Eclipsed by greed and hysteria

SINCE my previous post had an “anti-anti-science” theme, I thought I would offer another depressing example of how scientific events can be spoiled by (among other factors) irresponsible coverage.

When I was very, very young, I became obsessed with astronomy, thanks mainly to The Observer’s Book of Astronomy by Patrick Moore. Within its pages was the revelation that, more than 20 years in the future, Britain would experience a total eclipse of the sun. Even though 1999 seemed impossibly far away, I maintained my determination to travel to whichever part of the country I needed to in order to get a good view.

Eventually, it was time to book my accommodation in Cornwall. I called the booking company, to be told that visitors were being forced to pay an “eclipse surcharge” of 50 per cent on accommodation that week. Outrageous, but I was still determined to be there, so the money had to be paid.

Then, in the few months leading up to the date of the eclipse, the national media started to report all sorts of nonsense about the consequences of a huge influx of visitors to the West Country in August. The sewers wouldn’t be able to cope, there would be food shortages – at least one newspaper even “reported” that the government had the army on standby to help out! Local authorities in Cornwall were complicit in all this scare-mongering.

On top of all this, the usual nonsense about possible damage to people’s eyes from looking at the eclipse sought to make us scared of the actual event. Viewing glasses weren’t safe, you shouldn’t even look at the moon’s disc when it was completely covering the sub because the re-emergence of the sun a few seconds later would cause instant blindness, etc, etc…

So, to recap: ripping off tourists, food shortages, martial law, blindness… it sounded like a John Wyndham novel rather than an exciting and beautiful natural phenomenon. The result was that the hordes of expected visitors never arrived, and neither did the anticipated boost to the local economy. A phrase involving “goose” and “golden eggs” springs to mind.

And what happened on the day of the eclipse? I’ll tell you: record cloud cover! More than 20 years of waiting and I spent a fortune for the privilege of standing in the garden of a farmhouse cottage near Falmouth watching the sky get a bit dull for a few seconds, before it started pouring with rain.

Given the melodramatic over-reaction of the local authorities and the local and national media, though, this was probably entirely deserved. I don’t know when the next UK-based total eclipse will be, but I expect that when I finally see one in all its glory, it will be in another country where, I hope, media coverage will be a lot more responsible and (dare I say it) based on facts.

What we were expecting

What we were expecting

What we actually got

What we actually got



Filed under Family life, Hinterland, Media

9 responses to “Eclipsed by greed and hysteria

  1. James

    As I understand it,Cornwall is the only county in the UK that wholly qualifies for Objective One funding from the EU because it is so poor, and has been for many years.

    Don’t begrudge them for making a few extra quid out of you Tom for a once in a lifetime event.

  2. James – surely the point is that Cornwall’s economy actually suffered because of, among other things, high accommodation costs. I love the West Country and will be holidaying there again next year.

    Also, how much of that 50 per cent increase actually went to Cornwall’s residents? The company I used was a UK-wide one which was not based in Cornwall.

  3. James

    Tom,did you stay at a hotel or rent a holiday cottage?

  4. John

    The next total eclipse which could be viewed from UK occurs on 20/03/2015 It tracks a path between Iceland and your part of the world, so you shouldn’t have to travel far to get a clear view.
    The next total eclipse should be in June, 2009 best viewed in China. So no excuse not to take the family, Carolyn can always get ‘a slow boat to China’ but she would have to depart at Xmas. Although I suspect your boys will still be too young to appreciate it.

  5. Holiday cottage, which was actually really nice. Flambards was great as well.

  6. Johnny Norfolk

    Its a bit like the Labour government. Look what we were expecting and look what we got.

  7. John

    I know a few people who have holiday lets down here. Sure, the rents are quite steep in the peak season but the rest of the year they’re poor. By the time running expenses are accounted for the returns are quite dismal.Many are now resorting to long lets as it’s less hassle.
    My place is close to Land’s End and is right next to Geevor Mine. The village was used in the filming of the BBC serial Poldark many years ago (and hasn’t changed much since)
    So if ever you feel like a holiday house swap……..

  8. Even your own department jumped on the hysteria bandwagon. I was shocked and appalled to see bright yellow signs appearing on the M4 & M5 (and probably the lovely A303) in the months leading up to the Great Event (which I’d been looking forward to since my Granny mentioned it to me in about 1957 – think how far ahead it seemed then!). These signs had dire warnings about not driving to Cornwall in the days leading up to the eclipse.

    I hope you’ll initiate an immediate witch-hunt and root out some hapless scapegoat to pin the blame on pour encourager les autres

  9. richard

    I thought, from the title, that we were about to get a rundown of the Labour Party Conference.

    Any thoughts on who you’re going to vote for in the leadership election?

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