As the year draws to a close, we reflect on what has happened over the past 12 months and whether it turned out better than, worse than, or just as, expected. My year has been pretty good on the whole, and my remaining family all survived it, so things are looking up!
But not only is it the end of a year, it is the end of a decade, and I can’t quite get my head around the fact that it is ten years already since 2010, and 20 years since the turn of the millennium. Although I’m in a persistent state of shock at the speed of passing time, I do have daily reminders in the shape of my children. My two older boys were born in the 1990s, but the youngest wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye in the year 2000, being born as he was in early 2002. By the end of 2010 he was nearly eight years old and not even close to five foot tall, whereas now he is nearly 18 and a good six foot!
Despite him growing at a rate that suggests he keeps fertiliser in his socks, it is only this week that he has finally been able to escape the confines of a high ‘cabin-style’ single bed and migrate to a proper, ground-dwelling double bed. Poor child, how he has suffered. Until recently his room was just too small to fit in a normal bed plus furniture, but thanks to a house extension that is almost finished (after nine long months), his enduring patience has been rewarded with a large bedroom of his own, dominated by a king-sized bed, far more appropriate for a lanky, soon-to-be adult.
In my dad’s column from 29th December 1979, he debates about whether a decade begins in the year ending in ‘0’, or the following year.
Dad argues that the decade in which he is writing began on 1st January 1971 and would end on 31st December 1980. But surely, the 1980s started in 1980, didn’t they? Not according to Dad, who adds: “The end of the century should be December 31st, 2000, and not 1999, as the new century begins on January 1, 2001.”
But it just doesn’t work as well, does it? I mean, three nines turning into three zeros is far more party-worthy than plain old ‘001’ changing to ‘002’. It’s simply not as satisfying, and popular culture prefers it that way.
I remember at the new millennium having an argument with a lad called Fred with whom I used to work. He loved a heated discussion and would debate incessantly until you either lost the will to live, or stormed out in a huff of frustration.
He was arguing that the new millennium wouldn’t exist until 2001, whereas I was arguing that it would start on 1st January 2000. This went on for some time, with him barely allowing me to get a word in edgeways, until I said, crossly: “So if you’re right, then you’re telling me you did not exist for the first year after your date of birth?”
He stared at me open-mouthed, trying to find the words to counter-argue, but it was logic that couldn’t be contested. Eventually, he said: “I think this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been stumped!”, and as far as I can remember, it was the only time I ever heard him cave in during an argument.
As it turns out, he was technically right (and if you’re reading this, sorry Fred!) but the debate still rages on. The confusion can be traced right back to Dionysius Exiguus, a sixth century monk from the Eastern Roman Empire, who came up with ‘Anno Domini’ (meaning ‘the year of the Lord’) which was the concept of dating forward from the birth of Christ. The dates before that were then called ‘Before Christ’ or BC. However, it wasn’t until around 200 years later that the system was popularised by our own eighth century monk, the Venerable Bede, who included it in his most famous work, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People in AD731.
The problem was, the dating system jumped straight from 1BC to AD1, skipping the year zero. And thus, 2,020 years of confusion and debate were set in motion.
I wonder what the Venerable Bede would have said had he known we’d be arguing about it still?
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