Plus ça change… this morning I consulted Samuel Pepys to see what he was thinking about, 350 years ago to the day. It turns out Sam was planning to do his year end accounts, and was worried about whether he could afford his spending. I have the same concern, especially since the University of Berkhamsted refused to fund my latest research proposal: experiments to determine whether Ricky Gervais is funny. If you ask me, the experiments were brilliantly designed. They involved showing the entire first season of Ricky Gervais’ recent TV comedy, Life is Short, to two groups. One room would be full of BBC executives, who had just been reminded of the strong DVD sales for Gervais’ previous shows and how the BBC had a fabulous track record for discovering great international comedy stars. The other would be full of severe amnesiacs, unable to remember any BBC comedies since Morecambe and Wise or The Goodies. My forecast was that the BBC executives would holler with laughter for hours on end, whilst the amnesiacs would smash the screen 7 minutes into the first episode. Sadly, the vice-chancellor of the university’s venture capital fund said the research would have no commercial application, so he vetoed it. I tried to point out there might be a saving for BBC licence fee payers, if it meant they sacked Gervais and re-ran The Goodies instead. He said he could never forgive The Goodies for their song, the Funky Gibbon. Apparently the tune had played inside his head continuously for 12 years. Having reminded him of it, I had inadvertently set it off again. I apologized and left his office, slightly dejected, but cheering myself up by whistling their very catchy tune… do, do, do the funky gibbon…
… ooo ooo ooo funky gibbon… where was I? My watch has progressed three hours since that last paragraph, so maybe the VC of VC had a point. Given my strained finances, New Year’s celebrations will be very muted this year. The clones and I will be staying in, passing around the bottle of gherkin schnapps that MaV-Eric brought back from his marketing junket in Ljubljana. He says it is a local speciality but I think they must only make it for tourists. All the other clones are here too, preparing for the party, in their own special ways. Lim-Eric is writing a new poem that he will recite after midnight, Cube-Eric has his camera ready to video everyone enjoying themselves, h1ST-Eric is huddled in a corner because he thinks the world will end, and @MosF-Eric has decided to DJ. Even col-Eric is helping out; he is flicking the TV channels trying to decide what should play in the background. I say Charlie Brooker, Lim-Eric wants Jools Holland whilst col-Eric prefers Tweets of the Year. col-Eric is making his choice for the wrong reasons – he wants to see if he can start a trend with #tweetsoftheyearisshit – but at least he is trying. However, num-Eric simply refuses to get into the spirit of things…
num-Eric: But it’s so arbitrary. Celebrating midnight on January 1st makes as much sense as celebrating 6:19am on August 8th.
Eric: I prefer to celebrate the new year at the start of the new year. Also midnight is a better time for partying.
num-Eric: You don’t understand. This is only the new year as a matter of convention. We could have decided that the year started on any day, at any time.
Eric: I suppose you have a point there. It is kinda annoying that they put New Year just one week after Christmas. It would have made more sense to spread them out. But then, they had to have New Year at this time of year, because that was why Mary and Joseph were rushing back to Bethlehem, to take part in the new year census, wasn’t it? Then… whoopsie… she had to have her baby all of a sudden, whilst sat in the manger. So maybe we should blame God for the bad timing.
num-Eric: No! The Romans started the year on January 1st because that was when the new consuls entered office. When Julius Caesar took over, he stuck with January 1st as the first day of the year in his calendar.
Eric: Well, if they’ve been celebrating new year on January 1st for all that time, why change now?
num-Eric: Because it hasn’t been consistently celebrated on January 1st, and because it’s inconvenient.
Eric: I suppose the tax year doesn’t start on January 1st, not that a new tax year is something to celebrate.
num-Eric: No, but you make a good point. Our tax year starts on April 6th, and that’s because, until the British government passed the 1750 Calendar Act, this country’s year officially started on March 25th.
num-Eric: And – if you let me finish – because of the change from Julian to Gregorian calendars, the old March 25th was equivalent to the new April 6th. By setting the tax year accordingly, nobody had to pay extra tax.
Eric: That was good of them. I can’t imagine the modern Inland Revenue being so generous. So when would you like to celebrate the new new year?
num-Eric: We could be like the revolutionary French. They invented a decimal calendar. It had 36 weeks of 10 days each, and the year started at the Autumnal Equinox.
Eric: Hang on, doesn’t that mean they had a lot fewer weekends?
num-Eric: Yeah, they didn’t think that one through. Well, maybe we should celebrate the new year on ‘Lady Day’, which is March 25th. Or we could celebrate on July 2nd, which is the opposite to January 1st.
Eric: Don’t you mean July 1st?
num-Eric: No, there’s only 181 days in the first 6 months of the year, and 184 in the last 6 months of the year, so July 2nd is closer to the exact middle than July 1st.
Eric: By your logic, midnight on July 2nd is not the middle of the year. The middle of the year would be noon on July 2nd.
num-Eric: Perfect! Can you imagine how much easier and cheaper it would be to book a party venue for noon on July 2nd?!?
Eric: Possibly… but if we’re going to give up on our current calendar, why schedule our celebrations to be held once a year? It’s not like we’re farmers, wedded to the seasons… and we’re not French, so we know how to calculate with fractions…
num-Eric: That’s a very astute point. We could celebrate every galactic year, which is the time it takes our solar system to complete an orbit of the galaxy.
Eric: That sounds like something worth celebrating. How frequently would we celebrate that?
num-Eric: Once every 225 million years.
Eric: So not often then. It had better be a very big party to compensate. And when does the next galactic year start?
num-Eric: Well, modern humans have only existed for about a thousandth of a galactic year, and we don’t have sufficient data to pinpoint when the Earth was created. That means we could pick any time we like to be the start of our new galactic year. How about 4ish, Tuesday week?
Eric: I find that terminology confusing. Do you mean Tuesday coming?
num-Eric: No, I mean the Tuesday after that.
Eric: I’ve got a dentist’s appointment then.
num-Eric: How about the Wednesday?
Eric: Fine by me.
num-Eric: It’s agreed then. We’ll celebrate the new galactic year at 4ish, a week on Wednesday.
num-Eric: It does make you think about why we celebrate things when we do.
Eric: How so?
num-Eric: Well, take birthdays. If you’re pro-life, and you believe life begins at conception, then surely you shouldn’t celebrate birthdays, and you should count somebody’s age from the time they were conceived.
Eric: That’s a fair point, but I shudder to think about the circumstances of my conception.
num-Eric: Births are pretty ugly, messy affairs with lots of blood and screaming.
Eric: Yeah, but it’s still a prettier image than my parents copulating. [Pauses] Where’s the gherkin schnapps? I need a shot to help get these disturbing thoughts out of my head.
num-Eric: Oh, you don’t need a drink. I’ve got a perfect solution for clearing your head of any unpleasantness.
Eric: What’s that?
num-Eric: It’s a great video I saw on YouTube. There’s these three guys singing a song about a funky gibbon…