THE COLLEGE'S marketing task force has got a good deal on its Christmas lunch this year. We're off to the cafeteria at the newly-opened branch of Budget Mart. There's a special rate for parties on Monday. If you get a table before 11.30 you can have the curry, nan bread, onion bhaji, a choice of festive filled donuts and a round of cheese and crackers all for pound;3.95.
On top of that we get a discount on subsequent business meals throughout 2000. We were lured away from the function room of The Bald Eagle by the persuasive charms of Adrienne, Budget Mart's catering manager and GNVQ student of the month for a record-breaking six consecutive occasions when she was at college a few years ago.
Actually, it was more to do with Carole, our new head of corporate communications. She announced the venue of our new style Christmas revelry at a recent task force meeting. When she pushed a button on her personal organiser and said seductively, "So Budget Mart it is," that was that. Carole is new, assertive, wears black a lot and is not sentimental over tradition.
The more I thought about it the less I liked the idea. My mind wandered in the middle of lessons. I was having a recurring vision of Carole wearing a party hat and popping corks from bottles of Bulgarian bubbly when it came to me in a moment of cold realisation ...
I was listening to a student reading Keats' Ode to a Nightingale when I remembered that you can't drink in Budget Mart. Half hearing "with beaded bubbles winking at the brimAnd purple-stained mouth", I was suddenly conscious of my heart beating faster. I know great poetry has the power to move you, but so does the thought of a Christmas lunch without booze.
"Well read, er, Linda," I said after an embarrassing silence.
"Are you all right?" asked Linda, my brightest hope for an A grade.
"Yes, thanks. It always gets me, that poem."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a big drinker, but Christmas at college is not the same without some dear old colleague having one drink too many and sounding off his or her Yuletide message - barbed, bitter and drunkenly cathartic. Getting pissed and pontificating is all part of tradition - one that's survived two mergers, split site working and umpteen re-structurings.
I do like curry but it's not very Christmasy. But something strange is happening to me. I can't believe I've just used the word "Christmasy". The more I think about this impending lunch the more uptight I get.
"I don't like this lunch idea," I said to my mate Colin from Maths. "It just won't work."
"Well I'm all right. It's another bloody Christmas do at the bloody Bald Eagle with the Science Faculty."
"But you like it really, Colin," I said.
"It'll be just like last year. We'll be sharing the dance floor with that wild bunch from the personnel department at the hospital. We're out for revenge in the balloon-down-your-jumper team relay. And I'll be ready this year when it comes to the Village People look-alike competition."
I couldn't, for once, tell whether Colin was being serious or not.
"Please," I heard myself saying meekly, "Can I come?"