Down the road on the cliff top, swept by the up wind from the Tasman Sea, a retired university professor lived with his wife.
The seventies house was fashionably unkempt, an assortment of Australian drought tolerant bushes and shrubs surrounding. I think it was two stories, but from so far away in time, that’s a little unclear. The bushes all leaned back into the house, surrendering to the stiff breezes and occasional gales which buffeted the home.
It was, very cosy.
Back then in 1999, the world was a buzz, well not too buzzy with a rising crescendo of newspaper stories telling of the approaching doom of the Y2K bug.
Most folk though paid little heed. The year two thousand for many signified the opportunity for the piss up of piss ups. The newspaper stringers felt lucky to have at least a year of headlines full of increasing alarm and government unpreparedness for a threat poorly understood.
However, in more learned circles, there was a potential technical threat.
December 1st, 1999 came and was going.
The professor and wife began stocking the house with supplies. Canned foods and ingredients. Basic flour, sugar, tea etc. No need to continue with the list. You can fill in the menu of your choice. Batteries, petrol, shovels and all manner of survival tools. Pick your poison here too.
They filled the third bedroom, then the second bedroom. All laid out and catalogued library like. A life in academia was not wasted. Then the lounge and half of the dining room became clogged with the overflow of goods as mid month passed. The place took on the aroma of a combination of a Bunnings warehouse and an Indian spice shop. It was intoxicating.
All this went on, unknown to the surrounding neighbours. Extra shopping was added to the usual weekly supplies. Gardening and other implements purchase merely hinting at a summer full of horticultural hope.
On the so called millennial day afternoon, they called out to a next door neighbour, who lived two doors up . She was on the roadway unpacking her car.
“How you doing? Completed your preps?”
“Preps?” she thought quickly wondering what the prep they were speaking of.
The prof continued helpfully, ” your preparations for Y2K.”
He might have well spoken in Swahili.
” Y2K?” she queried, ” Is that a rate notice from the council?”
“No, no,” he replied, ” Haven’t you been following the news? Y2K, its everywhere.”
The prof had helpfully sauntered up the slight rise in the roadway to make conversation easier, and to save his croaky voice from shouting.
“I saw something on the Channel 7, or was it 9 about something or other. Seemed hyped up to me,” she answered truthfully.
“Well hope your pantry’s full, ‘cos tomorrow’s gonna be a bran nue day,” he offered.
“Is there anything I can do then?” she implored.
“Make sure you fill your bath with clean water, which you can drink over the next few days, and eat up all your fresh food in the fridge as quick as you can in the next few days, after the power goes off come midnight,” he said.
“We’ve filled our bath already. We can perhaps share some of our goods too. Depends how long recovery takes, if ever.
“We’ve been prepping for the past two or three months, so we’re well prepared,” added jauntily.
The thought of cold baked beans and dry biscuits was unappealing to her. Then again any port in a storm.
She knew she’d have to scrub the bath out first, before refilling with drinking water to avoid an after taste of Pears soap and bubble bath liquid.
“Ok, thanks, thanks heaps,” was all she could offer, as she heaved her plastic bags out of the car boot and trudged inside the house.
She made a cuppa and settled down into the bumpy settee.
“If the world’s going to end, may as well be comfy,” she mused.
She turned on the tele and watched Wellington NZ celebrations. She caught the warm up to the celebrations down in Sydney using the Harbour Bridge as a prop. In the distance, local fireworks in Newcastle sounded like random gunshots in the night sky, the glow of only the highest rockets lighting the horizon.
As the cascade of sparkling pearl firework fizzled out from the Harbour Bridge deck, she began to wonder.
“How come the tv’s still working, how come we’ve seen Wellington?” and it went on around the
world. Singapore, New Delhi, Cape Town, Nairobi, too many EU capitals to name and then the Americas, even Hawaii.”
It was nearly midday before she thought to take out the rubbish. She trudged up the driveway to the kerb side bin. The azure blue sky was studded with light fluffy clouds scudding westward.
She looked down the street and saw the prof’s wife, also filling her bin.
“Hi,” she semi-shouted.
The profs wife managed a wan smile, sheepishly responding,
“Hi,” before scurrying back inside.
It was clear nothing had happened at midnight. In fact nothing had happened at many midnights.
The prof and wife donated their canned goods to the Salvo’s, excess tools to charity and pride to the shredder.
Eighteen years later, a podcast, at the time not imagined, was produced reflecting on Y2K.
It can be found at :
It’s well worth listening to!
David, someone once called Y2K the “COBOL programmer’s retirement plan.” Many COBOL programmers were called back in to remedy old programs designed with two digit years to save space. Keith