Total eclipse of the art;Opinion

9th April 1999 at 01:00
MY CHILDREN are slaves to fashion. We have just returned from Easter in Cornwall where Sarah and Ginny absolutely had to make an advance purchase of Total Eclipse sunglasses - at pound;1.99, the best-selling solar viewers on the planet. Now all we have to do is try not to lose them over the next four months - and pray for clear skies on August 11, of course. If we miss this eclipse the next one doesn't come round until 2090 and I'm sure the girls will have mislaid their specs by then.

God created the universe in six days, we are told, so he must have been responsible for its basic subdivision into galaxies, solar systems and planets. By resting on the seventh, however, he also gave humanity the idea that time can be subdivided too.

For thousands of years mankind measured out its life in weeks, months and years. Then came TS Eliot, who proposed we measured it out in coffee spoons, but this did not really catch on. It was the arrival of primary school teachers on our planet that revolutionised time as we now understand it. No longer did years divide into months: they divided into terms, each one replete with its own mini-seasons marked by a new activity or item to be made and taken home for your parents.

Winter term was the time for Hallowe'en, Guy Fawkes and Christmas projects. Easter term has become Pancake Day project, Valentine's Day project, Mother's Day, red noses, palm crosses and Easter bunnies.

Next term is already mapped out. We'll be drawing our very own Maypoles (although constructing a 12-mile traffic jam would be a more appropriate way to celebrate the Bank Holiday) and studying the eclipse (much as we studied Halley's Comet and Hale-Bopp in years gone by).

And though many parents grumble that they were forever forking out for these fads - or, worse, having to find shelf-space for all the memorabilia generated by our children - I'm looking forward to Tom's first picture of a squashed black circle that looks more total ellipse than eclipse.

Society is breaking down, the commentators say. There is no longer any consensus of values - and yet these arbitrary mini-festivals generated by the likes of Mrs Blowsy, Mr Hipflask and Mrs Firebrand actually give a common purpose to our existence.

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