When your life changes rapidly you do well to look for the familiar in new places. Over the past year we have done just that and have found lots of nice friendly folk. However not everywhere and everyone is quite so welcoming.
I have been a member of a political party for most of my life, so it was natural to go to our local constituency meeting once we were settled. We went along with high hopes, thinking that here we would find our tribe, folks like us who believed in fairness and working together for a better world.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that. Firstly my reference to our current leader when asked to introduce ourselves, drew palpable hostility from the the assembled members. All but for one lovely woman who came to say hello, we would have gone home with a heavy heart.
Undeterred I sought out my local branch meeting. It wasn’t easy. No real address, vague instructions about a church in an unfamiliar town, the darkness of a February night making it all the more tricky. I managed to find them, despite the lights being off, I made my way to the rear of the church and found an open door. Result, I was in. Most of this meetings agenda was a discussion about the fact that no one ever comes to meetings. I shared my experience so far and suggested perhaps better directions, an address and illumination may help. I was, by this time beginning to think I was getting on people’s nerves, having the audacity to want to join in.
However I am tenacious, I have also been to many meetings so I held fast. It was decided we needed to reach out to the membership, via a letter inviting people to the AGM of the branch. I offered to host a folding and enveloping session at my home, which was welcomed, there would be cake I promised. All agreed this was a good idea, the date was set.
A week or so later I set off for meeting number three, another constituency meeting this time in another town. I found the venue with ease as there were a small, but growing number of people standing outside, it soon became obvious that we did not have the keys to gain entry. We made our way across town looking for somewhere to meet before everyone recognised we needed to postpone. I was disappointed but happy to have met more people, some of whom were very friendly.
A week or so later and everyone is due at my house to sort and fold letters and come up with a plan for engaging members. I duly baked, a chocolate and a coffee cake, if you are interested in detail. A phone call half an hour before we were due to meet from colleagues making sure we were meeting, ‘of course we are’, I said. How little did I know? Reader I kid you not, just five minutes before we were due to begin I received another phone call, this time telling me that no letters were available, the meeting was off. I know what you are thinking folks, but luckily cake freezes well.
Sadly personal circumstances meant I couldn’t get to the Branch AGM, I found out later in was inquorate, pity no one had been invited really. I had emailed and messaged those who were in charge of the missing letters to no avail. Six months later I still have had no reply or explanation why the meeting was cancelled and letters unavailable.
The next few months our lives were difficult and we couldn’t get to any meetings, however I always sent my apologies. I was therefore delighted to find the constituency AGM fell on a day when we could go along. That was last Friday. It is true to say this was the worse meeting experience I have ever had. I am not going into great detail as I am filing an official complaint, but what I will remember most is the hostility I encountered from elected officials, one in particular ranted at me and threw wild accusation after accusation about my lack of involvement in the branch and constituency. All a bit rich I thought, given how much I had tried to join in.
It seems to me that when you are looking for the familiar in unfamiliar places it would serve you well not to expect too much. I have been lucky to find a group of kind and generous people, without whom I would be walking away from local politics for ever. Perhaps, like Orwell before me, I have stumbled into a world where all members are equal, but some are more equal than others.