More cars than usual, more pedestrians too, for this street, at this time. Despite the rain there is an air of busyness – as if the occupants of the surrounding houses have all decided to go and buy the morning paper at the same time, like perhaps one would, if one lived in a delicious picturesque village where paper boys and girls weren’t really required, and one strolled to the local shop each morning and bought one’s paper news from Mrs Thing behind the counter who knew everyone in the village by name. Or, perhaps how one does in the suburbs when one is retired and has time for such a lovely, daily perambulation.
When I was a child I seem to remember there being paper boys, but not paper girls. The job titles conjure up images in my head of boys and girls made from newspaper, as flat as Flat Stanley with a touch of Peter Pan’s shadow about them. Actually, I remember playing with cut out paper dolls as a child. They weren’t made from newsprint, but did come with a whole wardrobe of different paper outfits, held in place by folding paper tabs.
In any case, the reason for the busyness is not, after all, to do with newspaper buying, but the making of history in the form of a general election. I rather like how schools and libraries and bowling clubs take on an alter ego at such a time, giving themselves over to the cause – laying down their everyday usage for the good of democracy. Different buildings across the land for different sets of postcodes.
Upon entering my local polling station my attention was fleetingly drawn to a raggedy, sullen looking trio of people sitting in a line by the main doors. Each clutched a tiny notebook and pencil and watched morosely as my daughter and I walked past, towards the inner voting sanctum. A voice called after us asking for our polling cards. I turned towards the questioner, the male third of the line up. It turned out that the door guards needed to write down the addresses of those who had dared to arrive minus their cards. It perhaps would have been a more efficient use of their time if they had voiced this request as we entered the building, rather than watching us walk past and then calling us back. Maybe they were attempting to add a little variety to their morning by questioning voters when they had walked a certain number of steps. At 7am they may have asked as people entered, by 9am they waited until five strides had been taken.
In complete contrast, the cheery pair seated behind the table of lists in the voting room obviously relished their roles. It must be rather satisfying to match address to name and to draw a neat, rulered line through them as that particular person appears before you. I could quite fancy that job – a lovely sharp pencil and a cup of tea to hand. The sight of the policeman standing by the ballot box paused my frivolous thought. A sad addition to any place when the reason for such a presence is based on a risk of terror and death. He looked so very out of place, as though he’d perhaps been looking for the police station and ended up in this civilian building by mistake. Like seeing a priest pushing a trolley in Tesco’s.
My daughter and I duly took up a tethered pencil each and marked our crosses in our favoured boxes. Despite worries by some about the possibility of their crosses being rubbed out, and using their own biros instead, I like the tradition of a stubby pencil on a length of string. It adds to the atmosphere of the serious simplicity of the whole undertaking. We folded our papers and posted their secrets into the box on the table.
The jolly pair thanked us for voting and said ‘well done’ to my teenage daughter. We exited without further interaction with the unhappy looking door trio, and stepped out into the drizzle.
Tomorrow, polling stations across the land will disappear – their essential, democratic purpose, served. They will seamlessly revert back to their original uses as if nothing ever happened. Though, of course, the opposite will be true – something will have happened. For better or for worse the country will not be exactly the same tomorrow as it is today.