Happy New Year, and welcome to the Twenties! I've already received emails from pedants explaining that it isn't the start of a new decade because there was never a Year Zero. And, as I responded the last time all this came up, nobody cares about that: It's the change in number, and the attendant change in designation - the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, as on your satellite radio dial.
That last time I mentioned this occurred twenty years ago - the dawn of the so-called "new millennium". A year later - or nineteen years ago, January 1st 2000 - I offered my editor at The Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, a piece on the new millennium looking back on the greatest events since 1001. He laughed mirthlessly. It's the number, that's all: Back then, people used to pay for goods with things called "checks" or, indeed, "cheques". And one would spend the first three weeks of 1997 getting the last digit wrong and writing in the date as 1996. The year 2000 afforded the once-in-a-millennium opportunity to get the first digit wrong: how great is that!
So let's start the "new decade" with a piece I still get the odd request for. Twenty years ago, everyone was going bananas about the "millennium bug", Tony Blair was shanghaiing the Queen into singing "Auld Lang Syne" in his Millennium Dome (now The O2), and newspapers compiling lists of the Top Thousand Whatevers of the Millennium, which usually boiled down to the top whatevers since the Sixties (the 1960s, not the 1060s) since no boomer hacks cared about anything before then. In The Daily Telegraph and National Post and whatnot, I took a look back at how the world marked the turn of previous millennia. This piece also includes - in the four-thousand-years-ago section - what may be my earliest reference to Trump running for president:
One thousand years ago
December 31st, 999
A reluctant King Ethelred the Unready has been pressured by the Thane of Blair into attending tonight's opening of the Millennium Dome in London. Initially, His Majesty had argued that the new millennium did not start until January 1st, 1001. "Sire," the Thane pointed out, "the clock of your consultations and executions is forever set some hours late. Your people are ready for this new millennium, yet Your Majesty persists in his unreadiness."
"Give us a break," replied the King. "This Millennium Dome of yours is just an overgrown tent. It's not even a permanent structure."
"But in this kingdom what is?" riposted the Thane. "We put up a fabulous abbey at Tavistock, but the Danes burnt it down. They sack London, they rape Kent. The beauty of this Dome, Sire, is that, with any luck, it will have collapsed before Svein Forkbeard's hordes have a chance to torch it. Oh, by the way, a belated Merry Christmas from all us barons." He handed the King a copy of the current best-selling self-help manual Men Are from Norseland, Women Are from Kent.
Two thousand years ago
December 31st, 1 BC
In Rome today, officials insisted that fears of a so-called "Y1" bug were groundless, and that the rush to the forum to stock up on food before midnight was simply causing unnecessary panic. Despite these statements, soothsayers around town have been urging citizens to beware: "They laughed at me about the Ides of March," says one. "But I'm ready to go double or quits." He predicts widespread chaos on January 1st, affecting everything from utilities to transportation: "Chariots will be dropping off the aqueducts," he warns.
Others note that, whereas in previous years 4 BC changed smoothly to 3 BC and 3 BC to 2 BC, at midnight tonight there will be no new year for the calendar to flip to - a design fault that experts claim was all too predictable when the system was installed. "They've known this was coming since at least, er, 4000 BC, and maybe earlier," says Computa Geekus, editor of BC PC. "They've had plenty of time to think up some numbers lower than one - and what have they come up with? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Well, come to think of it, if they'd come up with 'zero,' we wouldn't be in this mess. But zero as a numerical concept is unknown to the Roman world. Hence, this crisis. Happy No Year."
However, Bill Portas, the richest man in the world, says there should be no problems, as long as everyone upgrades to Windows AD.
In other news, Chronos, the popular Greek magazine, has announced its "Top Ten People Of The Millennium": 1) Alexander the Great; 2) Plato; 3) Socrates; 4) Pericles; 5) Aristotle; 6) Protagoras; 7) Aristophanes; 8) Mimnermos; 9) Hippias of Elis; 10) Cleopatra.
Meanwhile, Campus, the popular gay magazine, has announced its "Top Ten Gays Of The Millennium": 1) Alexander the Great; 2) Plato; 3) Socrates; 4) Pericles; 5) Aristotle; 6) Protagoras; 7) Aristophanes; 8) Mimnermos; 9) Hippias of Elis; 10) Sappho.
Three thousand years ago
December 31st, 1001 BC
In the abandoned city of Hattusas, Dick Clark announced the results of his poll for the Millennium's All-Time Greatest Hittite. The winner is King Suppiluliuma I (circa 1380-1345 BC).
Four thousand years ago
December 31st, 2001 BC
In Sumer today, officials were divided as to whether tomorrow is really the first day of the new millennium. "What can I tell you? It's circa this, circa that, so let's just call it CY2K," said the King's press agent, In-Nummeru. "I've been in this business circa 40 years and, lemme tellya, there's no need to reinvent the wheel here. We did that in the last millennium."
But critics contend that, actually, we do need to reinvent the wheel, since Babylon is developing something called a "chariot" - a two-wheeled high-speed vehicle that could revolutionize warfare in the next millennium. "You're either on the Conflagration Super Highway or you're left behind in the dust," says one defence expert.
Sumerian complacency has also been attacked by leading property developer and potential candidate for King, Donald the Trump. "They call me a clown, but I'm not joining the circa's," he said, in a sustained attack on how inefficient Sumerian statism had left its economy way behind the more entrepreneurial Babylonians. "You wanna put up a building here, the planning board says, sure, as long as it's a ziggurat," he complained. "Listen, I got Trump Ur Ziggurat, Trump Nippur Casino and Ziggurat, Trump Mari Palace Ziggurat. You know how sick people are of ziggurats? The whole town looks like a discount staircase warehouse. You've got 200,000 square feet on the ground floor and by the time you get to the penthouse you're lucky if you can get a broom closet up there. I'm the biggest developer in the hottest city in the world, and I say: Let's build buildings that go straight up. You'll have your regular temple on the ground floor - strictly the best, high class all the way - but on top of that we'll have room for a parking garage that blocks out all sunlight from here to the Euphrates."
However, commentators thought The Trump's proposals had come too late to save the atrophied Sumerian civilization from total collapse. "Sumer is riven by inter-city rivalry. Ur has been sacked by the Elamites, Isin is struggling to hold Nippur," reported a correspondent for the Sumer edition of Time magazine, Sumer Time. "As for this circa business, as the old saying goes: Spring into Sumer, Fall back to Winter."
Five thousand years ago
December 31st, 3001 BC
The Nasdaq index bounced to a record high today of three following the latest stock offering by a hieroglyph start-up company. "This is revolutionizing communication," said hieroglyph entrepreneur Ptolyouso, founder of e-Gypt and the mail-order bookstore Nile.com. "Before, if you wanted to tell a joke to your cousin in Thebes, you had to get into a boat and paddle up river. Now, you simply use p-mail: Relate your joke to a scribe and he'll deliver it within weeks in convenient papyrus form."
Skeptics complain that the new system is slow and tedious: Sometimes it can take hours for the scribe to download into pictograms the one about the Mesapotamian, the Nubian and the Assyrian coming home from the malachite quarry when they run into a two-headed dog. But Ptolyouso points out that there have always been nay-sayers. "They all laughed at Narmer, son of Ra, when he said the world was flat," he recalls wryly. "And, besides, I'm now a billionaire - well, on papyrus."
Five million years ago
December 31, 4998001 BC
In Madagascar, Lenny the Lemur was today outed as a homo after tabloid photographers caught him coming out of a urinal. "Yes, it's true," said Lenny, defiantly. "It's time for me to stand up and say I like to stand up. Homo erectus, that's me."
While privately expressing sympathy for Lenny's position (teetering on two feet), senior quadrupeds insisted there was no question of him standing as the Conservative candidate in the Antananarivo by-election. "I've no problem with him standing," said leading Conservative mastodon Norman Tebbit, "as long as he's not standing around me. Look, most of us would understand if a lemur admitted to the odd bipedal experience in adolescence. But society doesn't want a lot of out and out homos walking around flaunting it. If he wants to stand, I say let him stand at the back of the tree."
But Lenny attacked what he called the mastodon's homophobia. "He's operating a double standard. He's saying we have to crawl around on double the legs we need. Well, I won't crawl. I know it's a jungle out there. I can't even go for a stroll without people staring, and sniggering that I'm a little light on my loafers. But I'm up and out. Life's not worth a damn till you can say, hey, world, I am what I am."
Mastodon Norman angrily denied he was prejudiced. "These days, the prejudice is all the other way. If you're an old-school Tory, you're made to feel you're weird just 'cause you like to bound through the undergrowth, tearing creatures limb from limb."
Sixty-five million years ago
December 31st, 64998001 BC
Authorities today downplayed reports of a so-called "millennium bug" causing a total breakdown of societal infrastructure. The bug is claimed to be a 120-foot 18-legged carnivore that devours anything he sees. "Relax," said a spokesperson. "These bugs are just a couple of larky T. Rexes en route to their New Year costume party. Don't worry about it. We dinosaurs are going to be around for many years to come."
~from The Daily Telegraph et al, December 31st 1999.
Don't forget, many of Mark's British, Canadian, American and other columns can be found in his book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available at the SteynOnline bookstore. Mark returns later today at SteynOnline and tomorrow for a full three hours on the radio.