This New Year’s will be pretty uneventful for most of us, apart from drunken Uncle Billy reversing into the mailbox, or grandma getting cheeky with the hot new neighbour.
But sweep your mind back sixteen years. Can you do that? If you can, you will remember the Y2K bug. When the US government was spending $150 billion preparing for Armageddon. When Hong Kong was stockpiling food. When English ladies were hoarding tins of Gentleman’s relish and turning their koi carp ponds into trout farms.
I am a Scot and I was living in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, during Y2K. My Kansas friends were pretty relaxed about it, although they did follow official advice to prepare for the unknown. TV warnings ranged from “prepare as if for a six-day blizzard” to “run for the hills!”
I didn’t know what was going to happen. The whole world didn’t know what was going to happen. Virgin Airlines cancelled all flights on that night. Would every computer on the planet think the date had gone back one hundred years when those numbers switched to zeroes?
Thankfully, there was no Armageddon but there were still glitches; as The Kansas City Star reported on January 2: “Trouble still looms”
“If you think the only time to worry about the Y2K bug is on January 1, then you’re underestimating the problem” said Bruce McConnell, director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center.
Six American nuclear power plants had problems. The doors in a federal building would not lock. A US spy satellite was knocked off line. In France the Syracus II military satellite system was running on a software patch while technicians desperately worked to fix it.
But some people got lucky. One glitch caused Microsoft’s MoneyCentralWeb site to vastly overestimate the worth of some customers’ portfolios. And the online mailbox had emails dated 2099.
But we all survived.
The only folks who’d been relishing the prospect of Armageddon was a group of Survivalists I met. They had been prepping for years for this eventuality. They felt vindicated; they’d been right all along. But they were about to be disappointed.
One second after midnight of the new Millennium, the whole world had a stockpile of water purifying tablets, gasoline and non-perishable food on their hands. And me? I had a year’s supply of Petal Soft toilet paper (my partner refused to even think of using a dock leaf in an emergency).
Sixteen years on, everyone has forgotten Y2K. Although, funnily enough, I recently met a Canadian banker in Barcelona one drunken evening, who told me of the panic he and his work colleagues had gone through protecting their money in the run up to 2000.
He assured me he would buy my romcom novel (which is set in the months leading up to Y2K in Kansas), but I know he won’t. You know how I know? Cos he left my contact details under an empty bottle of Rioja before he staggered off into the night.
“Brake Failure” is releasing on Amazon on January 9, 2017