Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Penzance AFC – Penlee Park

August 1999

Penzance AFC – Penlee Park
(plus The Total Eclipse of the Sun)

Back in 1999, The Eclipse came to visit.  I use capital letters to stress the fact this was not one of those partial solar ones which just bites off a bit of the sun, nor a lunar one which only succeeds in turning the moon a dusty brown.  No, this was the full bhuna.  Totality, pitch darkness during the day, stars out.  That sort of thing.  This was the first such instance on the UK mainland since 1927, and there would not be another until 2090.  So my chances of catching another on UK soil should I miss this one, were at best slim.

Unfortunately, the only area of the country to witness totality would be a thin strip of land running through Cornwall and South Devon.  So thus it was, the morning of August 10th 1999 saw me at Edinburgh’s Waverly Station waiting to board the Eclipse Special to Penzance; a trip organised by The Scottish Railway Preservation Society.  I had hoped we would travel by steam, but this form of locomotion was plainly viewed as just a tad too temperamental for such an important venture, so some hulking diesel was brought out of retirement for the journey.  I don’t know much about such things, but judging by the number of folks in anoraks with cameras set up by the tracks along the route, this clearly was an engine of some distinction.

Flying solo, I discovered upon boarding the travelling companions I had been allocated at my table were three American girls – one of whom was studying in Dundee for a year, plus her two friends who had come across the water for a holiday visit.  They were pleasant enough, in that slightly gushing manner our transatlantic cousins often exude.  15 minutes after leaving Edinburgh, when we were travelling through West Lothian en route to picking up more carriages at Carstairs Junction, one of them asked me where I came from.  I pointed out the window across fields in the general direction of Bathgate, saying “Just across there actually”.  The responses of “Hey ,Wow” and “Cool!” made me think I had very clearly been taking the delights of West Lothian’s bings for granted.

As the journey progressed, I introduced the ladies (whose names, I am ashamed to say I have long forgotten) to the delights of Irn-Bru, I reassured them that Yorkshire Pudding (which was on the dinner menu) contained no blood whatsoever, and that not everywhere in Scotland was like Dundee.  Indeed, that nowhere else in Scotland (or the World, for that matter) was quite like Dundee.  They expressed concern at the amount of alcohol Scots seemed to get through, and surprise at the number of female nipples to be found in UK mainstream newspapers and magazines.  Thus did the overnight trip down to Penzance pass, enlivened by many rounds of the card game Blob.

As the train finally pulled into Penzance around 0630, there was general disappointment at the overcast skies.  This was as had been forecast for some days, but was nevertheless a bit of a bummer.  Totality (being directly under the shadow of the Moon), would still be mightily impressive I had no doubt, but it did make any potential viewing of the solar corona pretty much impossible.

With three hours to spare until the big Event, I decided to take the road south out of Penzance to a place I had long wanted to visit:  Mousehole.  OK, it may be pronounced more like mowzle, but like Grimsby, St Quivox and Ugley, it is one of those places worth visiting just because it sounds great.  Well, I think so, anyway.

Mousehole was a typical wee Cornish fishing village, with narrow cobbled streets leading down to neat little harbour.  But I was dismayed to discover how many other folks had clearly had the same idea as myself, and there were a good few hundred milling around when I arrived.  Unwilling to share my eclipse, I clambered down onto to the rocks below the harbour wall and wandered a few hundred yards up the coast to wait.

And then it came: a shadow rushing across the water; a huge black mass skimming across the slate-grey sea.  It initially resembled nothing so much as a monstrous living thing swimming just below the surface, as if the Kraken had truly awoken.  Then the shadow arrived, and it was as if God had simply reached out and begun to turn down the dimmer switch,…….and all the seabirds went mental. 

It took around 30 seconds to go from day to night.  Except it wasn’t really night, because towards the horizon where the shadow had already passed it was light again.  And that was really creepy.  Also it was suddenly very cold, and I sort of felt I had been given a glimpse of what the end of the world, when it comes, may be like.  It was, I am not ashamed to admit, just a tiny bit scary.

After around 2 minutes it began to get light once more, the gulls and gannets shut the fuck up, and the precious life-giving warmth of the sun returned.  And I thought “Well that’s a relief, the world is perhaps not going to end today”.  OK, so the clouds had obscured the real fireworks, but to have experienced totality really was something quite special.

The village of Mousehole, Cornwall.

Same view during totality, seconds later.
With around seven hours to fill until the return train journey (another overnighter), I dropped into Penlee Park, home of Penzance AFC to take a few pics.  A groundsman was beavering away in a corner, but my attempts to engage him in conversation were met by either monosyllabic grunts, or responses in an accent I found utterly impenetrable, so I soon gave up.  Mind you, with hindsight, he was probably just as baffled by my Caledonian brogue.

Penlee Park, Penzance AFC

The return journey, perhaps inevitably given the anticipatory party atmosphere of the journey down had dissipated, seem to go on forever.  And when the train finally arrived in Edinburgh it not so much disembarked its passengers as disgorged them – vomited them, almost.  With some of us having had no sleep for nigh on 48 hours, the platform looked like a scene from Dawn of the Living Dead, as hollow-eyed semi-corpses shuffled off in search of taxis, buses and bed.

But I would not have missed it for the Moon. 

Roll on Kentucky 2017.


1 comment:

  1. Remember 1999 in cornwall well....pity about the wednesday morning weather - rest of that day and the week was glorious.....ah well - was thinking of St Louis myself for 2017....cheers Tom F/