The NS guide to self-indulgence - Afternoon Cinema

There are many quite ordinary acts that can be turned into luxuries by doing them at the wrong time. You know - the early morning swim, the late-night breakfast. One of the most pampering, though, is the mid-week afternoon film.

It has the sense of stolen time, which turns a mundane leisure activity into a wicked indulgence. While everyone else is laying out fish-fingers on the grill or stabbing the Save/Get key, you are back in the warm dark womb watching . . .

Well, what film? There's no point if it's one you would go to anyway. A re-released classic, perhaps, in black and white? Or go for something sillier than you would normally admit to. If you have no kids, maybe try one of the good children's films - A Bug's Life, for instance, is brilliant to look at, particularly if you can't be bothered thinking. Or swashbuckling nonsense like The Mask of Zorro or Godzilla. The point is, they don't have to be good. In fact, they can be bad. It intensifies the tingling guilt.

Men can just go. But women have to plan more carefully. The chances of some slimeball sliding his paw up your leg, or bouncing his popcorn box just a little too vigorously, are surprisingly high if you're by yourself in the afternoon. Best to take a girlfriend.

The important thing is to regress - this is a womb experience, after all. So buy that popcorn, hot dog or bag of sweets. (Or? Did I say "or"?) Talk loudly through the adverts, then go "Shh!" when the bit comes up that Andreas Whittam Smith now signs, and glare at everyone. Small pleasures, but enjoyable.

You can enjoy this all year, but spring is best because of the intense guilt of emerging, blinking, into warm, wasted daylight.

This article first appeared in the 26 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The police force we deserve?