Armageddon’s Been Delayed

The same goes for thousands of others who had expected to be the only remnants of Friday’s scheduled termination of the human race. Like Bast, a well-known “survivalist” and online prophet of doom, they have been leaving nothing to chance.

But it’s always the same with this blasted Armageddon business. You take all the right precautions, you abandon your job and go to an enormous amount of trouble to set yourself apart from the common herd in the confident expectation that you are a Chosen One. And then, well, you end up looking a prize twit the following morning. Those blasé neighbours who never bothered to stockpile so much as a box of matches give you a patronising wave as they set off to work as usual.

What’s more, you’ve got a garage full of baked beans, bottled water, spare batteries and duck tape. Oh well. You can usually console yourself with the thought there’ll be another cataclysmic prophesy along soon. Better have another flick through the works of Nostradamus . . .

Friday’s end of the world comes courtesy of the ancient Mayans (or “Maya” as the BBC likes to call them). For almost 2 000 years before Christ, they ruled much of what is now Mexico, Belize and Honduras. And they followed a calendar which had been carefully mapped out from 3114BC to December 21, 2012.

Now, the Mayans did not get into hours and minutes and so did not spell out our precise closing time. Perhaps, it may come to pass later on Friday, in which case I will be the one feasting on humble pie (posthumously, of course). But if you’re reading this, the chances are that we have not been vapourised or consumed by some omnivorous intergalactic black hole.

I have yet to fathom quite why we should be so alarmed by the navel-gazing of Central American Iron Age elders for whom human sacrifice was the height of sophistication. But as much as ten percent of the world’s population are said to have been “anxious” that Friday would be their last.

Yet the mood is surprisingly upbeat in Mexico where the tourist board of Yucatan state has been promoting “end of the world” tourism to its spectacular Mayan ruins. A small fortune has been spent on a new museum of Mayan culture which has yet to open – suggesting that these particular Mayan aficionados are not expecting annihilation on Friday.

Down in Guatemala, another part of the old Mayan empire, crowds have been gathering near the ancient city of Tikal where several Mayan temples still stand.

The last time Tikal had this much excitement was when film director George Lucas shipped his entire Star Wars production down there and used the temples as the location for the fictional planet, Yavin 4. On Thursday, locals reported an intriguing blend of Mayan disciples and Star Wars enthusiasts descending on the site.

Few places have been busier than the tiny French village of Bugarach on the edge of the Pyrenees. The Mayans had never even heard of the Pyrenees and yet Bugarach is supposedly the best place to dodge extinction because of the strange mountain which looms over it.

According to assorted New Age shamans and internet conspiracy theorists, the Pic de Bugarach is housing a collection of UFOs and aliens who were supposed to emerge today, gather up any locals and whisk them off to a new life as Earth implodes.

“I’m here to welcome the great alien monarch who will rise from the mountain when the world ends,” explained Sylvain Durif, 43, from neighbouring Arques, (but born, he says, on Venus). “Anyone who wants to be saved must come to Bugarach.”

Around the village, Doomsday prophets are outnumbered by international camera crews who have come from as far as Toronto and Tokyo to gawp. Jean Prior, owner of the Ferme de Janou restaurant, is enjoying a busy trade in apocalyptic wine with the label: “End of the World – I Was There”.

Another favoured spot for riding out the global storm is the Turkish hill town of Sirince, singled out by New Age mystics for its “positive energy”.

And the Mayans have been great for manufacturers of survival kit. In China, farmer Liu Qiyuan has produced a set of steel and fibre-glass balls which, he claims, can each accommodate 14 people through every sort of Biblical eventuality.

In Montebello, California, Ron Hubbard has seen a last-minute run of orders for his £46 000 bomb-proof survival shelters, complete with leather sofas and plasma screens (tuned in to what, one wonders?).

And in France, survivalists have been restoring old Maginot Line bunkers. These concrete fortresses might have failed dismally when they were supposed to keep the Nazis out in 1940. But there are those who believe they will keep the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at bay in 2012. While a lot of the Armageddon talk is tinged with comedy, it is worth remembering that apocalyptic forecasts can have tragic consequences.

Two months ago, Brazilian police foiled an end-of-the-world suicide attempt by 100 members of a doomsday cult, moments before the killer cocktail was to be handed round.

The situation is certainly tense in some parts of the world. While Moscow socialites are paying $1 000-a-head for tickets to an apocalypse-themed party in an old Cold War bunker near the Kremlin, many provincial Russians are terrified.

There have been reports of panic-buying, especially of torches, Thermos flasks and kerosene lamps. The city of Novokuznetsk has seen a run on salt while the Siberian city of Tomsk has enjoyed a roaring trade in “survival kits” which include rope, bandages and a can of sprats.

Even President Vladmimir Putin has stepped in to calm things down. “I know when the end of the world will come,” he told a Moscow press conference on Thursday. “It will be in 4.5 billion years approximately.” Explaining that the sun will eventually run out of steam, Mr Putin continued: “Everything will end and the reactor will go out – that will be the end of the world.”

Other voices of international calm have included the Vatican’s official astronomer and the space agency, Nasa. “I hear from kids who say they can’t eat, they can’t sleep, they’re considering suicide,” said Nasa’s David Morrison.

Quoting a poll which suggested that 25 million Americans do not expect to see Christmas, he went on: “I worry about those people. There’s nothing that’s going to happen to the Earth, no cosmic catastrophe. It’s a little scary to think of millions of people who are storing up guns and machetes. I just hope they stay in their hole and don’t come out and make a mess.”

In China, the authorities have arrested more than 600 members of the “Almighty God” cult for spreading rumours of an upcoming catastrophe. One leaflet reads: “Advice before catastrophe: Satan’s men will be extinct. Only the Almighty God can save man. Anybody who resists God will go to Hell.”

For many end-of-the-worlders, though, it is simply a case of “always look on the bright side of life”. Dating websites have seen a surge in people seeking apocalyptic dates and even “end of the world sex”. As New York model Niki Ghazian has informed the New York Post, she plans to go out with a party and, she hopes, a romantic encounter: “If I die, I don’t want to die on a dry spell. Everybody should go out feeling satisfied. If the world’s gonna end, why hold back?” – Daily Mail