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Katherine Shonfield

The 'oo' of relief at getting rid of the 00 that signified 2000 appears pretty general.

Last year was a bit of a Groundhog year. It was like being a guest at a portentously stiff and unyielding wedding reception, repeated again and again, in the hope that we would know what we were doing it for, and achieve the requisite wholeheartedness.

This year promises the enjoyable informality of insignificance.

Out of the 2000 straightjacket, we have the luxury of looking about us. One of the positive things this promises is a new twenty-first century outlook on our Victorian past, now officially two centuries ago.

We spent much of the twentieth century in a prolonged teenage rebellion against our over-bearing, confident and supremely successful Victorian mother. The sycophancy of middle age followed, with a sentimental lumping of everything together into an idealised 'heritage': the rejected mother became a resplendent grandmother, impossible to criticize.

But our changing relationship with this era of confidence, hypocrisy and achievement is more complex. In its Victorian week, which marked the beginning of 2001, the BBC used the perceptions of two architectural commentators, Dan Cruikshank and Jonathan Meades, to undo some of this complexity. Both Cruikshank's documentary on the Victorian way of death and Meades'essay on Victorian architecture revealed one of our most profound legacies as a refusal to confront the reality of the city.

Parish churchyards, engulfed by urbanisation, tried to ignore the fact that the numbers of the dead had increased exponentially, and crammed bodies on top of each other. The later necropolis built an impossible dream of a city of social hierarchies, forever fixed.

Cruikshank's resonant insight for today was that you may know an era by the way it treats its dead.

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