The NS guide to self-indulgence - The Night In

You have been invited out to see a new four-hour Finnish film about women and depression. Or to spend a night in a draughty church hall listening to a third-rate string quartet. Or to meet the new professor of comparative linguistics and her charming husband who's recently been recruited to No 10's think-tank. And this is what you do instead.

First, you say you have the runs. This instantly stops any further inquiries. Then you head off to your nearest delicatessen - Italian if possible. We all know that sun-dried tomatoes went out along with Gordon Brown's leadership chances in 1994, but there is a new, infinitely more delicious, sister around: the semi-sun-dried tomato. Buy lots. Buy some fresh pasta, a ready cooked sauce (either pesto or tomato), some bread and some good olive oil. On the way home, pop into your local supermarket for a bag of salad.

Next stop: the video rental store. Some leeway is permissible. But you must choose either something you have seen before at least twice, or a British comedy in colour, or a thriller without anything too clever in it.

Next, go home and spend the first hour of stolen time with some cheap lagers and loud music. Then heat up the pasta and sauce and throw the salad together. Open a bottle of your favourite cheap, red plonk, secure in the knowledge that it tastes a lot better than what you would have been offered had you gone out. And you don't have to worry about driving home. Drink, eat, gawp. Drink, eat, gawp. Continue until feeling uncomfortable, or until film is over, whichever is later. Then have argument with spouse, partner or - if neither available - cat. Fall contentedly asleep.

This article first appeared in the 26 April 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The great Balkan lie