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ISSUE 1534 Saturday 7 August 1999

Bug Proof

Angela Neustatter meets a family expecting millennium chaos

WHEN Jeremy pulls open the door of the family's emergency store cupboard, sacks of lentils, beans and rice threaten to tumble out. Behind them the boxes of dried milk, packets of sugar, jars of honey and packs of loo roll are all wedged in while the tuna fish and spaghetti are still in the sitting-room waiting to be taken upstairs. By the time New Year's Eve arrives, the Perrons will have enough provisions to get them through at least a month of the chaos and food shortages they suspect will be caused by the Millennium Bug.

Angela and Jeremy contemplated such havoc long before most of us realised the Millennium Bug was not a small hairy creature. A year ago they took action. Jeremy explains, 'We just packed up our house in Wiltshire, hired a van and drove to the north of Scotland to live in a house we had arranged over the phone and never seen. I had no job and we knew nobody.'

Angela breaks in, 'We wanted to protect our children, to feel we could be self-sufficient in an area that is not too densely populated. We have our own water from a well, enough land to grow vegetables and keep chickens. We cook and heat the house with solid fuel - we can find wood around where we live.'

Angela, a tall, rather beautiful woman who belongs to the Y2K Community Action Network which aims to 'tell people honestly what could go wrong and help them plan strategies', is amazed at how blithe attitudes are. She takes a copy of the Government's thin yellow Millennium Bug leaflet, which explains in simple language 'the minor hiccups that may be experienced', and throws it on to the table where Joe and Amber sit eating homemade broccoli soup and rolls.

Eyebrows raised disdainfully, she says, 'There's too much "everything will be fine" talk. Jeremy works with computers as a programmer and understands a great deal, and as he says nobody actually knows what will happen. We are engaged in the biggest technological problem mankind has ever faced.'

Jeremy, more laconic in his approach, elaborates: 'People think the problem is desktop computer chips or that everything will go haywire on New Year's Eve. But the greatest risk is more long-term, coming from chips embedded in things that function automatically, like oil pipelines, shipping, factory production lines and food distribution systems, where the effects could be felt in months or even a year or two's time. We are so reliant on huge industrial processes not controlled by people.'

So the Perrons decided they would try to free themselves from this reliance. Angela - smiling at Amber who declares, 'I think the Millennium Bug is boring', while Joseph chirrups, 'Sleeping Bug. . . Sleeping Bug' - says, 'It's simple. I wanted to protect my children and the bonus is we've come to a wonderful place for them to grow up.' She gestures through the small window at undulating hills, lush green fields and masses of flowering gorse bushes. But the move attracted media attention, with their being branded as 'invaders from Planet Panic'. Not surprisingly, Angela is cross.

'We were shown as people who would be insulated from social unrest if it happens. In fact we wanted to move to a place with a strong sense of community. I've made more friends here in a year than I did in 12 years in Wiltshire.'

However, to say their life is altogether more arduous seems an understatement. Jeremy, who now works nearby as a computer programmer, spends a lot of his time chopping wood and drying it out. Coal has to be brought in buckets from the shed and living six miles from the nearest shop means considerable organisation, although the local vegetable co-op delivers boxes of its seasonal produce. 'When the vegetables we like are not in season, we have to be inventive,' Jeremy murmurs, perhaps remembering his pre-marriage days as a carnivore.

Then there is the cold. On the summer day when I visit, rain slants across the landscape. Angela wears a wool jumper and shivers describing how, in winter, she jumps out of bed and scampers downstairs to stoke up the Rayburn before getting dressed. She's learnt just what hard work it is gardening in this tough terrain. She gives a wry smile, 'We're the kind of people caricatured in The Good Life. But I'm used to being seen as an oddball with crazy notions, and I'm used to the same ideas being taken up a few years later.'

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), August 09, 1999


No one like that around here. I live in Pollyannopolis.

-- Randolph (dinosaur@williams-net.com), August 09, 1999.

Thanks, O.G., for the (as usual) excellent post!

The "trouble & strife" and I have often fantasized about bugging out to the old country to find haven, and posts like these serve to remind us that we are far better off where we are now; better than any wishfull thinking could persuade. Thanks again for the reminder! (Will talk soon).

Randolf, LOL: "Pollyannapolis"! Can I use it?

Isn't that near DC?

-- Spindoc' (spindoc_99_2000@yahoo.com), August 10, 1999.

All that food is more than a month's worth, guys. That family is lying! And who can blame them?

-- Mara Wayne (MaraWAyne@aol.com), August 10, 1999.


Even if their stored food was for more than a month, spring in northern GB doesn't come until late May-June at the earliest. That's the soonest that they could even break ground to plant. With a growing season of only 3 1/2 months, at best. Think about it. I done't envy them.

-- Spindoc' (spindoc_99_2000@yahoo.com), August 10, 1999.


You don't have the faintest idea about GB climate. "Can't break ground until late spring". Ha! Are you confused with New England?

It rarely gets below freezing for long anywhere in England. On the western side of the country, even frost is rare to the extent that there are tropical gardens protected from the elements by nothing more than a windbreak in Cornwall (and the far North of Scotland, for that matter!) Typical winter weather is cool grey drizzle or fog, and daylight hours are short. Typical ground condition is muddy.

"Winter" crops are many, though in truth they do most or all of the growing in summer and autumn, and are just ticking over during winter. Roots, potatoes, brassicas, leeks are the main ones that come to mind. Apples will store over winter, even without supermarket high- tech.

For non-gardeners, bear in mind that it's a small country. The Autumn harvest will be in storage, and we don't have the thousand-mile supply line problem across frozen wastes that you do in the USA.

-- Nigel Arnot (nra@maxwell.ph.kcl.ac.uk), August 10, 1999.

Notice that he is a computer programer.

-- Linda A. (adahi@muhlon.com), August 10, 1999.

Nigel says-

"the thousand-mile supply line problem across frozen wastes"

Ha, you obviously know nothing of the topography of the USA, I been in all 50 states including most of Alaska, and I can tell you, there is no wasteland here! North Dakota is about as close as we get, but I wouldn't trade a bit of it!!

-- Michael (mikeymac@uswest.net), August 10, 1999.

Nigel--read the article again. They are in the NORTH OF SCOTLAND, not Wiltshire. In any case, I was brought up in Yorkshire and I can remember snowfall in June one memorable year. Late frosts are a serious problem in the Pennines (mountains) area and that's only just above the middle of Britain. Dad's in Nottinghamshire (the Midlands) now and he was talking about late frosts in May this year. Frost doesn't have to last more than overnight to kill off many young plants. And if it's not that cold up there, how come the majority of ski resorts are up that way?

If those folks are on the Northeast coast of Scotland then they're probably getting some winds off the Ural mountains in Russia! As for the thousand-mile frozen wastes in the US--not where I live, dear. I wish! At this point in a long string of unusually hot temperatures (ave. 95F during the day), I could do with a bit of frozen waste right now!

PS - I happen to know Spindoc is VERY familiar with our country and its vagaries of weather, in fact he's married to an Englishwoman.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), August 10, 1999.

Something smells of haddock in this story . . .

People worrying about the millennium, so they sell a house (in which presumably they have lived for some time, and have all the things they require to hand) in rural wiltshire (which is in the mildest area in the country, very peaceful and pretty, and excellent farming country), and up sticks and move to THE NORTH OF SCOTLAND ????? Where its dark half the year, the only thing that grows is moss and heather, and its so damn cold most of the time that you need to wear a polar suit even when the sun is out ???? Are these people slightly addled in the brain department ? And then they go on to talk about "dealing with the cold when the lights go out" . . well DUH.

If you read a story about a family in, say, rural Kentucky, living on a family spread, upping sticks and moving to Minnessota because they were worried about the bug . . would you raise an eyebrow ??

Either these people were already disposed to the "bug-out" concept (which I very much suspect) and would have moved to N.Scotland anyway in order to isolate themselves totally from modern society . . or theyre just a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

I think maybe the Torygraph is having a slow-news week.



-- W0lv3r1n3 (W0lv3r1n3@yahoo.com), August 10, 1999.

I guess I should half-apologise, I didn't notice it was Scotland, but in the UK the temperature gradient in winter is mainly East to West (cold on the east cost, mild as you like on the west, as I stated. There really is a tropical gardens up there on the North-west coast, well north of Kyle, was there once though I've forgotten its name).

As for frozen wastes: it's the standard description of a white expanse of snow and ice, scoured by the wind. Unless this is an example of being divided by a common language, this is a mite different to a frozen wasteland. I've been in Minnesota in winter, and I stick by my description, and yes, I know its fine farmland once it thaws!

-- Nigel Arnot (nra@maxwell.ph.kcl.ac.uk), August 10, 1999.

Welcome again Sir Nigel of the green west coast and barren east coast - thank you for your previously comments. "Tis opposite here - CA is barren and brown in summer, and only green in the spring. NH and VT and ME are (I understand 8<)) covered with 6 feet of permafrost and inhabited only to prevent Canadianians from stopping on their way to FL.

May I politely remind you of the past two world wars when u-boats threatened to physically "interrupt" that "1000 mile" infrastructure link across the Atlantic.

I grant you of course that it was wartime, but I recall UK being direly short of many items, incluidng fuel and food..

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), August 10, 1999.


Let's see,

You live on an Island with a large pop base. You want to get away from it all. Think about it another way.

You live in Washington DC. Do you move to Minnsota? Or to Miami.

Think about it for a minute, which way will the herd flow? And remember, it really is a small island, sorry OG.

-- CT (ct@no.yr), August 11, 1999.

No apology necessary, CT. England, Scotland and Wales make up a VERY small island, roughly the same square mileage as the state of Oregon, except with about 25% of the US population. Fits into Texas 2-1/2 times--and Texas has about 9m people. And Nigel's right about the west coast climate--there are palm trees and other subtropicals at the west coast resorts. But when it snows, the west is a particular mess--RAF out there with tons of hay for the cattle, Army looking for idiots buried in drifts of monumental proportions and trapped on mountainsides, Navy and Coast Guard rescuing idiots who insist on going boating, roads blocked. As for the north of Scotland, brrrrr! That sort of weather is a treat for that part of the world!

I think Angela's last remark sums up the couple's attitude: "We're the kind of people caricatured in The Good Life. But I'm used to being seen as an oddball with crazy notions, and I'm used to the same ideas being taken up a few years later."

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), August 11, 1999.


It is I who should apologize; clearly, I overgeneralized. My personal knowledge of the UK only extends as far south as the North York Moors. As is the fair Old Git (don't let her handle fool you; she is a beautiful lady), my wife is a lovely Yorkshire lass, but she is third generation Highlander transplant. When asked, she considers herself a Scot. At least, she does when around her British family members. :) Our son was born in the Northern UK, and we go back as often as we can afford it, usually once every other year for a few short weeks (sigh). One of the places we were considering for bug-out was the Isle of Skye; we have cousins there. Thank heavens, we didn't consider it for long.

Perhaps we will retire to Scotland someday, if the 21st Century cooperates. For now, we'll stay here in sunny Florida, where my (admittedly small by some standards) vegetable garden will continue to produce year-round. That is, if I can keep my wife's chickens away from them. "Mr D" is her newest rooster, and he seems especially fond of Brussel Sprouts, for some strange reason.

Old Git, thanks for coming to my defense, but Nigel had me dead to rights. I deserved the flame. BTW, my email is still being 'looked at', but hopefully will be fixed soon, if I can get anti-spam security problems resolved. Until then!

Linda A,

I have never claimed to be a programmer, where did you see that? I'm a Cognitive Scientist, which is an interdisciplinary field covering a number of related areas of information processing. In one sense, I suppose I'm a sort of a jack-of-all-trades, touching on several areas of cognitive, computational, and perceptual behavior, but I'm not really a deep specialist in most of them. As computer technology and knowledge of human/computer information processing expands, distinctions between these various disciplines begin to blur. That's the best that I can describe what I do, for now. Although I can do *some* programming on my own, I rely heavily on the expertise of true programmers and computer engineers for my research. Maybe that's why I "got it": I learned to listen to them, and they learned that they could talk to me honestly, so that we could work as an effective team to get the job done.

To make a long story short, I've come to believe that we're in for some deep shit.

-- Spindoc' (spindoc_99_2000@yahoo.com), August 11, 1999.


I think Angela's last remark sums up the couple's attitude: "We're the kind of people caricatured in The Good Life. But I'm used to being seen as an oddball with crazy notions, and I'm used to the same ideas being taken up a few years later."

Funny how that works? BRAAAAW!!!, nite,

-- CT (ct@no.yr), August 11, 1999.

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