Don's diary

August 20, 1999

Monday.

In to work, wrestle with a book chapter and conference organising. Check some websites to see what is predicted for the eclipse. The usual suspects: gridlock, unwanted new age travellers, social and moral chaos and the return of King Arthur - great significance being attached to 11.11.11. Leave work to meet brother and friend, train 80 minutes late. Plymouth station has never looked so busy.

Local news reports steady traffic flows, no gridlock, 30 per cent chance of clear skies.

Tuesday.

Writing progresses slowly. Weather forecast for Wednesday is poor, chances of clear skies fall to 15 per cent. Discover that the university is hosting some astrology conference. Home again.

Brother-in-law, having travelled from Hove to Cornwall, discovers that festival organisers forbid people bringing alcohol to campsite. Three cases of beer deposited in our garage. Out at night to watch the National Fireworks Competition (day one) from afar. Discuss how King Arthur will arrive. I favour the 11.11am on the 11th from Penzance.

Wednesday.

Dull, cloudy. Into Central Park, small crowd. It grows dark slowly, then from the west a huge shadow rushes in. The birds go silent, but the seagulls get noisier. The darkness is not the same as night, to the north the sky is a streaky livid yellow, to the west it looks as if dawn is arriving from the wrong direction. It grows light very quickly, and people applaud.

Amble into town, and witness a group of people gathered around a circular flower bed. Arcane symbols on bits of paper are scattered around, must be astrologers. Check the news. No breakdown in the moral order, apart from a fracas in Cornwall when police in riot gear clash with "unlicensed" ravers.

Down to the Hoe later to watch the fireworks (day two) close up.

Thursday.

Reports of the festivals being cut short because of poor attendance. Rumours of organisers going bust or decamping with proceeds. Still no disasters, though West Country ambulance service reports a 50 per cent increase in emergency call-outs.

Recriminations begin, mostly about poor organisation and consequent long-term damage to the tourist industry. Scapegoats are being sought. Some blame "the government" for "negative publicity" that scared people off. Others blame overpricing and profiteering. I spend most of the day discussing conference details with colleagues. In the evening, out sailing in Plymouth Sound. The Fastnet Race is in town, crew members indulge in loud, beer-swilling, back slapping laddish bonhomie. No police in riot gear, but then this behaviour takes place on licensed premises.

Friday.

More conference organising. Decide that the book will have to wait till next week. Meet up with wife and child to see brother and friend off at the station.

Reports of gridlock as people leave. Still no sign of social breakdown.

Saturday.

Guilt sends me dashing in to work to pick up draft chapter. Know that this will sit on the table and not get done. This prediction is self-fulfilling.

Sunday.

Lazy day. Day dream about a phone call - "Hi. Arthur here. Listen, I missed the 11.11 from Penzance, could you put me up for a couple of nights?" Doubt it somehow.

Kevin Meethan is senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Plymouth.

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