The most auspicious date of them all

LOOKING ahead to another year of travel, the one thing that every single person in Britain should be worrying about right now is not where they are going to be on 31 December, 1999, but where they are going to be on 11 August 1999.

I am sorry to bang on about this, but next year's total eclipse of the sun is a lot more than just a date on the calendar. It will be only the fifth time in the last thousand years that the skies over our shores have been darkened by a black ball of rock surrounded by pearly fingers of light.

As far as most of northern Europe is concerned, in fact, it will be now or never, so I adjure everybody, as soon as possible, to reserve their train tickets to Penzance or (at the very least) to book short breaks in Picardy, just across the Channel. To give you an idea of how urgent this is, Explorers Tours, who specialise in taking people to see eclipses, say that their two specially chartered trains to Penzance from Preston and Paddington are already both completely full up. Try your luck with Great Western Trains, or with some nice little firm who rent out rural gites in northern France. And don't let the threat of cloudy skies put you off.

As for the other big travel event of 1999 - the millennium - I am determined not to get into a panic about it. But then again, Christ! What about the millennium bug? The merest suggestion, however unlikely, that we might all wake up on 1 January 2000 to discover that the global village has been zapped back to the technological level of the first century AD is certainly not stimulating my millennial fever.

Is it not tempting fate just a teensy-weensy bit to fly to the other side of the world, while the entire human race is staring in incomprehending horror at a row of noughts? The concept of spending the next millennium wandering round Western Samoa, Fiji or Kiribati in an existential trauma, with no credit card, no flight home and no means of communication with the outside world is just not all that appealing. Is it (or is it?).

The holy places of Christianity do not look terribly attractive propositions for a millennial holiday either. Rome expects to be so overwhelmed by pilgrims that it has almost given up thinking about how to house, feed or entertain them. If a sequel to the Bible is ever written, it may yet contain a chapter about a miraculous feeding of loaves and lasagna - for the five billion. As for the birthplace of Christ, poor old Bethlehem currently looks about as relevant to the message of universal peace and love as Wall Street or the London Underground.

If I had to go anywhere to see in the new millennium, it might be Panama, which - starting at noon, 31 December 1999 - will have a very tangible reason indeed to party: namely its acquisition of full sovereignty over the Panama Canal. There will be nothing remotely artificial or contrived about this particular orgy of drinking, and no number of crashed computers will put a stop to the fun.

Failing Panama, I think I will try London, which is not only conveniently close to where I work but also happens to be the only large city in the world with the line of zero longitude running right through it. Further south, the same line passes reasonably close to Valencia in Spain, Oran in Algeria and Accra in Ghana. But London gets it right through the goolies, which sounds strangely promising for the year 2000.

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