Despite the request to keep it short Christine was anything but. With her eyes fixed slightly above my head and her thick glasses catching the florescent strip-lights, she folded her arms and began in the voice of someone used to talking over people, of having to shout to make herself heard. Everyone around table shifted slightly, looked down to one side or up at the ceiling, crossed their legs, postures of patient forbearance
I organise staffing for the local food bank, we always need people there, organise the weekly advice clinic on debt and money matters; ditto. Adult literacy classes in the library, Wednesday evenings, ditto that. I am here, she said, as someone who wants to find solutions to local problems. Local people understand their needs best. People with a history in the area. Card carrying Labour member. Always voted Labour no matter who the leader is. Stuck with the party through thick and thin. Lancaster born and bred. Active in the party for years. Was a councillor for Bulk ward for the best part of ten years until health issues meant I couldn’t Ex primary school teacher, again, health issues. Volunteer at the laundry weekends, do as much as I can there. We can always use people there too.
A pause. Christine appeared to have stopped though there was nothing in her manner to suggest so.
Right then, Nick said.
You arrived at the weekend, did you? she asked me. When did you join Labour?
I have been here many times, I said. My mum still lives in Barrow, I usually stay over here for a night when I come down to visit her. I thought moving back up north would be good also to be a bit closer to her. I am a recent member.
She folded her arms even more tightly across her chest. Her bosom. Extended her forearm and pushed her glasses back up her nose. I understood the implication of what she was saying. Some of us have been waging the good fight for years out here in the neglected north. You deserted the barracks, you buggered off for a better life and now the politics bug has bit you and you come swanning in to try and tell us how to do things.
Her sceptical gaze swivelled round to rest a few inches above my hot left ear. She had tapped into some of my own deeper anxieties, my sense of shame. For other people my age there was, I knew, something faintly disreputable about me, a morally questionable lack of seriousness. My long-extended adolescence, no house, no family, no community ties just an endless drift through rented rooms, temporary relationships here and abroad with a succession of partners with whom the age gap grew increasingly wide. I told myself of course that they were simply resentful; that was also true in lots of ways, all those peers who had done everything right but who had been ground down by the routine, the conflicts, so that they found themselves shipwrecked in their forties, the tide gone out and no way back, all the more angry and cynical for having found that the happiness or at least the fulfilment they had expected was their due was nowhere to be found. They were envious of my freedom, I told myself, they in turn had caught something true about me. I had a minimal capacity to bear any burden, poor endurance and politics was burdensome and sapping. It needn't be, that was the promise in Lucy's undimmed optimism, I still held on to that idea, somehow, that it could be a great flow and flowering, something ecstatic and joyful. But if it couldn’t be, if graft was necessary, the long haul, the uphill trudge was all we were really facing, was I still going to hang around?
We have seen your type come and go. Dilettantes. Your abandoned books, your half- finished schemes, your flitting about without ever settling. The room seemed to brighten and I felt an arrow had of cold sweat up my back. Exposed. I struggled for a response, Then Nick cut in again.
Right. Introductions done? Let’s get on with staffing issues at the laundry.