Magazine article The Spectator

A Millennium Tea Party

Magazine article The Spectator

A Millennium Tea Party

Article excerpt

For this year's TE. Utley Memorial Awards, entrants were asked to provide two brief extracts from an imaginary debate, one speaker attacking the millennial celebrations as so many feeble-minded delusions, the other defending them as symptoms of latterday Christian hope. Nick Kelley of Lincoln College, Oxford won the university prize of 2,500. There were two winners for the school prize, both of whom received 1,500: Rebecca Smith of Stanborough School, Welwyn Garden City and John Weissmann of Shrewsbury School whose essay follows.

IN ANOTHER moment Alice was through the glass and had jumped lightly down into the looking-glass room. She noticed that it had been tidied since her last visit and that the chess-pieces, no longer scattered on the floor, sat, inanimate, in their box. She was relieved - the Red Queen was no better than the governess from whom she had just escaped but wondered what she would find instead.

Alice pursued this quest, going out of the looking-glass room, down the stairs, out of the door and into the sunlit garden. Here, too, things had changed: she scarcely noticed that the flowers were now as silent as the chess-pieces, so struck was she by the sight of an absurd dome in the middle distance. As she approached it, Alice recognised the March Hare and the Hatter who were having tea beneath it. The usual cries of `No room! No room!' were unusually appropriate: with them sat a whole array of characters that Alice had never met.

`What is the occasion?' she asked.

'Oh. we're Just havinga little Millennium Tea Party,' came the off-hand reply.

`Yes, just a little MTP,' confirmed the Hare.

'A Millennium Tea Party!' said Alice, astonished - this was better than the dull New Year's Eve party of 1865 from which she had just come.

`Yes, of famous memor-ee,' added a hairy squirrel who had quite a talent for verse.

`Yes, just a little MTP, OFM,' the Hare went on.

This would have gone on ad nauseam had not Alice loudly exclaimed, `The Millennium, why, what a grand thing!'

There was silence. Even the Hare was silent. Then a dinosaur spoke. His name was Soames: a tall, pale, shambling character, his voice as toneless as his grey, waterproof cape.

'I don't see what's so grand,' he said.

`It is 2,000 years since the birth of Our Lord,' said Alice. `Surely evil cannot have survived 2,000 years of Christianity. War, poverty, corruption. .'

`Mankind?' Alice was interrupted by an owl in a Dominican habit. `Yes, these things have survived. We are all sons of Adam; we all have free will, and sin, my dear, is usually so much more fun.'

`Adam and Eve!' cried Rawkins, a young rat in a white lab coat. `No one believes that stuff any more.' At this, Aquinas, the owl, looked pained and took some more tea.

`Then what do you believe?' asked Alice indignantly.

`Anything,' quipped the owl. It was Rawkins's turn to look pained. Then he took on the expression of one who felt that the time had come to teach his grandmother to suck eggs.

`We believe in Darwinism,' he began.

`Then I don't see why we're here now,' said Soames. `It's not even two centuries After Darwin.'

`Because,' the rat went on, `we won't be around in 2000 After Darwin. We will all be as dead as dodos.'

`Well, I've been as dead as a dodo since 1519,' said Leonardo, a brightly coloured bird, `but I still made it here.'

The rat's expression was now that of a primary school teacher. `No, mankind will be extinct, non-existent, even in these odd parallel universes.'

`But is there no hope? Is the Millennium no more than a mark of time passed, 2,000 years' survival? …

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