Zeroing in on the millennium;Summer Diary

6th August 1999 at 01:00
SUMMER IS always a nostalgic kind of time with everyone thinking back to the sunny days of their youth. This has been a particularly Janus-like holiday period. Think about it. The next time you have a summer holiday it will be the first of the new millennium. Odd how it seems so far away.

It will be strangely sited in the decade people apparently want to call the Zeros. You might be in the splinter groups that preferred the options of the Noughties or the Earlies, but so far the zeros are in the lead.

Will future pupils say: "I started school in the zeros"? It sounds too much like a weather forecast to me. Perhaps we'll get used to it. But what about each following year? I have a hunch we'll forget the numbers entirely and talk about this year, next year, last year, sometime, never. Otherwise we'll be stuck with zero zero to be followed by zero one, zero two, zero three and so on, and that sounds like rocket talk and Star Wars and moon landings.

And that returns us to Janus and looking back. The media have been reliving moon landings from every angle you can think of: the technology, the men, the landscapes, the space race as well as the non-stick frying pan.

They say those of us who were around then can remember exactly where we were that July night. It's true. My friend Christine was eight, and remembers clearly being taken from bed and told to watch the coin-operated television. She expresses some surprise that the film they show today is as grainy as it was then.

Every time I hear Neil or Buzz reminiscing I think of the Highlands. While most people were like Christine and watched from the comfort of their own homes, for me, the moon landing happened in Inverness. I watched the whole caboodle from a bed and breakfast there, on a holiday from England.

Inverness was throbbing, banners were hanging out of windows proclaiming that guest houses and hotels had televisions: what size the screen was and how many they had per establishment. In those days you certainly didn't get one in every room.

We were touring and enjoying the rain, the scenery, the bonfires on the beach as well as the midges, and turned our backs, in true Sixties style, on paid for accommodation, far less electrical nonsenses like television.

However, for one evening only, we packed our student camping gear in the car and forked out for a night under a roof.

In this way we got to share the livingroom of a guesthouse with 20 other mixed travellers, families keeping their kids up late, business people all smartly dressed and hitchhikers and campers who had come in from the great outdoors to see men landing on the moon. Retaking giant steps is inextricably linked with holidays for me. Even Disney World can't lay on what that Inverness guest house provided.

This digital deja vu recently affected a woman I know. Watching the opening of the Scottish Parliament, she saw the Queen and Donald and all the others and just knew she'd been there before. And then the memories came flooding back from wartime.

Training in Edinburgh to be a teacher, she had been accommodated at Lister House, the hostel run by the Church of Scotland Gentlewomen for students from the university and Moray House. Next door was where the Church of Scotland General Assembly met, now familiar to the world as the temporary seat of our Parliament. It seems that during the war, the trainee teachers took their turn at fire-watching and warning the divinity students.

One night the siren went off and two would-be teachers rose from their sleep to help the young men next door with their stirrup pumps and buckets of sand. Still in their dressing-gowns, they grabbed torches, pulling curlers from their hair with every step. Whether it was because they were meeting young men or prospective ministers, I cannot say.

Crisis averted, the young ministers took them on a guided tour of the buildings by torchlight. For me, this image from the past will override the serious nature of the Parliament for some time to come.

From now on, though, each summer memory revisited will have to be accompanied by a date, delivered in a new format. Ten years on will we be remembering the summer of "ninety-nine", or "nineteen-ninety-nine"? I think I'll just refer to 10 years ago and leave someone else to worry about it.

Maggie Symonds

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