Bunhill: Millennium is all in a spin

The millennium, arncha just sick of it? All through the Nineties, according to people who know about these things, it's been "looming", "fast approaching" and the clock's been "rapidly ticking down" towards it - and it still hasn't happened yet.

Then there's the theory that the whole planet will acquire a supercharged atmosphere in the time it takes the clock to move from 23 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds to midnight. As long ago as 1993, for example, Tim Boswell, then under-secretary of state for further and higher education, remarked: "The country faces the challenge of the coming millennium when a world- class workforce will be required." And since then there's been a surfeit of speeches from politicians and business people combining the words "world class" and "millennium". Workers, products, infrastructure, cricket teams, coffee tables, cream teas - you name it, they've all got to be ready to take on Mars, or the 21st century will leave without us.

Finally we've had the furore over the Millennium Exhibition, a project castigated as a "white elephant" as it soared towards the pounds 1bn mark and which recently hit the headlines yet again as the New Millennium Experience Company (for it is they) became embroiled in a compensation claim from German builders when their contract for the Greenwich dome roof was cancelled.

So that's quite enough of the millennium, thank you ...

But there again, with the clock fast approaching the year 2000, we should perhaps reflect on the last time all the digits changed on the calendar. Admittedly they only had 100 years to look back on at the end of 1899, and what with the propensity of clocks to tick rapidly and count down, that's no time at all. However, it may at least confer some perspective on the Government's spending plans for the millennium; after all, those were the glorious days of empire, and surely the Victorians knew how to throw a party.

Well, as the newspapers for 1 January 1900 noted, what a swell party it was. "Thousands of people spent the last minutes of 1899 and the first of 1900 in places of worship," said the Daily Mail. "The Queen's New Year's gifts to the poor of Windsor were presented at nine o'clock this morning ... a very thick fog prevailed during the distribution of beef," gushed the Evening News, presumably implying that the diners had gone hungry because the waiters couldn't find them.

And that was about it: a nice bit of smog-flavoured beef but no comfort at all to Messrs Blair and Mandelson as they try to justify spending so much on the big bash. So why this surge of sobriety as 1899 turned to 1900? There's a good reason and a pedantic reason.

The good reason: Britain was caught up in the Boer War - or, as the Daily Telegraph put it at the time, a conflict started by "a stubborn breed of Dutch peasants revolting against the just sovereignty of the Queen". Despite this apparently unequal struggle between military might and hewers and drawers of water, the Boer War dragged on till 1902.

And the pedantic reason? A flourishing but arcane dispute on whether 1900 represented the start of a new century or the last year of the old one. The Evening News reported that it had been overwhelmed with correspondence on the issue, among which was a letter penned by one WG Grace: "I am of the opinion that the twentieth century begins on January 1, 1901. A cricketer does not score a century until he has completed it."

Apart from providing a terrifying insight into life without TV or radio, the debate did highlight the oddity that historians began the modern calendar at 1AD not 0AD, and back in 1900 the official line was that the century was incomplete. So there's comfort in historical precedent for Peter Mandelson: if the Millennium Exhibition isn't ready on time, it will still be ready on time - it's the easiest bit of spin doctoring he'll ever have to do.

There were no such quibbles in Germany where, as the Daily Telegraph noted alliteratively, the Kaiser had directed New Year's Eve "to be brilliantly celebrated as the close of a century which has raised the German race from the abject mire of poverty and prostration to the pinnacle of prosperity". So struck were the Germans by this mix of disaster and regeneration that they went through the same process all over again, twice.

Finally, those people in the City who are planning a date with oblivion on New Year's Day 2000 might wonder what their predecessors were up to in 1900. A yard-of-ale contest, or a three-legged hostelry crawl? No, "500 volunteers equipped by the City of London" were enrolling at the Guildhall to fight in the Boer War - giving a whole new meaning to the concept of going liquid. So take your pick, stocks and shares or South Africans with an attitude problem; why not resist the lure of the laager and have another beer?

congratulations to the retail prices index: you've made it through to your 50th birthday despite a traumatic life in which you've experienced a 20-fold rise in prices. In real terms, then, adjusted for inflation, you are exactly 1,000 years old.

Sadly, we're not allowed to celebrate this momentous event as it would trigger a jump in the cost of living - but here's to a New Millennium Experience all of your own.

IT lives in unreal times

Information technology is an alien world to me as I scribble with my quill pen, but my colleagues like nothing better than to surf the Internet - and what mines of information they are. For instance, the home page of software firm Display.IT tells of its new application that lets users collect prices and financial information from the crowded information superhighway. Its news page boasts a glowing series of achievements. "Real time financial data and news available via the Internet, using Display.It," crows one. "BT director of corporate clients joins Display.IT's board," boasts another.

Curiously, it omits some recent developments: the suspension of its shares on Ofex six weeks ago, and the resignation of its entire board and all its advisers. What value the shares now? Simon Cawkwell, who did a spot of bear trading (in the argot) on his view that at pounds 100m, the company was grossly over-valued, believes they're worthless.

Display.IT isn't the first, and is highly unlikely to be the last company to come a cropper trying to make its fortune out of the Internet. But if this is its idea of "real time" information, its clock must have stopped.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

SQL DBA/Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer SQL, C#, VBA, Data Warehousi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering