BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Sunday, 31 December, 2000, 03:38 GMT
Millennium madness

The BBC's Andrew Dinwoodie takes a look back at some of the year's more bizarre events

Much of the world may be a less religious and less superstitious place than it was at the turn of the millennium, but the year began with a collective sigh of relief that one particular cataclysm had failed to materialise.

Governments and businesses around the world had spent billions of dollars trying to counter the Y2K bug, a defect whereby many older and unrectified computers would assume that the year following 1999 was 1900.

Millennium bug
The millennium bug: First extinction of the new century
But as the fateful date changed, no aeroplanes fell from the sky, no nuclear power plants exploded, and people's life savings did not evaporate from their bank accounts. And most of the firework celebrations were perfectly timed.

Those governments who had spent vast sums on the millennium bug problem chose to believe that their investment had paid off.

But there were other countries, like Italy, where the government spent little more than the cost of a pizza fighting the bug. They seemed to think that if they ignored it, it would go away... and it duly did.

Late tape scrape

But the doomsayers were able to point to one example of the catastrophe they had all dreaded. In New York State, video store owner Terry Field opened his shop for business.

Instead of one day late, it had registered as one hundred years overdue

Terry Field
Video shop owner
"It was New Year's Day. I came in early to run some report to make sure everything was working correctly, and everything seemed wonderful," said Mr Field.

"And then the first customer came in with an overdue video tape. On the screen a late charge was registered. It took a long time to total up, and it came to $91,250.

"Instead of one day late, it had registered as one hundred years overdue."

Cyber rage

Despite the bug's non-appearance, computers seemed to be as much a cause of frustration in the new millennium as they had in the last.

We discovered a young gentleman who actually took a breadknife to the keyboard

Aled Miles
This prompted some people to take direct action. A survey found that nearly half the people in Britain reacted to problems either by abusing their colleagues, hitting the computer, screaming at it, or even throwing bits of it around.

"Sadly, we discovered a young gentleman who was so incensed with his computer, that he actually took a breadknife to the keyboard, stabbing it incessantly," said survey co-ordinator Aled Miles.

Shrinking planet

Although the world survived 31 December 1999 in a more or less reasonable state, the Earth itself did undergo some changes, most notably to some of its dimensions.

The Earth: Not as heavy as previously thought
During the year, the Earth lost billions of tonnes in weight after US scientists reassessed the force of gravity, leading them to a revised view of the Earth's mass.

"Our measurements show that the gravitational constant is just a little bit bigger than what it was assumed to be before," said Professor Jens Gundlach from the Washington University.

"That means that the Earth is just a little bit lighter than what we thought."

Weighty problem

Ever-resourceful human beings, however, were attempting to make up for the Earth's drastic weight loss.

For the first time, the number of overweight people in the world was equal to the number of the undernourished.

It's estimated that 55% of American adults are overweight

Brian Hellawell
World Watch Institute
This stark equation, dramatising the imbalance in distribution of the world's resources, was arrived at by the American think-tank, the World Watch Institute.

Their spokesman, Brian Hellawell, estimated that both underfed and overfed totalled about 1.2 billion.

Eel's shame

The sporting event of the year - the Olympics Games in Sydney - was generally reckoned to be the best ever.

Eric Moussambani
Eric the Eel in action
There was a new crop of sporting heroes, including Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guninea.

Moussambani won the hearts of millions of viewers around the world as he struggled to complete his 100m freestyle qualifying swim - the slowest-ever Olympic time.

But Eric the Eel, as he became known, found himself less popular in his own country.

Although he only learnt to swim at all at the beginning of the year, he was told he had shamed his nation, and was banned from using the country's only swimming pool.

Footballing fiasco

Other sportsmen without honour in their own country were the national football team of the Ivory Coast.

They were expected to perform well in the African Nations Cup, but after being knocked out in the first round, found themselves out of favour with the country's former military leader, General Robert Guei.

The general gave them time to contemplate their failings - in jail.

"You must endeavour to meet the people's expectations with success. You saw them play, you knew their hearts weren't in it. So we made a point of teaching them this lesson," he said.

Petrol-powered boots
Scientists test the petrol-powered boots
But the unfortunate Ivorian team could be forgiven for wishing they had been able to use one performance-enhancing device unlikely to find favour with sporting officials.

In Russia, scientists developed petrol-powered boots that propel the wearer into the air at a speed of more than 30km an hour.

According to the developers, they could be used by rescue workers in difficult terrain, or by postal workers delivering the mail.

Sweaty pigs

Another age-old problem tackled in Denmark this year was that of sweaty pigs.

"Phew, its hot in here"
The Danish Government enacted a law making it compulsory for all farmers to provide showers for their pigs.

"Pigs don't sweat very easily, and get uncomfortable in the summer heat. So the answer," says Eleing Christiansen of the ruling Social Democrats, "is a nice cool shower."

"Here in Denmark we put animal welfare on top of our agenda, together with food safety, because we want to deliver good quality bacon to consumers."

Added ingredient

Quality control was also top of the agenda when one well-known multinational hamburger chain said it would investigate claims that a child found a portion of lizard in its French fries - if the reptile were produced as evidence.

Guess who's coming to dinner ?
Toby Sharpe was travelling in his aunt's car in the north of England, when he found the deep-fried reptile. His aunt, Adele Coulter, told the BBC what happened:

"As I was driving along, Toby was eating his chips, and he shouted out, "I've found a lizard!"

"I thought it was one of those toys that you get in children's meals, then I glanced back and Toby was there with a lizard in between his fingers," she said.

Act of cod?

All sorts of horror stories came out of factory farms, where animals are intensively and artificially reared to provide cheap food.

The cod came up and just sucked the head into its stomach

Graham Hopkirk
Fine Kettle of Fish wholesalers
But what could be more free-ranging and healthy than fish fresh from the deep sea?

In Australia, workers at the Fine Kettle of Fish factory in Queensland opened up a giant codfish - and found a man's head inside.

"It certainly was horrendous," said Graham Hopkirk, director of the seafood wholesalers.

The police were working on the theory that the remains might be those of a fisherman who had gone missing several days before the gruesome find.

"It was certainly a big fish... all we can assume is that somehow the head has been severed at some point, and the cod came up and just sucked the head into its stomach," said Mr Hopkirk.

Sealed with a kiss

Marine life struck back again in New Zealand - in the form of an enormous elephant seal as big as 20 overweight men.

Homer the elephant seal
Homer is used to throwing his weight around
Normally at home in Antarctic waters, the seal - nicknamed Homer after the fat father in the American cartoon series The Simpsons - wreaked havoc in the seaside town of Gisborne.

Used to lording it over a harem of dozens of females, Homer found himself at a bit of a loose end, and had to fall back on the town's compliant population of motor vehicles.

"Homer has caused a bit of a problem when he has got this itch," said local conservationist Andy Bassett. "He's actually attracted to cars, and his two tonnes rubbing on a car makes a bit of a dent."

"We are hoping that he will take off and go back to the sub-Antarctic and try to look for lady friends down there, but at the moment he's quite happy in Gisborne."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Links to more World stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more World stories