I will never forget that day for as long as I live. Every image, every sound, every word and every image is forever etched in my mind. It was in the middle of summer of 1997 August 19th and I was on holidays from sixth form college where I was doing my A levels. I was a typical 18 year old student at that stage, I didn't dislike or like school I tolerated it. My favorite subject was history, well actually English history to be precise and I had a burning interest in England between the fourth and eight centuries. It came from living in the south west of the UK in a tiny village on the coast of Cornwall called Tintagel. The area was brimming with history and myths all swirling around in the mist that came off the crashing sea and covered the countryside every morning.
That Sunday morning was a typical one for me during the holidays. I wanted to spend as much time as possible outside in the fresh air and warm sun on my bike exploring the ruins around the village. Tintagel castle was the legendary home of King Arthur and Lady Guinivier out of the depths of English Mythology. I woke early about 6am and had a quick bite to eat before heading out of the house to go for a quick swim near Merlin's cave. As I cycled through the town I couldn't help but be thrilled by the beauty of the countryside this summer. It had been a long hot summer with the temperature reaching 30 degrees for the previous three weeks and the grass was a brilliant emerald green that seemed to touch the pale blue sky.
It was still far too early for the tourists that crawled over this part of the country to start annoying us locals, so I had the entire countryside to myself apart from the cows and sheep in the paddocks. As I cycled down the laneway I could see the neighbor Mr. Barnes in the dairy yard cleaning up after he had milked the cows. He was busy hosing down the concrete preparing the yard for that evening when the cows would come back. I loved living in the country, it was so perfect, but I knew that the following year I would have to leave and go to university somewhere else. I had been up to London to have a look at the universities there but couldn't stand the hustle and bustle of the place. The entire week I had been there I was longing for my rolling green hills broken up by hedges and dry stone walls of that made up my little part of Cornwall. This was truly a land that was blessed, If there was a God and I hadn't made my mind up over that one yet, he or she had done a magnificent job on Cornwall. It was truly heaven on Earth.
The entire week I had been there I was longing for my rolling green hills broken up by hedges and dry stone walls of that made up my little part of Cornwall.
London had seemed so dirty, everywhere I went there was litter and all the streets and buildings were covered in a fine black dust. I would apply for a university somewhere out in the country, but close enough to civilization so I could still have a life and maybe just maybe meet someone special to spend my time with. I shuddered as I thought of London, I could hardly breathe in that place. But I was in my beloved countryside now rocketing down the laneways between green hedges that went meters up in the air. The birds were twittering noisily away and every now and then I could catch glimpses of badgers scurrying away at some unknown task totally unperturbed by my presence. For a moment the hymn Jerusalem passed through my head and I found myself singing out loud.
"And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England's mountains greenů".
I could imagine the people from ages past walking along the same pathways and lanes that I had just ridden on. I could almost imagine myself back in those times and it felt as tough was born in the right place just the wrong century. It always made me feel so proud that I was English, England the land of green majestic beauty.
I cycled thorough the main village past the tourist shops and the old post office down towards the castle. I could just see the beach where I loved to swim in the morning before everyone else had arrived. Past the National Trust cottage that took the money from the tourists who wanted to visit the castle ruins and down the worn old stone steps to the beach. It wasn't much of a beach but it was special to me because of the area where it was.
It was known locally as Merlin's beach because at the end of the beach was Merlin's cave. Legend said that the cave was where the sorcerer Merlin lived and if you wanted to seek an audience with Merlin you went there and called his name three times and he would appear. In the howling wind and storms that lashed the coast if you listened carefully you could hear whispering in the wind that was Merlin warning Arthur of his doom. The cave was always very dark and if you wanted to explore it you needed a flashlight and a strong nerve. The cave was always eerie and had a strange presence even during the day, I had always felt as though I was being watched whenever I went in there, but it was a strangely comforting feeling that I had from the cave.
Many nights I had cycled down to the cave and watched storms rolling in from the sea from the safety of the cave's entrance. The waves would crash on the beach and wind would howl but I had always felt safe and happy. I would go there to think and try to make sense of the strange things that went through my head. I would snuggle up in warm clothes and spend hours watching and thinking.
It had taken me quite a while to finally come to terms with the fact that I was gay.
It had taken me quite a while to finally come to terms with the fact that I was gay. Living in such a small village I was not really exposed to much of the world. It wasn't that I was na´ve, just sheltered and protected from what my mother called, "Them there bad types". I laughed at her simple understanding of the world and the way she considered there were two types of people in the world, the good hard working people such as our family and then there were the good for nothing types that took from the world and gave nothing back.
She had initially been horrified when she found the history list on the Internet browser of the gay sites I had visited and she had cried for a week when I told her I was gay. I was just 16 when I came out and had been semi open about my sexuality ever since. It had been even harder to tell my father, I was the only son and I felt an enormous amount of guilt that I would be the last of many generations of Saunders that had farmed this land. He was bitterly disappointed but like a true farmer and loving father he hugged me and told me that he would love me no matter what I was. I was his son and the important thing was that I was happy and would grow up to be a giver not a taker. Secretly I could see his heart breaking at the thought of the family ending with me.
Six months later my mother announced that she was pregnant again and I prayed and prayed that it would be a boy so my father could get a son to take over the farm, marry and continue the family name. Seven months later my and I suspect my parents prayers were answered with a baby boy who they named Sean. Ever since then my father and I had actually got even closer and he would often proudly tell his friends in the pub about his gay son David and how much he loved him. I guess I was really lucky because I knew how it could have been. My sister Bet, who was a year older than me had been a little worried at first, not about me mind you but about what her boyfriend at the time would think of her for having a gay brother. That problem sorted itself out a few weeks later when he dumped her for someone else. I strongly believed that he was a closet case anyway and he was terrified of being around someone like me who was not overly worried about being open about their sexuality.
Even though I was open about my sexuality I had no gay friends in the area and was still a virgin in every sense of the word. Being such a small village I had grown up with the people I went to school with and I was not the slightest bit interested in any of the boys there. The tourists that flocked to the area were a totally different story. Many of the young boys around my age both fascinated and terrified me. I would spend many hours watching them in the summer as they casually walked around the town with the sun kissing their bare chests.
His chest was strong and tanned from the sun and had the faintest hint of a boy becoming a man.
Earlier that summer a boy about my age had started talking to me in the public toilets. He had beautiful blue eyes and brown hair that fell over his forehead. His chest was strong and tanned from the sun and had the faintest hint of a boy becoming a man. He had reached over and tried to touch my penis while I was at the urinal. Terrified I had fled as fast as I could. I thought about the whole episode later and kicked myself for my silly reaction. He was cute and I would have loved to have fooled around with him, but the way that he came on to me was so repulsive in a public toilet. I saw him over the next few days and tried to gather up the courage to talk to him, but never quite got the spunk to say hello. When he saw me he turned around and went the other way very quickly. I guess he felt embarrassed and thought that I was a straight.
I wasn't a bad looking kid, my mother described me as lanky and told me I would fill out in time. I was about 6ft 1 with dark hair and brown eyes that would peer inquisitively out at the world with wonder. My body was not really all that developed it was skinny, but not so bad that my ribs would show. I hardly had any fat on me and had strong powerful legs from all he cycling I did and a flat stomach. My chest was flat crowned with two small brown nipples. Once a famous photographer from Birmingham had come down here on holidays and had taken a whole lot of photos of me for a book on the people of Cornwall. When I saw the photos I was shocked because I looked so sad, fragile and alone in all of them. He had taken them with me sitting and standing on various rocks around this very beach. My mother had one of them in a frame in the top of her wardrobe alongside Bet's and my obligatory school photos. I hated them because I looked so weak but my mother and everyone else that saw them told me I should be a model. Well I suppose the waif look was in at that stage!
That morning my mind went back to the boy with the blue eyes and I wished he would come back. He was gone now like all the rest of the tourists they never stayed very long and instead I made up a fantasy around him that I played in my head.
I dove into the cool water and emerged a few meters away and turned to look back at the beach and hill behind it. I was glad that there were no people around this early as I could daydream without interruption. I was a bit of a loner and much preferred my own company. I would spend hours pottering around the old historical sites of the castle, the village and look for old artifacts. I had quite a good collection of pottery, old stoneware and even some Roman coins which would have been traded back in the days of old when Cornwall and this part of the country was an important trading port for tin.
The morning mist was still swirling around the coast and I could only see the very top of the castle on the headland beside me. After a while I started to get cold and decided to get out of the water and dry off and start heading back home to get my chores done for that day. When you live on a farm there is always something to do and it usually involved cleaning something or other.
The mist was especially thick that morning, even more so than usual and the wind was starting to pick up. When I got out of the water I felt the chill and I started to shiver. I quickly dried myself off and was just putting on my clothes when it started to rain. Trust the good old English weather to change in an instant, it was true what they said, "You could have eight seasons in one day and if you didn't like the weather in one place wait five minutes and it would change".
The only place to shelter from the oncoming onslaught was in Merlin's cave so I scooped up my clothes and made a run for it. I got in the cave just as the heavens exploded and rain came pelting down. The coast was almost totally obscured by the mist and rain as I put on my clothes, shivering at the sudden change in temperature. The wind had also picked up and was now howling through the opening of the cave pushing the rain further in getting me wet. I moved further back into the cave until I was out of the rain and wind and sat there staring out at the world. The wind was making a sound like a million whispers in the cave and I almost imagined that I could hear someone calling my name from further in the cave.
The wind was making a sound like a million whispers in the cave and I almost imagined that I could hear someone calling my name from further in the cave.
My whole body tickled with Goosebumps as I turned around suddenly aware of a presence in the cave that I had never felt before. The back of the cave went a long way back and it was very dark and mysterious. I strained to try and see if there was anything or anyone there, my heart was beating fast and my teeth were chattering more from the cold than fear. I couldn't make anything out in the darkness apart from the murky walls of the cave and the odd reflection from the light outside. I turned around to watch the weather outside was starting to clear up. I walked to the entrance to see if the rain had stopped and tentatively walked outside. The rain had stopped so I could go home. The wind still sounded like someone was calling my name as I left the cave and I turned around to have one more look and at that instant at the back of the cave I saw them.
An old man with a long gray beard with his arm on a young boy about my age wearing what looked like a bright silver Armour breast plate on. I blinked and opened my eyes again to check that I wasn't seeing things. When I opened my eyes they were still there about three hundred meters away from me. The old man was wearing a blue flowing robe and a pointed hat in the same material. He seemed to be very old and stooped slightly, but appeared to be very alert with searching eyes that burned into me. He looked at me and opened his mouth as if speaking but all I heard was the howl of the wind.
I was transfixed by the sight of the boy who had the most perfect face of anyone I had ever seen in my life. Is hair was golden blonde and seemed to radiate light and warmth. His eyes were like blue sapphires that flashed and sparkled as they caught the small amount of light in the cave. His skin looked as smooth and white as alabaster and his ruby red mouth was open in a slight O shape.
My legs turned to stone and I couldn't move for what seemed like an eternity as I stared at these ghostly apparitions. When I finally composed myself I started to walk back into the cave, not at all frightened by this but perfectly calm. As I got closer I could hear the wind calling my name over and over again, "David, David, David". As I got closer to them they seemed to shimmer and glow in some sort of luminescence. As I came within about 20 meters of them the old man put his hand up and the wind called, "wait, it is not time".
At that moment they disappeared almost as quickly as they had appeared leaving me alone deep in the cave. I ran the last few meters, stumbling over rocks and debris to the spot where they had been. I reached the spot and searched all around and but there was no one and nothing there. I spent the next twenty minutes looking around trying to figure out what I had just seen.
In the end I decided that I was having an hallucination and had wished them there from my fantasy world. There was no other explanation for what I had seen it had to have been my imagination. I turned to leave slowly retracing my steps and looking back every few meters just to check.
As I reached the beach I looked up at the sky and it was perfectly blue again without a cloud in the sky. I was totally confused now and wondered whether I had hit my head or something and imagined the rain and wind and the old man and boy. I cycled home all the while wondering what was wrong with me and what I had seen. As I entered the kitchen I decided to keep this to myself and not mention it to anyone. In the next few minutes I was taken out of my deep brooding and my mind was put onto other things.
My father was still out in the fields letting the sheep into another field so everyone in the house was still asleep. I made myself a hot cup of tea and took it into the living room and turned on the TV with the sound off so I wouldn't wake the others. I flipped through a few channels looking at what was on and could only find news stories on every channel. There were pictures of Princess Diana on almost all of them and I wondered why the media was so insistent in following her every move. Why couldn't they just leave the poor woman alone I wondered, she had really had enough attention let her get on with her life. The still picture of her and her new lover Dodi Al Fayed changed to a newsreader taking his glasses off and wiping his eyes. In the corner of the screen a picture a tunnel at night was shown with a whole lot emergency vehicles at the entrance.
My curiosity was peaked now and I turned the sound up with a growing sense of dread.
"Buckingham Palace has just confirmed that Diana Princess of Wales has been killed this morning in the horrific car accident that took the lives of her friend Dodi Al Fayed and his driver Henry Paul. Just repeating the news just in, Diana Princess of Wales has been killed aged 37 in a high speed car crash this morning in Paris."
Just repeating the news just in, Diana Princess of Wales has been killed aged 37 in a high speed car crash this morning in Paris."
It was the first time I had ever seen a newsreader in shock or even show any sort of emotion. I sat there in shock myself, tears came to my eyes as the reality of the event hit me. I didn't know her, had never met her but I felt as though she was my best friend, a sort of confidante and mother all rolled into one. I sat there for hours watching and listening as more details where shown about her death. I felt hollow and shocked at the news. Every day of my life that I could remember I had seen or heard about Diana. Every newspaper, magazine and TV show or advertisement showed Diana doing something. I couldn't comprehend the pain and sorrow I felt for this woman.
My mother came down and saw me with tears rolling down my face and was very alarmed fearing something had happened to my father. I just pointed at the TV and as the realization hit her she too sat down crying in profound shock. By midday the entire family was seated around the TV watching the coverage. Even my father who is normally so stoic and unemotional in format of us had the grief etched on his face as he slowly mutter, "what a waste" and shook his head in disbelief.
As the coverage of Charles escorting Diana's Body from the Paris hospital to be returned to England we caught a glimpse of is face. It was etched with a mixture of grief, grief and perhaps just a touch of relief. I tried to hold back the tears as the aircraft holding her body touched down in London and her coffin was placed in the hearse, but I couldn't do it and the tears started all over again. The coverage showed the thousands of people who had already lined the streets from the airport to St James Palace where her body was being taken. Their grief was palpable and it only served to heighten my own grief.
People from all over the world and especially in the UK where pouring out their emotions at the loss of someone we all viewed as a friend. People were starting to take flowers and gifts to Diana's residence at Kensington Palace. During all of this I had not thought of the strange apparitions I had seen this morning until much later that night when I was getting ready to go to bed. It seemed strange that these two things had happened on the same day and I knew that I would always remember this day.
In bed I thought about all that happened that day, the death of Diana and seeing the two people in the cave. If it was real why did I have to wait? Who wee they and where did they come from? What did they want? Why today of all days?
As I tried to make sense of everything I finally fell into a restless sleep.