The Irritations of Modern Life: 74. Millennium bug paranoia

DID WE learn a valuable lesson from publicity about the eclipse in August? We were warned that if we should venture to Cornwall for the event of a lifetime, we should spend a week gridlocked on a motorway in Devon, causing death and destruction with our presence because local emergency services would be unable to go about their business. So we collectively decided to stay at home.

Similarly, I have to put my bottom on the line here and hazard a guess that when Big Ben strikes 12 on Friday night, it will not signal the end of the world as we know it. Turn a tap and water will flow. Pop sausage rolls into the microwave and they will cook. Go to a hole in the wall to withdraw our life savings to pay the baby-sitter and... well, the machines may be empty. But there's nothing new or sinister in that.

A whopping $600bn has been spent tackling the Y2K problem. Most countries insist it is sorted, inasmuch as aircraft and nuclear warheads are unlikely to fall from the sky. Yet some people remain convinced we are on the brink of disaster and it is a case of every man for himself.

My neighbour has stashed away petrol, wood, candles and milk, plans to fill every saucepan with water before Saturday and has stockpiled enough canned hot dogs to feed a Superbowl crowd.

"Aren't you worried about civil unrest?" he asked.

"Living as we do in the suburbs," I said, "I would welcome the excitement. Should I discover a madman gallivanting in my garden, naked but for a sandwich board stating the end of the world is nigh, I shall laugh heartily and and throw mince pies at him - I must get rid of them somehow. I certainly shan't take to the hills, shooting at anyone daring to ask to borrow a cup of sugar."

I wish civilisation would go belly up - at least slightly. I dream of my credit card debts and overdraft vanishing and of BT forgetting that I still have not paid my last bill.

Should the water supply dry up, I'll pee in the garden. If the electricity fails, I'll light candles. If the gas goes, I'll wear an extra jumper. I shall also call in on my other neighbour, an old woman living alone. In the spirit of the age, I shall insist she joins us for the biggest party ever and pray she likes mince pies.

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