IF YOU think that Y2K is a brand of cereal, you are seriously behind the curve. America is rapidly going millennium-mad, stocking up on all the elements for a good party: guns, dried food and honey.
The bullets are just in case everything goes wrong and the arrival of Y2K sends every computer in the country into a flat spin, triggering a temporary breakdown in social order. The dried food and the honey are perhaps even more worrying. Many Americans fear that when the screens darken, the country will be plunged into food shortages. And at least one group of people seems particularly keen to fill the larder with cartons of 9mm hollowpoint and a little something: computer programmers.
America has always taken the millennium bug more seriously than other countries. Concern has gone into overdrive in the last few weeks. The new status symbol is to be spending New Year's Eve at home: it means you are critical personnel forbidden to travel and that you may be needed on the Big Day. If your boss has told you it's fine to go parascending on Pitcairn Island it may be time to start looking at the small ads. But with this fascination goes fear, and in America fear means a lightweight item with a 30-round magazine and a glass-fibre stock.
Religious, rightwing and survivalist groups have been advising America for some time to stock up on the "Four Bs - bullets, bandages, beans and Bibles", as one website puts it. But it is not just hard-core survivalists who are getting ready to lock and load: there has been a noticeable boom in sales of guns and ammunition this year. Mike Jordan of the Winchester company said "sales are thriving". For the first time in years, the industry raised gun prices earlier this year.
Some of the sales are through specialist firms set up to prepare for the millennial market. David Goodyear created Bread and Lead in Oregon (motto: "Nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of death") specifically to cater for Y2K demand, and he said business is booming. But general dealers are also doing well. Darren at All-American Guns in Virginia said there has been a surge since mid-February. Highly popular products have been "military-style firearms" and "home defence weapons", especially the AR-15 (Armalite) rifle.
If gun sales have been going nicely, sales of dried foods and other survivalist rations - what one paper called "Apocalypse Chow" - have exploded. Crown Point, which makes military-style Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) saw a 500 per cent increase in sales in the first quarter of the year as people turned their thoughts from having a few people round for lunch to fighting off the neighbours with a semi-automatic and some anti-personnel devices.
And that is the key to the smiles on the faces of some beekeepers. Honey keeps well, can be used as a sweetener, on bread or in drinks, and is ideal for stockpiling, so many people concerned about impending social collapse have been buying it in large quantities. "It's one of the few commodities where the consumer can go directly to the producer," said Paul Hendricks, a beekeeper from Denver. "It keeps well, and it doesn't matter if you don't have heat or refrigeration." Unlike MREs, it is also nice to eat. (Winnie the Pooh knew this: when the Hundred Acre Wood was flooded, he sat it out in a tree with several jars of "hunny" - but he left his M-16 at home.)
Retail sales of honey in the US were up by between 10 and 20 per cent in the first four months of the year, and bulk sales were up by a similar amount - about a million pounds of honey a month.
Richard Adee, a honey producer from South Dakota, toured Y2K shows across America and found demand heaviest in Denver, Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains. "Some places they bought cases," he said, with people carrying away 60lb boxes. "For a family, that's quite a bit of honey." Perhaps most worryingly, "a lot of them were computer people". The boom in gun sales in northern Virginia also seems to reflect the desire of the area's high-tech workers to tool up - and we are not talking about a Phillips screwdriver.
Additional reporting by Marina Kublanova and Sebastian Woods-Walker.
With apologies to A A Milne
It's very very funny
'Cos I've bought a lot of hunny;
And stocked it in a bunker
That I made
Enough to save the day
When it comes to Y2K
In case those hungry Heffalumps
And if it comes to shakedown
Or Eeyore order breakdown
There's automatic weapons here
'Cos should there be sedition
I've goloptious ammunition
To blow those mo'fo' Heffalumps
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