Well it's about plans for the new millennium, Minister

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I HAVE received a leak from the Department of Heritage, or whatever Mr Brooke's little kingdom is called. That is to say, I have been sent a small cassette with a note saying: 'Have a listen and print it if you like.'

Is that how leaks come? More likely that way than in an official limousine, I suppose. Well, I have had a listen and it seems sufficiently intriguing to warrant a transcript. Besides, reprinting this gives me the chance for a day off.

There are two speakers on the tape, both male, neither identified.

Secretary of State, could we have a little talk about the end of the century?

My dear fellow, I may look old to you, but I assure you I wasn't around at the end of the century.

No, Sir, I am talking about the end of the present century. The other day we were trying to fix a date for it, if you remember.

Oh, yes. December 31st we decided, didn't we?

Yes, we did, Sir. But it's the year we were worried about. Whether to make it 1999 or 2000.

Didn't we decide on 1999? Although it was actually the wrong year mathematically speaking, we decided to go along with the common assumption that 1999 felt like the last year of the century.

Yes, Sir. We thought we'd go along with that and have all the government celebrations in 1999.

And you were going to go and book places for the festivities?

Yes, Sir. I was going to reserve the Albert Hall and everywhere.


It's all booked, Sir.


No, Sir, I mean the places we wanted have already gone. Double booked. Waiting lists.

You mean . . . no Albert Hall?

Nowhere, Sir. The paying public has moved in with a vengeance. Even hotels in New Zealand are booked because it is the first country with decent hotels that you come to after the International Date Line and therefore the first country where you can get breakfast in the next century. And if hotels in New Zealand are booked solid, what hope have we at the Ritz or Savoy?

Quite so. Oh, it does seem so unfair that we in Heritage have to tackle these things] What has the end of the century got to do with our heritage?

Absolutely, Sir. But then what did the poll tax have to do with the environment?

I don't know. What did it have to do with the environment?

Nothing, Sir. But Chris Patten was Environment Secretary when he got lumbered with the poll tax.

Ah, yes, but that was because they were trying to get him before he got too big for his boots]

Yes, Sir.

And nobody could accuse me of that.

If you say so, Sir.

Anyway, we seem to have a bit of a problem. We've settled on 1999 as the last year of the century, and now we find it's too late to book anywhere.

Well, not entirely too late. I have a list of leisure centres still unbooked, and one or two Holiday Inns . . .

Be serious, dear boy. How would it look if I went back to the Cabinet and said that I had fixed up all the millennium celebrations and they're all in a Holiday Inn? Or in a large marquee? They'd laugh me to scorn.

Yes, Sir. Actually, I've checked out all available large marquees. They're already booked for December 31st 1999.

Oh, my God. It's worse than I thought. Got any bright ideas?

Yes, Sir. Make it AD2000.


If we announce that it's the end of the century on the last day of AD2000 after all, I think you'll find there are still plenty of big places available for booking.

Ah, I've got you. But won't it look rather stupid if we're different from everybody else?

It will make us look a bit stupid now, Sir. But come the end of the century people will have forgotten our decision and will be glad of the chance to celebrate twice, and we'll get the credit]

Good thinking. Right, go ahead and announce the new date of the millennium.

I think perhaps I'll do the booking first, Sir.

Good man. Carry on.