As far as I can gather, the turn of the millennium's turning into a bit of a non-starter. First it was the eclipse, and everyone in England was supposed to be haring down to Cornwall and going blind in the process - and as it turned out there were dozens of Cornish guesthouses with room to spare and most people's sight is still pretty good. Now it seems as though tickets for the Dome have hardly sold at all, and on the big night, instead of partying till they pop, most people are choosing to stay at home.
Why? Because, despite that reassuring little government leaflet, lots of people are terrified that the electricity's going to go off, all services will grind to a halt, and the streets will be swarming with looters streaming into households to nick all the cash and spare food we've hoarded because the cash dispensers won't be up and running and the supermarkets will be unable to sell their goods since their cash machines will have seized up. When midnight strikes, they're scared stiff all the carriages will turn into pumpkins and all the dashing footmen into mice, and they want to be home, nice and cosy and safe. The only people who'll be able to go out are likely to be the very rich, who can afford expensive babysitters and minicabs, which will be able to charge pretty much what they like.
And then there's another reason people want to be at home with their loved ones, and that's because this new year is rather a big thing. Too big, in fact, to celebrate with a lot of screaming strangers. I've turned down a fabulous trip to Italy and a glamorous journey to Devon because I'd rather spend Millennium Night in my own street at a small fireworks party, with friendly neighbours I've known for years, and only yards away from my own home. Millennium Night is too special to be anything other than cosy and homey.
So, if I were Deborah I'd rather spend the evening with my family than go partying. She could go and stay with her mum and dad, or her sister or brother and nephews and nieces, if she has them.
The other thing Deborah could do is what I do with Saturday nights. Fed up with spending Saturday nights on my own, feeling miserable, I decided that in future I would make Saturday night "staying-in-night". If I'm asked out, fine - there's always an exception to the rule. But if not, then I'm staying in, because that's my special night for being by myself. Having decided that it's my staying-in night, I'm now always out - if that doesn't sound too Irish.
If Deborah says to herself that she's not going to go out on New Year's Eve, and she's going to stay in and watch television out of choice, she won't feel so bad if she's not asked out - but I'm pretty certain she will be. Or she could take herself off to the nearest hill, and join the inevitable group who'll be watching a sky bursting with fireworks as the clocks strike 12.
Indeed, I'm so certain someone will ask her out, that I'm wary of suggesting that she rings up her local council and asks if she can take some lonely old people out for a meal, or have them round to her home for a celebration. But that would be one way of organising her own party, which would be a jolly nice and kind way of beginning a new century.
Why not go to bed early?
If my wife didn't object I would invite Deborah for Millennium Eve, but it will not be to a party.
As on every New Year's Eve for the last 20 years or so we shall be treating it as an extension to the last weekend before work starts again. We shall have a good meal and good wine, and hope to be asleep before midnight. This may be no solution to Deborah's problem, but I suspect she has already solved it simply by writing to you. Scores of people will be sending invitations to pass on to her, and she will have the pleasure of refusing them. She may even receive one, sent unwittingly, from someone she knows. This will give extra piquancy, whether she refuses, or puts on her glass slippers and goes.
Next year's the one
Tell all your friends you're treating this year like any other and having a quiet night in, but invite them to a fantastic party on the real Millennium Eve - 31 December, 2000.
When they look at you as if you're a really sad person, confirm their worst fears by pointing out that 1999 is not the last year of this century - if it were, why would we call it the 20th century? And why is Arthur C Clarke's book not called "2000: A Space Odyssey".
Ask them a cricketing question: if a batsman is out for 156, which run was the first at the start of his move towards a second century? It is, of course, No 101. Run No 100 was the last run of his first century. And 2000 is the last year of the 20th century.
Finally, as they roll about laughing, tell them to go to the local library and see a microfiche of the Golden Daily Mail, issued on 31 December 1900, which reported celebrations to mark the start of the new century starting 1 January 1901.
Don't worry about staying in on New Year's Eve - after that little lot, no one will want to see you anyway!
Next Week's Dilemma
Dear Virginia, After 30 years of marriage my husband and I separated, though we're still friendly. The rest of the family seem to think it's my fault, maybe because I've found a new man friend. But the problem is Christmas. My married daughter says there's no point in celebrating it if we're split up, though the grandchildren would lose out, and my son and his wife have said they'll go abroad since there's no point in having it at home. My parents say I've ruined Christmas by breaking up the family. I'd like to spend Christmas with my new friend, but my husband's suggested he and I spend it together. What should I do?
Yours sincerely, Rosie
Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from . Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside at `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail dilemmas@ independent. co.uk, giving a postal addressReuse content