The Third Leader: Fright night

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So, three down, one to go. How has it been for you so far? How well have you coped with the marauding bands of the bored and slouching that emerged, occasionally and blinking, into the light of half-term? And have you now stopped wondering where everybody else is in the morning, and, specifically, have you changed the clock settings on your hot water timer and video recorder? And what about last night? How was it?

Several years of the New Anglo-American October-November Festival Period have refined my approach to last night. Actually, it's not so bad, behind the sofa with the lights out, although we do have to remember to turn over at the same time. I did experiment for a few years with a torch and a copy of The Independent, but you know what they're like, out there: one slip of a beam and it's all over.

In the dark, then, with the ringing of the doorbell interrupted by the occasional crump of a Super Galactic Mega Annihilator exploding to the baying of pets, is, I find, rather a useful time for contemplation, particularly of the benefits and otherwise of our close ties with the United States.

But there is more: this is the ancient, traditional time for fear of the future; fear that had been eased away in large part by comforting progress until the arrival of the current splendid seasonal mix of pressing health and safety issues regarding conflagration, combustion and flaming effigies combined with the insistent fingers on the bell, tolling. All this and Sir Nicholas Stern, too.

Now, how are your Christmas plans going?