Party News: Yealand Conyers Social Weekend

Recently Lancaster branch tried an experiment, organising a social weekend with no talks or other planned activities in it. We wanted to see if socialists were willing to meet up just to be sociable, or whether there always had to be some democratic or educative content, as at a conference or weekend school.

So we sent out a general invite, booked a self-catering hostel out in the Cumbrian countryside, got some food and beer in, and waited. People started to trickle in. We picked some up from a nearby train station, while others drove or made their way, rather heroically, via the rural bus service. We cooked up a big veg curry, and the weekend got started.

Next morning, we got up to picture-postcard weather. We organised a shopping run and a late pickup from the train station, then around noon somebody made lunch butties for everyone. Around 1pm we trooped off up the hill on a collective walk in the countryside.

After weeks of rain, the landscape was lush with a clear view across low fells to Morecambe Bay sparkling in the distance and the blue Lake District hills beyond. A collective sigh of appreciation went round. Out came the OS map, which we lazily left to our map reader (socialists following leaders, we said, what could possibly go wrong?).

Our group became a line, and then a straggle stretching out until the ones at the front could barely even see the ones at the back. Maybe some socialists can march together like a well-drilled platoon, but clearly not us.

Our first map reader was soon joined by a second, and then a third. Conferences over the map then ensued, with much pointing to horizons and scratching of heads. When our ‘leaders’ resorted to asking directions from passers-by, we suspected that all was not well. After several hours in blazing heat, it was announced that we were lost. As a socialist object lesson this was poetic justice of course. Most of us were too busy enjoying the scenery and the socialising to bother looking at the map or even ask where we were supposed to be going.

Our small supply of water ran out. We wandered right through a bird sanctuary where there was a well-signposted café with a hundred-foot observation tower. We couldn’t find them. We did manage to spot the large electric fence warning, so at least that was something.

In the end we retraced our steps home, and retired to the local country pub. This was impossible to miss, and even better, wasn’t closed. Overheated and dehydrated, we tumbled into the bar like the last scene in the desert film ‘Ice Cold in Alex’. We sat in the beer garden at several benches and gibbered (aka exchanged a wide range of erudite views) for several hours.

Some people wondered how we were going to organise dinner after being in the boozer for so long. However one IWW member had already done the calculation (socialists + pub = chaos), and precooked a pasta sauce, so that dinner was a breeze. Afterwards people busied themselves with the washing up and clearing away without any Monty Python-style debates over who was nominating who to be in charge of what.

Everyone talked to everyone, member and non-member alike, in the kitchen, on the walk, outside on the lawn, in the road having a smoke. Lots of politics was discussed, naturally, but unlike what you sometimes see in formal political debates the atmosphere was inclusive rather than adversarial, so that everyone felt able to speak.

So did we prove what we set out to prove, that you can hold a socialist weekend without any talks or votes and still make it a success? Yes, we think so. Cost-wise it was pretty affordable too, with people donating what they could. There is a network of almost 400 self-catering hostels in rural locations around the UK which can be booked for around £20 per person per night, by room or full hire, so there’s no reason why members couldn’t take it upon themselves to organise weekends in their own regions. If our experience is anything to go by, members and non-members value the opportunity to get together, even if it’s just to be sociable.