Stories of ordinary working people

Perhaps, what I need, is a new religion. Something fundamentalist, something to be fervent about. I started out Catholic, baptised, confessed, communed and confirmed.

I didn't know I walked along a religious line when I started to follow party politics as a teenager. I declared myself for Labour and my mum said "How could you do that to your father." My dad didn't mind at all. Politics was the least of the challenges he saw ahead of him with a teenage daughter.

I didn't know I walked into a church without a building when I went to a Stop the War meeting in 2001 in East London. Special interest causes or something. It was a Socialist Workers Party strategy to get people involved and signed up. They must have learnt it in Marketing 201 or something similarly suited to a neo-liberal devotee.

I signed up and even filled in a bank slip, though with some reluctance. I recalled my mother talking about the evils of churches which tithe but I still didn't think of this stuff as religious.

So there we were, in the Spotted Dog in Barking. Not in the pub next door where the bar staff never saw racist attacks and not at the pub down the road and round the corner which was the local for BNP members. I wanted to debate things I'd been reading in the Socialist Workers Party newspaper which now arrived regularly. They were careful. They were patient. But there was one way of seeing things, one interpretation of events. I realised that I'd wanted the arguments and debates and mixed company but unsexualised camaraderie I'd enjoyed as a post-grad student at Otago. Friday nights at the corner bar of the Cook with the history postgrads and the local working class pool sharks.

I stopped my bank order and opted out of the Socialist Workers Party. I'd marched against the war in Afghanistan. I'd supposedly chaired a local meeting on the subject where an elderly Muslim man spoke too long and a stroppy Glaswegian comrade bossed me around. I was pregnant for the huge march against the was in Iraq - couldn't manage that long without the loo - but I was pleased to know that my sister marched that time.

It's a bit blurry, my religious experiences since I gave birth. I carried on saying Hail Marys every time I heard an ambulance. How could I not offer something when the sound of human tragedy squeals?

Still, throughout this, I had religious thoughts and political thoughts. It wasn't that they never intersected - that happened - but that I never saw one as the other.

Today on National Radio (NZ), there was an interview with Brian Boyd on his ideas about evolution and the origins of stories. I didn't take notes, because you can't take notes and make a peach cake and flaky-pastry-from-scratch and adjudicate short people disputes and take a three year old to the toilet both constantly and not enough.

I did hold something in my mind though. He talked about religion evolving to meet our urgent existential needs, so the less security we have in our country, the more a fundamentalist religion offers us a sense of security. His examples fitted neatly into his argument and I didn't see much light down the tunnel for Palestine/Israel.

I got to wondering about politcal systems and urgent existential needs and New Zealand and that survey of 1970s freezing workers who mostly wanted to run their own businesses that I badly want a reference for. I think Boyd even said something about political systems and the evolution of stories only my children drowned him out with their stories of desperate hunger and pooey pants.

Sometimes I wonder if I think too much about what I mean by 'left' and other times I suspect I don't read nearly enough to illuminate my worldview.

Religion might not be my nectar now, but the power of stories draws me in again and again. Sot it's fitting that on May Day this year we will finally open the Blackball Museum of Working Class History. Long live the stories of ordinary working people.


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