Thursday, 5 May 2011

Voting and shooting

I went to vote in the morning when the voters are mostly elderly but putting out a decent team. One old man is in conversation at the door on the way out. He has a mobile frame and lets drop that he is ninety-eight. He was born in 1913 and was five years old by the end of the Great War. Already twenty-six when the Second World War breaks out and thirty-three when it is over. He has been retired longer than that. He is thirty-six years older than me. Thirty-six years ago I was twenty-six. The astonishing numbers game. He wends his way slowly along the narrow pavement. I have never seen him before.

Inside, the desk with its volunteer officers, and they are still there in the evening when I walk C down to the church hall that is the polling station. I ask them if it has been a brisk day. Not as brisk as at a General Election, they say. Three of them are old and the fourth is a woman on the younger side of middle aged. Good citizens. They get no lunch apart from the sandwiches they bring. I firmly expect the votes in the local elections will be mostly Tory (they always are), and so might they themselves be. The old in rural areas often are and, if not, they might just be Lib Dem, that is if they haven't gone into Clegg-meltdown mode. As far as candidates go there are four Con, one Lab and one Lib Dem. Then there is the AV voting slip which is as simple as it can possibly be. I make my mark in the Yes column. It might, just possibly, the one occasion when my vote counts - unlikely but just a little more likely than it counting in any other election. I can quite see why people don't vote when the result is a foregone conclusion. Why go out on a cold and rainy night? Because it is a citizen's duty? Because, given the history of the world, it is more of a privilege than you might think (my answer)? Why else the ritual walk that means a statistical nothing? That 'statistical nothing' seems the best possible reason to be voting AV this time before returning to the ritual. It is, surely, a healthier system for an unfit body politic.

But I expect to return to the ritual tomorrow.


The Bin Laden case continues to take odd turns. Why not wait for the story to be fully documented before announcing the death in one version that must quickly be corrected by a second, then a third? It seems extraordinarily clumsy. I feel absolutely no sense of regret about the man's death as such. He killed thousands, so while I would have preferred a judicial process, such a process was never possible. An arrest and trial would have woken the devil all over the world. A kidnapping from a foreign country would be an international scandal. As concerns the moment itself, shooting the man you have suddenly come face to face with after years of searching is an understandable if not ideal human reaction. His sheer presence - the myth concentrated into a man - would have been enough to send the nerves into overdrive. So you do it, as Von Stauffenberg might have done it, as the Italian partisans did with Mussolini, end of story. Then you face the music, if music is to be faced. You know people just love to hate America and you may as well give them another excuse. The cynics and the idiots are already dreaming of Osama / Che t-shirts. They will eventually determine that Bin Laden died fighting for freedom in the way they understand freedom: t-shirts and berets.

Interesting to consider the Obama side of the equation. Losing president becomes winner president, suddenly turns botched-job, dishonest president. There may be a Republican stake in this, in all the twists and turns, but there probably isn't. Conspiracy theory should always be the last resort. Botched is first choice, schemed is second. I don't deny it happens, of course. And conspiracy makes better cheap fiction than botch does.

Bin Laden wasn't cheap fiction though: he was real death to many, real deliberate death, not incidental death, not collateral damage. So now he is dead. In the long run, as Keynes said, we all are. This shortened his run which, all things considered, was pretty long.

The ninety-eight year old voting this morning has outlived a good number like him. He picks up his mobile zimmer frame and makes his painful way to the polling station, registers his vote, and leaves.

I have no ambition to reach the zimmer age, but if I do I hope I'll be doing the same.


Mark said...


dana said...

Just heard a story on NPR about elder abuse, conditions in assisted living facilities, and suspicious deaths of several, including one woman with a lifelong fear of water who went past a broken camera, out an un-alarmed door and drowned in 18 inches of water in the middle of the night. What can be done for the increasing numbers of people who are living longer than ever?

Grandma used to say, "just take me to the vet."

George S said...

Thank you very much, Mark.

That is one of a great many terrible stories, Dana. The equivalent of the vet for us is in Switzerland, and it sounds very tempting. No one knows the answer to this. We live longer, and for some of those extra years, we might live better than previous ages could have imagined possible. The idea of the Swiss vet appeals to me, but then there are other times I look at something as common as a hedge and think: it's good to be seeing that. I won't be seeing it for ever.

Will Rubbish said...

If you do ever reach the Zimmer stage, it will be one of life's major injustices.

Nevertheless, it would be hard to find any man who'd spent 9/11 frantically trying to find friends and colleagues - and then , afterwards, comforting the bereaved - who wouldn't plug the man. I'd have done so, and paid for it royally later in the psychological aftermath. But I'd have done it: so many ruined, curtailed lives.

George S said...

Me too, to tell the truth, Will. And I'm still running up stairs for now.