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The room where it happens

  • 29 April 2021
My husband is a political animal. It’s how he’s built. Addicted to the news and likely to have strong opinions on issues I haven’t even heard of, election day sees George outside our local primary school handing out how-to-vote cards, chatting happily to the volunteers from rival parties and munching away on a democracy sausage.

George is actively involved in a political party at the grassroots level. It’s not something I take much interest in, except that it gives my husband joy. But last year, things were different. In what was quite possibly some new form of Stockholm syndrome, I eagerly attended every Zoom trivia night, cocktail party and discussion forum the party had to offer.

A week ago, the executive had its first in-person meeting since the beginning of last year. The vice president, who has asked that I call her Doris — incidentally a name so fitting that I’ve adopted it in real life — suggested that it be ‘more of a social thing’ and fire up the barbecue. With a thrill of anticipation, I put the date in our calendar. It would be wonderful to connect face-to-face with the people who helped sustain me through lockdown.

On the day of the barbecue I carefully roasted chickpeas and cauliflower, sweet-talked our teenage children into babysitting their younger siblings, and turned up at Doris’s house with a nice dress and a nice salad.

Doris looked politely surprised when we arrived. When I stepped inside her home I realised why. There was the treasurer, the secretary, the membership officer. There were various committee heads and the chair from the federal branch. There were no partners. This was not a partners thing. 

It’s hard not to feel mortified at a time like this, even though everyone was warmly welcoming. After I’d finished helping Doris’s husband with the dishes, scouring my memory for any snippets of conversation that had led me astray while I scoured the veggie-burger frypan, I crept back into the meeting. Was I even allowed to be here?

'When the price of admission is high, as measured in family strain, the people involved become a self-selecting group.'

I looked around the room while George and the secretary discussed draft motions. There was something miraculous about that room. Times tables charts and chores lists were taped to the wall. A basket sat opposite, piled high with washing to be folded, among a scattering of toys. Under