I live the centre of a large village in Lincolnshire. On election days, the village hall is the polling station. This happens to be close to my house and through my study window I can see everyone who arrives to vote.
For the General Election I was working; first sewing, then actual work, then
titting about on Twitter and ordering miracle creams from Holland & Barrett admin stuff. I spent most of the day in the study watching people come to vote – and it was fascinating.
First up, from opening up at 7am until about 8amish, the voters were women in sensible office garb, nipping in and out in zippy little cars before heading for work.
Older men in chinos carrying newspapers – the active and early retired maybe – then arrived, but by 9.30am they had given way before the constant slam of car doors and whizz of mobility scooters that heralded The Pensioners.
There were hundreds – possibly thousands – of these, and they came and went all day. Most parked as close as possible to the door, levered themselves shakily out of their cars, then tottered into the village hall, which they probably haven’t visited since attending a tea dance in 1957.
They then emerged, blinking at the effort of having to open the door, and stopped to chat, before wandering off in search of their cars. Some looked ancient – 130 years old at least, and for a couple of hours I was sure there would be an accident, as they obviously haven’t left the house since the introduction of double yellow lines.
In the meantime, dog walkers called by, looping the leads over the railings outside the library. One poor border collie howled mournfully while its owner was inside. Probably knew he was voting Tory.
This is the time people I have never seen before (because they were so weird I would remember) appeared. The man who looks as if he has spent the last five years sleeping in a pile of damp leaves; the 7ft tall bulging-eyes man in a sky blue sports jacket and grey jogging bottoms; the impossibly (for Lincolnshire) glamorous woman with blonde hair piled on her head carrying a chihuahua; the troglodyte couple in matching brown hessian. Where do these people live? Why, in my 20 years in the village have I never seen them before?
Mid-afternoon is peak time. The pensioners are still staggering in, and this coincides with the mums popping in on their way back from school, kids swinging on the railings outside, as well as the men in vans pulling up. These will be the plumbers, builders, electricians and refrigeration engineers who started work at 7 or 8 and are calling in before heading for home. Things heats up as the 8-4 shift hits town and, the day’s work done, everyone lingers outside to chat. A vaguely holiday atmosphere permeates the library steps.
There is a flurry of teenagers, some of them on bikes, all loud and a bit self conscious. They have had time to get home from college, get changed into cool gear and head off out again. Next stop, the bench next to the war memorial.
After 6pm it goes dead. The odd car pulls up, grown-up couples stride in and out, but no-one lingers and there are no more dogs tied to the railings.
After seven the people in suits arrive. This always bemuses me, as I thought my husband was the only person to wear a suit in a twenty-mile radius. Who are these fleece-less, overall-less, uniform-less people? Where, in our resolutely lower middle/upper working class village, do they live?
They are joined by grown-up families, all strolling out together after dinner (not tea), and chatting to other grown-up families. After 9pm they peter out and it is single males in dusty cars and white t-shirts, and young women with brutally straightened hair, usually in pairs.
At 9.30pm an official from inside the village hall takes in one of the Polling Station signs. I’m not sure if this is allowed before 10pm, but no-one is about, and by 9.55pm they are all packed up ready to go. By 10.10pm the lights are off and the car park is empty.
The day has been punctuated with car alarms. I don’t know why this is, but more car alarms went off in the village today than in the whole of the past ten years. I would come up with some clever metaphor about it being an alarming portent of the election result, but I don’t have time; I have a night of exit polls and marginals to prepare for…