THE LAST WORD

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What are we all going to be making next Saturday? Not New Year's Resolutions, if we're halfway sane. They all fail so embarrassingly early into the new year that few of us will want to compound our sense of futility by making New Millennium Resolutions and have them fail one thousand times earlier than usual.

It turns out there may be a very good reason why we fail to keep our resolutions, other than the obvious abject feebleness of will. It's this: we can't remember what they are. Simple. And if we wrote them down, then we probably can't remember where we put the piece of paper, either.

Oddly enough, the piece of paper has been known to turn up exactly a year later when you're casting around for something on which to write the next year's abortive attempts to pull your life into some kind of shape. This is not, it turns out, a coincidence. Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression "it turns out" to be incredibly useful? It allows you to make swift, succinct and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements, without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority is. It's great.

It's hugely better than its predecessors, "I read somewhere that ...", or the craven "they say that ...", because it suggests not only that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is based on ground-breaking research, but that it is research in which you yourself were intimately involved. With no actual authority anywhere in sight. Anyway, where was I?

It seems that the brain is affected by alcohol. Well, we know that, of course. But there are different gradations to the effect, and herein lies the crux. The brain organises its memories like a hologram (it turns out). To retrieve an image you must recreate the exact conditions in which it was captured. In the case of a hologram it's the lighting; in the case of the brain it is, or can be (it turns out) the amount of alcohol sloshing around in it.

Things that happen to you or, frighteningly enough, that you say or do while under the influence of alcohol will only be recalled when you are again under the influence of that exact same quantity of alcohol. These memories are completely beyond the reach of your normal, sober mind. Which is why, after some ill-advised evening out, you will be the only person who is completely unaware of some barkingly stupid remark you made to someone whose feelings you care about deeply, or even just a bit. It is only weeks, months, or in the case of New Year's Eve, exactly a year later that the occasion returns to your consciousness with a sickening whump and you realise why people have been avoiding you for so long.

And the same is true on the way back down. There are certain memories that will only be triggered by revisiting exactly the same state of dehydration as the one in which the original events occurred. Hence the New Year's Resolution problem, which is that you never remember the resolutions you made, or even where you wrote them down, until the same moment the next year, when you are horribly reminded of your total failure to have stuck by them for more than seven minutes.

What is the answer to this terrible, self-perpetuating problem? Rigorous self-discipline. A monastic adherence to a regime of steamed vegetables, plain water, long walks, regular work-outs, early nights, early mornings and probably some kind of fragrant oils.

But the thing we are most going to want on New Year's Day, while desperately trying to remember how to make it, is a good hangover cure. The trouble is we can never remember them when we want them, or even know where to find them. And the reason is that we heard about them when we didn't need them, which isn't any help, for the reasons outlined above. Nauseating images involving egg yolks and Tabasco sauce swill through your brain, but you're really in no fit state to organise your thoughts. Which is why we need, urgently, to organise them now while there is still time. So this is an appeal for good, effective methods of freshening up the brain on New Year's Day that don't involve cranial surgery. Hangover cures, please, to www.h2g2.com. And may the next one thousand years be especially good ones for you and your descendants.

Completely Unexpected Productions Ltd 1999. All rights reserved.

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