International Writers Magazine: Millennium Eve
had been prepared and arranged at the Hospital Records Library
months ahead of the chaos that had been predicted for the Millennium
Eve. Names had been pulled out of hats in order to decide fairly
who would work the night shift and who would cover the following
had been discussed, argued about and eventually agreed upon by the managers
and team leaders. And the I.T. Support Team had, we were told, readied
themselves for any possible problems that might cause havoc to the in-house
computer system that stored all of the information about patients
Being severely strapped for cash because of Christmas shopping and because
I only worked fifteen hours a week, Id put my name down to work
on the night, starting at midnight and working through until eight the
next morning, tempted by the double pay that was offered for the shift.
I knew it would actually be a fairly quiet night for us, apart from
the phone calls from A & E, and that between the three of us that
were working it, we would each get a chance to have a few hours
sleep in the coffee lounge upstairs, there being no managers or senior
staff in the building until after New Years Day.
Obviously I didnt exactly relish the idea of being there that
night, knowing how lively and exciting it would be in the pubs, clubs
and at private house parties. But there was over a hundred pounds in
it for me, money I desperately needed but which would barely last me
for the following couple of weeks. I really had no choice. And neither
did my then girlfriend. It just hadnt occurred to me to ask her
if she minded me working that night; not, that is, until the moment
Id agreed to do so with my colleagues at the hospital. But by
then it was instantly too late. Everybody had come out with water-tight,
plausible-sounding excuses and reasons for not being able to work the
shift: kids, parties, holidays, or they may have already worked Christmas
Eve and so felt that this in itself exempted them from working the shift,
which, to be fair, it did.
I immediately regretted volunteering to work that night. It seems ridiculous
now but we were having a party at our house on that New Years
Eve and my plan was to not drink alcohol, be at the party for a few
hours with my girlfriend, Lisa, and then leave for work at half-past
eleven in the taxi that was booked and paid for in advance by the hospital.
But, almost inevitably, this did not happen. I had a beer, then another,
then another, and by about half-past ten I was well into the spirit
of the night. At the time I blamed my girlfriend for persuading me to
stay at the party but in truth I had no intention of going to work and
was starting to panic about how I might get out of it. And then Lisa
came up with an ingenious plan:
"When the taxi turns up why dont you offer the driver twenty
quid to pretend that he was given the wrong address, then call work
and tell them that it hasnt arrived and that youre finding
it impossible to order another one? Its Millennium Eve so theyll
believe that. I bet you really wouldnt be able to get one if you
"Thats a brilliant idea," I replied, opening another
bottle of cheap French beer, "but Ill never get through to
the taxi firm now. And the people at work will know Im lying."
"Oh, so what. Its Millennium Eve! Whats the worst that
can happen? Youll get the sack. You only work fifteen hours a
week; you can easily get something else. How could they sack you anyway
if they cant prove youre lying? Go on babe
In my semi-drunken haze this seemed to make complete sense, and combined
with all of the talking, drinking, dancing and general abandon that
was going on around me in our front room, was simply irresistible. I
thought hard about the possible repercussions of Lisas plan for
all of about two seconds.
"Go on then. But will you speak to the driver when he gets here?
Youre better at things like this than me. And youre good
at getting through when its busy."
"Yeah, let me do it, Ill speak to him. Can you get me another
I gave her a beer and a twenty-pound note for the taxi driver, which
I borrowed from my dad, and we forgot about the whole thing for the
next hour and continued with the festivities.
I didnt actually feel that guilty or worried about letting work
down. It was obviously very unreliable of me, but there wouldve
been four of us manning the building that night, we wouldnt be
doing any actual work, which normally involved pulling out patients
records for forthcoming clinics, and the place could function perfectly
well with just one person there. I should know, Id worked there
alone before on several occasions and the hardest thing about doing
so was staying awake and not getting spooked by the building. It was
an eerie place to be alone in and at night; a draughty, cobweb-ridden,
unnervingly silent library consisting of rows and rows of narrow aisles
within which were stored hundreds of thousands of dusty, bulging cardboard
files and folders. Being there in the middle of the night, alone and
groggy from sleeplessness, ones mind would play tricks. You would
begin to think youd glimpsed a black figure darting quickly past
the far end of the aisle you might be working in; or youd be convinced
you could hear the muffled sound of footsteps from the floor above.
Having the radio on didnt help: that would only prevent you from
hearing any possible intruders and just put you even more on edge. And
you couldnt lock yourself in a room or an office because a security
guard patrolling the hospital grounds could call in unannounced at any
moment to check you were still alive; or at least awake. So all in all
this was probably the last place I wanted to be on Millennium Eve. What,
ultimately, would be the point of being there? I tried telling
myself, convinced that I should just be at home with the people I love
and getting shit-faced with the people I love on this
unique and momentous night.
The party turned out to be one of those great ones that people still
talk about years later. In my memory it was all contained in that one
front room, like a microcosm of the carnival that took place all over
the world that day. There were twenty- and thirty-somethings stood
against walls, trying to look like they were not trying to look cool,
parents dancing unashamedly in the middle of the room, youngsters abusing
our piano in an attempt to compete with the music on the stereo, couples
snogging on the stairs, the usual shady characters you barely notice
at parties smoking something foul and sinister in the garden, two people
having extramarital sex in my bed, beautiful eighteen- and nineteen-
year-olds flirting with each other in the kitchen, the obligatory tearful
girlfriend being consoled in the forecourt, and an overall sense of
all of life being lived out in this one house.
Three days later I was called into work to go for a meeting with two
of the managers.
Well, what did I expect?
"You let us down, Paul", my manager Tony pronounced in his
camp, nasal, scouse accent. (I always thought of him as a kind of Nazi
John Inman.) But I knew they couldnt prove anything. I felt guilty
and rather silly, knowing that they knew full well that I was lying,
and not very well.
"Honestly, the taxi never turned up. I tried to book another one
but I couldnt even get through. How did it go, anyway?"
I didnt give a toss how it had gone but thought I should make
some pretence at devotion to my job.
"Luckily it was fine. No thanks to you."
"Im sorry, but like I said, I tried to order another one
couldnt. And by about three oclock I thought
it was probably not worth coming in anyway. Sorry."
"Well be in touch."
He got up and opened the door to the office for me. I was understandably
relieved to have gotten that over with and lit a fag as soon as I got
out into the chill of the car park.
I didnt lose my job. Nothing more was said about it but I had
my tail between my legs the next time I had to work the night shift.
Ive always found lying very stressful, and lying to the others
that night about what had happened was almost like juggling plates in
that I had to seem convincing whilst simultaneously appearing to share
their incomprehension at why the taxi didnt turned up and why
I couldnt get another one.
"I know, it was a nightmare, it was just engaged every time I rang
"How did it go, anyway? Were you very busy
© Paul Martin December 2006
paulmartin177 at hotmail.co.uk
Paul is studying for his Masters in Creative Writing at the University
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