Something to look forward to - post-millennium tedium
No batsman likes to be out in the nineties, no queen likes to be outdone by a century
Monday 18 January 1999
At this point he took a swig from his pint of beer, which is how you get people's attention in pub conversations. By threatening to sound interesting, I mean.
"...and that's what life is going to be like in the new century after the millennium has been passed."
There was a puzzled pause.
"What do you mean?" said the man with the dog. "It'll be exactly the same as it is now. Life doesn't change when the date changes. 1901 wasn't very different from 1899. It's no more significant than when a car's milometer goes from 99,999 miles to 100,000 miles."
"You're very wrong," said the man at the bar. "Life will change dramatically in at least one respect. After the millennium, we will no longer have the millennium to look forward to."
There was the same puzzled pause again, but more of it this time.
"All this time," said the man at the bar, "we've had the millennium hanging over us, a feeling that something vaguely momentous was coming. It's a bit like the feeling that Christmas is coming, or exams are coming, or retirement is coming. The feeling that somewhere in the future a vast iceberg is looming. Don't we all feel that the millennium is casting a shadow before it?"
"No," said the lady with the Campari, but the rest said nothing.
(Perhaps I should explain that the reason the lady started drinking Campari is that she always likes to drink something the same colour as her hair. During her brief blue period she drank blue orange curacao. When she went back to her natural dull brown, she went back to beer. When she went bright red she turned to Campari and soda, and acquired a taste for it. Now she has gone back to her natural hair colour and found to her surprise that it isn't brown any more, it's grey, so she tried ginger beer for a while, but she hated it, so she's gone back to Campari even though she hasn't dyed her hair red again. )
"There was a time when everyone used to compare bad times with 1984," said the man at the bar. "George Orwell invented a year which represented dictatorship and Big Brother, and everyone adopted it as a symbol of the bully state. But now that 1984 has come and gone, nobody ever uses it as a yardstick."
"He's right," said the resident Welshman, who I had never heard agree with anyone before. "And come 2001, you'll never hear anyone mention the millennium."
"No one mentions it now, except pub bores," said the lady with the Campari, very softly.
"Actually, some of us are in the post-millennium era already," said the man with the dog. "More and more credit cards have an expiry date of 2000 or 200l, and when we have to read out the expiry date over the phone, and wondering whether to say `oh oh', or `nought nought' or `two thousand', that means we are mentally grappling with post-millennium problems."
"Of course, the millennium doesn't really start until 2001," said the man who thinks the millennium doesn't start until 2001. There's one in every pub. And the terrible thing is that he's right, the new century doesn't start till 2001. But it's too late to go on about it now. All you can do is ignore him.
"We are in a state of PMT," said the man at the bar, firmly ignoring him. "Pre-Millennium Tension. When it happens, there'll be a great release of energy, a great relaxation. It'll affect the weather, I wouldn't be surprised, all this relaxation swooshing about."
"And then we'll be into PMT mark II," said the resident Welshman. "Post- Millennium Tedium."
"There's one thing you've got wrong," said the man at the bar, addressing the man with the dog. "When you said that the end of the century makes no difference. When you said that 1899 was no different from 1901."
"Well, Queen Victoria died in 1901. That was the end of the Victorian era. A clear watershed. And I bet she kept going just because she knew the end of the century was coming, and she was determined not to peg out before it came. No batsman likes to be out in the nineties. No queen likes to be outdone by a century."
"Are you saying that Queen Victoria was kept alive by a trick of the calendar?" asked the man with the dog, open-mouthed.
Well, was she? More of this fascinating discussion tomorrow. This has been a Pub Conversation Production. Thank you.
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