As 2000 looms, the world awaits the end - and Melvyn Bragg's last judgment

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DR VERNON HANDLEY is a philosopher. He is the Professor of Applied Philosophy at Milton Keynes University. He has a lovely wife, two lovely children and one other child not quite so lovely. He has a house and a big garden. You'd think he would be moderately happy, or at least philosophical.

But he is not yet happy. He has one burning, unfulfilled ambition, and that is to be a guest on Start the Week with Melvyn Bragg. Until that is granted, one feels he will not be a happy man.

"It sounds illogical," he smilingly agrees. "Indeed, it is illogical. Who would want to waste the whole of Monday morning travelling to London, chatting for ten or fifteen minutes, then coming back by lunchtime to find your whole week's workplan behind schedule? The programme may be called Start the Week, but for those involved it is quite the opposite. It is a case of 'Delay The Week For Melvyn Bragg'."

So why do you want to appear on the programme ?

"Well, if I were actually on the programme and were asked that question, I would probably argue that there is a human gene which makes us want to appear on such programmes, but that is also clearly illogical, so I will admit that the real reason is vanity. I would like the cachet. Many of my colleagues have appeared on the programme, and it sits well in their CVs. I think I am jealous of them. It is after all, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Nobody ever gets invited back to the programme. Unless they are Steve Jones or Jonathan Miller."

And they enjoy it even when Mr Bragg has called what they say "tosh"?

"Oh, I think they quite like that. After all, an idea which has been dismissed as tosh by Mr Bragg is not therefore a negligible idea. Many learned men see it as a compliment."

But surely you cannot get on such a programme unless you have a thesis to talk about, or a book, or a lecture to give ?

"Ah, but I have such a thesis! I have developed a new Millennium theory which is the sort of thing which Mr Bragg and his guests, and the spare lady he always invites, would discuss avidly, I think. Would you like to hear it?"

Please.

"Well, we hark back a lot these days to the first Millennium, to AD1000, when a majority of people in Christendom really believed that the world was going to end and that they would all go to heaven on the stroke of midnight. Right?"

Ye-e-es...

"Well, what if they were right?"

Pardon?

"What if the world really did end in AD1000?"

But it didn't!

"Ah! We think it didn't! We think that history carried on and proved them wrong. But what if history really did end in AD1000? What if God really did bring everything to an end?"

Why would He want to do that?

"Because He was fed up with it all."

So - who are we? And where did the last 1,000 years come from?"

"Ah! My theory is that God really did end the world in AD1000, but that He was curious to see what would have happened if He hadn't finished everything off. So he set a small computer experiment going to find out how the next 1,000 years would have worked out. That's us. We are just a computer projection of history looking ahead."

So the last 1,000 years haven't really happened ?

"Not really. We are a game on God's virtual reality playstation."

Is there any proof for this ?

"No. It is unprovable. Or at least, it will be until AD2000. If my theory is correct, God is getting fed up again, and the computer projection in which we exist will end in AD2000. After AD2000 - nothing! It is beginning to break down already. Hence our fears about the Millennium Bug...."

But just a minute. If Dr Vernon Handley is right... if the last thousand years have been a computer projection ... then Dr Handley is also part of that computer projection?

"Yes, of course."

And this idea, that the world really ended in AD1000, is something dreamed up by him, by a figment of a computer's imagination?

"Yes...."

Frankly, it all sounds like a load of tosh to me.

"You may well say so," says Dr Vernon Handley, smiling happily, "but all I ask is one day to hear the same sentiments from Mr Bragg's lips."

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