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?