Not long now till we set off to put that vital X on the ballot paper. Thing One is beyond excited. Since last time we voted in Lewes, for the County Council, or whatever it was, she regards elections with an awe bestowed upon very few other activities. Going To Vote is in the same league as spending an hour in the Build-a-Bear Workshop in Churchill Square, or being allowed an ice cream and a cake at the Grange.
If only it were the spirit of democracy that so fired her imagination. I wish she were enlivened by a deep and historical understanding of the struggles Emmeline Pankhurst and the Monster Raving Loonies went through to bring suffrage to all. But no. I’m afraid the reason for her anticipation is because at the Council election, a kind man at the desk gave her a gobstopper. She’d never seen one before, due to my Lewes parent’s internal checklist, in which gobstoppers are clearly listed as a choking hazard, between ‘gherkins’ and ‘golf balls’.
She reverently took the sweetie and popped it in her mouth. Then I voted, which doesn’t take nearly long enough, by the way. All that fuss, all that campaigning, all that media hype and canvassing, all that listening to commentators sticking the word ‘gate’ on the end of every gaffe, all that watching three white men in different coloured ties arguing on telly, and then it’s just one quick squiggle on a piece of paper. I did a little smiley face next to it, to spin out my time in the booth, and to show that I understood the importance of the thing.
I remember the strength of my conviction, when I cast my first vote as a student in 1987, that my choice would get into power. They were bound to, simply because I was now participating. I was staggered to find this wasn’t the case, and it was a useful life lesson, I guess. One I’ll have to explain to Thing One in twelve years or so.
We left the church hall and I made the mistake of telling Thing One that when I was a kid, and before gobstoppers (and British Bulldog) were banned, they changed colour as you sucked them. She took the sweet out of her mouth to inspect it, and dropped it instantly into some mud. It did change colour, right enough, but only to brown. She was pretty good about it, sobbing for little more than forty minutes.
So that’s why she’s excited about going to the polls. She’s hoping to have another shot at a gobstopper. Something about her optimism reminds me of all us voters, shlepping off to make our mark. Even though we know that whatever we do, the government will still get in. And once they’re in, whoever they are, experience shows us that it won’t be long before the shiny coloured sweetie slips, and falls in the dirt.
Beth Miller, 5th May 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith