Ivory Tower: We catch up with our Whitehall based sitcom during “gathering” season
Two special advisers sit on a bench in St James’s Park
Helen: Well, isn’t this peachy.
John: It’s just like last year.
Helen: You mean when I dropped off your Christmas present at that service station on the north circular?
John: No, I mean with all the parties that are planned in Whitehall.
Helen: It’s back to working from home on Monday. Aren’t they doing that over at Beis?
John: But you can party at work.
Helen: That’s madness.
John: That’s Plan B.
Helen: At the DfE, we won’t be closing schools.
John: It can be so difficult to arrange childcare during Christmas party season.
Helen: Well, I’m not going.
John: You went last year.
Helen: That was not a party, it was a gathering.
John: Try telling that to Simon Case.
Helen: That will be the Simon Case appointed by Boris Johnson as head of the civil service after he sacked the real head of the civil service because he thought tearing up 40 years of law and trade was a stupid idea.
John: I’m sure he’ll get to the bottom of it.
Helen: It’s hard to get to the bottom of a bottomless pit.
John: You are not worried then?
Helen: It was a discrete and bijoux gathering at which Gavin Williamson might have briefly thanked staff for their hard work. The guidelines were followed.
John: Which ones?
Helen: All the guidelines.
John: Including the ones from Tatler magazine on how to host a cocktail party?
Helen: No cocktails were involved. At least I don’t remember there being cocktails, it was a bit of a blur.
John: Not sure if that’s the best line to go with. Sorry, Sir Simon, I can’t remember anything about last year’s secret Christmas party because I was blotto.
Helen: It was just wine and canapés in the staff canteen for one or two…
John: …dozen, people.
Helen: I only stood at the door briefly, listened to someone who from a distance may have been the secretary of state, and went back to my office to work on the government’s response to the Augar report.
John: Now, no one is going to believe that.
Helen: This year it’s in Nandos at Victoria.
John: The response to Augar?
Helen: No, the DfE Christmas gathering.
John: It’s still going ahead?
Helen: Well, we’ve still got a lot of work to do and now that we can’t go into the office, it’s more of a business meeting.
John: Will Charlie be there?
Helen: I absolutely and categorically deny those rumours. The trace elements found in the parliamentary estate could belong to anyone.
John: I mean Charlie Watson from the press team, the one that you…
Helen: I’m not interested in him. Don’t you start, just because your party at BEIS is cancelled.
Helen: Back to last year: you were there, weren’t you? I knew it, that’s when you were sucking up to the Downing St press team to get Aria on the grid.
John: I might as well have tried to get it on the West Coast main line and driven it to Glasgow for all the good it did.
Helen: So, you were there on the 18 December?
John: I have no recollection of my whereabouts at that time. Although my diary would seem to suggest that I briefly visited Downing Street on the evening of the 18th to confirm aspects of operational policy with the cabinet office.
Helen: You lying toad. I remember it now, that’s the day you rushed off to TK Maxx for a Christmas jumper. And you didn’t answer your phone until the Sunday saying you had food poisoning.
John: I didn’t feel well.
Helen: Now we know why, you were at the cheese and wine event of the year.
John: All guidance was observed.
Helen: Did you only match brie with a pinot noir?
John: It was not a party it was a gathering of colleagues at the end of the working day.
Helen: Planned in advance on WhatsApp and including games.
John: I was present but not involved.
Helen: Sounds like your general approach to games since school. Were you at the quiz?
John: That was a different night.
Helen: Well deflected but that’s not an answer to the question.
John: I may have been invited to briefly participate, just to make up the numbers on one of the groups of six.
Helen: What was your team’s name? Don’t tell me, was it Destiny? Challenger? Dominator?
John: All the teams had a letter from the Greek alphabet. We were team omicron.
Helen: You are kidding me, that can never come out.
John: It wasn’t a thing back then. It was just a funny name.
Helen: If you are identified as one of the civil servants who laughed at being called team omicron, it will make Allegra Stratton’s press rehearsal look like Songs of Praise.
John: Oh god. We are all doomed.
Helen: You are talking about Simon Case’s investigation, right?
John: I’m talking about this government. In 12 months’ time we’ll all be applying for jobs as second researcher at GBTV.
Helen: Why wasn’t I invited by the way? Where was my invite to the gathering of the Spads?
John: Oh, come on.
Helen: Come on, what?
John: Everybody knows.
Helen: Knows what?
John: That the DfE are too boring.
Helen: For a Christmas quiz and woolly jumpers?
John: To break the rules and have a secret lockdown party.
Helen: Hah! So, you admit it. There was a party, and the rules were broken. Well, let me tell you, our party was just as wild as yours and the wine flowed like the Thames under Westminster Bridge.
John: No further questions, your honour.
Helen: Best to stick to the line, it would have been better if this had never happened.
John: All guidance was observed.
Helen: I’ve brought your secret Santa, by the way.
John: It’s not very secret if I know it’s from you.
Helen: Just pretend it’s secret, like a Downing Street party. Anyway, here it is.
John: Here’s yours.
Helen: OK, you open yours, first.
John: It feels like a book… and it is a book. In My Own Time, the autobiography of Jeremy Thorpe. How touching, very appropriate, thank you. Open yours now.
Helen: It feels like a DVD… and it is a DVD. Scandal, starring John Hurt, Joanne Whalley, Bridget Fonda and Ian McKellen.
John: It’s about the Profumo affair.
Helen: I know, thanks. It’s better than the Lush box you got me last year.
John: Didn’t you like it?
Helen: Now that I realise you probably regifted it from the Downing Street secret Santa, I suppose I should have held on to it… as evidence.
John: Do you still have it?
Helen: I gave it to my mum. I left it with a bag of presents at the gate and waved through the window.
John: I’m sorry.
Helen: That was three days before dad went into hospital.
John: I know.
Helen: He would have got the vax a month later.
John: I know.
Helen: Hey ho, not to worry, can’t sit here on a park bench crying all day. I’ve got levelling-up to do.
John: Me too. Come on key worker, fancy a drink tonight before we all get locked down again?
Helen: Last orders?
John: Certainly, looks like it.
Helen: Where do you fancy, the irreversible crocus of hope or the highway to freedom?
John: The Red Lion, around 10?
Helen: See you there.