Unfinished Business of the Century

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I think it's important not to leave a century, let alone a millennium, without cleaning up behind you, and there is clearly unfinished business to attend to. I suggest that the Internet community should try to identify this unfinished business and see if, between us, we can't get it squared away so that we can all enjoy the New Year Celebrations with the sense of a century well done.

But first, a word to the pedants.

Yes, I know you all think that the millennium doesn't change till a year later, and very tedious you are about it, too. In fact, you are so keen to have something you can wag your fingers at the rest of the world about, that you are completely missing the point. It has no significance whatsoever! It is merely an excuse to go 'Whoa! Look at that! There they go!' as all the digits change.

What other significance can it possibly have? Ten (along with its multiples) is an arbitrary number. January 1 is an arbitrary date. And if you happen to think that the birth of Jesus Christ is an significant moment, then all we can say with any certainty is that 1 AD isn't when it happened. Or 0 AD, if the previous year had been called that (which, as well all know because the pedants keep banging on about it, it wasn't).

Then, as the historians (a much more interesting bunch than the pedants) tell us, the calendar has been played around with so many times in the intervening years anyway that the whole thing is doubly meaningless.

Consider this: we've only relatively recently got our time and date-keeping precisely defined and standardised, with the aid of atomic clocks and suchlike. And on January 1st, 2000 (if the doomsayers are to believed) all of our computer systems will go haywire and plunge us back in the stone age (or not, as the case may be). So it seems to me that midnight on Dec 31st is the only solid and reliable point we have in the entire sorry mess, and so perhaps we should be celebrating that just a little bit. And instead of saying that we have got the end of the millennium (or bi-millennium) wrong, we should say that our ancestors got the beginning of it wrong, and that we've only just sorted the mess out before starting a new mess of our own. Anyway, what the hell does it matter anyway? It's just an excuse for a party.

But first, to unfinished business.

One particularly niggling piece of unfinished business, it occurred to me the other day in the middle of a singing session with my five-year-old daughter, is the lyrics to Doh-Re-Mi from The Sound of Music. It doesn't exactly rank as a global crisis, but nevertheless it brings me up short any time I hear it, and it shouldn't be that difficult to sort it out.

But it is.


Each line of the lyric takes the name of a note from the sol-fah scale, and gives its meaning. 'Doh (doe) a deer, a female deer; Re (ray) a drop of golden sun' etc. All well and good so far. 'Mi (me) a name I call myself; Fah, (far) a long, long way to run.' Fine. I'm not saying this is Keats, exactly, but it's a perfectly good conceit and it's working consistently. And here we go into the home stretch. 'Soh (sew), a needle pulling thread.' Yes, good. 'La, a note to follow soh...' What? Excuse me? 'La, a note to follow soh...' What kind of lame excuse for a line is that?

Well, it's obvious what kind of line it is. It's a place holder. A place holder is what a writer puts in when he can't think of the right line or idea just at the moment, but he'd better put in something and come back and fix it later. So, I imagine that Oscar Hammerstein just bunged in 'a note to follow soh' and thought he'd have another look at it in the morning.

Only, when he came to have another look at it in the morning, he couldn't come up with anything better. Or the next morning. Come on, he must have thought, this is simple. Isn't it? 'La... a something, something... what'?

One can imagine rehearsals looming. Recording dates. Maybe he'd be able to fix it on the day. Maybe one of the cast would come up with the answer. But no. No-one manages to fix it. And gradually a lame, place-holder of a line became locked in place and is now formally part of the song, part of the movie, and so on.

How difficult can it be? How about this for a suggestion? 'La, a..., a...' - well I can't think of one at the moment, but I think that if the whole world pulls together on this, we can crack it. And I think we shouldn't let the century end with such a major popular song in such an embarrassing state of disarray.

What else? Well, what do you think? What are the things we really owe it to ourselves to sort out in the next few months, before the digits roll over and we all have a set of brand new shiny 21st century problems to deal with? World hunger? Lord Lucan? Jimmy Hoffa? Where to put old eight-track tapes so that no-one in the 21st century will ever have to see one ever again? Suggestions, please, and answers, to the forum below.

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