The sun was shining in a lack-lustre, only just got out of bed fashion. The birds were tweeting, though quietly, as if they wanted to keep up appearances without bothering anyone. The car drivers were – as usual – ignoring the 20 MPH speed limit on our narrow residential streets, imagining themselves at Monaco or Brands Hatch, using the hills and corners as testing grounds for their ABS.
Husband and I were heading for our local church, a utilitarian, nineteenth-century construction –red brick, no stained glass and very little architectural merit. The grounds are devoid of higgledy gravestones and tombs (boo!) but they do have some beautiful flowerbeds, overflowing with alliums and wild geraniums.
A sheet of paper fluttered like a white flag of surrender from the gatepost. Polling Station. We had the right place.
In the church porch, tucked out of the breeze was a smiley middle aged-man. Grey hair, crinkly eyes, walking boots that actually looked like they’d been up hill and down dale, and an anorak. He peered at the cards we proffered, wrote a series of letters and numbers on his clipboard and flagged us onwards.
Inside the church, it had the atmosphere of … a church. It was quite dark; everyone spoke in a low voice as if they might be told off if they talked loudly. There were collages on the walls made of tin foil and cotton wool, food wrappers and coloured wool, depicting Easter eggs, chicks and rabbits. Happy Easter. Though I noticed, they’d excluded the crucified Christ, which I thought was kind of missing the point.
There were two trestle tables, laid out with bits of paper and forms, pens, more clipboards and flasks of tea. More smiley middle-aged people sat behind them on uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs. After checking our details we were handed slips of paper and pointed towards a couple of shaky wooden booths that looked as if a high wind could send them flapping away like startled pigeons. The booths each had a shelf to lean on and a thick stubby pencil attached to a string, perhaps in case you fell so in love with its chubby blackness you were tempted to liberate it.
After a few seconds, a cross and one fold, we slipped our papers into the gapping slits in black metal boxes and wandered off to drink coffee and complain about the state of the nation.
The man in the walking boots was still sitting outside, listening to the bees and the thumping bass of a passing car stereo.
Election Day 2015.
I don’t know what multi-headed, cross-party hydra we’ll be lumbered with. The likelihood is, we’ll have a minority government or another coalition, that it could take days of haggling, of behind the scenes bartering, of face-changes and back-tracking before we know and after years of cuts, austerity measures, sleaze, deceit and broken promises, I don’t blame anyone for being disillusioned with politics.
But look at the tranquil scene above. I came and went unmolested from that polling station. I have not felt intimidated before or after, although I have felt irritated, angry, revolted and crippled with embarrassment at some of the campaigning. Just because you’re filmed in a high vis jacket drinking a pint of bitter, no-one forgets you were educated at Eton or believes you know anything about the lives of ninety percent of the people you govern.
I am certain my vote will be counted and added to the democratic gumbo.
Democracy is flawed, but so are we, so I guess it’s the best we can do.