polling stations

My grandmother is dead. Has been dead since August. Some form of therapy in the writing of that, I suppose. A word is on the tip of my tongue, what it is….Catharsis? No…but why that word springing to mind? These things occur regularly. Such frankness is ostensibly refreshing insofar as it appears to suggest a “closure”. Nothing quite does close the feelings, though, so technically ‘closure’ is an insult. But yeah, this is a tangent. My grandmother is dead.

She would tell me how proud she was of the right to vote. I recall being taken to the polling station nearest to her house when I was very young and her breaking the law by taking me into the polling station. Preesall Court was not a legal building, it was formerly an old peoples home and was now some form of ‘drop in’ centre. Before her health faded I would always walk to the polling station with her, in which she would always cause a little scene of some form such as turning around with an unfolded completed ballot paper in her hand, waving it like a flag, asking if she had completed it correctly. My mum was not happy when I told her that gran had voted for the SDP, years ago now, when I was walking from school. Such clear memories are unusual; so matter-of-fact and dull but clear, if a little eaten and worn, green around the edges.

Like Offred describing visits to hotel rooms in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale I would journey around Preesall Court in the guise of both voter and party activist to search out every inch of the building. My first vote was there, in 1998, dressed in white t-shirt and army print combats. You could say this was typical fashion of the age or just of me, but again I note how strangely vivid the memory of that dress remains. The t-shirt had a design on the front of a woman in a bikini, I think, with a building behind her [the Taj Mahal, maybe, but something similar in design certainly].

Boredom had set in among the electoral staff who sat behind their tables playing with modelling balloons. For thirty seconds, if that, I participated in the little game we call democracy, and have played the game ever since.

Preesall Court had a wheelchair ramp, as standard, a black banister, black doors with ‘graph paper’ style glass. Inside the first room was a chair, no maybe two chairs, and a table on which leaflets and magazines had been placed. One magazine was a catalogue for meal-on-wheel customers, full of stews and curries and desserts and soups. The wallpaper of the first room had faded, maybe it had once been purple.

When my parents divorced the house move meant a change in polling station. The second for me to visit was a Methodist church directly opposite our house; I could see the place from the front room window. The layout was unusual from what I can recall; the ballot boxes were directly on the left, party activists had to hang around outside looking like greeters from rival churches hoping to persuade wavering members of the congregation to try somewhere else.

My first house move away from parental control was on the other side of town. The polling station there was another church although I cannot fathom what denomination. The layout was difficult for party activists who had to sit on stairs behind the narrow doors which opened out into a square [vestibule? No…foyer?]. Electoral staff lay hidden in a hall-like-room to the right: they technically broke the rules by allowing me to take the torn-off stubs of voters electoral cards.

From here the next station in which to enjoy the game of electoral chance was a school set among terraced housing. I got to the door before polls opened, was met with some chortled surprise, and voted without much thought. Most recently was another church, and another 7am call from me in my typical style. The staff seemed slightly clueless about their role, asking someone for a signature if I remember. The ballot boxes were positioned directly opposite the doors.

For all my years as a party activist I have not seen to much difference in the buildings used as polling stations. I hear and read stories about fish & chip shops being used, and private estates, and pubs, but none of that here. Schools are the most common. Classrooms taken over for a day, so everyone has to navigate through wide corridors and spot the arrowed signs in cluttered noticeboards. Churches are popular and there seems no problem with any branch of Christianity. Temporary huts can be used, with poor saps sitting outside handing out ballot papers in rain and wind. I admire the constancy of it all; churches, schools, the stubby pencils. Something evocative, stable.

My gran always used to complain about politicians but also gave no time for those who did not vote. She admired the power of the cross in a box, the strength of the ballot box. Those little huts, rooms, ballot boxes, they all were symbols of her life. What is the word on my tongue now…paradigm?

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