My 100th column – dedicated to our passion for milestones

- Advertisement -

One hundred Wednesdays, 90,000 words and more have tumbled off the PC keyboard, filtered through the Five Oaks editorial gateway, and been pressed onto the printed page, or latterly, launched into electronic cyberspace.

Now why is this of any possible significance? I suppose the fact I mention it at all is due to the obsession we all have with numbers, quantities, anniversaries and dates.

We’ve just had a rash of 40th anniversaries – the first Moon landing, Woodstock, the start of the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland, Beatles fans striding in single file across Abbey Road.

We’re up to 70th this week with the anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. A hundred though, is something special.

The Girl Guides have just been basking in their treble digit status. It’s a memorable, convenient, round figure, which just feels it should be important.

No national politician or administration now escapes their 100 days reckoning, and though more are doing it these days, passing the century milestone certainly merits a card from Her Maj.

Historically, a hundred years beating the brains out of our nearest Continental neighbours might seem excessive, given today’s ‘luxury’ arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and we’ve moved on a bit from the time when £100 was an incredibly large sum to carry in your pocket.

Even ‘marks out of 100’ have been eclipsed by so many ‘perfect ten’ achievements to demand six places of decimals in such things as Olympic championship timings and Formula One qualifying.

Inevitably we respect numbers as a reliable framework. They represent time, output, wealth and achievement, and they can be calculated.

We have to assign numbers to such things as years and car number plates, because there are so many of them: it’s the only way they can be counted. Thank goodness the practice hasn’t spread to individual human beings – yet.

‘Population to pass 100,000!’ – how symbolic a figure that has become. It represents a sacred meniscus against which we’re pressing, beyond which lies chaos or salvation – depending on your point of view. Curiously though, the numbers which appear to hold less fear or restraint for the esteemed managers of our local and national estate are those relating to the cost of capital projects, consultancy and PR.

We also have blind-spots and hang-ups over numbers that can have a strong destabilising influence on our daily lives. Remember how we got the jitters over the Millennium bug which would crash global computer networks as the clock ticked across 2000-0-0.

A few weeks ago – though most of us were probably blithely unaware of the fact – the world escaped the unleashing of ‘imminent hellfire’ predicted by the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists when we passed 12.34 and 56 seconds on 07/08/09.

Maybe we’re influenced by an intrinsic throw-back from the times when religious scripture fashioned our global society. Look how often the same numbers recur: 12 tribes of Abraham, 12 disciples; 12 parishes, with 12 Constables.

Further down our strategic lattice-work, historical numbers divided our parishes into the authority of centeniers and vingteniers.

The number ‘three’ also figures prominently in the distribution of the spiritual and secular state. The law, the church and the military (Les Trois Etats); the Holy Trinity; three wise men; Faith, Hope and Charity; gold, silver and bronze for sporting achievements; three Puddleducks at West Park!

It’s a recurrent emphatic device of speech-makers and seems to fit our ability to manage concepts in a convenient trilogy of understanding.

Then there are all the biblical sevens. Come to think of it, we’ve just had our seven years of plenty and the lean ones are upon us.

But numbers only really mean anything so long as we can actually envisage their scope.

The sheer numerical snow-storm whizzing round at the time of the stock market and bank bail-outs were just too enormous to contemplate. How high would two trillion pound notes stack if the national debt had to be paid in paper?

And the trouble is that because such ‘funny money’ sums are the currency of glib commentators, we too have lost the vital awareness to manage it both at institutional and personal levels. We’ve become used to casually talking about a ‘grand’ here, a ‘grand’ there, particularly as regards the highly inflated and speculative property market.

Taking our collective eyes off the real value of numbers has left us accustomed to living in debt, of which no-one really knows the true extent, how it’s calculated, how to collect it, let alone how it can be eliminated.

When I worked for the BBC, you could feel anniversaries coming on like a rash: 1st, 5th, 10th, 100th – all conspired to dominate editorial planning. In fact, slavish serving up of ‘diary items’ was one of the most common criticisms levelled at the Corporation – that is, in the days before the focus changed to raking over the ‘other’ sort of figures, namely executive salaries and pension pots.

Indeed, nowadays, given national demographics, pensions – or ‘deferred salaries’ have, not surprisingly, taken on a far sharper focus with 40/60ths fast becoming a rare achievement.

Other figures, like ‘three score years and ten’, also begin to blip more ominously on the life-span radar. Statisticians and politicians appear to have plucked 2035 to project targets and predictions.

It has the ring both of conveniently vague futurism and also philosophical fatalism about it. Will one be here then? Certainly not still penning a column for the JEP!

The numbers game has become a complicated one for the playing.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Latest Stories

- Advertisement -

UK News

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Read the latest free supplements

Read the Town Crier, Le Rocher and a whole host of other subjects like mortgage advice, business, cycling, travel and property.