Real homes: Welcome to the house of fun

Rip-off nightclubs? Phantom cabs? Relax, says KATE WORSLEY - the best New Year parties will be `chez vous' anyway

If the Nineties was the decade that gave birth to the nesting generation, then we seem to be celebrating its end in a suitable homey fashion. Now that all the people who feel alive only on vacation have left the country for their millennium megaholiday, we stay-at-homes are mostly doing just that: staying home to celebrate.

This may come as a relief, or a letdown. I've always thought partying like it's 1999 involved shimmying in a sequinned frenzy with the sexiest people on the planet. But hysteria is never far away on NYE, and who wants to experience terminal meltdown miles from your own bed? In any case, as anyone knows who's ever taken the all-back-to-mine route, you can get up to more mischief in the oblivion of your own home than you ever could on CCTV. The most domestic New Year's Eve I ever spent - back at the flat sharing tartan pyjamas, borscht, blinis and lashings of vodka with a couple of friends - also turned out to be one of the wildest.

"Who wants to be with strangers on New Year's Eve anyway, especially this one?" says one friend, whose work means she spends her life at functions and schmoozy parties. "Maybe New Year's Day itself, at dawn maybe, it would be fun to go up Parliament Hill and share your hangover with the rest of the world, but on the night itself you want to touch base." Stay- at-home celebrations are limited less by your budget than by your imagination.

Down the pub with their mates a few months ago, Will Jones, 30, and his girlfriend Stephanie Pearson, 28, dreamed up a white-out theme for their two-bed flat above a shop in Haringey, north London.

"Everyone's got to come in white. We're having white food and drink - Stephanie's a chef so she's doing sorbets and sherbet, and Polos - and I've scrounged some UV lights for the long corridor and main room so everyone will glow," says Will, who works for trade magazine Electrical Contractor. "I'm painting the bare patch under the rug in the living room with white gloss to make a dance floor, and another room will be lit with white candles."

"We've done 50 flyers and expect about 30 people to turn up. One girl's coming in antique white underwear and corset. There will be big feathery wigs, white tuxedos, and one fella's coming in a white tracksuit and trainers - a bit of a homey. One lad says he'll be Barry White. Another friend, who's been clinically diagnosed as a manic depressive, says he's going to come in black. With his lips and eyes greyed out. So he's a negative. Someone's supposed to be coming as a tooth, too."

Will and Stephanie, like many people, decided to party at home after being put off by the inflated cost of anywhere commercial. "We all went to Cornwall last year, but prices just escalated this year. They were asking a grand for a holiday cottage and everywhere was booked up by June."

For retired nursing sister Margaret Welsh, 61, who lives in Glasgow's West End, Hogmanay at home is a tradition that this year will be bigger and better than ever. She will spend all day decorating and boiling up a catering-sized vat of Scotch broth for more than 80 people who start to gather around midnight and then first-foot through the night until breakfast time. Thanks to her jazz musician husband, Michael, they will be joined by a jazz quartet and assorted fiddlers, singers and dancers playing reels and sambas. Margaret usually pins up the reverse side of a roll of wallpaper along the hallway with pens attached for people to write their resolutions on the way out. "I've four children and I've never been out at Hogmanay," she says. "I like being in my own home. Neighbours started drifting over after midnight and now it's become a tradition. It's open house."

If you don't want to carry the whole burden yourself (or face the fall- out alone), club together with neighbours. Headhunter Louise Gore, 39, persuaded her neighbours in a new crescent of eight houses on St Mary's Island in Chatham, Kent, to share a century of celebrations decade by decade, house by house.

"We'll be on safari at home, really," says Louise. "I have two small children, so I bagged the first party of the evening - the Thirties, all cocktails and opulence. Then we move next door for the Forties, the war years, then on through the decades until the Eighties, after which we all go to bed! We're a very sociable lot here, and I had the idea at a barbecue this summer. We had a drinks party recently to finalise things and now I'm trying to find a suitable dress."

Make use of any outdoor space you have, too. Although building a version of the Dome in your back garden, a la Rowan Atkinson, may be taking the DIY millennium thing a bit too far, you may still be able to get hold of a marquee. In Folkestone, massage practitioner Claire Lort, 29, and her friends have erected one in the largest back garden they could provide - for 28 adults and as many children.

"We usually go away to Centreparc," says Claire, "but the price doubled. Also, we really wanted to see more of our friends. We're having a blue and silver theme - basically anything we see in that colour we've bagged up already. Someone got blow heaters through work contacts. My dad gave me the disco lights he made for us. We've put down hardboard for the floor and are clubbing together on our garden furniture and food. The small children will sleep in the bedrooms and everyone else is bringing a sleeping bag. Three of the men went to France for the drink: the whole thing is costing pounds 80 per family. You couldn't go out for the night as a couple on that."

To really chill out, pile round to a friend's place with a view of the beacons and fireworks that will be lighting up all over the country. Vet John Torrents, 35, has just moved into a new flat in a refurbished flat- roofed Thirties block in east London. "The developers were so slow we didn't think we'd make it in here in time for New Year, but now we plan to make cocktails in our shiny new kitchen and then go up on the roof at midnight to see London light up. We've got mini binoculars, a load of wool wraps and those shiny silver emergency blankets if it gets really parky. There's shelter up there if it rains, so we can spread out a mattress or two, and hopefully we'll meet some of our new neighbours, as we're all moving in about the same time."

If you can face the cold, dragging the bikes out of the hall and cycling around the streets, horns blaring, streamers flying, is a good a way as any to greet the new year. If he's not working on new commissions, this is how artist Charlie, 30, and a group of local friends in west London plan to celebrate. Deck your bikes with some serious illuminations, ride fast enough, and you can play human sparklers.

Those whose offspring send them staggering to bed well before midnight can turn that regular dawn call into a bonus on New Year's Day, and see the millennium in way before anyone else. If you've packed a bumper breakfast hamper full of surprises the night before, even sitting in the car on top of the nearest hill will be magical.

Writer Marek Kohn plans to take his kids to a vantage point on the South Downs to watch the dawn come up. "The main thing is to do something that the kids will remember. This is the only way I can think of that won't be overrun. There will probably be other people with the same idea but at least it's spontaneous. After all, no one really has a tradition of what they do for the millennium, so we're all making it up as we go along."

PARTY RULES

5 Keep it simple. Asking your guests to come as characters from films of each decade of the century, or to bring a photo and a song from the year they were born, is as complicated as it should get.

5 If you're venturing outdoors, tuck a shimmering silver survival blanket (1m x 2.5m, pounds 6, YHA Adventure, tel: 0171 836 8541) in your bag to throw over your handkerchief top. Far more glamorous and efficient than

a pashmina.

5 Invite over anyone who you suspect has nowhere else to go. OK, they may not ring your bell, but you want to start a new millennium with a clean conscience, don't you?

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