Most people have heard of the Miracle Of Lourdes. No, no, I'm not referring to Gary Ballance making it to double figures against Australia. In 1858, a peasant girl said she'd seen The Virgin Mary. It started a huge, lucrative tourist industry and spawned hordes of imitators. In recent times, perhaps the most famous apparition was at Medjugorje in then Yugoslavia. In 1981, six peasant children said they'd seen the Virgin Mary. 5 million people a year now push through the turnstiles.
But between Lourdes and Medjugorge, there was "The Miracle Of The Sun". On May 13th 1917, three peasant children near Fatima in Portugal said they'd seen the Virgin Mary. (For a Virgin, she puts it about, I must say.) They were persistent. They made the same claim exactly a month later, and a month later... and so on. In September 1917 they upped the stakes dramatically by claiming that a miracle would happen on 13th October.
Now you might think that people's response would be "ah, bless", or "now, come and sit on my knee and tell me about how you've been feeling", or "OK, you've had your fun but this stops - now!". But no. The response was that 70,000 people turned up on 13th October and STARED DIRECTLY AT THE SUN UNTIL IT SEEMED TO MOVE IN UNUSUAL WAYS AND THEY ALL SHOUTED "THE SUN IS DANCING!!" and "AAAGH MY EYES!!!".
That's right. The Sun Was Dancing. It was a miracle. Either that or the first Acid House rave.
Now you might think an appropriate official response from the authorities would be "You dicks - you're all going to have to see an optician" or "You dicks - you're all going to have to see a psychiatrist". But no. In 1930 the Catholic Church accepted it instead as a bona fide miracle. (They're still considering Gary Ballance's 23.) Nowadays 4 million people a year push their way through the turnstiles, stare directly into the sun and go "YYEEEEOOWWEEEEAAAGH....!"
I'm not making this up by the way.
Anyway, whatever. That was bullshit and hysteria. That, my friends, wasn't the miracle of the sun. The true Miracle Of The Sun took place at Perranporth on Wed July 29th 2015. No peasant girls were involved (mind you it was four days into the tour and not all the supporters had located a shower yet). The Virgin Mary was strangely absent. But I did personally witness something that defies all rational explanation.
The background first. Spirits were high as we arrived from the beach. England were doing well in the Test Match, and the arrival in the car park of a steady stream of 11 year olds with sports bags meant we fancied our chances. Alas it was merely junior football night next door. Our actual opponents were rather more mature, judging from the forcefully expressed opinions coming from their dressing room. "AMERICA IS A DESOLATE, STERILE MORAL WASTELAND!!!" came the booming tones of Robin Van Lingen, fresh back from a cheering few weeks in sunny California. He should try Shoreditch. Whatever, it's a sentiment fully in line with Mystic orthodoxy. Methigion are clearly our type of guys.
Derek was captain and discharged his duties admirably, by winning the toss, then wandering onto the outfield and asking where he ought to stand and who was going to bowl. The answer to the latter turned out to be Pete, and the answer to the former turned out to be it doesn't matter, because Pete. After cleaning up two batsmen in his first two overs with huge inswingers, Pete was summarily removed from the attack by Duncan. He looked mildly crestfallen, I think, although it's a bit hard to tell with Pete. He may have been thrilled. At the other end Ernie picked up a wicket with huge outswingers.
You're damn right there was a cross breeze.
Charlie came on and conceived a brilliant dismissal, dragging the batsman further and further outside off before the inevitable leg side wide stumping. (To his great credit, the batsman walked as the umpire hadn't seen it.) Methigion continued to struggle with Jim and Chris. (Mind you, so do I. All the time.)
In the field, Sean had injury issues and was forced to improvise, inventing the hands free long barrier - basically sitting down and letting the ball hit him. He made several super stops, demonstrating excellent buttock control. (He was less successful at slip. Keeper: "Make sure you take in the sea view here." Sean: "Yeah - it is beautiful," (Charlie runs in to bowl) "but you don't wanna drop a catch." Snick. Sean drops it.)
Meanwhile, despite the energetic low sun, the temperature in the shade plummeted in minutes from baking to freezing (a sure sign of something supernatural). The Mystics Knowledgeable Supporters huddled under blankets on the low wall, looking for all the world like the coach parties who will one day visit this site for its miraculous reputation - desperate, sick people who have all but lost control of their minds. Meanwhile, Scooby pulled Greta around the boundary, clearly twice as strong as the person allegedly in control. Shortly afterwards, Fabian did the same thing with Annie.
After Evenin's excellent spell, Fraser put in a superhuman effort and somehow managed to bowl a couple of overs of spin despite being on the point of collapse from having the early signs of a possible mild cold. For Methigion, Arvind had propped up the middle order with a gritty 21, but finally Robin came in to bat and the real fun started, as he unleashed a couple of glorious straight sixes and propelled the innings into three figures with a commanding 32*.
The Mystic reply stuttered a bit, with golden ducks for Fraser and Deke, and Sean also scoreless. A gung ho 18 from Matt got us a bit closer to the rate, but we were 63-7 and needing 44 from 7 when I joined Duncan, who was batting very well amidst the mayhem. By now however there was a new threat - the huge low sun had veered round and was becoming more and more incredible behind the bowler's arm at one end. By the 16th over (fortunately, delivered at an extremely gentle slow-medium) you were, essentially, being bowled at by the Wicker Man. You could - honestly - only look at the floor, flicking your eyes up for tiny fractions of a second so you knew roughly when the bowler was coming in. Anything but a rank long hop was totally invisible - you just shut your eyes and pushed the bat out and prayed. I am not exaggerating here - a couple of times I did just that. It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever tried to hit. (Well, apart from a Sisters Of Mercy fan on the tube.)
Two overs later, as the 18th over dawned, came catastrophe. A new bowler (Gripper) was brought on at the Fireball End - a young, tall pace bowler with a long run up. "Oh Christ. Oh Jesus Christ. Oh God. Oh Christ" I found myself intoning in a terrible Scottish accent at the striker's end as he paced out his run up. F*** the result, I just didn't want to die. And that was now looking like an actual possible outcome. But then - IT. HAPPENED. As the bowler began setting his field, I noticed that a tiny cloud had appeared, alone in the previously cloudless sky. It was sort of triangular in shape, and its right edge was adjacent to the sun. Where the hell had that come from? Surely it couldn't...?? I hardly dare get my hopes up, but incredibly, as Gripper finally got his fielders in the right place and turned to run in, the cloud drifted across the sun and the ground was plunged into normal lighting conditions. The eclipse lasted, I shit you not, for precisely six balls - as the over finished the fireball re-emerged from the left edge of the one, tiny, cloud, alone in the sky.
(And yes, I am willing to sit on your knee and tell you how I've been feeling. You won't even have to wait until 2 a.m. and the end of the Cabernet Sauvignon.)
We made 5 from that Gripper over, leaving 6 to win from the last 2, with Robin bowling next. After 5 balls from him we still needed 3 more runs, and the now unhindered sun was waiting for us again at the other end. I walked down the wicket and casually reminded Duncan that at least one of us was about to be hospitalised. "Oh yeah," he said, and hit Robin's last ball for 4 to take us home.
After the usual splendid time in the bar, we eventually wandered out to the car park, lit by a full moon in an eerily beautiful cobalt blue sky. It was quite unearthly. Back at Tor View, a plague of beetles had been visited upon the front of the building. The world was changed somehow - we all felt it. It is two months now since the events described here, and I am in no doubt that a miracle occurred. I have contacted the Vatican and given full details. The Pope, who admittedly is a little more no-nonsense than his predecessors, has replied "Dear Dickhead. When 70,000 people are coming to visit the site get back to me and you might have a shout. We'll need 50% of the gross."
"PS Mind you, if Deke ever gets it off the square - call me."