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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

2012 the end of the world?

SO 2012 HAS ARRIVED and may it bring hope, prosperity and health to one and all. Hopefully it will also bring us 2013 at the end but the possibility of the latter not actually happening did occur to me this week when I popped in to the British Museum to put the finishing touches to the training for our next guided walk called... fanfare please ... “British Museum: stories behind the objects”. (If you can think of a better title for our walk, please let us know and we will invite you and a group of 4 friends to the first one).

The Mayan friezes section on the ground floor is magnificent, and although this Mesoamerican civilisation was in to all types of activities, from the gory (blood-letting ceremonies), the bad (human sacrifices) to the very good (making chocolate), the civilisation that ended about 900AD has in recent years caught the popular imagination for their Long Count Calendar which ends abruptly on the 21st of December 2012 (it is a five thousand year calendar hence "long"). Some believe that the abrupt ending is a prediction of the end of the world while others believe that calendars have to end (lack of pages or stones to carve on etc that sort of limitation). Having done a bit of research on this, London City Steps is happy to inform you that the odds are still massively in our favour.

Popular fascination with this date stems from Hollywood which in recent years have churned out films such as “Apocalypto” and “2012” (tagline “we were warned”) when the world is overcome by solar storms, earthquakes, floods, and asteroid showers. Some people are genuinely scared of the possibility of these events - on the NASA website for example, a frequently asked question is “will the earth end in 2012?” to which a calm, scientific answer is given as, “The world will not end, our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years.” That NASA has had to put up an official statement to that effect shows that queries must be piling in.

There are all sorts of theories doing the rounds on how the world might end this year with multiple origins for the chaos. A mysterious planet Nibiru is due to return to our solar system; a reversal of the earth’s magnetism or rotation will occur; my favourite though is an alien invasion at the closing ceremony of the Olympic games. Who would have believed the place mankind might make first contact with extra-terrestrial beings would be Stratford?

End of the world theories have been around for hundreds of years. In the year 999, a popular belief was that Armageddon would as it would have been 1000 year since Christ. Peter Ackroyd in his excellent Biography of London, mentions Londoners hundreds of years ago believed that on the Last Judgement, angels would peal the bells of London in order to convince Londoners that the end of the world was nigh. Three times during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I earthquakes hit London (two of them on Christmas eve), and church bells such as the Westminster clock bell, rang of their own accord, creating a hysteria on the streets.

Perhaps the most famous of the prophets of the end of the world was Michel de Nostredame, who lived in France in the 1500s and Latinised his name to Nostradamus. Even today his supporters maintain he was able to predict everything from Hitler's rise, the Great Fire of London, 9/11 and even the trial of OJ Simpson.

Perhaps the most high profile predictor of doom from last year was Harold Camping who predicted that May 21st 2011 would be the end date, with five months of fire, brimstone and plagues in what he termed the Rapture. The clock ticked by and Mr Camping was reported on May 22nd to be flabbergasted, while the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief.

So, not wanting to tempt fate, end of world predictions so far have tended to be damp squibs and the odds are well in our favour. So those packing away their Christmas decorations now, pack them with care for you you’ll almost certainly be needing them for next Christmas. But as for the aliens invading the closing ceremony at the London Olympics, I can't help but hope that we can show off our city to those around and out of our world.