Tuesday, 19 July 2011

My Weird and Wonderful Lib Dem Family

It's been a long weekend away in London.

The primary reason for my visit was to attend Andrew Reeves' Memorial Service in the Union Chapel, Islington, yesterday afternoon. I blogged about my long trip to pay my respects at his Edinburgh funeral last month and I wanted to do the same with his friends in London at his memorial service.

As I rarely visit London more than once a year and hadn't done so since last summer, I took this sad reason for a visit to clear my diary and to make a long weekend stay of it to catch up with old friends. What it has reminded me is that I am a very fortunate person in that as well as having my own family here in west Wales and my family of University friends, I also have a full-on pseudo-family of Liberal Democrats who span the length and breadth of Britain and it is a family that continues to grow.

The Aberystwyth Link
I arrived in London on the National Express from Swansea at 5pm on Saturday and met up as planned with old Aberystwyth University Liberal Democrat friends Alistair Mills, Jo Gudgeon and Beth Fullana at their home in Clapham where I stayed the night. They shared a house in Aberystwyth back in 2005 and 6 years later, are recently back doing the same again! I'd stayed with Alistair and Jo at their previous Clapham address back in 2009 but I hadn't seen Beth since she graduated so it was great to see them all together again and it felt as if nothing had changed from those golden Mark Williams campaigning days of 2004/2005 which resulted, with help from this great gang, in Mark's election to Parliament that May.

It got even better because I then met with more old faces from the same era as their close friends Simon Columb and his partner Sarah Meadows happened to be celebrating their mutual birthdays on that same night as I was in town. I was invited along and it was great to see them again (Simon has a really good film blog at http://screeninsight.blogspot.com/ for those who are interested) and also another member of the gang, Kaff Cornwall. After a meal by Clapham Common, we went on to the local club 'Infernos' where by sheer randon chance, we bumped into another Aber Lib Dem alumni Malcolm James who I last saw in Brussels when he was working with NATO back in 2007 - he's now working with the MoD. The chances of randomly seeing him on the dance floor of a club in Clapham must be up there with winning the Euromillions. Absolutely staggering but brilliant all the same!

Lib Dems Nation-wide
The Aberystwhyth link continued because on Sunday and Monday evening, I stayed with great mate and fellow Welsh Liberal Democrat Sarah Green and her fiance Luke Croydon in Shepherd's Bush as I have also done before. We used to share a house togeher with other friends in what was my 5th and final year as a student in Aberystwyth (again, that fateful year of 2004/2005) in the Trefechan area of town.

Before I checked in with her and Luke for the evening and a pub quiz with their friends (in which we came a frustratingly decent but could've been better 3rd place), I'd spent much of the day with another good Liberal Democrat friend Hywel ap Dafydd who has been unwell recently and who I visited in University College Hospital near Euston. I've known Hywel as a fellow Pembrokeshire lad but who has spent much of his time around the country helping the party in numerous by-elections and also particularly in London and Bristol. My fondest memory of Hywel is when he accidentally locked himself in the HQ toilet on the day of the Blaenau Gwent by-election some years back. Much of our time on that day was taken up by trying to get Hywel out of that toilet!!

On Monday, I met up at Trafagar Square with good friend Anders Hanson who is now a top bod at ALDC but who has worked in his time for Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and also as the Mid & West Wales regional organiser back in the 2003 Assembly election campaign, based in our Ceredigion office on North Parade. It was then, as a young and keen student member that I first met him and it was nice to catch up with him over lunch before Andrew's memorial service.

Andrew Reeves' Lib Dem Family
It was an excellent turnout at Andrew's memorial service for his partner Roger and I have re-produced photos of the order of service in this blog post to show off what was a brilliant pink theme for the occasion (to which I added my brand of colour with pink-ish shirt and pink-ish tie). I'm sure Andrew would've been bemused at the spectacle but would've chuckled away at the same time. Neil Fawcett blogged here of his recollections of Andrew which sum up the man as well as anyone did in the service itself.

Caron Lindsay has also blogged here about the service itself and I can't add any more to what she said other than that it showed just how strong we are as a party. It was Simon Hughes who said (I'm pretty sure) that it is at sad occasions such as this, that we show that we're not just a party, but a family.

His words particularly rang true to me as we all raised a drink in Andrew's memory afterwards in the chapel bar (yes, you read that correctly!). I bumped into Pete Dollimore there and we caught up briefly and I noted that I only ever saw him at the bar in conference and now here we were, at a bar, at a wake. It was all slightly surreal and so it continued. Seeing good colleagues who I have not seen in some time like former Aberystwyth student Adrian Smith, top trainer-extraoinnaire Candy Piercy, Sally Burnell who I hadn't seen since she worked in Cardiff back in 2003 (full marks to her for picking me out of a crowd because I'm hopeless at such things!), Grace Goodlad and Duncan Borrowman who I also haven't seen in a long time (but who I recall first meeting as a couple when Duncan led a Pageplus artwork designing course in Cardiff back in around 2006) as well as those who I have seen more recently in conferences such as Rhiannon Wadeson and Chris Leaman, Austin Rathe and Katy Riddle, Lucy Watt and Laura Gilmore as well as countless others from across the country emphasised the point more than words could express.

Because, we are a family. We don't always get on with each other, there's often disagreements and arguments but there's a common bond that ties us all together. We all happen to believe that a liberal progressive Britain is the kind that we'd like for future generations and we have all made the decision back in our mutual lives, that the best way to bring about this positive change is through the Liberal Democrats. Like a family, we see it through the good times and also (quite aptly at present) through the challenging times. Like a family, we are so spread out around the country that we often only see each other at weddings or funerals and in our case also of course, conferences. We're a rag-bag of oddities with our quirks, our annoyances, our hobbies and our passions.

Most of all, like a family, we're there for each other in times of need and it was in that kindred spirit of mutual support and care that we gathered at Andrew's funeral in Edinburgh and again yesterday, at his Memorial Servce in London.

I'm sure that Andrew was proud of his weird and wonderful Lib Dem family and this weekend has proved to me if it didn't need proving already, that I am likewise incredibly and fiercely proud to be a small part of this wonderful extended family.


  1. As they say, Mark, you can choose your friends, but not your family.

    Yes, the Lib Dems is a great family. As you are still a baby in the family, I was approached to join Google + and when they knew where I came from, they asked me if I knew David Hughes who was our Alliance candidate in the 1987 election, if I am right.

    We have gone from obscurity to Government in my 25 years in the Party and I want to ensure that in 2015, we advance another step forward and unlike those headless chickens who slag off the Party, I have broad shoulders and know that as long as we stick to the coalition, we have a good future ahead of us.

    The Lib Dems has been a great family to me over the 25 years and I cant see myself in another Party!

  2. I think Alistair talked about family too - he said he was quoting me, because he probably read it on my blog, but I think I was quoting Colin Ross who tweeted that on the day Andrew died.

    This is a super post, Mark. Thanks.