Egos and bitter personality clashes, administrative and organisational difficulties, a pervading sense of utter hopelessness on one side and calamity on the other - no, not British/world politics in 2016, the Methodists, of all people, in the 1840s. How do I know this? Well, a recent commission took me for the first time in ages to SOAS Library, home to the Methodist Missionary Society archives. Diligent record-creators and keepers, the Methodists and we have much to thank them for, especially if your bag happens to be the history of the British overseas, and you want something other than the usual Colonial Office fare down at TNA.
But as well as its rich historical value, I was, as I say, struck by another aspect of the correspondence I was looking at: how utterly modern the personalities and issues seemed to be. It may have been handwritten, nineteenth-century correspondence rather than some half-witted tweet from yesterday, but it all leapt off the page at me as if alive: the chancer looking for opportunities for self-enrichment, the decent fellow in office somehow trying to hold it all together at the centre, the hapless mistakes and misjudgements, and the debilitating sense of despair. I recognised it all: be it political parties, work, football clubs, even my allotment association - these seem to be the hallmarks of how all organisations and their component personalities function, or perhaps I should say barely function. Strangely enough, I find that there's a queer sort of comfort in all this: no matter how dire it may all seem at a given moment in time, the fact is we've been here before - probably been here all along - and somehow we muddle through. 'Somehow, we muddle through': not a very inspiring slogan for a political party or a company, but it's probably nearer the mark than most.