Friendship and washing-up

IssueJuly - August 2007

In this column we share readers' experiences of juggling the washing up, saving the world, childcare, studies, earning a living, creative expression and relationships. The rigours of activism place stresses on relationships of all kinds. It's fine to be aware that the personal really is the political, but how to act on that insight is seldom clear - to me at least.

My assessment of my own path is that I've been through a few stages (some of them running concurrently): I had a couple of years of hyperactivism, initially intoxicated by the discovery of a whole group of people with ideals/preoccupation similar to my own, then buoyed up by the sense of mutual support and belonging to a wider community of activists. These people became my social circle. Then again I've frequently neglected my friends and put the cause(s) first; conversely I've also put a lot of energy into sustaining friendships outside the “movement”/separate from my political life - as if these were my more valuable, “authentic” friends.

And what of the close friendships forged in the heat of shared political passion, when those people drift apart ideologically? - whether through loyalty, stubbornness or insecurity, I've tended to persist with these longer than is necessarily sensible.

Latterly I'm reaching an acceptance that my time and energies are very limited and I can only do so much, socially and politically.

And I've experienced being “on the receiving end” of all these attitudes (or phases?). Now I'm a quarter of a century older but I feel none the wiser.

Except... I remain constantly reinspired and heartened by the deeds and struggles of my friends; and that reminds me that for all my frailties and failings, what I do matters. Confused, Northampton

One visitor to our humble anarcho-collective in `Colville Houses', in London's now fashionable Notting Hill, once designated me “the sane one” - largely, I think, because I drew up the budget, collected the contributions (“rent” in straight parlance), made sure we got tea, milk and the cornflakes. Perhaps also because I seemed much of the time (in the 1960s) to be the only one with a straight job.

We were a gaggle of peace movement idealists and the leftovers from a Simon Community refuge, all damaged people in one way or another, renting a large mansion (sic) flat from a private landlord. The worst trauma of my entire life was undoubtedly the washing up!

Special Branch surveillance, police raids, the stints of porridge in HMPs, having your face near broken by the arse of a cavorting police horse, putting up with the folk who came for hospitality at “Colville” and then stole your collection of LPs - these one could cope with, but the washing up....!

Picture the horror - coming home from a hard day's work at the office to be confronted with a sink full of plates, cutlery, saucepans, mugs submerged in putrefied water in the only sink. The “draining board” was also covered in similar apparatus with penicillin-type mould crawling from the cavities. Long timer, London