From The Independent online edition, 21st December 2021:
Britain’s top civil servant has been accused of misleading officials over what he knew about Christmas parties in his own department during lockdown.
Simon Case stepped down last week as head of an investigation into claims of parties in Downing Street, after it emerged there had been a quiz – registered in work calendars as ‘Christmas party!’ – in the Cabinet Office on December 17 last year.
He also faced allegations of an impromptu drinks for 15-20 people held in and around his office in the second week in December, after an investigation by The Independent and Politico.
Before being removed from the investigation, Mr Case assured colleagues that he had no knowledge of any parties or social gatherings of any kind at the Cabinet Office in the run up to Christmas 2020, the Independent understands.
(Full story here.)
Christmas work parties are suddenly a news item, notably the ones that senior members of government held last Christmas, when such gatherings were banned. The above photograph is a ghost of Christmas Past, a souvenir of that lost time when people could gather at or near their workplaces to get festively shitfaced, free from the fear of contracting a potentially lethal pathogen – or merely the fear of being arrested. That such Christmas gatherings have become, in the unhappy circumstances in which we find ourselves, both a risky activity and an indicator of the moral bankruptcy of our elected leaders is a very sorry state of affairs indeed. Now I don’t want to dwell on The State Of The Nation, this is not really that kind of project, even if politics occasionally seeps in like the overflow from a blocked pub lavatory. But, denied the opportunity to party with abandon, one is thrown back on memory, recalling the strange admixture of laughter and frenzy, hope and melancholy that seems to characterise festive work gatherings at this time of year. True, there is the risk of doing some harm to your standing amongst your colleagues if you party too hard; this is when Angie from Credit Control sings along to the karaoke a semi-tone flat, when the head of Publicity drunkenly laments the state of his marriage to an important – and teetotal – client, when the quiet girl from Typography takes photographs of her bum and texts them to Brian in Dispatch. (Let’s hope that Brian a decent chap and deletes them.) These are party events that will dog you beyond the hangover you nurse during the firm Christmas dinner the following day; anecdotes that threaten to follow you around for the rest of the year, possibly even for the rest of your career. The pathos of ‘The Work Do’ is memorably depicted in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, which takes place across Christmas and New Year; Jack Lemmon’s courting of Shirley Maclaine’s lift girl is abruptly curtailed when he realises that she is sleeping with his boss (he identifies her by the cracked mirror in her compact):
(… Jack Lemmon then leaves the party alone and proceeds to a bar, where he drinks martinis, decorates the counter with cocktail olives, and makes small talk with another lonely heart.)
I suppose Christmas work parties throw into focus the stressful nature of the festive season; not a happy time for many even under ‘normal’ conditions, and even a little bit of reflecting upon the true nature of life can send anyone over the edge. Past a certain age Christmas is just about loss. We gather together now but, one way or another, some of us will be gone tomorrow. Perhaps this derives from a collective folk memory of winter solstice gatherings in pre-history. The workforce who constructed Stonehenge must have had a right rave-up round about now: mourning the past, drinking to lost friends, but expressing hope for the future as they crouched around the fire, defiant against the bitter cold and the terrifying dark. I don’t think human nature has changed much since then. What else can human beings do? I know that a few of the people in that photo at the top of the page are now dead, and I no longer have contact with the rest: so the loss represented by this photo sums up my experience of life in the decades since it was taken. In recent years I have seen friends and loved ones drop like nine pins; and, if it isn’t death, then it’s some insurmountable distance or irreconcilable estrangement that might as well be death. But I have my memories; and they all live there.
See also: Peter Cook and Private Eye drink Robert Maxwell’s Champagne