my liking.

I got up about 1am, grabbed plenty of cigarettes and headed outside to wait for the dawn.

Whilst I was trying to sleep a Swiss guy had arrived in the mean time and had erected a massive camera tripod on the dunny roof.

He spoke no English and I spoke no Swiss-type German so we chatted as best we could in French for the next 4 hours or so and he shared his coffee with me and, as he smoked, we shared my cigarettes.

We were both eyeing up the cloud cover and wondering if we’d actually see the bloody eclipse but as the time approached the clouds actually rolled back as it started.

As the eclipse approached totality everything went quiet – the 150 or so people who had either stayed at or pulled in to the aire de repos, the birds which had been singing away, everything.

There was a strange light that was unlike any other sort of half light I’ve experienced – more like an absence of light than darkness if you see what I mean – which seemed to leech the colour from everything so it looked like colourised monochrome.

The Sun itself was eventually covered by the moon and we got to see the ‘diamond ring’ effect.

Above all, there was this feeling almost as if time was standing still and everything you knew that was around you had ground to a halt.

Then the sun emerged again gradually and as it got lighter the birds started singing again and everything seemed to come back from a strange place.

As everything gradually fell back into place, people started talking about what they’d seen and heard and felt and with the eventual reappearance of the whole of the disc of the sun it was clear that it was all over and that we’d seen something amazing that not everybody gets to see.

Amazing, to be sure, but above all rather humbling and a reminder, to me at least, that even though you knew the sun was going to appear again when it disappeared behind the moon that for a brief few seconds you realised how important that ball of energy in the sky really was.

I captured the whole thing on video tape and I watched it the other day.

Not quite the same, but still pretty powerful stuff 10 years later.

As for Cornwall’s view of it – a total disaster with far too much cloud cover…

2 Responses

  1. Cool, thought i’d post my photo of that same ’99 eclipse too. The only problem is I was in Fakenham in Norfolk, it was very cloudy and I didn’t have a decent telephoto lens. Apart from that, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a work of art 😉

  2. Pah – that’s nothing..

    Okay, dude.. it’s something.

    I watched it from the roof of a building in the City, using a sheet of photographic film to watch it through.

    The photographer for The Sun who took the next day’s front page pic was stood next to me.

    Should have flicked the Vs in front of the camera at the crucial moment.. lol.


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