Having just spent a few days at a family reunion, it dawned on me how much easier it can be to be in a small group with each person doing their fair share and the work just flying off the desk. My siblings and I had all taken a day each to cook the main meal and had brought the breakfasts that we would choose to eat, but we also shared and shared alike in a way that we would never have dreamed possible when we were brawling children, fighting to exhaustion because one of the others had won the larger “half” of the cheese sandwich. By the end of the holiday, I was nigh a communist, thinking that I should take my rabble and go and join a commune somewhere and grow cabbages.
So on the way home, I was mulling over the merits – would it really be more productive to be in a commune? Would we all really work hard and fairly towards the common good – or was four days all that could really be managed before it would start to breakdown?
But as I drove along, I began to see the cracks – I had dined out on delicious Alpen and chocolate croissants, but had only brought Co-op-own rice crispies. I drank freely of my sister’s fine coffee, but had banked on my children just drinking water and so technically had no moral need to have brought squash or juice, despite them having slugged pints of the stuff.
It reminded me of a trip to Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology in the days when I was an ideological pup, full of nonsense and never really seated in reality. A dreamer of a friend and I wondered around the communal beds of luscious veg, admiring things we would find far too stringy in our own Sunday roasts. We wee’d in buckets and plotted how we could recreate the place in her garden full of dogshit and my back yard. As we sat on a roughly hewn bench and scoffed flapjacks, we decided this was the way to go.
But then we heard two women at the table next to us talking: they were obviously living and working at the centre, and they were bitching about another woman who wasn’t pulling her weight and had been found eating crisps the other day.
My friend and I returned home; I filled her kettle with too much water, drank her tea, ate her biscuits and then went back to my solitary pad having left my cup the floor and my plate on a shelf.
The conclusion about communal living has now been reached: it’s people like me that wreck communes. Me and people who eat bags of crisps.
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