Bunhill: Scared of the new millennium? Take cover

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The Independent Online
It's a sad fact of life that those events offering the prospect of unbridled joy also provide the greatest potential for misery. Christmas, the Cup Final, the Ashes Series, New Year's Eve ... I rest my case. It is a point that has not been lost on the insurance broker J&H Marsh & McLennan, which is offering special policies for the occasion when the gap between expectation and desolation will be at its thinnest - the millennium. At a cost of 0.5 per cent of the sum insured, the broker says it will cover any commemorative celebration in 1999, from fetes to the big shindig at Greenwich.

You can see the logic: many individuals and organisations are sinking lots of money into millennium events, and they could face financial disaster in the event of severe weather, transport strikes or celebrity guests failing to turn up. However, wouldn't it be nice if Marsh & McLennan gave millennium party-goers what they really need: insurance against abject romantic failure, saying things they'll regret the next day, and waking up in the bathroom to find the ceiling on the wall and the wall on the floor. But given the high likelihood of these things happening, it would be too much of a risk for any insurer to take on.

What might be a more realistic proposition, however, is cover for those soothsayers and doom-sayers who believe the millennium will be accompanied by calamities or miracles. So stand by for policies insuring customers against the Apocalypse, the return of the Ice Age and the Second Coming. Such packages would be a sure-fire (or hell-fire) winner - not least because none of these events is likely to happen, and if they do, who's going to bother making a claim?

You think I'm being silly? Of course I am, but I'm not the only one because Marsh & McLellan tells me it was recently asked to provide an insurance quote by a radio station that was offering a substantial cash prize if a certain celebrity made a miraculous appearance at the station. His name: Elvis Presley.

CV (completely vain)

One of the eternal mysteries of employment is the curriculum vitae, and why we still feel obliged to detail our extra-curricular vitae. If the idea was to give an insight into our personality and how well we'd mix with colleagues in the office, we'd simply say: "Enjoy getting drunk in wine bars after work and waking up in a police cell." But what we write instead manages simultaneously to be more far-fetched and more boring.

Armed with this information, the company executive conducts his interview with the candidate along these lines: "I see you have no previous experience in this industry, Mr Buckwheat-Pancake, you didn't go to school, the reason for leaving your last position was that it involved working, and you're 96 years old. However, I too like swimming, going to the theatre and reading - the job's yours."

On the other hand, maybe I'm being a bit cynical because the German embassy has written to inform us that Gebhardt von Moltke is the country's new ambassador to Britain. Herr von Moltke, the embassy reports, is a career diplomat who has served in Moscow and Washington, and for the past six years he has been Nato's assistant secretary-general for political affairs in Brussels.

More than enough qualifications for the job, you'd think ... but not quite because we're also informed that he's a "keen tennis player ... his wide interests extend to literature and classical music ... and he is particularly interested in Italian drawings from the time of Raphael and Leonardo".

A fully rounded character, then, but is his health good and does he possess a clean driving licence? I think we should be told.

At your convenience

Those "impress your boss" dinner parties are today's domestic nightmares, it seems, with hostesses becoming so stressed that they resort to smashing up the kitchen, belittling their partner in front of the guests or storming off to bed in the middle of the party.

These, at least, were the main findings in a recent survey of 800 adults and their attitudes to entertaining. Commissioned by supermarket group Somerfield, the report says that dinner party hosts sometimes spend more than pounds 100 on meals, and thatpreparing food really can induce a pressure- cooker atmosphere.

Conveniently, in both senses of the word, Somerfield stores now offer ready-prepared "dinner party" meals to take the heat out of the situation. Among the epicurean exotica you bung in the oven are crocodile fillet strips, kangaroo steaks, haunches of venison and ostrich sausages.

I'll get the bad jokes out the way first - "a crocodile fillet strip, please, and make it snappy"; "I'll have a venison steak, please, or something of that elk" - before statingthat while Somerfield has clearly shown great commercial awareness, the whole point of dinner parties is the sense of achievement that comes from sweating over the stove all day and taking full part in conversations about "Delia" and how the world would end without her. An oven-ready ostrich, by contrast, just hasn't got it (and neither, by this stage, has the ostrich).

Coming soon from Somerfield: nouvelle cuisine served in individual egg- cups, ready-to-microwave sushi and beaujolais in a bucket. Finally, though, the next big thing must surely be inflatable dinner party guests - that way, no one will ask how you managed to prepare such a delicious Antelope Surprise.