At around lunchtime today I was experiencing something which I can only describe as a mini-mental breakdown. I have to acknowledge that I’m stressed beyond belief at the moment and need to start taking care of myself. The problem when you’re over-worked is that anything that pops up and throws a spanner in the works can run the risk of suddenly seeming catastrophic. This morning, for example I was faced with a double-whammy. There was a letter from my travel insurance company, demanding an almost impossible amount of official literature to prove that I was in Florida in February when I had my ears syringed for $300 dollars. They want receipts that I just don’t have; primarily because I’ve already sent them them. I have no way of proving this fact as they’re demanding originals and won’t except the copies that I made before sending them off. I had to speak to people in South Africa, none of whom cared one jot about my dilemma. They simply continued to spout company policy and I realised for the first time in my life that there was no point in fighting.
More upsettingly, today I was forced to start legal proceedings against the choir I was writing music for at the start of the year. I won’t go into details until everything's been sorted, but suffice to say, I've been dealing with a level of weirdness for the past six months, which has at times felt like a Jean-Paul Sartre play. Thankfully, the MU are now involved, but I had to spend about three hours dealing with the paperwork which allowed me finally to pass the burden onto them. At one point I thought I’d lost a set of crucial emails and wailed like a banshee for some minutes whilst Nathan cuddled me on the sofa. Strange to think that being exposed to lunacy for such long periods can sometimes make you doubt your own sanity.
In the middle of all this, I went to vote, and perhaps unsurprisingly had a bit of a tizzy in the voting station. When we arrived at Jackson’s Lane Community Centre we were ushered into a back room and immediately handed two ballot papers; one for our MP, and one to elect a set of local councillors. The latter took me by surprise. We’d not received a flier, or letter through the post from any of the 20-something prospective councillors on the list.
I went up to the lady behind the desk; “do you have any literature about any of these people?” I asked, “this is just a list of names. How can I be expected to vote for a name?” She looked at me like I’d just walked out of the special bus; “I think you'll find the political parties that these people represent are all listed alongside their names.” “That’s not enough” I said; “at a local level we HAVE to be able to vote for a set of values. Not a single one of these people has tried to get in touch with me. There must be someone in this building who can tell me all about what they stand for...”
I looked down to discover that she was already talking to the person in the queue behind me. She hadn’t listened to a word I’d said. It's funny how you can sometimes be made to feel so invisible.
I walked away, somewhat stunned and placed a cross in the box next to our MP, Lynne Featherstone’s name. She, at least, has regularly put notes through our letter boxes. I know what she looks like. I know what she stands for. I’m happy to give her my vote. I put the paper in the box and went back to the woman behind the counter clutching my other ballot paper. “That was a bit rude.” I said; “I was asking for your help just then.” “Oh, I’m sorry” she said, dismissively; “I thought we were done.” And then she smiled a patronising smile that made me see blood. I walked up to her and ripped my ballot paper into ten pieces. I then posted all the pieces into the ballot box. “There” I said, “I’ve spoilt my paper and you, Madam, are partially to blame” and with that I flounced out, operatically.
It felt very spur of the moment, and a bit of a silly gesture, but then I thought for a bit. Why should we feel obliged to vote for faceless names, simply because they belong to a political party? Why on earth would someone set up a polling station without any information on display about the people we’re expected to give our vote to? I could be voting for an anti-Semite or a homophobe or someone with values I abhor. More likely, I could be voting for a lazy git, or frankly, someone who still wears Laura Ashley. I have never spoilt a ballot paper before. I’ve always considered them to be somehow sacrosanct, but in that split moment, when the woman behind the counter wouldn’t even take my constitutional right seriously enough to engage me in conversation, I changed my views forever.
I now believe that spoilt papers are valid and should be counted. A high enough percentage of spoilt papers should make an election null and void and force the powers that be to select a whole new set of politicians for an area; perhaps ones who can be bothered to communicate with their potential voters. It's not much to ask.
The Nazeby was filled with the great and the good on this date 350 years ago; all part of that seemingly endless procession of gentlemen stopping off on their way to pay homage to the King in Breda; that over-fed modern-day baby Jesus perched in his golden manger.