Seizing the Day


If it was the sight of Andrew Neil holding a parrot you wanted, another holding a placard saying “Don’t believe anyone, including me” or the delusional autograph hunter who approached stationary strangers for their moniker, then College Green, Westminster was the place for you as the election unfolded.

The TV network’s scaffolding rostrums were sandwiched between Henry Moore’s Knife Edge Two Piece, erected like gallows after a Yorkist rebellion. If it was also your weird agenda to gawp at the thickness of Channel 4’s pundit princesses Kathy Newman and Helen Smith’s theatrical make-up you could do better to spend a few hours amid the cables and Watanabe boxes in media-city as the country cast their votes.

Short Spanish anchormen stood on camera cases with curly wires growing from their collars to their ears like magneto wires, for the benefit of their Andalucian viewers sitting in their living rooms with tummies full of twisty pasta. On the corner of Great Peter and Lord North Streets, a production team’s entire output to Florence was squeezed within a Mini; packets of Ritz crackers, cables and digital what-nots littering every crevice in their car-cum pod hotel-cum studio.

Around a few corners in Barton Street SW1, I noticed the blue plaque to Lord Reith, Director General of the early BBC, who lived there 1924 – 1930.  T E Lawrence was a neighbour too at number 14 where he wrote his Seven Pillars war memoirs. But a few doors away inside his battalion HQ, the yellow flag warrior from Westminster School Nick Clegg had one leg up on a Lib-Dem chair, bent over the battlefield map of the British constitution, like Napoleon at La Haye Sainte farmhouse on the eve of Waterloo.

While our fellow-countrymen and women were starting their disastrous queues outside polling stations across the land, I watched a man called Ciaran from Ladbrokes adding the latest odds for a hung parliament and it felt like extraordinary times again. As if another 9/11 or 7/7 event was about to take one’s breath away – our lazy lives jarred by a sudden concussive blast of news that changed everything.

Napoleon has his fair share of statues and Mandela’s stands awkwardly on one corner of Parliament Square next to the Glastonbury tent city of anarchists, his arms outstretched as if showing us how big was his fish or perhaps it was David Cameron sizing up his vacuous Big (broke) Society. But from one angle, it occurred to me that his two bronze paws were like any of our three politicos reaching out for power, Shakespearean usurpers demanding the top trumps of a coalition.

In Reith’s day, the sight of a trunk-size camera and solid tripod would have brought a town to a standstill, such was the rarity of seeing television men at work. Today they seem to trail cables across every pavement and dodging them seems a trivial hazard.

But my favourite Duffy moment comes, not from Gillian of Rochdale, but Carol Ann of the Gorbals:


Here’s a boat that cannot float.

Here’s a queue that cannot vote.

Here’s a line you cannot quote.

Here’s a deal you cannot note …

and here’s a sacrificial goat,

here’s a cut, here’s a throat,

here’s a drawbridge, here’s a moat …

What’s your hurry? Here’s your coat.

Carol Ann Duffy, 2010.


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