Date of writing: 20/03/2015

[08:50] Much as the Perspex panels of my roughly south-facing cell window have been frosted by the degrading action of the Sun, I am most fortunate right now in being able to observe the progress of a partial solar eclipse. Through the high technology of a CD case sooted by smoke from a baby oil-powered lamp (don’t try this at home kids), I have a surprisingly clear view as the Moon gradually creeps in across the face of the Sun from the slightly upper right. (Fun fact:   this is technically not an eclipse at all, but an occultation.) Anyway, I realise I’m doubly lucky, as from what the television is telling me, a large proportion of the country has not been so lucky with the weather.

I remember back in ’99 projecting the last eclipse through a pair of binoculars onto a sheet of paper. That was the summer before I started university. It wasn’t quite total then either, but it wasn’t far off, if I recall correctly. Certainly at its peak there was chill in the air, and I remember the birds began to chatter as though it were dusk (latest favourite word: crepuscular, ‘relating to or resembling twilight’). I suspect the effect may not be as obvious this time, with only around 85% of totality. The strangely non-linear response of the eye manages to make even such a majority dimming seem less than it is.

[Later] I have to say, that was really quite impressive. There was something almost cartoonish about the way the cheeky tilted smile moved from one side to the other, briefly passing through perfect symmetry. We seem to be programmed to see faces in everything. In any case, I’m quite astonished that the sky stayed clear for me – many never get to see an eclipse first-hand, and serendipity has given me two already. I wonder where I’ll be when the next partial eclipse comes to the British Isles in 2026. One thing I can gratefully say with some certainty is that I’m very unlikely to be viewing that one from a prison cell. It’s a comforting thought that in terms of celestial mechanics, my incarceration is barely the blink of an eye. Maybe that’s why the Sun was smiling at me today.


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