Thursday, 7 September 2017

A Once in a Lifetime Event part 2

The first morning we woke up at five AM and could not get back to sleep and so by the end of the first day we were ready for bed at around eight PM. By the third day we were in sync with local time and waking up at a more respectable hour and able to stay awake until a normal bed time.
We had nothing special planned for the first week, but went to the shopping centres and spent a few dollars and then went to see the movie Dunkirk.

Although not rated highly by the critics, I thought this movie was really well made.  It followed  several people caught up in the terrible situation of the British defeat in France with the struggle to help or to get home. Although it tried to tell you right at the start, it took me a while to catch on that we were seeing the same events from different people’s perspectives over different timescales, but it works and once you understand it makes a great deal of sense.

 Dunkirk was a big deal for my parents for a couple of reasons. One it was a real morale booster in a war that was going seriously wrong. Britain was losing in Europe and Africa where it seemed that Hitler was unstoppable. Miraculously, by out of the box thinking, hundreds of stranded soldiers were saved from capture or worse by the action of civilian volunteers. The second thing that made it important to them was the use of the ‘little ships’, just like the boats they loved and holidayed on whenever possible.
Some of the actual boats used by the evacuation photographed at the time as they are towed down the River Thames to the sea.
 One of my aunts had even owned a boat that was believed to have been one of the little ships. So I was brought up hearing about how amazing and wonderful a miracle Dunkirk had been. After seeing the movie I revealed how ancient I am to my grandson, by mentioning that I had worked with someone who had been on the beach at Dunkirk.

A still from the movie
Charley Featherstone was a great friend of mine, one of those work colleagues you get along with really well and never forget. He had been part of the rear guard in the retreat, he had managed to return to England only by dumping all his kit and swimming out to one of the last boats to leave. He was always resentful, that having returned to England to continue the fight for his country, he had been charged by the army for losing his equipment and docked pay to cover the cost. Having survived Dunkirk and working with me, he died of lung cancer aged under 60.

For this year’s trip to visit the family, we were not planning on going anywhere special until the twenty first of August. On this day, we planned to cram ourselves into the thin line stretching all the way across the USA, along with a considerable portion of the population of the USA, plus all the foreign visitors like ourselves who came to experience the solar eclipse.

Although the eclipse would be visible across the entire USA and several other countries. A rather narrow strip is the only place where the sun was due to be completely obscured by the moon passing directly in front of it. This area was where what is known as totality would take place. Everywhere else only a chunk of the sun would go missing and the further away from this narrow strip you were the less of the sun would be hidden.
The family do not live very far from the line of totality, so we had booked a parking space in a local airfield at Atchison and intended to spend the day there on the day of the eclipse.

On this map, the family live about where the n is in Kansas City.
As you may imagine, eclipse fever had struck America, which had become known as The Great American Eclipse.

 On every TV channel different people were showing you how to view the eclipse safely and warning you of the danger of looking directly at the sun. The internet was full of gadgets, instructions, maps of the path and DIY methods for viewing safely. Special glasses were being sold and Amazon recalled some thousands of eclipse glasses because they could not check their validity, having sold out completely. They then, unable to get them all back, refunded everyone who had bought them. Many of the shops around the area instantly sold out and we were lucky because having discovered the Amazon glasses, that TS had bought back in May, could be unsafe, we managed to find a few still in the local Dillons store.

Some of the eclipse glasses we bought.  The unopened package was the one which Amazon suggested could be below standard, so they never got used.
People whose houses were under the path of the eclipse had been reported as renting them out for the day for thousands of dollars and many sites had been issuing tickets to avoid a rush on the day. Unscrupulous people had been printing fake tickets that had been sold for outrageous sums which would not actually get you in to the place they claimed to be for.
People started to openly display their idiocy, one woman was reported as having asked if the eclipse festival could be moved to Saturday, since it would be more convenient as she would not have to take her children out of school to watch the eclipse and others reportedly putting sun block directly onto their eyes and having to be treated in hospital.  All of this against a background of tweets and statements by a president, who seems to find saying sensible things difficult, with the subsequent furore in the media each time he opened his mouth.

On top of that the weather continued to be cloudy and dull with rain and thunderstorms occurring as the day of the eclipse approached.

This kind of weather is unusual and at least ten degrees C cooler than is normal for Kansas in August.  I always want to burst into song when I hear that phrase, having been brought up on all the 50s musicals, and Kansas is indeed corny in August, the fields all around are full of corn, not quite as high as an elephant’s eye, as suggested by another 50s song, but getting on.  Be that as may be,back to the narrative.
Since this was the first eclipse to be accessible to US citizens over a wide area for 90 odd years, it would be a national disaster if the day was cloudy, so we waited and hoped for a sunny day.

Kansas in August 2017 not quite as expected

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Snafu, for blogging about Dunkirk. Haven't seen it yet, but it's on my list! Now onto the BIG #3 and the eclipse!