Worried that you haven't planned for the millennium yet? You know your problem...

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The Independent Online
Last week I received a letter from a reader which raised a subject so important that I feel I ought to print it in full, and then deal with it.

Here is how it went.

Dear Mr Kington,

Recently the fete committee of the village in which I live sent a circular round to say they wanted to promote discussion of ideas for the celebration of the millennium. Somewhat at a loss, I said that they ought to look back to what happened 1,000 years ago and see how the village celebrated it then. The committee said they had looked into this and found that it had been a period of intense civil disturbance, so presumably the celebrations had never got underway. I feel I should have some more original ideas, Mr Kington, but am worried that I cannot think of any. Do you have any ideas?

Yours etc

Well, sir, I am not surprised that you are getting feelings of worry and tension at the thought of the oncoming millennium. You are suffering from something which is going to become more and more common: PMT or Pre- Millennium Tension.

The fact is that as an important date gets nearer and nearer, we all get worried about it, but we all react in different ways. There is nothing new about this. We all get worried at the onset of an examination or a fiftieth birthday, but in that case it is fairly private. It is your birthday, not anyone else's. You may be sharing your exam day with fellow pupils, but not with the rest of your family. In the case of the millennium, however, EVERYONE in the world is sharing your anxiety.

Dear Mr Kington,

You sound as if you know something about this. Tell me more.

Yours etc

Of course I sound as if I know something. I have recently set up in my spare time as a PMT counsellor. The one thing you must have as a counsellor is, not knowledge, but the appearance of knowledge, which makes it easier for your clients to become over-dependent.

Please tell me more. I feel an enormous sense of trust in what you say.

Of course you do. So just relax and breathe evenly and have your cheque book ready. Now, PMT or Pre-Millennium Tension goes through several stages. The first one is a fit of anxiety about when the millennium actually begins and ends. We feel emotionally that 2000 should be the first year of the next millennium, and we know logically that it must be 2001. There is conflict here between sense and feeling.

And which wins?

Neither. Money wins, as usual. All those who are going to make money out of the millennium want to make it sooner rather than later, so they have opted for the earlier date. That is why all the hotels this side of the International Date Line want it to come earlier. They are already fully booked for New Year 2000, and if they can rebook for 2001, well, all the better!

That's another thing. I am a bit worried that I myself haven't yet booked anything for celebrating the millennium.

Ah, that's the next stage of PMT! Once you have given up worrying about the actual date (though subconsciously we never quite give up worrying about that, do we?) you start worrying about whether or not you should book something now. You read about other people who have booked hotels on the western tip of New Zealand and who are going to be the first to greet the new century, and you think to yourself, "These people are a jump ahead of me!" Then you read that the Albert Hall has been prebooked for millennium night for over 10 years, and you feel even guiltier. You feel you are letting people down, don't you?

You're so right! I do! Please help me!

Good. You're getting nice and worried. That is what a counsellor does first. Worry people. Then we comfort them. Then they come to depend on us. Still, don't you worry your little head about that bit of it. Where were we?

My guilt about not booking the Albert Hall.

Ah, yes. Well, let us analyse this guilt. Would you really want to be stuck in a New Zealand hotel on the big night? Or the Albert Hall? I think not.

No, you're right. I can't think of anything worse. But we've got to be somewhere. I ought to get something fixed up. The later I leave it the worse it will be.

And this is precisely what they were saying in AD 97! Why do you think that your village was in turmoil 1,000 years ago? What was this civil unrest? It wasn't the Vikings marauding. It wasn't the prospect of the Normans introducing a single currency. It was PMT! Yes, they suffered from it then and we can learn from them now!

Tell me more!

Certainly. A small cheque first, please.

More words of counselling and comfort on Pre-Millennium Tension tomorrow.