August 01, 1999

We sat on the beach, waiting. We thought we knew what it was we were waiting for, but when it happened it took us all by surprise. Like the hopeful acid tripper, we looked for signs, willing them into existence. Was the cloud beginning to darken above the hillside? Were the waves blacker than normal? Were the birds quieter? Did it feel colder than it should do? We’d read our special four-page pullouts full of what was supposed to happen, but this wasn’t what we’d been led to expect. We peered hopefully at the thick banks of cloud, or craned our necks to catch a glimpse of the big screen on the hill.

This being England, a few drops of rain poked themselves forward like a penis through the fly of a pair of boxers, only slightly souring the buzz of expectation. The cloudy sky could be described as ominous, should you choose to interpret it so. The faint doubt surfaced that it might not be happening after all. Maybe the calculations were wrong. But they weren’t. The moment arrived. Darkness settled across the sea and the temperature dropped. The TV cameraman shone his light in people’s faces, receiving a torrent of abuse. Thousands of cameras flashed, trying to light up the sky, creating a strange rolling strobe, a spattering flicker of light. People’s ignorance, and their surrender of control to technology, turning itself into something unexpectedly beautiful. There was nothing to see, and nothing to photograph, but it was something to remember. For a few moments we stood in darkness, mystified. Then, as quickly as it had arrived, the darkness lifted, the temperature rose again, and thousands of people wondered what they were supposed to do next. This being England, in the absence of any better ideas, most of them went off to have a cup of tea and say how odd it was. Not exactly an anti-climax, not entirely a disappointment, but not what it might have been.