Now just hold on a year ...

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The Independent Online
I WAS gazing lovingly down from the wine bar in the sky at the Eiffel Tower in Paris last week. It is a curious construction at the best of times but it has been made all the more intriguing by the appearance of what appears to be a giant digital watch, permanently stopped at quarter past six.

"WHAT IS THAT?" I enquired of a passing footman slowly and loudly in almost perfect English.

"Eet eez dez," replied the waiter.

"Des, des who? Des out of Coronation Street? Des Lynam?"

"Dez ter gur beefur zee noo zouzand yurs," he explained slowly and quietly in almost perfect English.

I looked at the infernal towering and sure enough the clock said 614 not 6.14.

Mais ce n'est pas vrai, I thought to myself. The French countdown to the millennium is surely a little previous. They may be a nation ahead of their time. But in this case they were a good 12 months ahead of their time. And they are not alone.

Am I the only person on this planet who recognises that the new millennium begins on 1 January 2001 and not the same date in the year 2000? Everywhere I look, celebrations are being planned a year too early.

Think about it. Assuming we began counting in the year 1, by 31 December we had served our first 12 months. So by 31 December 0999 we had done 999 years. Only at the end of the year 1000 had we completed a thousand years. The second millennium therefore began on 1 January 1001. The third millennium, therefore, cannot begin until 1 January 2001.

Anyone planning a celebration on 1 January 2000 is doing no more than bring in another new year.

I mention this because it has grave implications for a much maligned element of the property market - the building trade. These professionals are often falsely accused of shoddy behaviour and are particularly vulnerable to accusations of missing deadlines for completing their work.

Take the Millennium Dome, for instance. I hear dark mutterings that this folly will not be completed in time for the next millennium. Of course it will. The building trade recognises that the next millennium begins on 1 January 2001. Not only will the job be done on time but the building industry will have saved the country from the embarrassment of premature exultation.

I blame much of this misunderstanding on the computer industry, which has become bedevilled by the so-called millennium bug that makes all computers break down on 1 January 2000. This is indeed an issue for the computer boffins and anoraks on that day - not because 19 becomes 20 but because 99 becomes 00. When the real millennium begins on 1 January 2001 the computer industry will have no problems since 01 is larger than 00.

I am therefore beginning a campaign against Premature Millennium Tosh which will be dedicated to ensuring proper celebration at the proper time and will seek justice for the building industry.

I do not expect backing from anyone associated with the Millennium Dome, who would probably be happy for the wretched celebration to be brought forward to a week on Thursday.

But most right-thinking people, I assume ,will support this endeavour to stop us getting ahead of ourselves.