The Trader: File under sobering experiences - for everyone but Rory

Drink is what oils the wheels of the big business bus - that and lies
"WHO'S GOT the file called `Stupid Ideas From Senior Management 1999', then?" Rory says in irritation. Laura and I gaze at each other and raise our eyebrows. We've been having a few of these Roger Moore moments since Rory drunkenly rearranged the filing system. Now he can't find anything.

"That's the problem with alcohol," I say to Laura. "All those fabulous insights into the working of the cosmos when you're steaming, then when you sober up you can't remember any of it." Let's face it, there are more than a few of those moments when you do what we do for a living. Drink is what oils the wheels of the big business bus - that and lies. Although we prefer to call it "bluffing", obviously, because lying is wrong.

Alcohol's on my mind, not just because of Rory. My plan for a healthy November - to prepare me for the festive season - is about to be scuppered. The parties have already begun.

"I suppose it's because everyone wants theirs to be the best and most memorable party of all," Laura says, gazing sadly at her first clutch of embossed invitations. "They figure if they leave it too late, everyone will already be heartily sick of champagne and canapes and horrible hangovers."

"The problem is," I say, "that at this rate we're just going to be heartily sick of it all several weeks earlier than we might have been. Look, there isn't a single invitation here for later than the first week of December. And what are we expected to do for the rest of the month?"

Laura shrugs. We have long ago banned all mention of the M-word, and even if we had found the concept exciting a year or two ago, all the millennium hype would have killed enthusiasm stone dead well before now. New Year's Eve is New Year's Eve, when all's said and done. "Except before 1752," Laura pipes up. "It used to be the end of March. Perhaps they ought to change it back just for this year - you know, to give them time to finish the Dome and the Jubilee Line extension."

"I don't think that'll be long enough," I say. "Still, you never know." Then Mrs Hughes rattles in with coffee and her homemade walnut and ginger cake.

Much later Rory returns from lunch, and he's been drinking. There's a tell-tale look of intense concentration as he tries to walk a straight line back to his desk, and hesitation as he tries to work out which of the two chairs is the real one. Laura hisses: "You can smell the fumes from here."

We watch Rory head to the filing cupboards and fling open the doors. He stands, frowning and swaying slightly, and I'm worried he's about to inflict further damage on his pride and joy. Then he turns, smiling stupidly. "I've got it," he says, and hiccups. "I understand. Rearranging the files. See?"

We don't. "Look," Rory goes on, impatiently. "It's obvious. They're arranged in order of annoyance, most irritating up here all the way down to hardly irritating at all down there. I knew if I got drunk again it would all make sense."

And he stumbles back to his desk, crawls underneath, and falls asleep.