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 The Trotskyist Traveller

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Messaggi : 3
Data d'iscrizione : 28.02.11

MessaggioTitolo: The Trotskyist Traveller   Lun 28 Feb 2011 - 14:22

It was the first of February 1997. The Channel Tunnel had recently opened amid some trepidation and travelling by Eurostar still had the cachet of novelty. Diana was still alive. Britain’s political landscape was about to be remoulded, paving the way for a new era of confidence and prosperity. At twenty-two I had never set foot on British soil. I was about to see London for the first time on a bus full of French Trotskyists.
From that first foray into London it is fields that I came to associate with the city. Be it vast expanses of green wilderness or manicured lawns, they made a change from the regimented parks and gardens to which Paris, where I lived at the time, had accustomed me. Feeling faint from the coach journey on arrival at our destination, I remember wandering off to a nearby park for a breath of fresh air before rejoining my fellow militants. I had no trouble identifying the pretty park where I stopped by a lake watching people feed birds as St James’s. But I never felt any need to look for the place where the meeting that brought us there was held. Until one evening, acting on a whim, I decided to retrace my steps from the site of my first London epiphany in St James’s Park to what I dimly recalled as being a huge pile of a place. My feet led me of their own accord, almost without hesitation to Westminster Methodist Central Hall.
Faced with a monumental structure, its Central European air somewhat at odds with the immediate surroundings, I instantly knew it to be the right place. There could be no mistaking it. A quick look around me was all it took to bear out this impression. Straight ahead rose the twin towers of Westminster Abbey, gleaming white against the darkening sky. Further back, directly opposite the Central Hall, the ghostly shape of St Margaret’s Church gave way to Big Ben’s brightly lit outline, partly obscured by a concrete monstrosity. With only a passing glance at the words inscribed in bold letters above the imposing entrance, I pushed the heavy doors open and walked straight into the METHODIST CENTRAL HALL.
‘Where are we?’ I asked the invigilator at the reception, realising as I said this that my presence there at nightfall must strike him as a little peculiar. I barely listened to his answer as I struggled to come up with a reason for my impromptu visit.
‘Feel free to look around,’ he suggested at last after I mumbled something about a political gathering in support of the Liverpool dockers. ‘The Great Hall is that way.’ He motioned me towards the stairs with an encouraging gesture.
Even the staircase had a familiar air. Something about its shape added to the opulence of the place. It would have made a change from the dingy, garishly lit rooms near the Gare de l’Est, the party headquarters in Paris. Slowly I wound my way up the stairs running my fingers along the smooth brass balustrade, guided by the broken sounds of organ practice emanating from the square domed space above. Memories flooded back as I sat there in one of the empty seats and contemplated the spot where I would have been sitting more than a decade ago, listening to working-class mantra as sexy young photographers busied themselves taking snapshots of us, and casting occasional glances over my shoulder to where he would have been sitting, a few rows back in the centre of the assembly hall.
I was then in the final throes of my love affair with a Trotskyist, from whose sway I only managed to extricate myself by moving to England for good, severing all ties with him and the political movement he embodied, roughly nine months after the eventful gathering at the Methodist Central Hall. Come mid-October, I was crossing the Channel again, this time on the Eurostar: the opening gambit in a series of trans-Channel crossings that for a while were to become my way of life.

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