Comment: Be a devil: don't get drunk this Friday evening

WHERE'S THE fun in getting drunk on Millennium Eve? Half the fun of getting drunk is the sense that you are doing something slightly naughty. The best session you ever have is when you accidentally bump into a neighbour you have never spoken to before, having popped out for some celery. You pop into a grimy pub for a swift pint, and six hours later you're both playing pool against two blokes who tell you they have escaped from a prison on the Isle of Man. Then you somehow stumble across somewhere selling a late drink in the most unlikely place, such as a launderette, and the next morning you ring in sick, saying you must have eaten a dodgy pork chop.

But there is a sense that we are all supposed to get drunk on Millennium Eve. Our fun has been sanctioned, like when a sour headmaster relents on the last day of term and says you can bring in games. It is the other side of the coin that gives us the most archaic licensing laws in Europe. What must the French or Italians think when they are over here? They must go out at 10 o'clock, get halfway through their second drink, then at 11 (according to the permanently four-minutes-fast clock) they hear the deafening clanging of the bell and think, "Aha, that must be the signal for some sort of carnival."

But instead it is the moment for a chilling outburst from the landlord, who up until then may have been quite pleasant but suddenly becomes a method-acting lunatic, like James Caan in The Godfather. Maybe there is a training tape they all listen to, showing the correct approach. "Still thinking of jacking your job in, are you Terry? Well, I reckon... " - Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! - "Right, finish your drinks now! It's eight seconds past 11, you ignorant scum!"

Then the bar staff are ordered to stand next to you, screaming: "Get it down you," and a ferocious Alsatian appears. Finally, especially if it's mid-January, the doors are swung open to attract a swirling blast of icy wind. And I bet, if you're still there at 20 past, the landlord presses a button under the bar and the roof comes off.

It's all part of the culture that makes the English feel as if we are constantly being told off. You notice it when you go abroad, when, even though you're in Amsterdam, it feels naughty to be ordering a drink at midnight, and you grovellingly ask if it's still all right possibly to have another one if they don't mind. We are like dogs that have been beaten by a previous owner and still cower whenever our kind new owner leans towards us to give us a biscuit.

But now, for one night only, we can stay up late. Until 2am. Then the streets will be full of those headmasters, going, "OK, we've had a bit of a giggle, but let's be sensible and all go home so we don't have queasy tummies in the morning."

And you have to pay. All year, the Millennium has been sold as a day that can be celebrated only if you shell out vast sums to be at the right concert, club or ball, anything connected with the event costing 50 times the normal price. This Friday, anyone visiting a public toilet will probably find the slot in the door has been altered to accept only pounds 20 notes. And there will be a big sign outside saying, "Come inside and enjoy a never- to-be-forgotten Millennium dump."

So what a wonderful comment on the independence of the human spirit, that most of these events are being cancelled. Just as most people in Eastern Europe never enjoyed the military May Day parades, most people appear to have a healthy cynicism towards state-endorsed compulsory enjoyment. It reminds me of the notice you sometimes see at buffet bars on trains, the one that says: "We are proud to announce Sandwich of the Month."

"What's Sandwich of the Month?" I asked once, and it was something with tuna.

Was cheese and tomato really upset, I wondered? And was there an awards ceremony? With the sandwich announcing: "I would like to thank the wrapping, the serviette, and especially my agent."?

Did this make any difference to the sales of that sandwich? With commuters thinking: "Blimey, I'd better get one now before it goes off to Hollywood and I never get another chance."?

I doubt it.

We can go into the new millennium with the satisfaction that we are not as gullible as they think we are.

Wouldn't it be brilliant if people just watched the fireworks and had a couple of beers at home, leaving the last un-cancelled concerts, clubs and pubs charging 30 quid for entrance deserted?Then, on, say, 11 January we all get pissed and ring in sick.

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