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Green, and Yes

  Sun 8th May 2011

The Local Elections and the AV referendum were tiring, interesting work. To the Polling Station for 6.15, then 27 hours’ work over two days. This being my first time as Presiding Officer, I was nervous, thinking that I might be shamed in at least regional media as the man who sabotaged this year’s elections to Lancaster City Council with a fatal clerical oversight.

Sixteen hours is a long time to spend in the company of someone you’re not getting on with, and I was relieved to have been allocated as Poll Clerks two bright, sensible, pretty, twentysomething women, a civil servant and a livelier and more bohemian Art History MA student. Healthy, moneyed, country girls, chatting to each other about whether the skiing is better in France or Austria. Annabel wore one of those dark blue padded gilets, the incidence of which increases in proportion to the distance from a conurbation; both of them with their blonde hair piled up attractively, held in place by a womanly arrangement of hairclips.

The following morning I was at the count, a bit delerious from lack of sleep, talking volubly to a retired Geography teacher sitting next to me. I was fortunate to be allocated to a team supervised by a twentysomething archaeology graduate, who, I found out, got an Elections Assistant job I applied for two years ago, and who dealt with a demanding administrative and supervisory task with relaxed good humour. I was glad I avoided the team at the next table. They were controlled, suppressed, and quietened by one of those fat, unhappy, tattooed women in leggings who gravitate in such numbers to the Civil Service.

At our breeze-blocked “leisure” centre, about a hundred tellers sat on the inside of a large square of desks, while the local politicians and interested parties could sit and watch us count from the other side. The LibDems were comfortably-off middleaged men in dark jackets, beige trousers, and interview shoes. Green Party men simply cannot dress, overlong magnolia trousers crumpling sadly onto thick-soled boots; the women, willowy types in linen trousers and short grey jackets looking as though they might have a crush on Joan Bakewell. Labour had the highest heels, and a striking woman with dyed pale blonde hair wearing a black and white polka dot dress and wedges. I watched an older female candidate scan her from head to arse as she walked past, and smile. Our useless Conservative MP was surrounded by Toryboys from the University trying subtlely to get noticed by the potentate. The Morecambe Bay Independents have a fearsome looking Councillor who looks like a boxing trainer. Dark and tall, big head, stubble, and pocked skin like a bowl of soggy Weetabix, a man to whom you’d be reluctant to openly deny your vote if you encountered him at your front door.

The LibDems lost all their five seats on the Council, including that of their leader, who gave an ungracious and finger-jabbing valedictory speech which lived up to his soon to be discontinued email address. Someone started heckling, and I was hoping it would degenerate into an unseemly punch-up, yellow ties being used as throttles round Tory necks and a couple of men from the Green Party who always wear cycle helmets ineffectually trying to separate the writhing belligerents, before Weetabix Face waded in with a violent and misdirected blow to the head of a passing Council official, thus sparking a secondary ruckus involving the Deputy Head of Legal Services. Sadly for spectator value, it didn’t get further than some jeering.

But mainly we were counting, tallying, box-ticking and chatting, for hour after hour. Despite much revisiting of the ballot papers, we came to a dead heat in our Ward, so it was given to another team for a re-count. They got the same result. The candidates asked for a third count, on which the Tory got in by one vote. Then the AV Referendum started, a dull exercise to confirm a known conclusion. We were supposed to begin by collating the votes into batches of twenty-five. I twice had to stop myself as I drifted over thirty, lulled into inattention by lack of sleep and the narcotic repetitiveness of the task, thinking instead about what the Director of Flipcharts might look like in white underwear.


Saturday was a hedonistic relief: a couple of drinks in the afternoon led to some Colombian refreshments and meeting someone we’ll call Siobhan. We got on immediately and I enjoyed talking to her. She was well dressed, everything in different shades of grey: jacket, shirt, silk-ish scarf, and a loose shin-length skirt. She told me about her difficulties in effecting a complete break from someone she has decided to leave in that open way that is often easy with people you’re meeting for the first time.

In the evening there was a Northern Soul night in a local pub. I was quite glad I was slightly out of it. Some of the older suburban pubgoers found the sight of men dancing rather discomfiting, but there was a good feeling of it being our culture in these relativistic times.

8 comments

Comment from: peach [Visitor]

hello! I’ve so missed you! I have spent the past hour catching up with your brilliant blogposts, going back to about last October. Something happened - googlereader I can’t work out and, oh yes, bloglines gave up or got taken over or something and HELLOO LOOBY! It is so good to read you again.

Rather annoyed at myself for missing your one recent visit down to the smog ridden arse of London!

Sorry about that one who read the blog and all your texts. I can’t keep up with the names and incidents… rather a shame. But you sound well.

Kisses, S XX

Wed 11th May 2011 @ 22:57
Comment from: [Member]

Hello Peach! Great to see you about again. I’ve sent you an email to the address I have for you (yourname@yahoo) - hope that’s the right one.

There’s a crafty little plan hatching in my head because I think you should meet Helen and Kitty sometime. I think you would get on with my louche and sophisticated (cough!) friends.

Anyway check your inbox!
XX

Thu 12th May 2011 @ 11:17
Comment from: Jonathan [Visitor]

The commission of fatal clerical oversights is in my view an underrated skill and in any sane world would feature as a standard interview question: ‘can you tell us about a time when you have excelled by committing a fatal clerical oversight?’. And the Morecambe Bay Independents sound like a 1960s scooter mob, in which case by the sound of things they would have better dress-sense than the rest of the present-day Lancaster political class put together.

Round our way the Liberals were decimated also- the presentable 25 year community-serving record of our local councillor counted for nothing in the face of the mass public backlash at one-time housewive’s favourite Nick Clegg. As a died-in-the-wool Labour man I should probably be happy about that but I feel a bit sorry for our deposed representative really, it seems he’s being made to pay for events and strategic failures beyond his control.

Sat 14th May 2011 @ 00:00
Comment from: [Member]

You could assess the answer by the damage it caused, how long the consequences lasted, and the costs involved in correcting it, with perhaps bonus marks for how elementary a mistake it is, with something that’s drummed into you from day one counting for more than a violation of a more arcane principle.

Well-timed comment by the way - can’t remember one on the stroke of midnight before.

Sun 15th May 2011 @ 09:53
Comment from: Dave [Visitor]

My favourite clerical error was by an Aussie temp I met once who told me how they were working on visitor data for a certain museum. Some Excel error or other meant that the published data showed a number of annual visitors X times higher than the correct figure. The incredibly high perceived demand apparently led directly to the abolition of entry fees for most public museums and galleries.

Mon 16th May 2011 @ 10:02
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Fantastic! Nice one Bruce / Shiela!

Mon 16th May 2011 @ 12:50
Comment from: smallbeds [Visitor]

It’s fascinating to hear what it was like from the other side of those benches. At our end of the country it did seem to be a case of busy/bored/busy/bored until I left them to it, in order to go to bed.

I’ve got a lot of respect for the chap in charge, though: I don’t understand how he had the energy. You’ve got me worried now, though, that he might have been wondering what I looked like in white underwear.

“Green Party men simply cannot dress”

This was, of course, true for everyone present. Except me.

(Sorry I’m replying now: because of the password thing you fell off my blogroll. Have you discontinued that now?)

Tue 17th May 2011 @ 14:12
Comment from: [Member]

I have no doubt that you were leading the way in Oxfordshire in ecologically sensitive yet stylish dress JP.

The organisation of it was highly impressive and everyone from the Council worked theor socks off. You could see it taking its toll towards the end.

The password is only on selectively now, but it will be necessary occasionally, depending on how much bother I could get in locally. I’ve emailed it to you.

Wed 18th May 2011 @ 09:36


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