As far as buying our music is concerned, we've come a long way in what feels like a very short time.

These days it's far quicker and easier to buy music at the drop of a hat - furthermore there's a far greater range of music to choose from. We can pick and choose the tracks we want and best of all we don't even have to leave the house. The downside of this is of course that it can be dangerous going online drunk - a hangover is rarely improved by the discovery that one has bought the box set of Mantovani's 100 Golden Moments because it seemed like a funny idea at the time.

In general this means that things are more convenient and in some small way we are conserving resources. What's more we no longer have to cart around half a metric tonne of vinyl every time we move house and lets face it those cardboard boxes were always the heaviest ones. Usually designed for transporting bananas they also had a nasty habit of disintegrating halfway up the garden path of your new abode, depositing your complete collection of Cure LPs into a puddle. Including that signed copy of The Head On The Door.

But I can't help but feel that we've lost something pleasurable. Lighter and more convenient the modern method may be, but there was something exciting about seeking out vinyl; something I imagine is unlikely to be duplicated by waking up to discover that the new single by Florence and the Machine that you pre-ordered is now in the Purchased folder of your local copy of iTunes. Perhaps this lament for a lost format is in part a requiem for the passing of youth but not all of it I think.

Browsing the racks in record stores was always an exciting experience. You never knew what you'd find no matter how close an eye you'd been keeping on the music press.

Especially exciting was the rack where they kept the twelve inch singles. Even if you had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the charts and all the records worth buying in it (having taped the top forty off the radio and learned it inside out), this was where the real treasure could sometimes be found. The expanded universe - these sometimes contained versions of the songs that would never be heard on the radio.

But the excitement started before you listed to the music. There were the sleeves. Often a huge glossy version of picture on the seven inch - but sometimes an alternative take on the same imagery. The most thrilling thing of all was that you were getting an LP's worth of picture often for little more than the price of the seven inch. The smell of the sleeves was more intoxicating too, perhaps something to do with the fact that it was printed on card. Sometimes I couldn't wait until I got home - standing outside the shop I would pull the sleeve from the snug plastic bag, push the sides so that it opened ever so slightly and INHALE. New record smell. Fantastic.

It was what was on the records that really counted though.

Sometimes these twelve inch singles contained exactly the same tracks as the seven inch - this always felt like a complete rip off, although I understand that the fact that the grooves were further apart meant that you got a far better sound when they were played in nightclubs. But most of the time you could at least hope for an extra track. This was good, something extra to tape at the end of the side of the C90 cassette onto which you'd taped the LP so you could listen to it on your walkman; sometimes it wouldn't fit in which case you'd need to use a C120, although the tape was thinner on these and had a tendency to snap. I once dismantled a C90 cassette and surgically implanted an extra five minutes of tape simply so I could fit one of my favourite LPs plus B-sides on it.

The extra track scenario wasn't entirely satisfactory. All it meant was that you didn't really need to buy the seven inch, and that was something that no collector wanted to hear. For a twelve inch to really be worth it, it would have to contain an extended version of the single itself. A remix. Something you would be unlikely to hear anywhere else.

The first of these I remember was the twelve inch of Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees. This had an extra couple of minutes on the end, a staccato drum sequence segueing into an instrumental version of the final few minutes of the track, eventually joined by Siouxsie's wailing backing vocals before slamming to a halt again, for real this time. It didn't add that much to the song but it was nevertheless exciting to hear something so familiar in a brand new way.

The electronic nature of a lot of the music in the early 80s meant that it was fairly easy to produce extended remixes in this way. These were wonderful, perfectly in their element when you were grooving on down on the dance floor at The Camden Palace, high on Pernod and black, but not perhaps as stimulating in the bedroom. When was the singing going to start? They were sometimes so long that there wasn't a hope in hell of fitting them all on a cassette either.

But you had to admit they were good value for money, and if you loved the song then it was all the more for you to get your ears round. Sometimes the remix was distinctly unsuccessful - the new section of Depeche Mode's Meaning of Love started with a recording of one of the band saying "What do you want to do then, what shall we do?" hardly inspiring confidence in the alternative version of the track that was to follow...

However, one band took to the concept of the twelve inch like a duck to water and dragged the format so much further from it's comfort zone than anyone else. Soft Cell.

Their first single, Memorabilia, was designed with the twelve inch in mind and was way ahead of its time (effectively an acid house track in 1980), but it was with their next single and biggest hit Tainted Love that they took the twelve inch somewhere it had never been before. At first it sounded just like the seven inch and then halfway through an instrumental section you realised that something very unusual was happening. The song was mutating before your very ears. First the bass line, then the synth notes. Before you realised what was happening you were listening to another song - Where Did Our Love Go.

For their next single, Bedsitter they took this format experimentation further. The track listing was the same as for the regular single - Bedsitter c/w Facility Girls, but each song was more than twice as long as its seven inch cousin, padded out not with recycled instrumental but whole new verses and musical sections. Make your single bed and push the tea leaves down the drain, take a long deep breath and start the night life over again...

This was a pattern they would repeat throughout the lifetime of the band making Soft Cell twelve inch singles amongst the best value and most enjoyable of the era.

You can now relive this by buying the Soft Cell Twelve Inch Singles as a 3 CD set or downloading them from iTunes.

But they just don't smell the same.

Ever since moving to this city I've had a Grudging-Acceptance / Hate relationship with the local buses as anyone who has ever read my blog or followed me on Twitter or other social media will already know. I never shut up about it and am in fact surprised you're still following me. What's that you say? You're not? Oh dear.


There are many reasons for this (the bus thing, not the social media thing). For a start there was the whole breaking my arm and lying about it incident which I've already chronicled in this very blog, and then there was the time that The Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened occurred on the top deck of a number 25. But on the whole these specific events aren't a major part of the general unpleasantness surrounding such journeys.

It's everything else.

For a start where I live the nearest bus stop is on a large square - the other side of the square to the direction from which I enter it. This means that I can see my bus is already at the stop from a considerable distance. So I have a choice. If decide to forget about it and walk to the stop in the hope of catching the next one, the bus will hang around and hang around and hang around and hang around, only pulling away at the last minute, leaving me in no doubt whatsoever that had I run for it, I would have caught it without a problem. On the other hand if I decide to run in the first place, it will pull away at the last minute anyway.

I have to remind myself that running for it is always a bad idea. A large number of different buses call at this stop so whenever I find myself hurtling up the road like an overweight orangutan having ill-advisedly decided to try and catch this one, there are people standing at the stop who aren't getting on my bus. They can see me running for it. It's blatantly obvious what I am doing. I'm running for this bus. The bus beside the open door of which they are currently standing. I'm running for this bus. The bus whose driver they are within easy earshot of. I'm running for this bus. The bus to whose driver they could easily call out, "Hang on mate, there's someone coming," without even breaking a sweat.

But do they do that? Do they buggery. They just stare with a slow-witted bovine lack of interest as I careen up to the stop cursing as the cloud of exhaust from the departing bus billows into my face.

"Thank you," I sometimes say to them with a pointed sarcasm, "Thank you very much!" This statement met with looks of blank incomprehension.

Eventually of course I do manage to catch a bus. Sometimes I already have a pass in which case no problem, but on other occasions I've got to buy one from the driver. To be fair some drivers are OK with this but for others you'd think being given a £10 note for a £4 fare was the most terrible transaction that they'd ever been forced to take part in. They sigh, they roll their eyes, they make a point of writhing uncomfortably about in their seats just to demonstrate how difficult extracting a fiver from their top pocket is. Once or twice I've been told they don't have the change and I've had to get off again. Pull the other one. With fares that high they should expect £10 notes to be common currency.

But once on the bus you have to contend the other passengers.

It's not unusual for people to prefer to sit on their own if there is room, it makes psychological sense. I have actually covered this before in another blog entry but I think it's worth repeating here. We probably all remember the young Ben Elton's famous routine about double-seat on the train, "You don't want some bastard sitting next to you, do you?" This is true of course, and probably one of the reasons that so many of us remember the routine; it resonated. Given a choice I'm sure all of us would prefer to be left alone with our book or Kindle in the mornings without some stranger intruding upon our personal space and farting. But sometimes this is unavoidable - in the rush hour, seats are at a premium. But of course this doesn't stop some people trying to keep their double seat to themselves.

They're invariably male.

They put their rucksack (it's usually a rucksack) on the seat next to them before spreading themselves out, tree trunk-like legs splayed wide open. They have a copy of the day's Metro in one chunky mitt, having managed to cunningly fold it open to the sports page with just one hand. They won't even look at you when you ask to sit down, although an expression of utter contempt flickers across their face as you do so; how in the world could you have been so utterly selfish and annoying as to have wanted to sit down? they seem to be thinking. Even if you do manage to insinuate yourself into the space next to them they try and take up at least one and a half seats, refusing to fold themselves up even a bit. What's even worse is when one of them decides to sit in the empty seat next to you. Through a process of pure physical intimidation they overflow into your seat, lumpen elbows digging into you, legs automatically splaying open.

What I find impossible to understand is how they can maintain this inconsiderate facade even in the face of a crowd of other people so obviously in need of a seat.

A few years ago I was unlucky enough to encounter Maximus Lummox, the God of this behaviour. For a period of about a month I used to see him on the upper deck on the way to work. He was unnecessarily large; not fat, just built to the wrong scale. He wore a permanent expression of sleepy arrogance on his dull features, half closed eyes peering superciliously out at the world from behind a shaggy curtain of badly cut dark brown hair. He used to sit sideways across two seats, legs blocking the aisle and to add insult to injury used to hook one elbow over the back of the seats thus even invading the space of whoever was unfortunate enough to be sitting behind him. When people were brave enough to ask him if they could use one of the seats he was taking up he looked slowly up and regarded them with an expression of dull uncomprehending hatred. More often than not he didn't move an inch.

On the other hand it is annoying when someone sits next to you even when there are plenty of free seats - obviously too lazy to walk an extra couple of metres to the spaces near the back. However, you rise above this. You are not a disciple of Maximus Lummox. Given your magnanimity it does then seem rather ill mannered of them to move to another double seat in front of you as soon as it becomes available. What, do I smell or something? you wonder sarcastically.

Thankfully most of the journeys I partake of are shorter than forty-five minutes. No matter how much double seat hogging, raucous cackling or pungent flatus I have been subjected to, I can always escape when it's time to get off.

In theory.

Sitting upstairs as I often do, I remain blissfully ignorant of what is happening on the lower deck, by the exit. Unlike London buses, most of the fleet here are only blessed with one door. Unfortunately a lot of people seem to prefer to stand right in front of it in preference to sitting on the seats available further back. As I squeeze pass with an "excuse me please" I am subjected to a barrage of tuts, sighs and rolling of eyes. By the time I actually reach the exit the people on the pavement have already started piling on, leading to further disdain being heaped upon my shoulders as I have to push past them as well.

But what can you do?

I don't have a car, and whilst cycling is greener and at least keeps me fit, having to deal with car drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists is at least as infuriating as catching the bus. The train stations are at least 20 minutes walk away, but I am to stand the remotest chance of retaining my sanity whilst I still have to commute I am going to have to let the train take the strain.

Or I could just chill out.

I imagine I will probably start ranting on about trains in the not too distant future, then...

When most children play "lets pretend" they imagine a thing that isn't. Whilst I did do that as a kid, I also used to have little games in my head in which I imagined a thing that already was...

The first major incidence of the phenomenon that I can now recall was back in the seventies when we had an German exchange student staying with us, a woman studying architecture. As a favour to my parents - perhaps as a way of saying thank you for letting her stay - she took me off their hands for an afternoon on a trip to visit Welwyn Garden City and Harlow - of some significance to students of architecture and town planning as they were both "New Towns" built in the twentieth century in the commuter belt to ease overcrowding in London.

Whilst we were in Harlow I started playing a strange game with myself. To clarify, this was playing a game in the sense of "let's play Star Trek" rather than "let's play Tiddlywinks". I started imagining that I was visiting a futuristic New Town called "Lowich". In almost every sense the details of the game and the details of reality were exactly the same (except for the name of the city) but for some inexplicable reason I got much more enjoyment out of the situation with a fictional filter placed between my mind and reality.

In the game I was a character visiting this special new city. I tried to look at roadsigns and the names of buildings in such a way that both the "Har" and the space after "low" was obscured so that I could imagine I was actually in the story.

This wasn't the only occasion that I had this strange sensation, this compulsion to insert a layer of fiction between myself and the real world. Sometimes I would watch TV programmes pretending that I had never seen them before. I particularly remember watching the title sequence of The Goodies with this mind-set. If I had never seen this before, I mused, what would I think?

We do. Anything. Anytime.

A series about three guys who did exciting things like dancing on the moon, being cowboys and somehow being back in cavemen times. Which of course was what it actually was, but watching it through this fictional membrane of never having seen it before somehow made it much more enjoyable.

Similarly Go With Noakes. Viewed through the first-time goggles it suddenly became about Noakes the Action Hero, who had all sorts of adventures like jumping out of aeroplanes at twenty-five thousand feet. Looking at him through a refractive surface of un-me allowed me to unhook his familiarity to me from years of Blue Peter.

Because what most of these scenarios boiled down to was this: What if I wasn't me?

The outside world remained the same, it was just my reaction to it that was different. I made my reaction a story, most of the time one that was far better than reality. The Goodies and Go With Noakes were far better programmes when viewed through the smoked-glass of otherness, and Lowich was a far better place to live than Harlow.

Of course I also did used to enjoy the more traditional mode of play. Often we would "be" characters from Star Trek - I was always Spock and my friend Peter always insisted on being Kirk. Peter/Kirk was obsessed with the idea of "going down with his ship" as frequently the games seemed to involve the Enterprise being about to blow up. I still have a very clear picture in my head of looking back as we escaped in the shuttle craft (of looking back as we walked away across the playground) and seeing Kirk (Peter) sitting alone on the bridge (alone on the steps outside a fire exit) waiting to be consumed by fire as the ship exploded. We could never persuade him to come with us.

As I got older these kind of games became harder to play as the imagined world jarred against what I could see was in front of me. Perhaps this is where the appeal of the "imagining a thing that already is" came from. They couldn't be spoilt by incongruous reality because they contained reality.

I still play them to this day.

I miss the Sunrise.

I miss waking up and instantly knowing how long it is until I have to drag my sorry carcass out of bed to face first the computer world (for my early morning brain workout) and then the outside world as I travel to my place of work (which - if I am feeling energetic - involves my early morning body workout).


The problem with waking up and it still being pitch black out there is that you have no idea how much time you have left before the alarm clock (in my case it's an app, but the principle is the same  - and no matter how pleasant an alarm tone you have chosen you will come to hate it) assaults your ears forcing you to get out of bed. You could have hours in which to fall back asleep and have more dreams or it could be less than five minutes until the alarm is due to go off.

Let's face it, by the time you actually get motivated to check the time it's usually the latter. You lie there in full wakefulness dreading the noise that is due to come your way any second and yet without the gumption to simply get up, switch the alarm off and start the day a tiny bit early.

And what do you do when the alarm finally goes off? Snooze.

The snooze button is one of the most pointless inventions ever devised by man.  Using it is an exercise in self loathing, an admission of weakness. If you wanted to get up at 6.30am then bloody well get up at 6.30am. An extra five minutes will do you no good whatsoever; all it means is that you have to go through the alarm hell all over again. Pressing the snooze button twice is even worse and any more than that - well you might as well set your alarm half an hour later and resign yourself to getting into work later.

The thing is that by early January you really feel that surely it should have started at least pretending to get lighter in the mornings again. Wasn't the Winter Solstice, the shortest day, back in December before Christmas?

Ah but it's not as simple as that. It never is.

The Earth is a contrary bugger and it may surprise you to learn that whilst the last Solstice may have been 22 December 2011, the nights stopped drawing in and Sunsets started getting earlier on 16 December 2011.

Conversely Sunrise continued getting later and later until this morning and it is only on 5 January 2012 that it will start getting earlier again.  The problem is that it changes so damned slowly at this time of year which only serves to exacerbate the feelings of inertia and darkness. It's improving though - whilst by the middle of January sunrise will only be six minutes earlier than it is now, by the beginning of February it will be twenty five minutes earlier. By the time we reach the Spring Equinox, Sunrise will be getting earlier by three minutes every single day. Unfortunately this is as good as it gets, it slows down again by the time the Summer Solstice rolls around.

In an ideal world I would prefer to live in a world of perpetual sunlight.  If I want darkness I can always buy thick curtains.

Sadly this is impossible unless I spend six months north of the Arctic circle and then immediately fly to south of the Antarctic circle for the next six. Quite apart from the expense of having to maintain two houses in polar conditions it would cost a fortune in airfare.

The person that invents a bulb that really does look and feel like sunlight is going to make a fortune. Only then will we be effectively freed from the tyranny of the turning planet.

This morning as I dragged myself out of bed early for the first time since the seasonal break I seriously felt that the weather was taking the piss.

It was the day that I was due back at work and as such already had a level of terror normally reserved for a visit to the dentist without anaesthetic. The fact that it now sounded as if there was a force ten from navarone blowing out there was merely the cyanide icing on an already unpleasant and slightly rotten fruit cake.

If this had been fiction I would have concluded that this was the Pathetic Fallacy at work and that the weather was reflecting the mood of all the people in the land as they were returning to their places of work; the appalling weather itself then serving to sour these self same moods even further in a furious feedback loop...

But there are few authors who could get away with this kind of thing these days. If you or I had penned this morning and then brought it along to a writers' workshop we would probably be told not to be so cliched and to go back and rework that passage, perhaps putting in some ironic sunshine and unseasonable warmth just to mess with the heads of our characters and make their return to the grindstone that little bit more unpleasant.

But that's reality for you. It so often confounds narrative conventions and comes up with plots so thin, characters so transparent and reversals of fortune so ridiculously unlikely that there's no way god would stand a chance of getting it published and would in fact still be on the rewrites of the late nineteenth century and only then if he had really been putting his mind to it.

People may laugh at the complicated and contradictory story lines and unlikely plotting of soap operas such as Eastenders but these are as nothing when compared to real life.

We are of course as I have mentioned many times before, ultimately the stories we tell ourselves. Perhaps life might seem complex, confusing and poorly written as we live it but after a while once we've committed it to memory and then spent enough time revising it and coming up with the definitive version, the director's cut, things all seem to make much more sense. The fact that other people might not agree with our version of events is of little importance - it's our story, it's told in the first person, it's told frequently and ninety nine per cent of the time it's told to an audience of one. Ourselves. Perhaps inside our heads we are all George Lucas messing with the original Star Wars films - and just like George we all believe that our past is all the better for it.

After all if we are going to be the protagonists of our own tales, there's no sense in not giving ourselves the best parts. We can be heroes.

This is why nostalgia can be so powerful. The past has had more time spent on it and as such is often better written.

original photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

A lot of the time when I was a kid, what I read was dictated by what I could find in the small SF section of Muswell Hill library or the books that I could find in the bargain bins. Once I'd outgrown Narnia, I found most books aimed specifically at children rather boring (with a few notable exceptions - Joan Aiken amongst them) and had been put off the so-called classics by having The Mill on the Floss rammed down my throat as an official text upon which I would later be tested. It took me forever to finish I can't remember a thing about it now.

As has been chronicled elsewhere, this exploration of the SF genre meant that I was exposed to a lot of adult themes early - whilst grown-ups may have imagined me to be reading juvenile tales of invasions by robots from Mars I was in fact exploring unexpected worlds of cannibalism, sex with aliens and other taboos. Some of the disturbing ideas from these far out stories have stuck with me ever since.

On other occasions perusal of the bargain bins resulted in the unexpected discovery of great SF of which I'd hitherto been unaware.

I'd read all the Asimov and Clarke I could get my hands on as well as dabbling in Heinlein, Moorcock and Aldiss, but the book I picked out of the metal basket at the Stroud branch of Woolworths during a visit to my grandmother in 1977 was by an author I was unaware of, one Stanley G Weinbaum. The title A Martian Odyssey resonated with Clarke's 2001 and Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, the cover in true 70s SF style depicting a complex looking roving vehicle crossing a Martian landscape clearly inspired by the photographs sent back by the recent Viking landers. This was, I imagined, a modern tale of the exploration of Mars.

I couldn't have been more wrong. What I held in my hand was a collection of short stories that predated Clarke and Bradbury by decades, a collection of short stories about the exploration of the solar system from the golden age of the science fiction pulps. If I'd known this I might not have bought it but then I would never have discovered how brilliant Weinbaum actually was.

Despite the pulp dressing the stories were staggeringly imaginative and way ahead of their time. The eponymous short story A Martian Odyssey was all about the first encounter of Dick Jarvis, an astronaut from Earth with a Martian known as Tweel. One amazing aspect of this tale was the way Weinbaum was able to portray a totally alien intelligence. Jarvis and Tweel were able to communicate up to a point - and as such had an exciting series of adventures as Jarvis made his way across the Martian landscape in an attempt to return to his mothership after a rocket crash - but some of Tweel's thought processes were odd...
Well, we stared at the fire a while and I decided to attempt some sort of communication with the Martian. I pointed at myself and said 'Dick'; he caught the drift immediately, stretched a bony claw at me and repeated 'Tick.' Then I pointed at him, and he gave that whistle I called Tweel; I can't imitate his accent. Things were going smoothly; to emphasize the names, I repeated 'Dick,' and then, pointing at him, 'Tweel.'

There we stuck! He gave some clacks that sounded negative, and said something like 'P-p-p-proot.' And that was just the beginning; I was always 'Tick,' but as for him—part of the time he was 'Tweel,' and part of the time he was 'P-p-p-proot,' and part of the time he was sixteen other noises!

We just couldn't connect. I tried 'rock,' and I tried 'star,' and 'tree,' and 'fire,' and lord knows what else, and try as I would, I couldn't get a single word! Nothing was the same for two successive minutes, and if that's a language, I'm an alchemist!
Tweel wasn't the only peculiar inhabitant of Mars either - other examples of this bizarre menagerie included the anthill community of barrel-like creatures which imitated the sounds they heard ("We are v-v-v-vriends! Ouch!"), a silicon based life form that walled itself into a miniature pyramid using the bricks it "breathed" out (silicon dioxide, see) and the Dream Beast which projected illusions to lure its hapless victims to their death.

Other stories contained creatures just as outlandish. The Slinkers and the Loonies of Io in The Mad Moon, the Triops noctivians, the doughpots and the Jack Ketch trees on Venus in Parasite Planet.

Of course all of these stories having been written in the early 1930s the science was out of whack. In Weinbaum's imagination almost all of the worlds in the solar system had breathable atmospheres and native life - furthermore he had used the now discredited theory that the outer gas giants Jupiter and Saturn emitted heat like miniature suns, making their moons habitable.

But this didn't really matter. The exploration of Weinbaum's solar system by atomic rocket made for stories that were both thoughtful and entertaining in equal measure.

Not all the stories involved space travel; others explored alternative universes (The Worlds of If), virtual reality (Pygmalion's Spectacles) and climate change (Shifting Seas), all quite astonishing subjects for the early thirties (and his 1935 story The Ideal contains the spookily prescient line "sometimes I regret that unfortunate market crash of 2009 that wiped out my own money").

Weinbaum was still a young man when he imagined these extraordinary scenarios and ideas. Who can tell what a shadow he would have cast over 20th century genre fiction had he not died of throat cancer in 1935?

In many of the stories the protagonist is a young man who during the course of the action falls for a young woman - but even these simple characters have a vitality which lives on in the mind long after the end of the story.

Aside from the collection I bought it was difficult to find more Weinbaum and it was only once the Forbidden Planet bookshop had opened in Denmark Street that I found the only novel of his still in print, The New Adam, an altogether bleaker tale than most of his short stories, a tale of the life - and ultimate suicide - of Edmond, the first individual of a new species of double-minded person born into the dark human world of the twentieth century.
"A billion billion centuries, perhaps," he reflected, "before Chance or the more obscure laws that govern it, shall re-assemble the particular molecules that I call Myself, yet this will seem no longer than from this night until tomorrow. Certainly obliteration is a wonderful thing, and the one conqueror of Time." 
His other self responded, "Since in eternity all things that can happen must happen, I depart with assurance; all this will be again, and perhaps in happier fashion. I render my payment therefore without regret."

Weinbaum is now out of copyright and some of his stories can be found of Project Gutenberg

So here it is, 2012, everybody's going to die.

Or at least that's what the doomsday theorists would have us all believe. But better not join them in this belief otherwise you run the risk of Professor Brian Cox calling you a nobber [1]. He's got a point though. There's absolutely no basis for the now widely held suspicion that the world as we know it will end on Friday 21 December 2012 - or even that anyone ever predicted that it would.

This hysteria came about because this date does indeed appear as a landmark in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used by the Mayans amongst other people. The date wasn't part of any prophecy however - it was merely the point at which the digits of the calendar (which was calculated in a rather complex and confusing manner using both base-17 and base-20) rolled over to 13.0.0.0.0. For the Mayans this was the end of an era - perhaps a bit of an abstraction seeing as it lay so far in the future, but the Mesoamericans were a forward thinking people. The fact that this calendar which was first used over two thousand years ago is only now rolling over is a testament to this. Contrast this with the Unix epoch in which computers utilize the number of seconds since 1 January 1970 to provide a unique timestamp. Unfortunately 32-bit systems will run out of numbers to count these seconds on 9 January 2038. Better make sure you upgrade before then.

But it's only in recent years that the significance of the year 13.0.0.0.0 in Mesoamerican Long Count has been upgraded to apocalypse.

Apocalypses started to become popular in the nineteen-eighties as the first truly futuristic date appeared. 1984 may not have been as totalitarian as Orwell had predicted so the doomsayers begun to cast about for other signs of the End of Days. New Years Eve 1999 was a popular one and this combined with the fear of the Millennium Bug (a consequence of even shorter sighted computer-programmers than those who devised the Unix epoch) to produce what many felt was the first bona-fide appointment with apocalypse. The signs were all there and it would only be a matter of hours before Jesus returned in the middle of World War Three to a soundtrack by Robbie Williams as the dead rose from their graves, planes dropped out of the sky and mobile phones lost their signals for ever.

As far as I was concerned all that actually happened was that I got so drunk on vodka that I have no memory of midnight whatsoever and subsequently spent my thirty-fifth birthday in a state of alcohol-poisoned paranoia.

This didn't seem to worry the doomsayers. Like Harold Camping and his constant rescheduling of The Rapture, they merely cast about for the next date upon which to pin their hopes for the end of everything. A quick rummage through the bargain bins of von-Danikenesque paperbacks with titles like Toenails of the Gods turned up the so called Mayan prophecies.

These days as far as popular traditional religions are concerned all most people have to choose between are a senile pensioner pissing himself in an old people's home and dreaming of his glory days or a dangerous psychopathic teenager with a knife plotting how he's going to show them... it's no wonder many people turn to half baked poorly thought through belief systems for solace. But why does constantly hoping that the world will end comfort them so? There is probably some deep seated psychological need to predict the end of the world as this list of dates upon which it was supposed to occur demonstrates.

The root of it is I think because for each and every one of us, the world will end. We are all going to die some day. For us the world will cease to exist, although in reality it is far truer to say that for the world we cease to exist.

The thought of this is often too much to take; if they have to go, some people prefer to take the rest of the world with them. Or the universe.

Of course the world will end one day. In around five billion years time the Sun will turn into a Red Giant although it is likely that even if it has survived, Earthly sentience will have moved out into the universe by this point. The universe itself will end at some point too but this will be at a time so remote as to have no real meaning, especially to minds such as our own.

The eschaton is still a very long way off. Time to learn to stop worrying and love 2012.

Happy New Year.


[1] First draft of this blog actually written before this tweet.