The first frenzy of the sales is over and I'm feeling smug. With more cunning than cash, these are just some of the fantastic discounts I have managed to turn up over the past few days:
One ex-local authority matchbox in desirable Tower Hamlets. The last owner thoughtfully tarted it up with laminated wood flooring and a coat of Farrow & Ball "Crack de Cocaine" and it only faintly smells of burnt human hair. Was 210,000 (in November), now 200,000. I never thought I'd see the day when a 12sqm property, conveniently located for unprovoked street violence, could cost so little. And the best part is that the 10 grand I've saved should cover the first month's interest!
One pair of return-flight Ryanair tickets to Rotterdam (freight terminal) for Valentine's day 2008. Cost, (not including tax, baggage charges or the cost of me and my date eating Pret sandwiches for eight hours at Stansted while our plane is otherwise engaged) 4p. There's a chance that BAA will shut down that weekend, naturally, but nonetheless, as icecap-melting jaunts go, you can't say fairer than that.
A delightfully macabre glittering statuette branded Hirst that will look wonderful on the mantelpiece next to the Swarovski crystal tortoises. I picked it up locally. Vendor seemed very keen for a quick sale, and insisted I paid cash. Was, according to artist's say-so, 50m. Now 5,000! That's an art-bubble-busting discount of 10,000 per cent for some of the best cubic zirconia work I've ever seen.
A 26in Sony Bravia LCD HD-ready television. Not technically discounted but, due to the sadistic profiteering ways of electronics industry, similar models were (this time last year) 1,000 and are now 400. By July I'll be suicidal when I spot that a 40-incher is going for less than the price of a pint of milk, but at least I'll be able to see the mole on the back of Jon Snow's neck during Channel 4 News.
A studded, multi-strapped black "Vladimir" gym bag in Siberian deer hide I know, I'm such a lucky girl. It's big enough to carry an XL judo outfit and has these great secret pockets that can hide cash lots of it. Was 900, now 40bn or thereabouts. I know one really should be cautious about buying It bags in sales, since they can look dated so quickly. But I've got a feeling this one will be around for a good while yet.
It's very fashionable to declare New Year's eve a waste of time. I know at least four otherwise perfectly sociable friends who will tuck themselves into bed well ahead of midnight tonight, grumbling that pub and club charges are robbery, that looking at fireworks gives you crow's feet and that anyway, the countdown jollity of the event is forced and boring. They are, of course, right, but when did that ever get in the way of an excuse for ritualised drinking?
This year I'm having a houseparty so as you read this I'll have been up since dawn opening packets of pretzels instead of the usual Continental mini-break. You might well ask why I bother. Well, tradition has it that naffness prevails over the New Year's Eve playlist and that, I'm afraid to say, perfectly places me to hostess such an event: I've even downloaded the theme from Minder especially for the occasion. If my guests complain, I'm going to place the blame squarely with Steve Jobs. Progress is a good thing, yes, but, personally, the evolution of popular music formats has been concomitant with a gradual decline in taste. The record player's long gone, but I still own some respectable vinyl, in that it's a bit depressing and guitar-based. Into the compact disc strata of the collection, the odd Kylie album is still vastly outnumbered by art-house punk and esoteric hip-hop. While the 2001 minidisc era was brief, handwritten labels that simply scrawl "pop" signal the beginning of a more furtive attitude.
Digital music leaves no paper trail, and the past three years my worst tendencies have been left unchecked. A shuffle selection will spew up dozens of theme tunes from Eighties sitcoms, far too much Supertramp and the entire catalogue of Hall & Oates. Contemporary music has passed me by. I'm not proud of that. Usually, if somebody idly picks up my iPod, you'd guess by my jittery reaction that I'm worried they'll find some bomb-making instructions or some seriously compromising photographs of that baby. No such shame tonight. For a few short hours, I or rather, Barbra, Kenny Rogers and Toto will be free at last. Who wouldn't prefer that to an early night? Hello? You are still coming, aren't you?
Harrumphing and eye-rolling in the Daily Mail as former married couple Chris Evans and Billie Piper tonight trash all the rules of the celebrity split: the radio 2 DJ is lending the barn of his 3.2m timber-framed farmhouse to his ex-wife for the reception of her New Year's Eve wedding to actor Laurence Fox. Evans lives in the Grade II listed country estate with the new Mrs Evans, golfer and model Natasha Shishmanian, whom he married in August.
All parties say that sensible, grown-up friendship has prevailed over trifling jealousies and that the foursome regularly drink together in the pub nearby that Evans also owns. Not that this equanimity prevents the Mail coming over like the snidey maiden aunt from next door. No wonder: it's been denied both a public spat and a moneygrabbing, red-eyed, female figure of hate/pity (actually, scratch the pity). And worse than that, tonight's revelry is to take place on the hallowed turf of Surrey!
The Piper-Evans definition of "staying good friends" is certainly a good deal more literal than the snippy, new-girlfriend-wrangling, game-playing nonsense that goes on among everyone I've ever met. Then again, celebrities really are better than us, aren't they?