by Robert Williams
"What's the time, Mick?" asked Des.
"Just coming up to eleven minutes past eleven," said Mick.
"That means the eclipse is just about to start!" exclaimed Des.
It was August 11th, 1999, and thousands of people had headed down to Cornwall to witness the total eclipse of the sun, and Des, Mick and Wayne were hoping to be among them.
"'Ere Des!" exclaimed Wayne from the back of the Fiat 126. "The eclipse has started! It's gettin' darker and darker!!"
"That's because we've just driven into the Dartford tunnel!" said Mick. "Why oh why, Des, do you always insist on using the M25 to get everywhere?!"
"By my calculations we should have arrived in Cornwall at nine o'clock this morning," said Des.
"And instead we've been driving round and round the world's largest roundabout for three days!" exclaimed Mick.
"I promise not to drive past the M3 turn-off this time round," said Des.
"It's too late now!" said Mick. "By the time we come out of the Dartford tunnel the eclipse will be over!"
"I'll switch on the radio," said Des, "and see if it's on there."
"Oh great," sighed Mick.
But of course they couldn't even listen to the radio since they were deep beneath the River Thames. Even when they emerged from the tunnel, Mick was still whinging.
"This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and all because of your obsession with the M25 we missed it!"
"Oh stop complaining," said Des. "I don't know what all the fuss is about! You can get the same effect by closing your eyes!"
Des shut his eyes to prove it, momentarily forgetting he was driving at 47mph in the slow lane of the M25. Therefore he didn't see that he was about to drive into the back of the Citroen 2CV that was driving at 32mph in front of them.
He opened his eyes just in time to swerve onto the hard shoulder, just missing the Citroen.
"This is not the kind of memorable experience I was hoping for today!!" said Mick.
"There's only one thing for it then," said Des. "If you insist on seeing this daft eclipse."
"What's that?" said Mick.
"Look at the newspaper," said Des. "The eclipse will be travelling across Europe and Asia over the next couple of hours. So if we could make it over to Paris in three minutes we'd be able to see it!"
"That's really useful," said Mick, sarcastically. "How do you suggest we get to Paris in three minutes?"
"Ah...um..." said Des. "I hadn't thought of that. Maybe we could borrow Concorde? Um... I know! We could pop back home and borrow Mike's supersonic Mini!"
"And where is Mike at this very moment?" said Mick.
"Oh...I hadn't thought of that...he's in Cornwall with the others...I wonder if they were able to see the eclipse," said Des.
"They managed to go the right way on to the M25!" said Mick.
Indeed, Clive, Mrs Greasy, Mike the Manic Mechanic and Dickie the Vicar had managed to get down to the South West to witness the eclipse. It had been only when they arrived at their hotel in Torquay the previous evening that they'd noticed the other member of their two-car convoy was nowhere to be seen.
"What happened to Des, Mick and Wayne?" said Mrs Greasy as they emerged from Mike's Cortina. "They were right behind us when we left!"
"Be serious!" said Clive. "That lot in Des's puny Fiat 126 could never have kept up with us! They'll probably be along sometime within the next few weeks! In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if they're driving endlessly round and round the M25!"
"Don't be so cruel," said Mrs Greasy. "Des isn't that thick, surely!"
"Unlike your rice pudding," said Mike.
"I was just about to say that!" exclaimed Clive.
"Oh right, that means you both deserve a whack on the head then!" exclaimed Mrs G.
"Are we going to stand here chatting all night or are we going to check into the hotel?" asked Dickie.
"By the way things are going, I think we'll be chatting here all night," sighed Clive. "Come on." They unloaded their suitcases from the boot of Mike's car.
"What's this hotel Des booked like then?" asked Mrs Greasy as they walked up to the entrance.
"It's called Forty Towers," said Clive.
"Does that mean the owner's called Mr Forty?" said Mrs Greasy.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Clive. "It's because it's got forty towers!"
They entered the hotel and went up to the reception desk.
"Good evening sirs, good evening madam," greeted the manager. "And good evening, vicar. And good evening, mechanic. I am the manager. My name's Mr Forty."
"Oh!" said Clive, surprised. "Um, we've booked some rooms for the night. Messrs Kippers, Medford, Rogers and Mrs Greasy."
Mr Forty, checked them off in the book.
"We're missing three from our party, by the way," said Clive. "They'll be along soon."
"Party?" said Mike. "I didn't know we were having a party?! I would've brought my band along to play some live music!"
"Right, here are your room keys," said Mr Forty. "I'll ask our waiter, Manual, to take your cases to your rooms. Manual!!"
"Why's he called Manual?" asked Clive.
"Because we can't afford an Automatic, of course!" said Mr Forty.
They were all shown up to their rooms, and the four of them reconvened later on for the evening meal. Mr Forty showed them the menu.
"It's very nice, isn't it," said Mrs Greasy. "Can we look inside it now?"
Mr Forty then gave them the menu to look at. They gave the menu a long hard look.
"Come on, get a move on! I haven't got all night!" said Mr Forty. "I have got over forty people to serve!!"
"Ahem," said Clive.
Eventually they came to a decision, and gave their orders to Mr Forty.
"Thank you!" he said, whipping the menu away. "About time too!" He walked off.
"Excuse me!" said Clive. "What about a drink?!"
"No thank you, I've already had one," said Mr Forty, disappearing off into the kitchen.
"How rude!" said Clive. Before long, Manual came and served them their food.
"This is revolting!" said Clive, tucking into his baked potato. "It's all soggy!"
"And my gravy's all lumpy!" said Mike.
"And this has to be the worst omelette I've ever seen!" said Dickie. "It looks like it's already been eclipsed!"
"It's as if Mrs Greasy was doing all the cooking!" said Clive.
"Hold on a minute! Where is Mrs Greasy?!" said Clive.
Just then Mrs G emerged from the kitchen.
"Right, that's sorted all that out," said Mrs Greasy, wiping her hands and sitting down at their table. "That kitchen was the worst I've ever seen! Their chef was cooking complete rubbish out there! But now I've taught him a lesson he'll never forget."
From the kitchen they could hear a man sobbing.
"Is everything to your satisfaction?" said Mr Forty, coming up to their table.
"Err, yes, thank you," said Clive. "I wouldn't have minded a drink, though, if it wasn't too much trouble, thank you."
"It is too much trouble, thank you," said Mr Forty.
"I was just wondering, Mr Forty, why this hotel is called Forty Towers?" said Mrs Greasy. "Is it because it's got forty towers?"
"Of course not, don't be so stupid!" said Mr Forty. "It's got thirty-nine towers, didn't you see?! Coh, some people!"
"He's a trifle rude!" said Mrs Greasy to the others.
"Not as rude as this trifle, though!" said Clive, looking at what they had been served for dessert. "Did you make this as well, Mrs Greasy?"
"But of course!" said Mrs G.
"Umm, well, I think I've had enough tonight," said Clive, leaving the table.
"What time's the party?" asked Mike.
"What party?!" said Clive.
"The one you said we were having earlier!" said Mike. "I've rung up my mates from my band to play live, they should be here by 3am."
"I think we'll have an early night actually," said Clive. "We need to be up early if we want to drive down to Cornwall in time for the eclipse."
"Why on earth did Des book us into this dump anyway?" asked Mrs Greasy.
"He saw it on a television programme," said Mike. "He said he loved the look of it."
They checked out of the hotel at seven o'clock the next morning.
"Still no sign of Des and the others," said Mrs Greasy.
"It's a good thing too," said Clive. "If he'd have been with us, by the time he'd have woken up we would have missed the eclipse! Instead, we've got a clear four hours to drive down! Plenty of time!"
Outside on the front steps they found three men wearing leather gear, fast asleep.
"What are those layabouts doing there?" said Clive. "Obviously no hotels left!"
"Layabouts?!" exclaimed Mike. "It's my band!! Darren! Darryl! John! Wake up!!"
"Eh? What??" said Darren, waking up. "'Ere Mike, what 'appened to the party?"
"We didn't get 'ere till six!" said Darryl. "Was it any good?"
"We had to call it off," said Mike. "Anyway, if you come with us now we can play live at the eclipse!"
"Oh no," sighed Clive.
Mike, Clive, Dickie and Mrs G boarded Mike's Cortina, while Darren, Darryl and John got into their tour bus. The two vehicles headed down into Cornwall.
"There are so many people about, even this early!" said Mrs Greasy. "We'll never find anywhere clear enough to stop!"
On every hill and in every field, eclipse watchers had gathered. Eventually they drove all the way to Land's End, which, like everywhere else, was packed.
"It would have been nice to have found somewhere with fewer people about," said Mrs Greasy, "for our eclipse picnic."
"Eclipse picnic??!!" said Clive.
"You don't want to go hungry, do you?!" said Mrs Greasy. "I was up first thing cooking us each a three-course meal!"
"That's all we need," groaned Clive. "So how long have we to go till the total eclipse? Have you got the time, Dickie?"
"No, but I thought I'd bring along my sundial with me," said Dickie.
"Oh, that'll work really well during the eclipse!" said Clive.
"Right guys, are you ready?!" said Mike. Him and his band had unloaded their equipment from the tour bus.
"Do you really have to?" sighed Clive.
"What could be better than a musical accompaniment to this exciting natural phenomenon?!" said Mike.
"Being trapped in a cage with a hungry lion whilst watching episodes of 'Crossroads' and eating pickled onions in ice cream (made by Mrs Greasy)?" suggested Clive.
"And who better than us to provide it?!"
"Black Lace? Tony Blackburn? Or anyone who's dead?!"
"Hey everyone!" said Mike to the onlookers. "Welcome to the Mike and the Mechanics Eclipse Tour!!"
"Eclipse tour??!!" said Clive.
Mike and his band started playing loud, raucous rock music, and it didn't take long for the crowds to clear.
"Stop!! Stop it!!" shouted Dickie.
"Hey you guys, stop a sec!" exclaimed Mike. "Our very own crazy clergyman wants to speak!"
"What have you done?!" said Dickie the Vicar, in a rage.
"Hey!" said Clive. "Well done Mike! Your dreadful racket has driven everyone away! We've got Land's End to ourselves! What's wrong, Dickie?"
"This could have been the biggest congregation of my life!" said Dickie. "I had written an extra-super-special fab groovy sermon for my eclipse service!"
"Eclipse service??!!" said Clive.
"But now it'll all go to waste!" said Dickie. "I suppose I could recycle it on Sunday..."
"It just gets better and better!" said Clive. "And best of all, Des still hasn't turned up!"
"It's not all good news," said Mrs Greasy, pointing up. "Look!"
The day had started bright and sunny, but by now it had completely clouded over.
"We've got only one hour till the eclipse!" said Mrs Greasy. "Unless that cloud clears, we'll never see anything!"
"I bet Des and Mick, who I don't doubt are still on the M25, have probably got a better view than us!" said Clive. "Typical!"
Then came an idea from an unlikely source (and I don't mean one of the unlikely sauces Mrs Greasy had been cooking with).
"I have an idea," said Darryl. "I've got a mate who lives in St Ives. He's got seven wives."
"Oh great," said Clive. "That's really helpful."
"He hasn't really, I was joking," said Darryl. "Anyway, he owns his own helicopter. I could ring him up and see if he can let us borrow it!"
"What a good idea!" said Clive.
Darryl rang up his friend on his mobile phone, and they were in luck. His friend, who had been flying around in his helicopter anyway to watch the eclipse, flew over to Land's End.
"I'm not sure there'll be room for everyone," said Darryl's mate. However, Darryl, Darren and John had fallen asleep by now, so Clive, Dickie, Mike and Mrs G boarded the helicopter, with their pinhole viewers and eclipse spectacles.
"Never before had I thought I'd be sharing a helicopter with a vicar, a mechanic and a cook," said Darryl's mate.
"Really?" said Clive. "I'm used to it."
Land's End had already started to fill up with people again, and they watched enviously as the helicopter flew up into the air.
"Come on, we've only got a few minutes to totality!" said Clive.
"I've never gone this high before!" said Darryl's mate.
"Higher! Higher!!" exclaimed Mike. "Hey, I could be Bruce Forsyth! Good game, good game!"
"Good grief," sighed Clive.
Eventually, they managed to make it above the clouds. They donned their special eclipse viewers, just in time to get a perfect view of the sun about to be eclipsed.
"It's spectacular!" said Clive. "Absolutely amazing!"
"Well I think it's rubbish," said Mrs Greasy. "You can't see anything, the moon's in the way!"
Clive snapped away on his camera as they saw the moon move right in front of the sun, and a magnificent corona could be seen.
"I wonder where Des and Mick are right now," said Mike.
Des and Mick were, in fact, racing back home across London (not easy in a Fiat 126). Mick had calculated that they if borrowed Mike's flying Mini they could just manage to get to India in time to see the last total eclipse after one o'clock UK time.
"Believe me," said Des. "Mike won't mind!"
They eventually made it back, and drew up outside Mike's Manic Motors.
"Do you mind if I just pop back home quickly?" said Des. "I could really do with a chocolate biscuit!"
"We haven't got time!!" exclaimed Mick.
"Cor!" exclaimed Des. "Easy there, Mick!"
They ran round his forecourt, looking for the unique flying Mini Clubman that had given them a number of adventures in the past. They eventually found it in the workshop.
"Look!" said Des. He had found a piece of paper on the bonnet. "He's failed its MOT! And the tax disc has run out as well! We can't drive this on the road!"
"Don't be ridiculous," said Mick. "We're not going to be driving it on the road, are we? Come on!!"
Des, who was never really that interested in the eclipse, got into the driver's seat and started the engine, while Mick got into the passenger seat. They drove out of the workshop, and Des pressed the all-important button. Wings came out of the side of the Mini, and it rose high into the air.
"If we get stopped by the police, it's your fault, okay!" said Des.
"Yes, you get a lot of police up this high!!" said Mick.
"Now which way's India?" said Des.
"Go south east!" said Mick. "Come on, we've got one hour!"
"All this for a daft old eclipse," sighed Des. They flew through the air at hundreds of miles an hour, mostly above water. By one o' clock, Mick was getting anxious.
"We must be near India by now!"
"Look down there!" said Des. "We're flying over land! It must be India. Let's land!"
"Yes, we've only a few minutes to the eclipse," said Mick.
Des pressed the button on the dashboard, and the Mini hurtled towards the ground. It landed safely, and they disembarked from the car. The locals were rather intrigued by the new arrival.
"Hello!" said Des to them. "Have we missed it? The eclipse?"
The locals looked at each other, slightly confused.
"The eclipse?" said one of them. "Hey man, that was last year!"
"What do you mean?" said Des. "This is India, isn't it?"
"Hey man!" said the man. "This is Jamaica! This is the West Indies!! Ha, ha!!"
"Oops," said Des.
"Oh Des!" exclaimed Mick. "I don't believe you! You drove us the wrong way!! I couldn't trust you to go the right way round the M25, let alone the world!"
Des and Mick got back into their Mini and flew back home. Later that evening, the other group arrived back home as well. They compared experiences.
"Ha ha!!" exclaimed Clive. "I knew it!! A total eclipse of the Dartford Tunnel!"
"I'm not jealous," said Des, lying. "I would much rather have seen how those roadworks on the M25 have been progressing than some boring old eclipse."
Clive went off laughing.
"How am I going to get my own back?" said Des.
"I don't know!" sighed Mick. "And I don't care!! I'm going home, and straight to bed! Good night!"
Copyright © Robert Williams