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EFTPOS OUTAGE

It had been a very pleasant Friday evening and the small group of friends who’d been celebrating Ted McMahon’s forty-sixth birthday at one of the best restaurants in the city were now saying their farewells as they headed for the door, Ted’s wife Janine having told them that the party had already been paid for and there was no need for them to reach for their wallets. It was typical of the McMahons, which family was known to be generous to a fault, though to be fair their many friends were also inclined to donate substantial sums towards good causes, and whilst there were no protests there were promises to return the hospitality “the next time around.”

The waiter hadn’t yet returned to the table with the credit card that Janine had given him, though when she looked towards the front desk there were quite a few people gathered there and she simply assumed the concierge was very busy. Whilst she and Ted were regulars at the restaurant and had never been worried about the integrity of the staff it was never good to have a credit card out of one’s wallet or purse for longer than was necessary so she decided to pick it up herself on the way out rather than sit until the waiter returned. As she stood Ted lifted her evening wrap from the back of the chair where she had placed it and draped it across her shoulders before they made their way to the desk where they found that there was a problem with her credit card.

In fact, it was not just with her card, but with all the cards that had been presented from nine o’clock onward. Frantic calls by the restaurant’s manager to the bank’s after-hours hot-line revealed that, unlikely as it was and almost impossible to believe, the bank’s entire computer systems had gone down.

Fortunately for those customers that wanted to pay with plastic the restaurant did have one of the old manual imprint machines and a large stack of forms, both items that the manager, along with many other smart business people, had decided to hang onto for just such an event. It was a bit slower than swiping a card or tapping it on an electronic reader however people were at least able to pay for their meals and be on their way.

Janine actually had enough cash with her to pay the bill but decided to hang on to it and wait until it was her turn to have her card’s details imprinted on the paper form. As she waited, Ted, who was actually the manager of one of the bank’s suburban branches, pulled out his mobile ‘phone and made a call to the computer centre at the bank’s head office. It took several attempts before he got through, which wasn’t all that surprising given the circumstances, however the information he got from the people working there wasn’t any more enlightening than what the restaurant manager had gotten from the after-hours hot-line: To all intents the computer system was down and as yet nobody had been able to figure out why.

Ted recalled that the last time such an event had happened was when fibre optic cables had been cut by a construction crew working on a building in Chatswood, and that had knocked out internet, ADSL services, many banking EFTPOS machines and a broad range of other users. It had taken some time to repair the damage and although there was a rumour of it having been sabotage by a disgruntled ex-employee of Telstra no evidence of such had been produced. He was hopeful that the systems going off-line was not as bad as that particular incident had been, and that the problem would be sorted out quite quickly.

As it turned out, the systems of all the major banks plus many smaller banks and Credit Unions had also gone down, although by noon next day they were all back on line and functioning normally. Thorough checks were made throughout the following week to find out if the various systems affected had been hacked in some way or if there had been a disruption to the power supplies, however nothing untoward was found. Those in charge were left scratching their heads for several days however by the end of the week, when there had been no further disruptions, the event was relegated to an unexplained anomaly akin to the Bermuda Triangle and two weeks later was all but forgotten.

That is, it was forgotten until a Friday night one month later when a failure of the computer systems controlling the state’s electricity grid blacked out the entire city of Sydney and its surrounding suburbs. When the system suddenly righted itself eighteen hours later and the lights came back on those in charge were left in the dark as to how it had happened, although despite there being no evidence the feeling this time was that it had been the result of a hacking attack.

Not surprisingly the media was making the best of it, with accusations being flung at suspected hackers both at home and as far away as North Korea, China and Russia. Even the United States’ CIA came in for a drubbing although that was mostly from the Tin-Foil-Hat Brigade, some of whom also claimed there was an extra- terrestrial aspect that needed to be considered. Of course exactly how that would be determined was beside the point as the proponents of the E.T. theory were not to be denied the opportunity to throw away more of the few remaining marbles they may have possessed.

The sudden loss of power had disrupted just about everything in the city and whilst hospitals, nursing homes, radio and television stations and some vital services were able to switch to backup generators, railways and traffic signals were knocked out bringing further chaos to the darkened city. Service stations, apart from a few that had emergency generators were unable to pump fuel and this resulted in many cars being driven until their tanks were empty then parked, locked up and left abandoned whilst their drivers tried to find their way home or to wherever they’d been going. Buses continued to run however their schedules were thrown way out due to having to travel slowly through darkened streets and many just stopped at the end of their runs. Crimes of opportunity soared, though fortunately all were of a comparatively minor nature rather than a major heist.

For the most part, Six-pack Simon, Mr and Mrs Clueless and even the more affluent Soppie-Clotts and their families fully expected the government to take care of any problems that might arise from such attacks in the future, whilst more prudent people decided that it would probably be a very good idea to top up their already well-stocked pantries and stores… without attracting undue attention of course. True, the government had on several occasions advised people to always have at least three days of food and essential supplies put aside for emergencies, but that advice was rarely listened to and less often heeded.

Many of their friends would probably have been more than a little surprised had they known the McMahons were included among those that were prepared quite a lot more than just having on hand the 36-pack of rolls of toilet paper that had been on special at the local supermarket the week before. In fact Janine had not only heeded the advice of the Red Cross to have two weeks of water, food and essential supplies put aside but had upped the ante by an extra two weeks and gone to the extent of putting together simple Grab-Bags for herself, her husband and each of their two children.

Whilst personally doubting they’d be needed Ted had been quite supportive of her efforts, especially when seeing how much enjoyment she got from being able to save quite a bit of money by buying food items in bulk, though he did have a quiet chuckle to himself after finding half a dozen Jerry cans of fuel she’d stashed in the garden shed. Fuel, she told their teenage son Geoff who had a set of wheels in the form of an old Hyundai Excel, that was to be used only for extreme emergencies… which did not include taking his girlfriend Jessica to the Blue Mountains or even to any of the local beaches when he had no cash to fill his car’s tank.

To his credit Geoff did purchase and fill two Jerry cans for himself, one of which he kept in the trunk of the car along with the Grab-Bag that Janine had provided him with; something that she was extremely pleased to hear about. Deciding that it was an easy way to keep on the good side of his mother he also added a case of bottled water and a few other ‘Escape to the Country’ items, laughingly telling her that it was just a precaution in case she suddenly decided to throw him out of the house… Not that that was likely as they were a very close-knit family.

Ted didn’t have any option other than to carry his Grab-Bag in his car: Janine had told him to, and due to the Happy wife = Happy life principle that he followed there was no argument. Their daughter Anne wasn’t quite old enough to have a driver’s licence and even though she’d learned to drive a car she didn’t own one yet so kept her Grab-Bag in the coat closet adjacent to the front door of the house.

Over the next three months there were no major disruptions to power, internet or telephone services and the only blip on the radar came when Janine was using her lap-top one morning: She discovered that her forty second Birthday, which was on the Wednesday of the next week, coincided with a long-range forecast advising that the day would fall in the middle of some extremely bad weather that was predicted to last five or six days.

Perhaps not surprisingly her first thoughts were to check that she had enough supplies to see the storm out, not so much because she was worried about the local stores running out but because she just hated having to go out anywhere when it was very wet and windy. The shopping list she wrote during the check didn’t have a lot on it but she decided to add a bit more of most everything and bring the preps to a level where the family could hunker down for two months rather than the one month she already had.

Not as much as many of the preppers she read about on-line she thought, and whilst her present efforts were certainly nothing to be sneezed at she placed a writing pad on the kitchen bench and made a long list of items that would need to be purchased if any type of disaster threatened, and of course being an avid fan of prepper’s sites she also kept a watch for any of those events that might be about to occur.

During her check the sight of a pack of spare batteries for the flashlights that were placed strategically throughout the house made he think of power supplies in general: It could be quite a problem if the grid was down for any great length of time, as had happened a couple of times in the past, and she decided to do something about that.

“I’ve decided what I want for my Birthday,” she told the family over dinner that night. “I know you’ll all probably think I’m absolutely crazy and will want to give me something I don’t really need, but Ted, I want a portable generator.”

The family sat with mouths open and stared at her in shocked silence for a minute before Ted suddenly burst out laughing.

“OK Sweetheart, if that’s what you really want I’ll get you one. Better still, we can go shopping for one together this weekend. That will be my present to you, and Geoff and Annie can give you the things you don’t really need. Though speaking of generators: What’s for desert?”

Janine spent nearly two hours that night searching internet sites for inverter generators and reading reviews about those that were most recommended by campers, off-roaders and trades people, and by the time she logged off and shut down her lap-top had gained much more than just a basic understanding of what she thought was needed for their house. It would not need to be a huge machine but during emergencies would still have to have the capacity to power the most important appliances she used, such as the fridge, the freezer and the washing machine, plus provide a reasonable amount of lighting. It wasn’t all that important but if the washing machine could be run so could the dishwasher: She simply wouldn’t use them both at the same time. She finally decided that either a Honda or a Yamaha 2000Watt inverter-generator would be best and though she knew Ted would want to have a look at what Bunnings had to offer she also knew they didn’t stock either of those units.

Saturday afternoon Ted and Janine returned home from their shopping with a Yamaha EF300iS inverter generator, which was a little bit bigger and a lot more expensive than the one she’d originally decided on, but Ted felt that the electric start option was far better than having to pull a cord to get it running. It also had a larger fuel tank and could run uninterrupted for twelve plus hours.

“I can’t believe mum really wanted a generator for her birthday,” Geoff said to his sister that evening. “Do you think she’s being reading too many of those online prepper stories?”

Anne laughed. “Well, she does enjoy reading them that’s for sure, but I think asking for the generator for her birthday was a really smart move.”

“Why’s that?” Geoff asked, noting the slight emphasis that Annie had placed on the birthday bit.”

“Are you kidding? Mum knows that dad will consider the generator to be as important to the house as the big rainwater tank he had installed last year, and she knows that come Wednesday he’ll be giving her a nice present regardless.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. That’s being a bit sneaky though isn’t it?”

“Not as sneaky as you giving Jessica that surfboard last Christmas when you thought she’d wouldn’t be able to ride it and you’d get to use it. You’ve got no idea how much the gang laughed when she showed you she could handle a plank way better than you could. Anyway, mum only gave dad a reason to buy something he’s probably wanted to buy for himself anyway.”

“Well, mum could have bought him a generator for his birthday.”

“Which is how far away? Next year! And a big storm’s predicted to come when? Next week! Mum’s a lot smarter than you give her credit for, Geoff.”

Came Wednesday and Janine did receive a nice present from Ted in the form of a pair of emerald earrings and a matching brooch, the giving and receiving of which was made memorable by being done by lighting powered by their new generator. This had not been organised for any romantic reason however as the previous morning the electricity grid had been knocked out by the forecast storm that had been raging since Monday afternoon, much to the delight of Annie as it proved just how right she’d been when telling her brother that their mum really was smart.

Ted had run extension cords through the house then used several four-outlet power boards to supply the appliances plus all the bedside lamps that had been pressed into service for lighting the kitchen, dining and lounge rooms. After tangling his feet in the cords a few times he suggested to Janine that maybe they should contact the electrician who’d done work for them before and find out if he could set up the generator to supply the house through the main switchboard.

“Well of course he could,” Janine told him. “It’d need a changeover switch that would prevent power going back out to the grid if it was down, so that anybody working on the lines wouldn’t be electrocuted, but other than that it’s apparently a fairly straight-forward job.”

“That makes sense. Did you learn about that when you were searching the net for generators?”

“No. It was in a couple of the prepper stories I’ve read. You know I find them entertaining but you’d be surprised at the amount of good information that can be found in them, plus there’s also a lot to learn from the advice many forum members post. They’re not all Doomsday Preppers, Ted.”

“I should hope not: One episode of that show was more than enough for me.”

“We watched that episode together if you remember. It’s unfortunate that the people in it were so focused on guns and defense that all the other preparations they were making seemed to be trivial in comparison. I watched quite a few that concentrated a lot on being self-sufficient, which from my point of view is a more down-to-earth approach, though if we lived in the U.S. we’d undoubtedly also be armed to the teeth. I lived in North Carolina as a student for over three years and whilst I probably have a better understanding than you do of the gun culture that exists over there, I agree with your opinion that Australia is quite different in that respect. That said, I’m glad that we’re both reasonably familiar with rifles.”

“Yes, but it’s been many years since either of us fired one though, hasn’t it?”

“Not since before Geoffrey was born… And speak of the devil,” said Janine as their son walked into the room and caught the tail-end of their conversation.

“Dad, did I just hear you say you and mum used to go shooting?" he asked in an awed voice.

“We sure did,” Janine put in before Ted could reply. “We weren’t into it in a really big way by any means, but we did enjoy going with friends on shoots occasionally, though your dad was a rotten shot as I recall.”

“I was not!” exclaimed Ted indignantly. “In fact, I took down far more game than you ever did.”

“Not surprising since you used a more powerful centre-fire rifle with optics as opposed to my little .22 Ruger with open sights,” said Janine, who recalling what must have been an inside joke added “And one goat does not in any way equal ten rabbits!”

“So what did you guys do with your rifles? Did you hand them in when they were having the buy-back after the Port Arthur Massacre?” Geoff asked.

“No, your grandfather wouldn’t have a bar of us giving them up and he has them locked away along with his own in his gun safe… which I don’t think he’s opened for ten years,” replied Ted. “Though knowing dad he’s probably lost the key to it anyway.”

“Not likely,” said Janine. “You know he’s very responsible when it comes to firearms and he sure wouldn’t risk losing his license by not being able to let the police inspect his rifles if they needed to.”

“We’re supposed to be visiting him and grandma the weekend after next. Can I ask him to show the rifles to me?” Geoff asked.

“I don’t see why not. If you’re interested he might even take you to the range so you can try firing one. I’m not sure what the rules about unlicensed shooters doing that are these days but undoubtedly granddad will know.”

With the wild storm well into its fourth day, mains power still out and most businesses, including supermarkets and restaurants having closed their doors people were confining themselves to their homes, many bemoaning the fact that they had very little to nothing in the way of food to carry them through to the weekend when conditions were expected to improve.

There wasn’t much for Ted to do at the bank either and he took advantage of some down-time to do a few little jobs around the house and spend some time reading stories on several web-sites that Janine forwarded to his lap-top. To his surprise he found that whilst many of the yarns were, to his way of thinking at least, a bit far-fetched at times they were also, as Janine had said, entertaining and did in fact contain quite a lot of information and good advice. Janine had to smile when she noticed that he’d placed a small writing pad beside his lap-top and had begun making notes, and she was quite hopeful that he might in time become a dedicated prepper.

When Saturday dawned bright and clear the roads quickly filled with cars full of hungry people heading for supermarkets, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants only to find that, despite the sunshine, in most cases power had yet to be fully restored. It was strange, Janine said, that people didn’t seem able to grasp the fact that the same wild weather that had kept them house-bound for so long had also slowed repair work on the grid, and she felt sorry for the hard-working teams that were doing their utmost to restore power.

Most of the larger supermarkets had brought in generators, mainly to supply power to keep refrigerators and freezers running so that their contents wouldn’t spoil and have to be discarded, and those that were able to trade were packed with people who in many cases had to park their vehicles several blocks away. The McMahons weren’t to be found within coo-ee of any such places of course as thanks to Janine’s foresightedness the family had more than enough stock to enable them to wait until everything returned to normal.

Inside the supermarkets the lighting, air conditioning and background music seemed to have persuaded people that everything had returned to normal, thus not surprisingly the majority of shopping trolleys being pushed towards waiting cars were filled to overflowing with items that people would normally purchase. Meaning that very few contained much more than was required to replace what they’d consumed over the last five days and feed them for the next three, and much of which could only be classed as junk food. If a trolley could be seen to be loaded with staples such as beans, rice, flour or basic ingredients required for cooking from scratch it would be odds-on that it was being pushed by an older person from a generation that understood what tough times could really mean.

Three days later full power was restored to the suburb where the McMahons lived and life went back to its normal routine, with one notable exception: As often as not evenings would find Ted glued to his lap-top, note-pad at hand as he slowly worked his way through the many PAW stories posted on the net.

It was in the early spring when friends were over for a barbecue that Janine discovered Ted had become more of a prepper than she’d thought possible. Talk had turned to perceived changes in the weather patterns normally experienced, with all agreeing that the raging storm that had affected the area several months before had been a wake-up call in regard to being prepared for emergencies and that the wives present had now followed Janine’s advice to keep a full pantry.

When asked by one of the husbands how their family had fared during the storm Ted admitted that due entirely to Janine’s efforts they hadn’t suffered in any way, and added that since that time they’d become even more prepared for emergencies than they had been then. Eyes opened wide in amazement when he went on to explain how Janine had asked for a generator for her birthday, and how having one had allowed them to enjoy most of the benefits of an electrified society despite the grid being down.

“I don’t think that storm was an event that won’t be seen for another fifty or even a hundred years as the media suggested,” continued Ted. “In fact I believe we’ll be seeing even more violent storms on a regular basis in the future, and I for one intend to make sure we’ll be prepared.”

“It’s more likely that Janine will make sure that you’ll be prepared,” laughed another wife. “Janine, those lists you handed out to us recommending things we need to do to be ready for future emergencies were quite extensive and at first I thought they were a bit over-the-top, but after re-reading them a couple of times and thinking about what you wrote I’m inclined to agree with you.”

“I read them too,” her husband said, “and I think you’re probably right. Ted, how much did your generator set you back?”

“A bit over three grand. Expensive I know, and here are much cheaper units around of course but Janine was insistent that she didn’t want a Chinese built knock-off. Not that all the Chinese made units are bad, and in fact I’ve heard that some are actually quite good, especially if they’re maintained properly.”

“Yeah, but that’s still a lot of money for something that you’ll probably only use once in a blue moon isn’t it?”

Ted laughed. “Ben, if I’d offered that generator to you for four grand after three days without power you wouldn’t have been able to get your cheque book out fast enough. And my bet is it’s going to get quite a bit of use in future.”

“Yeah, well, considering the way the weather’s going I guess maybe you’re right. I might have to look at getting one myself. Where did you buy it?”

Not knowing that Janine had been a prepper for some time their friends had simply assumed that the purchase of the generator and the fact that she and Ted had put aside supplies for emergencies - without revealing precisely how just much of course - was due to the EFTPOS outage, the grid-down situations that had occurred a few months before and the weather forecast that Janine had taken seriously. However hearing a little more about what she had been up to was enough for them to open a new topic of conversation and begin a serious discussion on the merits of being prepared, even to the extent of taking First-Aid courses, which was something none of them had given much thought to before.

The upshot of the conversation was that the husbands who had come to the barbecue would check out generators and see if they could obtain a discount by ordering three of them together whilst the wives would take Janine and the lists of supplies she recommended on a shopping expedition, with the same idea of a discount in mind. Janine was more than happy to oblige as she felt that having her friends prepared would lessen the need to use her family’s supplies to help them if worse came to worst… Not that she’d ever deny them help of course.

It had taken a number of trips to several different supermarkets over three weekends before the wives were able to purchase all the items on Janine’s lists however they had a lot of fun doing it. Buying from bulk food warehouses had been considered but after finding that better deals could often be had at regular supermarkets, and without having to have an ABN or paying a sizable joining fee, the idea was dropped. Along with helping with the choice of items that she recommended should be put away Janine also gave them advice about having to rotate their foodstuffs, particularly canned or frozen goods, and also using dried chick peas, beans, lentils and suchlike.

To push the point of using dried goods the ladies and their husbands were invited to try both a lasagna and a meat-loaf that she’d prepared, and they were all astounded to find that the two delicious dishes had been prepared with no meat at all; that ingredient having been replaced with lentils. Feeling that she was on a roll Janine challenged the wives to take turns preparing meals made from scratch using only items that they had in their preps then present them to the group for taste testing, and was pleased when they all accepted.

The husbands were quite happy to reveal and brag to Ted that their efforts to acquire portable inverter generators had resulted in each of them, plus another friend who wanted one, now owning a unit that had cost only a quarter of what he’d doled out for his machine. They’d actually gotten a good deal he admitted after looking over one of the 3.5KW GenTrax machines that were, according to many online reviews he’d read, reliable and well regarded. Following his advice they had each also purchased two Jerry cans for high octane fuel, unleaded not being the best to run small engines on, a large can of four-stroke oil plus a spare spark-plug and an air filter.

Thinking back to the notes he’d made during his online prep research he next suggested that they build sound-proof enclosures for them, explaining that while it might not seem too intrusive any sound their running generators made could result in requests bordering on demands from neighbours to supply them with power. On that note he also advised them to keep their machines, and in fact all their preps, secured and out of sight of casual visitors, and not mention anything about them to anybody.

The wives were also included in this and whilst they all made a few jokes about their becoming Doomsday Preppers all were quick to understand how easy it would be for hungry people to become desperate and agreed that the only people to be in-the-know would be each other, and also that if any one of them needed help in any way they could also rely on each other. Two of the couples who also had children would ensure that they too would be told never to reveal anything to their friends… unless they wanted their pocket money stopped.

“You know Ted, I really wasn’t expecting things to go the way they’re going now,” said Janine that night. “Without their knowing anything about Mutual Assistance Groups it seems as if we and our friends have now formed one.”

“Yes love, I was just thinking the same thing. About those shopping lists you gave our friends: I found some more really interesting stuff regarding essential supplies on the web and I’m going to print out a few pages you can hand out to them. I’ll use the printer at work as it’s faster than ours is, plus of course we won’t be up for the toner and paper which the bank has plenty of. Do you have any info you’d like printed off?”

“I do actually. I was thinking of making a hard-copy file of some of the things I’ve found anyway, so we might as well combine what we each want to put into it. By the way, when you were talking to the guys about building soundproof enclosures for the generators I realised that we really need a dedicated space for our preps; preferably one that is reasonably well insulated from hot summers. Any chance we could build a small room at the back of the garage?”

“That’s an excellent idea, especially as the garage is under the main roof and we only use a little over half of it. Our second fridge and the freezer are in there anyway so we could enclose them too.”

“How do you think we should build it? I was thinking perhaps a two by four stud frame with Gyprock cladding each side and plenty of insulation in between shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“Hmm… That’d work, but I think Hebel insulated blocks might be better and they’d be just as easy if not easier to put up. We could probably do it ourselves over a weekend though we’d have to ask Alex to put in lights and power points.”

“Sounds like a plan. I think Geoff would be able to help us, unless you decide to do it on a weekend when your father wants to take him to the range.”

“Yeah, I can’t get over how quickly he took to shooting after dad took him to the range the first time,” Ted chuckled. “Annie too if it comes to that. I’m glad dad’s providing the ammunition: From the number of rounds they claim to use each time it’d probably end up costing us a small fortune.”

“I guess we’re lucky they can use yours and mine instead of us having to buy rifles for them. Speaking of expenses: I think we’re also going to have to start looking for a cheap little car for Annie pretty soon: There’s no way she could afford to buy one by herself.”

“That’s sort of covered already I think: Geoff’s going to give her his Hyundai and buy a station wagon from one of his mates. At least that’s what he told me. He reckons he needs a bigger car that will hold his and Jessica’s surfboards as well as their camping gear, plus they often take her father’s big Engels 12Volt fridge which is a lot better than an esky. Her family’s right into camping and when I was talking to her about the gear they had I found that her father was the fourth person who got in on the deal when our friends bought their generators.”

“That’s interesting. I know we’ve met them a couple of times before but as Jessica and Geoff are very close and seem to be getting closer it might be a good idea to get to know her parents better. Her father must know at least one of our group so how about we invite them over when we have our next barbecue?”

“Good idea. You might even be able to find out what their attitude towards prepping is,” said Ted with a smiling sidelong look at his wife knowing that was most likely what she had in mind when she suggested the barbecue invitation.

“You know me all too well,” Janine replied with a grin.

© To be continued....
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Hi IceFire,

Seems like the "Honey-Do" attracts two new tasks for every one that gets completed. It's been raining for the past week and it's predicted to rain for another two weeks, so not much getting done in the garden. I'm going to try and use the down time to add a little to each of my stories.
 

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Hi IceFire,

Seems like the "Honey-Do" attracts two new tasks for every one that gets completed. It's been raining for the past week and it's predicted to rain for another two weeks, so not much getting done in the garden. I'm going to try and use the down time to add a little to each of my stories.
The two more for every one that gets completed is pretty much par for the course! The rain you're getting MUST be a sign that you need to feed our addiction to your stories. Looking forward to reading more.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
EFTPOS OUTAGE - Chapter 2

An invitation to a barbecue to be held on the first Sunday in November had been extended to Jessica’s parents, Jeff and Jane Little, however on the Friday night of the prior week another blackout once again plunged the city and its suburbs into total darkness. This time cell phone towers, landline and internet services went down at the same time, not surprisingly sending the populace into a panic and leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was a deliberate attack, but by whom and for what reason was unknown. The outage lasted ten days and ended as suddenly as if somebody had thrown some type of master switch that restored everything back to normal.

Services with stand-by generators had quickly switched over to backup power, as did those people who’d had the foresight to purchase one themselves; however it appeared that anything connected to a computer controlled system had been knocked out even when power was available. The NSW Government Radio Network had been able to maintain communication for emergency services, including the police force, and those who had two-way CB radios found they were able to talk to each other though their range was limited by repeaters being out of service.

The effect on businesses was bad enough but for those unfortunates whose very life seemed to totally depend on being connected to society by electronics it was close to disastrous. Whilst it might have been expected that young people would suffer the most in that respect it turned out that a broad cross-section of the community at large, regardless of age, had suddenly felt themselves to be totally isolated.

Surprisingly, the residents of many retirement villages fared quite well as they were usually able to turn to each other for support, an idea that was completely alien to communities who rather stupidly expected the gruberment to provide all manner of assistance rather than do anything to help themselves let alone each other.

The McMahon’s barbecue had gone ahead as planned, which wasn’t really surprising as those attending had managed to put themselves in a position to handle what they all hoped would turn out to be a relatively minor event rather than a full-blown crisis, though Janine was slightly embarrassed by the amount of praise heaped on her for the part she’d played in making that possible.

She’d been a little surprised but also thankful that Jessica’s parents had turned up despite the disruption that had brought most of such gatherings to a halt, especially when it was revealed that they were almost as well prepared as everyone in the group was. Not that they were preppers per se, but because they owned a small holiday cabin at Sussex Inlet to which they went as often as possible, sometimes for extended stays, and thus always had supplies ready to take with them. Janine said the thought that having such a cabin on either the South or North Coast for holidays was appealing and maybe she and Ted should look into the possibility of buying one themselves, however she didn’t mention in front of everyone that her thoughts had quickly locked onto the idea of it being a Bug-out Location.

The fact that his family were avid campers was the main reason Jeff had got in on the deal to purchase the generator that their family was now using though he admitted that had he not done so at that time he would have been first in line to buy one when they again became available; the present outage having seen every generator available being sold out before midday on the first Saturday. Not that it was the first generator he’d owned, having long ago purchased a small, cheap Chinese made unit which turned out to be much too noisy to use in camping grounds, annoyed his neighbours when he ran it during a power outage, (and wouldn’t run extension cords to their houses), and after about fifteen hours total use it stopped working never to run again.

“At the moment I’m running ours in a garden tool locker that I insulated with thick polystyrene panels but though I’m pretty sure our neighbours can’t hear it it’d probably be better if I built a more secure housing for it,” said Jeff. “Having seen the way you’ve set yours up I’ll keep using the locker but I’ll replace the polystyrene with the same Hebel sound-proof blocks you’ve used.

“By the way, Jessica gave us her copy of those prepper notes you handed out and after we read them I got onto a couple of the web-sites you mentioned. I was supposed to be looking for good information about being prepared for events like those that are happening around us now but I got distracted and found a lot of my time was spent reading entertaining stories by Jerry D. Young. Mind you, I did pick up quite a bit of useful knowledge at the same time.”

Jack Thompson laughed and said it was the same with him. “I think I’ve read all of the stories he’s put on the net plus a few by other authors. I tend to zip through parts describing weapons as they’re not all that relevant in Australia, and I gloss over anything to do with Zombies, but they do make you stop and think more about what if scenarios. Jill was a bit skeptical about the need for being prepared and for the most part I had to go it alone, but the events over the past six months have convinced her that we really do have to rely on ourselves rather than wait for the government to do anything other than talk about what it intends to do.”

“I don’t mind having to admit Jack was right,” put in Jill. “Last Thursday I looked through our pantry and the two large cupboards he put in our garage for things like toilet paper, tissues and cleaning stuff and felt a lot more secure than I would’ve done before.”

“That’s good to hear, Jill. In our case it was Ted who felt doubtful at first but he’s totally on board now; in fact he probably surpasses me when it comes to organizing preps. Geoff and Annie are doing their bit too, which is really good.”

“Same with our two. I suspect the threat of losing their allowances if they told anybody about what we’re doing may have convinced them how serious we are about security too. Brittany made up a grab-bag as you suggested but after browsing through a few preparedness web-sites Damian bought himself a back-pack from Aussie Disposals and told me it was a Bug out Bag, not a Grab Bag.”

“Sensible move,” declared Jeff. “Depending on what he puts in it of course. Have either of your kids done any camping?”

“None. In fact Jack and I haven’t done any either: We’re both city born and bred and I don’t think either of us really gave the idea any thought. Before the kids were born we once rented a camper van for a short holiday but it rained every day of our trip and I think that put us off for good.”

“That’s a pity. Look, if either or both of your kids are interested I’d be happy to take them on one of our camp-outs. You and Jack too, if you’re up for it.”

“Hmm… Not too sure about Jack and me but I’m sure Damian and Brittany would love to give it a go. Would Jessica be going too?”

“For sure. And so would Ted and Jan’s son Geoff: He and Jess are two peas in a pod when it comes to doing outdoor stuff. Annie would also be welcome to come,” he added, directing the invitation to Ted and Jan.

At this point the sounds of pattering thongs and laughter coming from the side of the house indicated that Jessica and Geoff had returned from the beach where they’d gone surfing, and moments later the two appeared and headed for the outdoor table in the hope of finding some food. There were two large bowls containing enough potato and tossed salads for the pair, and as the barbecue was still fairly warm Ted told his son to light it up again and throw on a couple of lamb chops and sausages. Whilst Geoff was taking care of the cooking Jessica joined the adults and after giving Ted and Janine a quick hug sat at the table and joined in the conversation.

“So how was the surf?” Janine asked.

“Meh. Not nearly as good as we’d hoped for so we went snorkeling instead. Lucky we had a first-aid kit in the car: Geoff trod on a sea urchin as we were coming out of the water and a spine broke off in his foot and we had to pull it out with tweezers. He said it was painful and a bystander told us the best way to stop the pain was to pee on the wound. The guy looked shocked when Geoff said he couldn’t do that himself as it was on the sole of his own foot but suggested maybe I could squat and pee on it. The guy thought Geoff was being serious and took off and we laughed all the way home about the look on the poor guy’s face. Geoff said the wound was really painful so we decided it’d be a good idea for us to get a pair of wet-suit booties and use open-heeled fins with straps rather than go barefoot and use the full-foot flippers we have now. Either that or carry a bottle of pee in the car when we go snorkeling."

“I’m thinking of getting a spear-gun,” said Geoff as he brought over two plates of meat and salad and sat at the table in time to hear the tail end of the conversation that had everyone laughing. “Not for using around where we were snorkeling but places like Long Reef or further up or down the coast.”

“Don’t go out and buy one Geoff,” said Jeff. “I’ve got an old double rubber Sea Hornet spear-gun you can use, though it’ll probably need new rubbers. Same goes for fins: Jane and I used to do quite a bit of snorkeling and we still have all the gear… Apart from the wet-suits we grew out of. The gear’s in a tote buried under junk at the back of our garage but if you can find it you and Jess can have a look and see if there’s anything you can use.”

“Thanks Jeff. I don’t suppose you and Jane did any rifle shooting did you?”

“We did, actually. And before you ask; no, we don’t have any rifles we could lend you, even if you did have a licence.”

Geoff, along with everyone else laughed at the statement but he went on to explain that he wasn’t thinking of asking for the use of a rifle but wanted to know if he would be comfortable with the idea of Jess firing one. He and Annie were going to take up target shooting because his grandfather wanted to take them to the range on a regular basis, and if Jeff and Jane had no objections he’d like to take her with them sometimes.

Jessica was all for it, not just because Geoff wanted her to go with him but because, unbeknownst to her parents she had several times fired a .22 rifle when staying with a girl-friend whose parents owned a property out west. She had not only enjoyed knocking over the targets they’d set up but had also managed to knock over several bunnies that were, according to her friend’s father, “stealing the grass that belongs to our sheep.”

With Jeff and Jane having agreed that it was OK for Jess to go with him to the range the subject of firearms was discussed by the others in the group, not that anyone apart from the senior McMahons and Littles had ever fired a rifle. Well, apart from air rifles at one of the shooting galleries at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show where even people who professed to be against guns were often persuaded to try and knock down a few moving ducks in order to win a prize.

“I’ve read a couple of those on-line PAW stories where people had to use them to defend themselves against gangs of marauders,” said Barbara Dudley, who along with husband Oliver could best be described as being ambivalent towards guns. “I suppose we’re lucky we don’t live in America where that sort of criminal activity happens all the time.”

“Don’t you believe we’re safe from that here, Barbs,” put in Joseph Stern who hadn’t said much about anything up until then. “Firstly, that sort of activity actually doesn’t happen nearly as often in the U.S. as the anti-gun lobby would have you believe, and secondly, it would happen here in Australia if it came to a situation where there was little food and men needed to feed their families. And I can tell you right now that there’s no lack of firearms here that would prevent it. Did you know that it’s estimated that there are more than a quarter of a million illegal guns in Australia, and even that’s considered to be a rather low estimate. The U.N estimated that the number is closer to six hundred thousand.”

“Not that I personally believe much of what the U.N. says,” his wife Ingrid added, “Though whichever figure you believe it’s still a lot of guns. And that’s only the illegal ones. There are over three million legally owned guns.”

“Good lord, I had no idea there were that many. How come you two know so much about guns? Are you shooters too?”

“I do know how to use a rifle but Joe’s the gun-slinger. He doesn’t use a rifle though: He’s a security officer with Armaguard and carries a handgun, but we don’t often talk about weapons unless the-powers-that-be propose some more ridiculous laws aimed at curtailing the rights of law-abiding citizens, and then Joe goes right off the rails. You know we originally came from Germany, right? Well Joe actually came from East Germany where for the first half of his life he lived under the communist jackboot. He’s a lover of freedom, and that doesn’t sit well with those who want total control of everything.”

The talk went off weapons and moved on to food storage, the main topic of which concerned the surprisingly high cost of dried foods such as beans, peas and lentils which they’d all found could only be purchased in relatively small quantities from supermarkets.

“If you all let me know what and how much you want I could make a group buy,” Janine offered. “I recently found a couple of places online that will sell twenty-five kilo bags of most of those things at a really good price. For example, red kidney beans are $3.20 a kilo which I think compares more than favourably with the $7 plus you’d have to pay at Woolworths.”

Barbara gasped. “There can’t be that much difference, surely?”

“A 375 gram bag of McKenzie’s brand of those beans is $2.69, which works out at $7.17 a kilo, chick peas and lentils are a little bit cheaper if you buy the one kilo packs but there’s a minimum order of $50 on each. If we bought in bulk it’d be more convenient to order from one wholesaler rather than hunt around for good deals at supermarkets. One outlet I’ve been looking at does deliver but I’d be willing to go to the warehouse and pick our orders up.”

“I’ll be in on that. Can you give me the web address so I can have a look at other things I might need. Like herbs and spices for example?”

The other ladies were also quick to climb onto the bulk-buy wagon and there followed a long and excited discussion during which each of their needs and wants were combined to produce a single list that Janine would use for ordering. When they finally finished it was to find that the men, not overly interested in the finer points of that aspect of prepping had left them to it and were now taking a look at the storage room that Ted had built into the garage.

It was a solid, well insulated room fitted with a four-hour rated fire door and Ted was proud of the fact that he, Janine and son Geoff had been able to install it themselves, thus saving labour costs and keeping its being there unknown of.

Their second fridge and the freezer had not been so much installed in the room as the room had simply been built around them, and though the several solid storage racks that had been fixed in position were now stacked with the preps Janine already had on hand it was clear there was room for much more. At least six months worth of total lock-down more, Janine thought to herself.

Geoff and Jessica, who’d become bored listening to the conversation decided to drive over to her place and check out the skin diving gear her parents said they could use, and after a bit of rummaging around in the back of the garage located the spear-gun and a tote holding masks, fins, wet-suit boots and two snorkeler’s safety vests. Two weight belts were also found at the bottom of a rack of storage shelves and these, along with the spear-gun, safety vests and two pairs of fins which would need new heel straps, were placed in Geoff’s car. It now being pretty obvious that Geoff needed a station wagon they then headed towards the house of the mate who was selling his to see if it was still on offer.

Far from being a late model vehicle the station wagon was actually a 1967 Holden HR Sandman panel van but despite its vintage the car was in reasonably good mechanical condition, had a straight body showing no signs of rust, and was fitted with side windows, a sun visor, roof racks and a tow-bar which needed a tow-ball fitted to be of any use other than to bash a person’s shins. It did need some work done on it as his mate had told him that the brakes were a bit spongy, all four shocks would need replacing soon and so would the tires, however as it had eight month’s registration on it Geoff figured he could have those small problems sorted out before the next rego was due.

The paintwork, though in need of a good polish, was a two-tone of light blue body and white roof that Jess fell in love with, which was all it needed for Geoff to decide he’d buy it… Subject of course to him being able to get a bit of coin from the old man to cover the difference between the bargained-down price and what he had stashed in a locked cash-box in his bedroom closet.

Getting the money out of his father had been easier than Geoff had expected however after inspecting the vehicle himself and approving it Ted had worked out that he would have had to fork out quite a lot more if he’d had to buy a car for Annie, who was now the ecstatic owner of the Hyundai Accent that Geoff and Jessica had the day before washed, polished, vacuumed and tire painted before giving it to her.

A commonly used term for the type of vehicle that Geoff now owned was Shaggin Wagon, and in this case several stickers on the rear window seemed to confirm that to be at least one of the attributes desired by virile young and even not-so-young surfers. Some careful scraping with a razor blade wielded by Jessica next day after the car had been purchased and driven to Geoff’s house removed the stickers she knew her father would definitely not approve of, along with many others that bespoke the many beaches the car had been driven to.

It had taken all morning to bring its chrome and paintwork to a showroom shine but once finished they wasted no time before heading to the beach to meet with friends and show off their new transport, leaving behind Annie who was happily sitting in her own new car, gripping the steering wheel and imagining herself driving to who-cares-where just so long as she was driving it.

When the world as everybody knew it returned to an acceptable normality after ten long days of being without power, phone and the internet the small group of preppers were careful not to reveal that the calamity that had befallen the city had had little effect on them, although it may have been noticed that its members appeared to be much more cheerful and upbeat than the continuously whingeing people around them.

The Barnum and Bailey media took full advantage of the population’s fears that another, possibly worse attack would be launched against the city soon and demanded, on behalf of the people of course, that the government do something to avert or at least handle any such event in a better way than they had done so far. Despite the constant stream of criticisms however, there was nothing constructive about any of them, with the only people who knew exactly how to handle the situation being taxi drivers and barbers who unfortunately were too busy transporting passengers and cutting hair to make themselves available to advise the government. When asked, one off-duty taxi driver stated that it would be a waste of time anyway as no government ever listened to anybody who knew what to do as anything proposed would inevitably conflict with whatever self-serving policy they had going was in force at the time.

Ted and Janine noted that there was a slight but definite upswing in the number of people perusing the local survivalist sites on the net, and from sales figures released to the media it seemed that many were now heeding the advice of the government and the Red Cross to have on hand at least two weeks of food and survival items such as flashlights, batteries, canned food, toilet paper and more. Whilst the reasons given for doing this included floods and/or bush-fires that could disrupt transport and thus grocery supplies very little was mentioned about the likelihood of there being another attack on the state’s communications systems or power grid, the last of which was being thoroughly investigated by teams of experts in both fields.

Amazingly, or perhaps predictably, with increased sales of survival items continuing for several weeks after everything had returned to normal the media next began to label those people who had the sense to continue preparing as hoarders, who in any future emergency were for a considerable profit going to sell the items they were now purchasing. Whilst there were always people who would take advantage of such situations and black markets would flourish, such statements demonstrated just how stupid the media, its journalists and editors could be and sometimes put genuine preppers at a disadvantage. On a positive side, possibly the only one, they did have the effect of making people a little more circumspect about their purchases, though that was most likely more to do with avoiding being ridiculed by friends and neighbours than to any awareness of security.

Ted and Janine began looking seriously for a holiday house, both feeling that despite the state government’s assurances that its electrical and communications systems had been secured and were operating as they should be worse was yet to come, and perhaps a city would not be the best place to ride things out. With their house mortgage having been paid out and their savings and investment accounts being quite healthy they decided that buying a small holiday cottage well out of the city would not only give them a place to retreat to if things got really bad, it would be a worthwhile investment in itself.

Jeff Little confided that he and Jane felt the same and had gone to the extent of setting up their cabin down south as a place to retreat to, and were currently in the process of building a solid preps storage room similar to that built by Ted. He extended an invitation to Ted and Janine to go down and stay with them at the cabin for a short holiday, one of the reasons being that it had already been accepted by both families that, despite their young ages and the fact they were not believed to have been intimate, Jessica and Geoff had virtually become a couple in their own right, and the families should get to know each other better.

For their part, Geoff and Jessica had some time before come to know they'd be bound together forever, however despite their strong feelings for each other made an agreement to wait until Jessica had turned twenty one before actually living together as man and wife, a decision that both sets of parents welcomed. Geoff had gotten himself an apprenticeship to become an electrician as soon as he’d graduated from high school the year before and as the income he earned wasn’t all that much it made sense to stay at home until he was licensed and had gained a reasonably well paid position. Not that staying at home would be free of course, as he’d still be required to pay for his keep… and do his own laundry, declared Janine, a bit belatedly as he’d been doing that for several years anyway.

Jessica planned to attend the University of Sydney and study for Bachelor of Science and Master of Nutrition and Dietetics degrees which would have been a financially uphill battle had not both her maternal and paternal grandparents jointly set up a fund for her higher education soon after she was born. Due to complications during the birth Jill was unable to have any more children and whilst it may have been expected that as an only child Jessica would have been spoiled rotten by the whole family, especially by her doting father, this had not happened.

To the great relief of government and the public Christmas and New Year came and went with no untoward events that might disrupt the festive season, or in the case of big business the obscene amounts of money that were splurged on Christmas presents. A lot smarter than the average spendthrifts, the McMahons, the Littles and other savvy persons had for the most part given each other gift cards or certificates to be used to take advantage of post-Christmas and other discount sales that would save them many dollars. As it had become almost a modern tradition Ted received Bunnings gift cards from Janine and the children whilst Janine had received cards for Spotlight, both stores being regular haunts of the pair, and in each case the cards, having long or no expiry dates were put aside to be added to those they knew would come with their next birthdays.

Towards the end of March a fresh wave of attacks on the electricity grid and communications began, however this time it was not Sydney that bore the brunt but the cities of Wollongong to the south and Newcastle to the north. Of course the residents of all three cities went to panic stations, although many of those living in Sydney who had already prepped felt a little more complacent about the situation. Not so the members of Janine’s group who immediately grabbed their last minute shopping lists and headed for the supermarkets, intent on topping up and in some cases adding to the supplies they already had.

A trip was made to the warehouse where Janine had ordered some more bulk purchases of rice, beans, sugar, flour, salt and various herbs, spices, condiments and whatever ingredients were needed for cooking from scratch, and given the size of the order the staff was only mildly surprised to see her turn up in a station wagon with a trailer in tow. Despite feeling that he was perhaps being a little paranoid she nevertheless followed the advice given to her by Jeff Little and had made the order over the phone using a false name and paid in cash when she and Jane picked the goods up. The hope was that would make it more difficult to track down who had purchased the goods and where they had gone in case the authorities ordered a recall or otherwise tried to take control of food supplies. Or any other supplies for that matter.

An extra Jerry can of fuel was added to each of the group’s stores each week, firstly so as not to attract attention and next because with the current price of fuel it wasn’t exactly a cheap addition, though whilst that concern was of course secondary to being able to fill their cars’ tanks and those of their generators if supplies were reduced or completely curtailed it had to be taken into account. Because the law in New South Wales limits the amount of petrol for private use that can legally be kept in a garage or anywhere within six metres of a dwelling - households are allowed to store up to thirty litres comprising up to twenty litres in two ten-litre metal containers plus up to ten litres in two five-litre plastic containers - storage of the fuel became an immediate problem. Given that here weren’t any other options due to their living in a residential area Ted decided that their fuel would be stored in a new small but secure shed that he’d build in one corner of the back yard and they’d simply keep very quiet about it.

Security otherwise was also being taken seriously by the group, especially as with the amount of preps being accumulated it was becoming more difficult to store everything out of sight, and it was suggested that maybe they could all chip in for the rental of an off-site location such as a self-storage unit with 24/7 access. When Janine found a 3 x 10 metre unit that was in a convenient location the group agreed to pay for twelve month’s rental and each family was given the code for the key pad that controlled access to the site, a key for the unit’s roller door plus another key for the large padlock that Jeff installed for extra security. The interior was divided into four cages, each with its own lockable door and each fitted out with storage racks according to its owner’s preference, and within two months all the racks had been crammed full of supplies.

Oliver and Barbara Dudley contributed canvas screens that were laced to the sides of the cages that faced the roller door so that the contents of the unit wouldn’t be seen by anybody who happened to walk past, though for the most part comings and goings by the group were done late at night. That ceased for a short time when Joe and Ingrid discovered that the site was being kept under surveillance by people in a car parked on the road opposite, however when Jeff found through his various contacts that it wasn’t by either state or federal police forces he decided to do something about it.

He and Ted enlisted the help of Geoff and his station wagon in setting up a counter-surveillance operation and once having seen the registration plates of the vehicle whose occupants were watching the storage facility, or as Joe jokingly put it were casin’ da joint, he was once again through his contacts able to identify the name and registered address of its owner.

It turned out that the vehicle’s owner and the friends with him weren’t hard core criminals by any stretch of the imagination, though they of course had the potential of becoming such, and Joe decided that in this case the best way to deal with them was to simply scare the living crap out of them.

How this was achieved was revealed on the following Sunday when the now formally self-recognised MAG, including Geoff who was legally old enough to drink, and Jessica who strictly speaking wasn’t but had a small glass of wine in her hand anyway, were sat around the table having a barbecue lunch and a few liquid refreshments.

On the night when Joe’s plan was put into action Geoff had driven his station wagon and pulled in behind the target vehicle too close for it to reverse whilst Joe pulled up in front of it and reversed up close enough to prevent its moving forward. Joe then jumped out of his car and holding his registered but unloaded handgun in one hand used his flashlight in the other to rap on the driver’s window which was wound down by a very white-faced driver.

“We have seen you guys watching the place over the road for over a week: What do you think you are doing? Do you know this is our territory? You can get the eff out of here and do not ever come back unless you want effing bullet in your effing head,” Geoff told the group, trying not very successfully to imitate the heavy Russian accent Joe had used when talking to the driver. “Joe said he’d wanted to scare the crap out of them and by the odour left behind after he moved his car forward enough for them to take off like a dragster I think he did a pretty good job of it."

He hadn’t used the actual ‘F’ word in front of the ladies nevertheless his mother was appalled by what he’d been up to and would have turned on Joe had not Ted anticipated her reaction and got in first.... by congratulating them both.

“Mind you, Geoff, if Joe hadn’t told me he’d found out just how young and stupid those idiots were and knew they were unarmed I wouldn’t have agreed to your taking part in the plan when he asked me if you could. As it is, I think you both did a really good job.”

“Yeah, well, all I did was sit in my car, and they wouldn’t have been able to see me anyway because my lights would’ve been blinding them. You know, big as Joe is and scary as the handgun waved in their faces must’ve been I think it was probably his Russian accent that scared them the most, and I just couldn’t stop laughing about it when I got home.”

“I’m glad you didn’t tell me what you were planning to do: I’d have been worried sick,” said Jessica.

“No, I didn’t tell you what we were planning to do simply because I know you would’ve tried to insist on coming with us.”

“Do you think maybe I should tell the owner of the storage centre about his business being watched?” asked Joe. “It’s one of several that are patrolled by a security company that’s about as reliable as a two-bob watch with a broken mainspring. Maybe I could offer my services for a discount on our unit’s rental.”

“I don’t really think that’s a good idea Joe. The rental’s not all that expensive when it’s split four ways.” Ted objected. “I think it’d be better for us all to just keep a very low profile and look after our own stuff. No complications that way.”

“Hmm… Yeah, you’re probably right. By the way, I noticed when I went to buy one for myself that there’s been a run on Jerry cans over the past week and many stores have sold out of them. At least, all the plastic ones have gone. There are some metal cans to be had but they’re pretty expensive.”

“Tell me about it,” said Jack. “I bought five of the metal cans and they cost me nearly $30 each, then filling them with fuel set me back almost the same amount. We’ve taken to driving Jill’s Mazda Astina most of the time because it’s more economical on fuel than my SUV and we’re becoming more conscious of the distance involved and whether we need to go someplace or not. If we can learn to make a habit of doing that we’ll probably end up saving quite a bit of money over time.”

“Same with me and Ollie,” said Barbara. “And as I don’t go out all that often now I had Ollie dig up a wide strip of lawn along the fence in the back yard and have started a vegetable garden like the one our family had in Fiji.”
“Yes, and I had blisters on my blisters by the time she let me stop digging,” Ollie complained.

“Ollie, you’re in Australia now,” said Jack. “Didn’t anyone warn you never to pick up a pick or a shovel in case there was a snake under it?”

Oliver grinned. “No, nobody did, but at least I loosened up the soil enough for Barbs to do all the digging in future.”

“While you are doing all the cooking and house cleaning,” Barbara retorted.

As light hearted as it had been the afternoon ended on a sombre note when they heard on the radio that large regional centres such as Armidale, Tamworth, Orange and Bathurst in New South Wales were being targeted and that attacks were now being made on Melbourne and Brisbane; the state capitols of Victoria and Queensland.

Despite passionate pleas to remain calm by Federal and State Governments panic seemed to grip the entire nation and people everywhere immediately began stockpiling anything they thought might be needed to survive if supplies became unobtainable. This in itself caused shops to be denuded of stock faster than the supply chains could keep up with and shelves were quickly stripped of just about everything, whether needed or not. The situation was so desperate, Janine joked, that even shelves of vegan items had been completely emptied by people who in normal times would never have gone near them. The prepper web-sites had been spot on the money when it came to toilet paper too: By the end of the week there was not a roll to be had anywhere and people actually sat in their cars and waited for delivery trucks to arrive at the supermarkets.

“People have gone absolutely crazy,” Jill said to Janine when they met for a coffee one morning. “Can you think of a worse situation?”

“Unfortunately I can, Jill: What if there was a pandemic of some type, and workers at places where, for example, toilet paper is made had to be isolated or even hospitalised. Production would be heavily curtailed if not completely halted. Same goes for most other commodities that are produced, supplied and consumed by the just-in-time system that operates in most of the western world. The supermarkets are in a situation much like many hand-to-mouth workers live. Workers may have some savings in a bank that they can draw from in an emergency and stores have warehouses, but in a prolonged event both sources could be emptied quickly.

“That reminds me: Ted said we should all draw out as much cash from our savings accounts as we can keep safe because the banks and the government may soon begin to impose limits on transactions. He said that the likely reason given would be that the move was intended to restrict the operations of the black market but in reality would just give the government more control over people’s money.”

Ted said to take our money out? Wow! Talk about from the horse’s mouth. I’ll pull some out on the way home and tell Jack to do the same, but I’m must say I’m surprised that Ted would be encouraging us to take money out of the bank rather than put it in.”

“Well, just between you and me, Ted’s been doing quite a lot of research into aspects of banking that he wasn’t fully aware of before and he’s become quite disillusioned with the whole system. I think he’s planning to give us all a bit of a lecture next time we all meet up so I don’t want you to say anything to anyone outside our group until he does. Last thing we need is a panic run on the banks.”

“No problem, though I’ll be meeting up with Jeff and Janey tomorrow. OK if I tell them? About withdrawing cash I mean, not about the other.”

“They’re in our group so that’s fine. I think Ollie already knows because Ted was talking to him yesterday so that would be all our group covered.”

As expected by the tin-foil hat brigade, who were now claiming that the whole thing was a conspiracy by big businesses to up their sales figures and profits, hoped for by many and prayed for by some, the systems that had been taken out came back online after seven days, leaving no real clue as to how the attacks had been carried out.

One thing was sure: Nobody expected the random attacks to end any time soon and there was a general fear that at some point the whole country might be taken down. In the meantime one upside was it appeared that prepping was being taken more seriously by many, and accusations of hoarding became far less frequent.

There were a few who took advantage of this by running classes on prepping, unfortunately however many were conducted by people who had watched all the you-tube videos and read a book or two on the subject and now proclaimed themselves to be experts on the topic, despite never having had any practical experience. In a few cases these self-proclaimed ‘experts’ had not even been adequately prepped for themselves other than to have a display cupboard of items hastily stocked for instructional purposes.

As far as the MAG was concerned the plan was to maintain a low profile and continue prepping whilst waiting for the other shoe to drop, as they felt would happen before too long, though Jack reckoned that waiting for the other shoe to drop could be rather frightening when you realise that the shoes are being worn by a centipede.

© To be continued...
 

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As a family in the USA we did see shortages of essentials over the last six months. First toilet paper, disposable diapers, diaper/butt wipes, formula, olive oil, flour, baking yeast, seasonings, limits on meat and eggs. The adage of storing what you use and using what you store is very sound. In the last year we have had power outages during extreme fire danger conditions so planning for interruptions in grid power, cell tower access is essential.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I'm working on continuing this and other stories but it will take a little time as I have my plate full at the moment.
Our supermarkets were pretty much back to normal stocks but a resurgence of Covid-19 in Victoria started a run on T.P. and other goods. The Supermarkets down there are again now limiting sales of certain items but the announcement, predictably, sent many people in New South Wales into a tiz and whilst our local branches of those stores have been denuded of paper products our preps are adequate to hold out for a reasonable time. I know Credit/Debit card transactions can be easily monitored so I purchase our preps from various locations in relatively small amounts using cash.
 

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Today when I went to the shops, toilet paper shelves were about 3/4 empty. There are limits being put on toilet paper and paper towels again, because of the spike in cases in Victoria. I'm in South Australia, where we've had no new cases for the past few weeks.

Bidadisndat, I know commitments can slow down other things we'd like to get done. We'll still be here waiting for when you are able to continue the story.
 

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My own writing has slowed greatly as Covid-19 has had its ups and downs so I'll just say I hope you get back up to speed faster than I seem to be doing :-(
 
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