The notion that we will get through tough economic times by working together in harmony is put forward on a daily basis. We are all in the same boat, this wisdom tells us, and if we concentrate on bailing hard we might not drown. It's a nice idea but I'm not sure how realistic the prospect is. When the Titanic starting heading south at an unanticipated rate was there an outbreak of bonding between passengers in steerage and those whose biggest worry to that point had been which fork to use with oysters? If these people had been scarcely aware of the others' existence when the ship was coasting along happily, why would a sudden, critical shortage of resources help improve group morale?
"Let's all stay calm and reasonable…" I imagine a thoughtful figure of authority saying to no-one in particular, while in the background the noise of agitated and unreasonable people furiously rowing away in lifeboats becomes the only thing that anyone can hear.
Waking in pain one morning some years ago my memory of the previous night's events was patchy. I knew where we'd been and what we'd been doing, more or less, but the specifics didn't spring to mind. Various scenarios floated through my head, none good, some dreadful. I did not like the direction this day was taking. There was nothing else I could do. I spoke into the darkness.
"Hello," I said.
"Hello," she said.
"Are you all right?"
"Did you have a good night?" I asked, which was vague and stupid but that was all I had.
"Was it me?"
"Ah," she said, "you weren't great."
"Sorry," I said. "Sorry." When in doubt apologise twice. It's never a bad idea.
"That's all right." She sighed. We lay in the gloom for a moment, then she spoke again. "At least you didn't strip."
There was a scratching noise in my brain, the notion of a spark, and then a synapse fired. I remembered something. At a point over the course of the previous evening, one of our party, full of exuberance and high spirits and love, had decided to express their happiness by getting naked. I've never bought the whole idea of naturism as self-expression but there was something joyous and innocent about the way this person peeled off their clothing. They were returning to their natural state, bringing a touch of Eden to an inner city basement. After a few minutes of general bewilderment the night went on as before. People talked, drank and ate. This person's nudity was forgotten about and I fell asleep on a couch.
"That's right," I said, sitting up. "I didn't strip." My head had already cleared a bit and I felt the first stirrings of hunger. "I didn't strip," I said again, my voice gaining strength.
"It's not an achievement," she said but nothing now could dent my enthusiasm for this glorious day. Being the second-worst-behaved person at a party was not worth worrying about. The knowledge that someone else's morning would be unhappier than mine was a more affective painkiller than codeine. On the one hand, this was a disturbing discovery – could I really be so selfish and uncaring? On the other, I felt magnificent. I bounced downstairs and rang my stripping friend to see how he was doing.