Lockdown has brought out some lovely neighbours I didn’t know I had, hurling ‘Good Mornings’ across the road and randomly offering to help with grocery shopping or sourcing bumpaper. It’s a cliché because it’s true: adversity really does bring out the best in people.
There’s another side, of course - the selfish souls spending their lockdown days surrounded by baked beans and toilet rolls, but they only have limited power to bring us down. Perhaps a greater risk to sanity are the puritans, those descendants of Cromwell who forget why a rule is in force and see it as a way of establishing a hierarchy of virtue. You know who I mean: the people who secretly crave a little recreational rationing, who’ve always tutted but can now really let rip. They’ll suck the joy out of us like Harry Potter’s dementors if we let them.
The closest prior experience I have to lockdown is NCASC, the annual social care conference. Liquidlogic is always there with our chocolate fountain – I swear some people think we’re a chocolate company which does a bit of software on the side. If it seems odd comparing conference to lockdown, I simply mean that you’re with the same people in the same windowless conference centre for days – it’s a strange experience. Despite the strangeness, conference brings me two utterly joyful experiences each year, and I’d like to share them with you.
The first is the chocolate fountain. I’m sure there are roundheads who don’t approve of chocolate, but they don’t go to conference. You see people walking by – middle aged professionals having earnest conversations – and then they spot the fountain and something changes in their facial expressions. It’s a lovely sight – something childlike and innocent, like the best kind of guilt. Do you remember the airport scene at the end of Love Actually? It’s like that, but with a deeper, more genuine love. The love of chocolate. Witnessing other people’s guilty pleasures is actually something of a privilege; I look forward to that chocolate fountain experience every year.
The second great joy is the Guardian Quiz, a staple of conference. My first one was years ago, and it’s a treasured memory. The format of the event is simple – soup in a basket, a fiercely-contested pub quiz, then the band strikes up. And what a band – staffed entirely with social workers, they’re tight, well-rehearsed, bang on. That first time, I expected the usual pattern – music starts, we all sit tight for a while until a few brave souls throw down a handbag and start the dancing off, a reluctant shedding of inhibitions. Not this gig. The band hadn’t finished the first bar before the entire room was on its feet and racing to the dancefloor. I’ve never seen a group of people so much in need of a dance.
And then it occurred to me: of course. It’s the job. If you spend your days dealing with the challenges of social work – often working with people at their absolute low points - then naturally you’re going to dance when you get the chance. If you haven’t seen a couple of hundred social workers with a live band, you’ve missed a treat. It’s bottled joy.
There are dark days ahead for all of us. The next few months will be tough. You can choose to follow Oliver Cromwell if you like, but I’m following that other great moral philosopher, Fred Astaire: Let’s face the music – and dance.
Return of the Roundheads