Why the Zero is my Hero


Image: Pixabay


What is it about the ZERO that makes people either party until bits of their anatomy have to be pumped out in a controlled medical environment, or run for the nearest hilltop, waiting for the sky to split open and for a host of trumpetting angels and cloven-hoofed demons to ride forth and claim their own?*

Remember the Millenium? Remember how the world celebrated? 

I spent the night of December 31st 1999 sitting in a garden chair by a makeshift fire of damp twigs and cardboard, beside a disused canal in rural Wales. It doesn’t compete in the glamour stakes with the celebrations that were swinging in the capital cities of the world – the parties, the fire work displays, the casual acts of violence and intimacy that no doubt ensued from that biggest of global bashes – but it was possibly the most memorable New Year I’ve had.

The weather was mild. The scent of grass and pondweed and damp wafted up from the water. Beneath the chatter and the snap of moist wood, came the occasional splash of a disturbed moorhen – the nocturnal meanderings of the local frogs. We drank a lot of wine, which made us by turns juvenile and melancholic.  

I watched footage of the new millenium, broadcast from around the world, cities and Pacific islands alike falling like dominoes into the black hole of a new era.

It felt kind of exciting, being a witness to such a significant event. I almost felt sorry for those born just too early or too late.

There was a darker side too.

Remember the Millenium Bug, otherwise known as YK2? This happened at the stroke of midnght on the 31st December, when all the world’s clocks reset to 1900.

Planes plummeted from the sky like clumsy children from a badly constructed climbing frame, the World Wide Web shut down, power stations stopped functioning, nuclear plants were sent into meltdown, flinging the world into a post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval dystopia, where the main source of currency is now the potato, man whittles his fellow man into interestingly shaped flutes to appease the Fearsome Bug God, Arachnoros, and every year the date is commemorated by sacrificing a BBC News reporter, though not David Dimbleby, of course, because he was the first do be eaten once the lights went out forever.

Don’t remember that?

Well, that’s because despite the hoo-ha, the rumpus and the hullabaloo … Nothing happened. You’d expect those in the media who worked the world up into such a nihilistic frenzy would look shamefaced after the event. Though if they did, I don’t think any of us noticed, because we were all nursing the worst hangovers for a millenium.

Zero is always significant for anniversaries too, isn’t it?

Do you know anyone who planned to skydive from Concorde, bungee jump from the Golden Gate Bridge or swim with sharks because their 39th birthday was approaching? Do couples invite everyone they’ve ever met to local scout huts and force them to listen to Agadoo, whilst eating stale sausage rolls and drinking flat beer because it’s their 42nd wedding anniversary?

No. All of these abominations are performed in the name of a number with a zero attached.

When you think about it, the Millenium was no more significant of itself than any other year. It’s neither a herald of a great age, nor a precursor to the world’s end. Because every numbering system we have is a manmade construct, a way for us to record things. In the Hebrew calendar the year is 5776. In China they’re still in the Year of the Sheep until the beginning of February. These time schemes are only significant to the specks of human life that follow them.

The date is not stitched into the fabric of the universe, so when a year approaches with lots of holes in it – 2,000 for example – that fabric has no more reason to rip apart on that day than any other.

So, in honour of my reaching 200 posts on this blog in the eleven months since its inception, I give you the 


Significant to the future of civilisations or just a useful mathematical newcomer, the world would be a duller place without you.


*And for those of you who think it’s better to be claimed by the angels, you clearly haven’t read your Bible. Angels are not sweet, winged protectors of the weak, but terrifying messengers from God often with lots of faces and random animal parts thrown in, well armed warriors with the ability to incinerate all who see them. If you meet one, run and hide.

Here is the BBC’s reassuring guide to YK2. Doesn’t it look quaint after the fact?




11 thoughts on “Why the Zero is my Hero

  1. Congrats on reaching your 200th post! As I’m sure WordPress have already reminded you, with a star/badge/cup thingy. And thanks for re-implanting the millennium bug meme in my brain after I’d successfully forgotten it … 🙂

    And that Millennium Year. Yes, I too remember midnight at the end of 1999, where I was, who I was with, and what was going on. But, pedant that I was — still am, you’ll see — I never tired of telling students, friends, acquaintances and anyone who’d listen that we, they, had got it all wrong. And it was all to do with Cardinals.

    Well, cardinal numbers. And ordinals, and nominal (http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0875618.html).

    The fact is, January 1st 2000 was the beginning of the end, not the beginning of a new millennium. Imagine a box of matches, containing one hundred of the devils. Let’s, for the sake of argument, call it a ‘century’. As I use each match in the box it’s as if another year was passing. When I take out the 100th match and light it, it’s the beginning of the end of the first box (‘century’). When the match goes out it’s the end of the first box (‘the first century’). It’s only when I take out the 101st match in the second box that the new ‘century’ begins.

    The same applies if we think of large boxes with a thousand matches in each, representing years in each millennium. When the 999th match is lit and extinguished it’s still not the new box/millennium — we have to wait till the 1000th match (‘year’) is extinguished before we can think of opening the next box and lighting the 1001st match. And the same for each box/millennium thereafter. So the new century (the 21st) and the new millennium (the 2nd) didn’t begin till the dawning of January 1st 2001. Another excuse for a party!

    Yep, I’m a spoilsport as well as a pedant. But then, did you know that it’s all founded on a presumption that Jesus was born on an identifiable date in a year we can indubitably label as 1AD? And that this presumption is 100% certain to be based on inaccurate calculations? So what the hell were we celebrating anyhow?

    Oh, and I agree about the angels: I wish every Bristolian would have a look at the Assyrian reliefs from Nineveh in the Bristol Museum to see what they were really imagined as looking, with their muscly male bodies, massive wings and birds of prey heads with cruel beaks.

    I’ll shut up now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re absolutely right, of course. But as my post says – humans love those zeros. No one would have been able to make us celebrate the new millenium the next year, not with any amount of logic – or match boxes 🙂
      And yes, I’ve seen the Assyrian carvings in the Bristol Museum. They’re fantastic – such a joy to have in a regional museum. They briefly feature in my YA novel, in fact. I didn’t know similar figures were the foundation of our image of angels though. But then, surely, the Christian idea of Satan -cloven hooves etc – is all based on that bad old fun-loving pagan god Pan. And the parallells between the Jesus story and Mithras are undeniable. None of these ideas are plucked from the ether!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on hitting the 200 mark!

    God I remember the whole Y2K fiasco so well! People stockpiling canned foods and saving details of their bank accounts.
    I spent that night getting spectacularly wasted on several bottles of bubbly in the grotty little flat the OH and I lived in back then, watching all the timezones fireworks displays on TV. I recall leaping around and crashing into a massive glass picture frame we hadn’t gotten round to putting on the wall and shattering it but I avoided any injury, luckily! Ah to be young and foolish again… well young at least, I’m still a fool!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, we all got a little caught up in the Y2K nonsense, didn’t we? Smashing a picture sounds like a perfectly acceptable way to behave as a new millenium approaches to me – pretty sure many, many people behaved a lot worse … And thank you – according to my stats, you’re my top commentator. Thanks for helping to make my first blogging year so enjoyable 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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