Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews Soundings

What was it like for you?

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 15 January 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:195
  1. Kevin Barraclough, general practitioner
  1. Painswick, Gloucestershire

    What was it like for you? It's all rather strange, this millennium business. I have to confess that I am one of those rather sad people who will happily retire to bed at 10 pm on New Year's Eve with a book and some malt whisky. The reason is partly bloody mindedness, and partly that I look like an ill conditioned bouncer when I wear a dinner jacket. However, it was clearly going to be impossible to impose my anchorite tendencies on my long suffering wife and eager children on this occasion.

    There were two outcomes to our New Year celebrations: one predictable and the other less so. Predictably, I enjoyed it enormously despite being convinced that I was going to hate it. More surprisingly, I did feel an amorphous sense of awe as the clock struck midnight.

    We were looking down on to the Severn flood plain and saw the entire vista explode with fireworks at midnight. It was the collectivity of the experience, with every little family house adding a few fireworks to the spectacle, which was extraordinary. And then it was gone. And the twentieth century was over, and irretrievable.

    It was this latter finality which was somewhat daunting. The realisation that, in some way, the twentieth century had been our century, but that the twenty first belonged to the children playing tag around our feet on that hillside.

    We returned home, slightly dazed from sleep deprivation and alcohol, and the sense of unreality persisted. A bright, sunny afternoon accentuated the sense of dislocation from the normal stream of time. I read a series of commentaries in the Scientific American comparing what was known at the beginning and end of this century, and what we might expect to learn in the next. The various authorities made conjectures with the caution you would expect from their wealth of experience. Apparently, insurmountable paradoxes, they wrote, like the incompatibility of quantum mechanics and general relativity, will surely be resolved, but the method of resolution of these problems will be entirely unexpected.

    I'm sure the caution is justified. As someone once said, I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way, did not become still more complicated.