Howard Jacobson: Three days of sorrow and joy – of a sort

I cast my vote. Not to put A in but to keep B out. Was it to secure this privilege that men risked their lives?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Wednesday 5 May

"Wake feeling like Leontes in The Winter's Tale. 'I have tremor cordis on me.' Sexual jealousy is his problem. My palpitations have different cause. I have to vote tomorrow. 'My heart dances,' Leontes notes, 'but not for joy, not joy.' Mine the same.

"Don't like voting. Feel demeaned by it. My entire cogitative process reduced to a single pencilled cross on a single sheet of paper. No space for ambiguity or irony, no opportunity to say two contradictory things at once. A half a cross; a cross and a tick; a cross and a tick and a question mark. Make your mind up time, but doesn't making a mind up deny its versatility?

"At X's for dinner I refuse champagne. I see this as practice run for the austerity ahead. My contribution to reducing the deficit. No more champagne. But this is a sacrifice that comes easily. Don't much like champagne, particularly before dinner when prefer to get straight into the red wine. Cannot be alone in this. At dinner parties throughout country others must be wishing they didn't have to drink champagne. It's only recently – for arrivistes like me at least – that the champagne has come out when there's nothing to celebrate. We've been drinking it, like bankers, for no other reason than that we can. The bubbles dance, but not for joy, not joy. So that's that. Have drunk my last glass of otiose champagne. This is called making a virtue of necessity.

"Over dinner we discuss the paradox of this election, where nothing to be excited about has somehow generated excitement. X argues that we have allowed ourselves to be swept up by process because issues leave us cold. This not to say that grave decisions don't have to be taken. Only that they aren't intellectually stimulating. I'd agree with X but for my principled refusal to agree with anyone. It's too like pencilling a cross in a box.

"Bed. Heart dancing joylessly. Tomorrow I must vote."

Thursday 6 May

"Election day. Wake with treble tremor cordis on me. Go for walk, up and down Tottenham Court Road, looking into windows of computer shops wondering if there's anything I need. I buy a new mouse pad. Rather than vote, will spend day buying mouse pads. Maybe start a collection. Come up and see my mouse pads.

"In coffee shop – coffee something else we're drinking only because we can – I read paper someone's left behind. In it Kenneth Clarke warns that the markets will laugh at us if election produces hung parliament. Absurdist idea – the market possessed of sense of humour. And, by implication – because this is judgemental laughter – a moral sense. I try to picture it: the market watching over us and passing sentence, as God once did, only God didn't smile much whereas the market, it would now appear, loves an admonitory laugh.

"Always had soft spot for Kenneth Clarke – unlikely to be reciprocated – on account of his crumpled look. A politician should not dress too well; he should spill a little from his suits in token of his ideas spilling a little from his ideology. But a Tory is a Tory and, spillage or no spillage, when the market laughs, a Tory must laugh with it. So is this the future – the market as arbiter of everything? Another five or maybe more years of being told that money is morality, no matter that Mrs Thatcher laid waste the country believing that, and regardless of the now incontrovertible evidence that money makes a rascal of whoever goes near it?

"Have become money moralist myself, to my surprise. Only I say listen to its dictates and act otherwise. So what does that make me? Can one be an elitist anti-democratic pro-American colonial-apologist Marxist-Leninist? Will there be room for such equivocations on my ballot paper? I buy another mouse mat.

"Outside Goodge Street station a group of high-spirited young men, most of them black, are punching the air. 'By the weekend, brother, this country will be blue,' one of them shouts. The others cheer.

"Most strange. These do not look like Tory voters. No disparagement implied. I know there are black Tory voters, working-class Tory voters, young Tory voters, and even high-spirited Tory voters, but combination does not add up to Tory. If these are Tory voters, then as early as 11am election day I am forecasting a Tory landslide.

"It's only when I stop to listen that I realise they aren't talking the election outcome. Reason country will turn blue is that Chelsea will win league title. I punch the air in solidarity – though I'm a Manchester United man and would prefer country turned red – and walk on.

"One of them catches me up, as surprised by me as I initially was by them. 'You Chelsea?' he asks. 'Sure am,' I lie. He pumps my hand.

"'And what about the election?' I ask. 'You made your mind up?' I notice he is wearing a hat with a jaunty feather in it which somehow tells me he won't be voting. And I am right. He shakes his head, as though the subject is beneath him, and walks off, laughing.

"Know how he feels, as I know all the arguments against his feeling it, of which most persuasive is this: the unspeakable in pursuit of the unmentionable don't permit themselves the luxury of non-commitment; knowing to a certainty where their interests lie, they are as ruthless in their pursuit of it – only look at depths to which right-wing press has descended these last weeks – as they are of the fox. Thus, to vested interests, are the ideologically undecided, like me and my new Chelsea friend, a godsend.

"So walk to polling booth and cast my vote. Heart jumping, hand shaking, I pencil cross in empty box. Not to put A in but to keep B out. Universal suffrage. Was it to secure this privilege that men once risked their lives?

"Election party in evening. No one drinking champagne. No one talking politics. No politics to talk. Atmosphere of sleep-walking on cliff top. Tomorrow we fall."

Friday 7 May

"Wake to unaccustomed lightness of spirits. Am not, after all, alienated man traversing foreign landscape. No one else is prepared to be bullied into saying what they want with a single cross either. No to Nick Griffin, no to Jacqui Smith – both single cross issues when all is said and done – but otherwise, vested interests apart, the country has voted unequivocably for equivocation. Scepticism rules! My heart dances, though I won't yet say with joy."

Comments