Travel: What's the rush to bin the second millennium?

It won't be long now. Brochures for the winter season 1999/2000 will certainly be on travel agents' shelves before the end of the coming year. But what small beer ordinary package holidays will look compared to the real 2000 stuff.

I refer to those seriously expensive millennium holidays which have already been blowing their trumpets for years in advance of the event. Certain people already know exactly what they are going to be doing at the end of 1999 - usually things like cruising to Tonga with friends or cavorting in expensive yachts off Fiji, in the hope of seeing in the new millennium before anyone else.

But as reported on page 5 of this section, it is not just tour operators but entire countries which have been engaged in the race to claim the honour of being the first to reach midnight on 31 December 1999.

Scams involved include the sudden introduction of daylight saving (ie putting the clocks forward to reach midnight quicker than anyone else) not to mention unilaterally bending the international date line.

As far as I can see, places like Tonga and Kiribati, having arrived in the new millennium before the rest of us, might just as well invent entirely new systems of measuring time whenever they get bored with conventional calendars. That way they could arrange a new millennium every time the tourist figures looked bad.

Funny that, because personally I would prefer to be at the back end of the old millennium rather than at the cutting edge of the new one. I do not want to be stranded alone on a rock off the coast of New Zealand in the third millennium while the rest of the world is still sleeping in the second.

What's the rush to bin the second millennium? We've grown up in it. We happen to belong to its most sophisticated century, and yet we are still rubbing shoulders with the thuggish protagonists of the Battle of Hastings. What a privileged situation to be in.

So avoid New Zealand on 31/12/99. I would rather be in Honolulu, whose citizens will still be hanging on to the millennium of the Renaissance and the industrial revolution for nearly a day after the wretched Tongans have kissed it all goodbye forever.

How ironic that America, and especially the American west - supposedly in the vanguard of civilisation - should be the latest, slowest place to depart from the old millennium.

Late on Friday 31 December 1999, I am convinced that the USA will suddenly be gripped by panicky nostalgia as thousands of people jump into their cars and flee west to evade the advancing day. Eventually a few million will end up crammed onto the islands of Hawaii squashed against the international date-line before they are finally smothered by the inevitable tide of the new year.

It's bad enough in a normal year waking up on 1 January and realising that the party is over. Not only are there no more holidays to look forward to, but the head is throbbing and the kitchen looks like a rat's toilet. And then there is that vast expanse of white emptiness - the whole year to be precise - stretching ahead of you.

But what about waking up on 1 January 2000 with the emptiness of an entire millennium to face down? After the biggest party in a thousand years, the biggest hangover is indeed inevitable.

It will be like going back to zero points again at the beginning of the football season. Or landing on a very, very long snake. We will effectively revert to the status of 11th century thugs in chain mail suits, waiting to be despised by future generations. All the efforts of the previous thousand years will suddenly be rendered null and void, and the history of a whole new millennium will have to be constructed from scratch. And none of us will live to see a fraction of the task completed.

Maybe I'm beginning to understand after all why people are planning to start off their millennium with a gigantic booze-up.

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