This post will be an overview of the decidedly non-political aspects of the weekend.
Stoke branch managed to sell a record number of tickets this year and equal it by transporting most of them down to sunny Bloomsbury, an achievement that dovetails the almost silly (but very welcome!) rate of recruitment us Stokies are experiencing at present. But anyway. The Potteries' Marxists managed to turn up some time between 11.30 and 12.00 on Saturday, having held heated discussions on Workers' Hammer, the old Stafford branch of Militant, the branch programme, and ... cat sick. Despite all this there was one thought occupying my mind - accommodation. Owing to a slight hiccup, eight of our contingent, including yours truly, arrived at ULU without a bed sorted. Visions of a cold night on a bench in Hyde Park beckoned ... But thanks to the tireless efforts of Kevin Parslow four were found beds/sofas/floors/airing cupboards in comrades' houses and the rest were packed off to the hostel. But more about that shortly.
This year brother N couldn't make it, so our fabled t-shirt stall didn't materialise. So it was down to other comrades to fill the entrepreneurial void. The Brummie Bolsheviks were seen about the place hawking a cushion full of rather smart Socialist Students pins. Centre had sorted a pile of their own socialist t-shirts and were flogging CWI-branded pint glasses. The Manchester and Liverpool comrades had put together a DVD of Terry Fields speeches, and the party used the occasion to launch Peter Taaffe's latest book, Socialism and Left Unity. Who says socialism and the entrepreneurial spirit is incompatible?
One thing that disappointed me was the relative absence of the ultra-left. Socialism regulars, the IBT were there flogging 1917 and plugging their Sunday fringe meeting on fascism and anti-fascism. I certainly fancied this meeting as an opportunity to discover how the IBT fights the fascists in the here and now, and to see if it would degenerate into a bun fight with the Sparts. I hope next year they will schedule their meeting so it doesn't clash with anything. As it was, because neither sent representatives to score points at the 'Fourth International and After' session, I can only conclude they were too preoccupied knocking lumps out of each other. Sadly Socialist Appeal, Workers' Action, the AWL and cpgbs were either absent or failed to make their presence felt. Presumably richer pickings were to be had at the Left Alternative/SWP conference.
I was greeted by a mad scramble after the end of the Rally for Socialism to try and introduce the new comrades to those they would be staying with. But somehow I muddled through. Then it was to Euston station with sister A and Brothers F and G1 for my annual Murder King and a series of bad taste observations from the latter comrade. Do all socialists have a (guilty) love of black humour? Before long it was to the traditional Socialism watering hole, The Euston Flyer for a little of a natter and gossip. It was all a bit of a blur for me - and I hadn't even touched a drop! Before I knew it, some comrades had decided to head to the hostel, the grimly-entitled Clink. Unfortunately, we turned left outside The Flyer instead of right and ended up pissing about outside for 40-odd minutes when we didn't need to. That wouldn't have been too bad if the weather had been kind. But no, the heavens opened. We were pretty soggy by the time we found The Clink.
The next morning I got my coco pops and settled down to hear comrades' dorm horror stories. I passed the night relatively lightly. The bloke on the bunk above me let out the occasional shriek and sigh, but nothing too untoward. G1 reported a chap near him let out a constant stream of guttural groans and squeals of what worryingly sounded like pleasure. But poor Brother F had it worse, the comrade could be psychologically scarred. At 3am on the bed next to him a couple of bonkin' Bolsheviks got down to "business". Nice!
I left The Clink with comrade R relatively early so I'd be able to get into the SP/SWP debate (the room it was due to be held in had only 55 seats - woefully inadequate for what was bound to attract a much larger number). But in a triumph of democratic socialist planning it received the old switcher-roo and moved to a 120 seater. And quite interesting and (mostly!) comradely it was too - but you're going to have to wait a bit for a report.
The Sunday just flew by and all too quickly it was time to board the mini-bus back to Stoke. I'm afraid politics took a dive out the window on the way back, and the conversations, among other things, descended into torture porn flicks, various drinking games/experiences and the infamous 2 Girls, 1 Cup. Yep, this really is what the flower of humanity likes to talk about. But all in all, everyone had a great time and look forward to doing the same in 2009!