Lowering the tone and raising the stakes

Sorry for not posting recently. I'm still here, I've just run out of things to say! Seriously, there are only so many combinations of words and subjects that can be satisfying to the avid blogreader. And even coming up with unsatisfactory combinations can be hard too! And I'm not saying this to be characteristically postmodern or to avoid the difficulty of creativity - I really mean this!

First free evening in a while so I'll splash a few words into this online tome. Splashing like vinegar, or perhaps chilli oil. Not too much, nor too little. Shall I give a life update? Shall I? Oh, go on. It'll be quick. It won't hurt.

Nah, I won't. I'll write a short story instead. I shall write it all in italics, like some slutty poet. Not that I'm a poet (or a slut). Also, who decided that rhymes about, say, 'toothbrushes' or 'tangerines' should be considered 'nonsense verse'. There is nothing nonsensical about an Ode to a Beer Mat or a Vacuum Cleaner's Lament. Are we to believe that any good poems have to touch a raw nerve (however subtly) in order to be considered 'meaningful poetry'. No sir! There is no nonsense greater than that which we call 'emotion' anyway! Why rhymes about the mundane should be nonsense while rhymes about the ethereal should be 'poetry' is a great prejudice! And these labels are self-reinforcing too. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"? - not so Billy! We are all familiar with the placebo effect, and it applies just as much in creative literature as in anything else. You tell someone the beef you just made them was three days past the use-by date, they will worry and perhaps even think themselves ill! You tell someone they are reading nonsense-verse, they shall treat it as nonsense and, however much they enjoy it, shall hastily accord it a place firmly below 'The Greats'.

Anyway, here is my short story, which I shall write as I go along. And 'short' is the only word I shall use to define it, and even that is so you don't lose interest, Internet-generation electronic louts that you are!

John took a visit to Waterback, a province famous for its inability to grapple with those proud concepts that made the other provinces, by their own affirmation, 'great'. The issue that caused outsiders the most concern (although a concern usually expressed in a sneering, moralising fashion) was Waterback's failure to establish democratic representation. Like the other provinces, Waterback elected a certain number of members to the national assembly. And like the other provinces too, it was allowed to choose its own method for doing so, the only rule being that 'no eligible person was barred from standing'. In fact, much to the perennial surprise of those who have delved into the archives, Waterback was one of the first provinces to introduce universal male franchise, some seven centuries ago.

What went wrong? Essentially, the maths. The system used in Waterback (and indeed, in many provinces to this day) required that the candidate who receives the most votes should legally become the person designated to represent that particular electoral district. And Waterback being a land of many rivers, the boundaries for the electoral districts have always been well defined. The problem came, however, when two candidates (for the small urban constituency of 'Meander South') received the same number of votes. Though historians dispute the exact figure, it is said to have been 5,001 votes each. Many have rejected this figure as 'too close to 5,000' to be reliable, presuming that by virtue of the fact that 5,000 is significant in the base-ten counting system, it is somehow less likely that the actual result was on or near this figure.

The figure itself, as you may have gleaned, is not particularly pertinent to the story itself (though countless studies have been made into it by the scholars). What was important, however, was the fact that neither candidate could claim to have won. A precedent established in other places where this had happened was that a third-candidate got to decide. This was controversial, as it could lead to ill-feeling from the maligned candidate which later manifested itself in practical jokes, libellous allegations or murder. However, in the case of the Meander South result, there was no third candidate. The Mayor was called upon instead. Waterbackian politics being notoriously nepotistic, it was expected that Adolphus Gregorr, his son-in-law, would get the deciding vote. However, the other candidate, Hubertus Billabong, was a first cousin of the Mayor. Not wishing to cause a family conflict, the Mayor declined to take the decision himself.

But as there was nobody else suitably qualified to take the decision, a commotion emerged. It was decided that the oldest man in the village should be called upon to make the decision. However, at the legendary age of 116 (although this figure too has been disputed by the archivists) his sight was somewhat imperfect, and he had trouble distinguishing the two candidates, and in a moment of bizarre confusion mistook the Mayor for a stool. The spectacle made supporters of both the candidates increasingly impatient and angry.

However, after the old man regained his senses he was consulted again, not for a choice of candidate, but for an idea as to how the dispute could be arbitrated. After a few minutes of looking whimsical (so the sources tell us) the old man took a coin out of his pocket. A large 'crown', allegedly dating from the twelfth-century. Before he had time to open his mouth the Mayor entered (partly, it can be assumed, from a sort of wish to compensate for the embarrassment caused by his earlier indecision and a desire to diffuse the situation under his own authority).

The Mayor decreed that the coin should be flipped. If Heads fell, then Adolphus Gregorr would win the casting vote. If Tails fell, then Hubertus Billabong would win the casting vote. The crowds of supporters stood in suspense as the Mayor flipped the coin, before catching it in his palm and placing it in the back of his hand. It was Heads. Adolphus Gregor won the casting vote.

However, just as the Mayor was about to declare him victor, a group of Hubertus's supporters teamed up around the Mayor. Their manner was not threatening, but they were clearly not content with the result. They argued that the coin was old and weighted, coming from it did from the days before the Waterbackian Mint had been established. A lawyer, supporter of Hubertus, declared that while the rules stipulated that each man of eighteen years or more should have a vote, there was no passage anywhere which allowed coins to have the vote. As the coin had acted as the 'deciding vote', it had essentially been given a privilege it had not been ascribed constitutionally. He proceeded to take some coins out of his own pocket, declaiming ridiculously about the implications of such a plutocracy.

An innkeeper, supporter of Adolphus, said that the coin had not been used as a vote. Rather, it had been used to take a vote away - giving Hubertus one less vote rather than giving Adolphus one more. However, the lawyer argued that unless there could be found a Hubertus supporter willing to give up his vote, there could be no fair grounds on which a vote could be taken away, as this would effectively be a form of disenfranchisement. The innkeeper, used to short-changing his customers by filling the beer-glass slightly under the regulation pint-mark, suggested that each vote could be reduced by a fraction such that their total made up one fewer, while no single vote was lower than any other.

At the back of the room, however, a scuffle emerged. Some supporters of Adolphus had taken a Hubertus supporter by the hair and shouted "We have one! We have one! This man shall give up his vote!". A couple of Hubertans came to his defence, and a full-scale fight emerged, eventually embroiling most of the room.

In the end the Adolphians won the fight and many Hubertans were sent home battered and bruised. Ironically, the young Adolphus, having been so frightened by the fight, had ran away, and since he could not be found anywhere, Hubertus was duly elected as member for Meander South.

Though neither Hubertus or Adolphus ever stood for election again (Hubertus received a sinecure position at the University, Adolphus retired to a farm where, it is said, he was mauled to death by a bull) the precedent of violence as an electoral tool had been established. As time went on, close results, whether it be a few votes or sometimes as many as a few dozen, were often subject to intimidation from the side with more pikes or muskets. Within a century, the mechanism of voting, though preserved, had become a mere formality, a prelude to the main event i.e. a pitched battle. In some particularly violent constituencies, often one of the candidates would come out of the count injured or, in some cases, dead.

Curiously enough however, these incidents of electoral violence have only ever taken place during the vote-count itself. An amnesty is observed for the rest of the year, and although recruiting a decent-sized retinue remains the most important aspect during the canvassing season.

Essentially, this system remains in place today, although recent attempts have been made to gentrify the proceedings. For instance, the Waterbackian provincial government has recently legislated to ban flamethrowers and poison-gas from the election night 'activities', although the proposal to cap the number of 'supporters' in each candidate's retinue at 100 has proved unpopular. In any case, these issues are now being debated, in what is  more or less the Waterbackian equivalent to 'electoral reform'


Daniel Mumby said...

Love the story Seb :) Part of me wishes it were true

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