Thank you very much. And a Happy New Year to you, too. But, quite apart from the NHS's 50th birthday, how happy will 1998 be if we continue to make such a muddle of the rules by which we decide - as individuals and collectively - what we should eat, drink and otherwise do to ourselves to stay cheerful? And who decides it?

It has been an astonishingly rich and diverting Christmas for human folly in this department, with both the libertarian and nannying camps vying for the Humbug Prize eventually won by the Daily Mirror for its daring 'expose' of Jack Straw Junior's alleged pounds10 drugs deal in a London pub.

Funny how the Mirror didn't report the lad for under-age boozing, isn't it? But even the tabloids can grasp that teenagers drink illegally. The Mirror's boy editor is young enough to know what they get up to at raves as well. It just suits him to pretend to be shocked.

Jack Straw managed well enough in what is a tricky situation, as every parent knows - Frank Dobson included (he also has a 17-year-old son). But the home secretary was ill-advised if he imagined his secret would remain one. He may also now be wise to accept the need for a proper debate about legalisation of soft drugs - not least so that some of the tendentious claims made during the Independent on Sunday's pro-hash campaign can be hammered.

For instance, the paper has persistently lumped together the 45 per cent who want the stuff available for medically therapeutic use with the 30- odd per cent who want it wholly legalised - in order to claim an 'overwhelming majority' for legalisation, which is naughty.

No point in asking MPs (apart from Paul Flynn) about this. The tabloids make cowards of them all. So I asked my own kids, slightly older than the Straws', and got confusion. Number one son said the politicians were pathetic to stifle debate. Number three said he used to be an enthusiast for the Dutch solution, but not after seeing what smoking too much gear did to his mate.

Son number two, who is reading economics at one of our grant-maintained universities, said that, unfortunately, some of the cleverest kids he knows are out of their heads for much of the time, but still get alphas. 'The rational economist's argument is, 'legalise it, control it, tax it',' said number two before claiming that the big tobacco companies have already copyrighted names like 'spliff', just in case.

Me, I feel like Jack Straw: just because the speed limits get broken doesn't mean we shouldn't have them. My kids disagree. But it's not just about cannabis, is it? Many youngsters now start on hash and move on to tobacco: legal, taxed and controlled, but still a mess.

'The tobacco companies need to recruit 120,000 new teenage smokers every year to replace the customers they kill,' Labour MP Kevin Barron reminded me the other day. Yet the Formula One row shows that few Europeans would want to go down the road which California trod on 1 January: banning smoking virtually everywhere (including smoking bars!) except at home with the windows shut.

Americans, bless them, are culturally programmed to excess, which is why they are both the fittest and the fattest people on earth. We're heading that way, incited to gluttony and perfection from every hoarding. This year the diet crowd seemed to be saying we have a natural metabolic weight and shouldn't fight it. Next year, who knows? This year we're being told that sex is good for keeping middle-aged men healthy. Next year it may give them cancer. Next year, too, if Westminster trends prove true, drink- driving laws will be tighter, but most women still won't have to pay for their contraceptive pills because 'caring' Labour MPs won't allow it.

Daft or what? The idea that free contraception makes much difference to unwanted pregnancies is both condescending and, alas, contradicted by the UK's depressing statistics for illegitimacy and abortion. The trouble is that people seem to want freedom without responsibility, excitement without risk, an NHS-and-welfare safety net without the expense. How to reconcile them all, that's 1998's agenda.