I rather like it when ‘received wisdom’ is challenged, young people don’t vote – well they do in referendum and when they care about something; school days are the best of your life – well, it depends on teachers, friends, your home life and all manner of things relating to hormones, self-esteem, body image and so the list goes on.... . The joy of challenging received wisdom is shown clearly with food, strawberries with balsamic vinegar works, peanut butter on a burger, with an apple, slathered on pretty much anything, works and the breakfast chef who teamed fluffy pancakes, with bacon, with strawberries, with blueberries and with maple syrup did the world a massive favour on the taste, if not the health front and surely we all now counter the ‘party frock and heeled shoe’ mantra with a boot on occasion, ankle, knee length or otherwise.
The recent snow challenged a big piece of received wisdom, that being, community spirit is on the wane and with our busy lives we don’t take time to get to know our neighbours. Well, it turns out this is complete hokum. The news loves a wintery weather story, it is a chance to get reporters donning layers of North Face and standing by road sides, devil may care to the risk of a vehicle slipping towards them and playing fast and loose with blowing branches and tumbling twigs. If they happen to unearth a plucky soul doing something well, plucky, then they salivate and stick a microphone in to the face either set with resolve or a big grin. Over the last few days they have had a wealth of opportunity for doing this.
There were people making tea for stranded drivers; others digging out sheep from snow drifts and the woman who did a proverbial double finger to all those outdated, pathetic, but still sadly peddled jokes about women drivers, when she skilfully manoeuvred her double-decker bus around a car that had skidded on to her side of the road.
Closer to home and amongst those I know, neighbours and friends offered replenishments of milk and bread to one another, help when heating systems failed and my street formed a collective snow shifting party to clear the way for some people that for various reasons, simply had to get off the street and go somewhere. Those unable to shovel for whatever reason did what they could, volunteer to make cups of tea.
I stood in the street with my daughter and was heartened for several reasons. The snow shovelling scene showed her what it looks like to put yourself out for others, sometimes people whose name you do not know. It showed her that in adversity, you can still laugh and chat. It showed her that everyone can make a contribution, however large or small, however significant or minor. It showed her team work and effective communication. It showed her that there are people prepared to work for the common good and that in doing so, something better becomes than what was there before.
I told my friend Alex and she used the term, ‘Blitz spirit’. So often this term, harking back to a time when the country pulled together and faced challenge and overcame adversity is referenced at such times as we have been through recently. Commentators, columnists and naysayers sometimes seem to suggest that we are going to hell in a handcart, that we are fractured and broken. There are certainly problems in the UK in 2018 - massive inequalities, demographic disparities, resentments, unhappiness, dissatisfaction and strains.
But, there are still people who, mostly, though sadly not always, but I believe fundamentally, do not want to see their neighbour in difficulty and who are prepared to inconvenience themselves to help others. It may not be that we can always see this reflected in faceless institutions, walls of authority, bureaucracy and unwieldy systems. But we need to try to remember that all of these are populated by people. We can only hope that as we face challenges from Brexit to the economy to over-worked and overwhelmed public services to threats from terrorism, violence and hate, that people as individuals and groups realise that be it shovelling snow or sorting out systems, processes and infrastructure, we all remember the importance of helping one another and what it feels like to be stranded and left out alone in the cold.