There’s this interesting tension within The Free Association. Our name has two or three connotations. One reflects Marx’s idea of communism as a ‘free association of producers’. This suggests quite an open group, receptive to new members as well as new ideas, a group with a fluid membership. We have, in the past, collaborated with others under The Free Association moniker. Perhaps we will again.
But in another way, we’re quite a closed group. It’s not that we’re not open to new ideas and new experiences. We are. It’s not that we’re not open to the potentials of working with other people. That’s exactly what we’ve done with the Turbulence project. But we’re quite a tight-knit group. We share a gang mentality. And that’s precious. It’s the result of more than 15 years’ friendship (the course of which, like true love, has not always run smooth). We break bread together, so we’re compagni. And we’ve shared all manner of accommodation — not literally barracks, but ferry cabins, beds in plush hotel rooms, tents, sodden forest floors, even tarmac roads — and so we’re comrades. We’re definitely comrades. We’re cracked more smutty jokes than you could shake your stick at and been in more than a few dicey situations together. We’ve been on the receiving end of no end of abuse and we’ve usually given as good as we’ve got. The name Leeds May Day Group perhaps better reflected this hard-edgedness.
One of this year’s collective projects — very much in keeping with the gang identity of the group — is to all get tattoos. Brian had been on about getting an Omnia sunt communia tat for several years, but kept prevaricating over the design. Then back in April Keir suggested all four of us do it.
Brian finally sorted his out a couple of months ago. Nette and Keir are still working on their designs. I went under the needle yesterday.
The design is Brian’s of course. The font is William Morris’s ‘golden type’. William Morris was a revolutionary as well as an ‘arts and craftsman’ and some of his thoughts have popped up in our writings. The lion is there for that verse in Percy Shelley’s poem The Mask of Anarchy, written in response to the British government’s Peterloo (Manchester) massacre of 1819:
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many, they are few
Fast forward a century and a half. We’re still in Manchester and it’s 1975. Peter McNeish reinvented himself as Pete Shelley. With Howard Devoto he formed Buzzcocks, one of the ‘first wave’ of punk groups. Punk is, as is well known, a recurring motif in LMDG/TFA musings. Pete Shelley went onto to become one of England’s finest songsmiths and his words too have graced our writings.
Everything is connected!
Everything is common!