Friday, April 29, 2005

Swimming to insanity

Weekly visit home to collect the post. Utterly depressing news. The flood was caused by squirrels who seem to have taken up occupation in loft and chewed their way through the overflow pipe. BBM thinks they may be going further and sitting in his chair, reading with his special lamp, and enjoying themselves watching the telly in our absence.

Both cloakroom ceilings are down. Flaking plaster everywhere.

Go for a swim in my home pool for old times sake and wish I hadn't. A couple of old women are caling (is that how you spell it? Yorks for chatting) in the fast lane designed for swimming. Ask them very politely to move over the other side of the rope. It is the biggest mistake I have made for months. I am heaped with abuse. "Do you realise you take up twice as much space as me? Do you? Do you? said the chief bully. "Well, yes" I said honestly enough but it didn't work. She told me her mate was dying of cancer perhaps, and how dare I etc. The abuse went on and on ending with a shouted threat that she would pee in the pool if I didn't p off and leave her alone.

To my humiliation I was shivering and felt sick Jesus I really have turned into an old lady. Considered biffing her one really hard but realised she would respond in kind, so like all good middle class ladies I slunk off to get the attendant. Gasps of horror when I arrived in reception in my swimsuit hat and goggles.

Attendant arrives poolside to say that she can't possibly intervene. She's no doubt been on some human relations course while doing her sports management degree, and its rule one - encourage participants in rows to see that there are two sides to every story.

Suggest to her that I only want her to enforce the rules but she ignores me and other participant starts shouting that I assaulted her mate. That I am an attention seeker (well, yes, but not in the pool love)

I swim off. Attendant leaves and Other Participant hires in a huge bald male maybe eighteen stone and encourages him to try his butterfly in my lane. I leave utterly defeated. It takes me the 100 miles back to the constituency to calm down. Speed because BBM will want his lunch. Make it at the same time as him to find that he got fish and chips at the Old Peopl'es home he was visiting. Hope he dies of raised chlorestrol levels.

Freeze all afternoon finishing my survey
200 voters in the two electorates were interviewed in the street on 26.27.28 April. Only positive responses were counted. All"don't knows" "not voting" and people who appeared not to understand the question were excluded.Overall the results were as follows.59% of respondents thought their votes would not make a difference. 44% thought they would.

Constituency A is fairly marginal. B is regarded as a safe Labour seat.In A 44% thought their votes would make a difference, 56% thought their votes would not make a differenceIn B 38% thought their votes would make a difference . 62% thought they would not.

Depressing isn't it. The sooner we get PR the better.

Sleep through Charles Kennedy on Questiontime. Wake up for Michael Howard and decide he is so nasty I have to go away and read a novel. Sad really. I thought he was a lovely bloke when we went to the States with him. Can Australians really transform someone from good to evil in just a few weeks? MaybeI should get an Australian personal trainer to improve life in the swimming pool.

Trotted round to Radio Homicide (local station) to be interviewed by John Humphreys re candidates clothes. Good. We both laughed on a rather serious morning when serious accusations re Blair and the war were the story of the day.

Off now to the market to buy armfuls of flowers to cheer the last weekend. Guests to stay, guests to dinner. Dinner to cook.Sister's partner is faxing posh fish recipe from OZ (nothing violent though)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Today programme

On my way back from the pool I caught the Today programme asking for sightings of candidates and what they were wearing. Dashed off an email:

Over 27 years of campaigning I have developed a serviceable candidates outfit for my husband.
Machine washable trousers - dogs, kids building sites and "I'd just like you to take a look at the damage they have done to my garden" make these trousers essential.
Comfortable footwear-The kind of trainers that are disguised as casual shoes, dark coloured, rubber soled. Vital for jumping fences and running away.
Layers of topcover. Raincoat jacket jumper shirt for varied climate conditions. I would prefer a tieless candidate but BBM insists on large numbers of these and spills a variety of food on them each day.
Finally, most essential item: Gloves. These are absolutely essential to prevent damage to hands from modern postboxes which are designed to repel rather than encourage leaflets. Also to protect from dog bites. I think some voters round here have been trainming their dogs up since the last election.
And how does he look my candidate? A complete shambles of course, just a more casual shambles than appears at Westminster.

This elicited a response just after lunch time. Apparently I was the only person who wrote having seen a candidate. There were various claims from other listeners that they had voted in the same place since 1950 and never seen anyone who wanted their vote.

They ask me to come on on Friday morning and describe the candidates outfit.

Spend the rest of the day interviewing constituents in next door electorate for "Make Votes Count" survey to try to encourage proportional representation. Have set myself a target of 200 responses. May take forever.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hardworking wife

Deserve a medal (me) BBM has become very accepting of my election services. Three meals a day, clean shirts, clean sheets, canvasser extrodinaire.

When no one else is available, or there's something rally good on the telly, or it's raining non stop- that's when my canvassing skills are called on. BBM and I got soaked when we visited the worst street in the constituency on Tuesday. Only half the houses occupied. The rest have had windows broken and gardens trashed and then steel shutters applied by the local authority.

I shelter for a while in the corner shop, but the local paper and persuade the owner to take picture of the two us drowned ratting outside his front door

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sunglasses at the ready

Unmasked by the Mail on Sunday. Sweet irony, they get a thousand words for free. Put on biggest sunglasses (Versace £99 Sunglass Hut Heathrow terminal 3 ) and head for Tesco in the next constituency. The Lib Dems are canvassing at the door. Candidate has soap box and very large hammer (think tent pegs) on top.

What's the hammer for?" I ask cheerily. Candidate quickly explains it's to stop the box blowing away. We start chatting. He touches my wrist."Have you ever considered voting Liberal Democrat?" Whip off the sunnies and reveal that he has known me for a quarter of a century. He grins and tells me that the Mail on Sunday piece was on the daily Lib dems Candidates briefing. Wow.

BBM sits in the garden for a few minutes and pronounces weather warm enough for a walk along the front. It is'nt. The wind is chill, but he enjoys the high recognition factor.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Poster Wars

This has so far been an election without posters. In previous years much time and money has been spent expecially in marginals to put posters everywhere. It used to happen here too, but the only posters in town are on the trees outside Tory HQ, just up the street from us. I think that wall to wall newspaper and TV coverage and telephone canvassing has taken over.

BBM hankers for the old days so a few weeks ago I asked the next door neighbours, a very friendly couple of comprehensive school teachers if they would mind if we put a big "Vote Labour" poster on the front of our house. We are a terrace with our living rooms on the first floor so it's very easy to tie a poster to the balcony. They smile and say it wont be a problem at all as long as we don't mind their supersized Liberal democrat poster. Oh dear discuss this with BBM who says we should just put a small poster in the window and leave it to them to up the anti. A week goes by and nothing happens. Our six foot by four foot plasticised instruction to vote labour languishes in the front hall.

On Saturday morning I went out for the papers and was greeted on my return by a yellow glow in the sky and "Vote Andrew de Freitas Liberal Candidate" covering pretty much the whole balcony of number 15. We live by a bus stop bang in the middle of town so it's causing much interest and amusement for Saturday morning shoppers. BBM is cross. "I didn't think they'd dare" he mumbles.

Sykes and Archie and Richard (granchildren and their dad) arrive to accompany BBM to football. Local derby with next constituency. I punch holes round the border of our giant sign and the men go out to tie it to the balcony. BBM wants to be in on it all but everyone agrees that he is safer down in the street photographing the great event.

People on the bus and in passing cars cannot believe the advertising war which has begun. "this is more like it!" says an old bloke leaning on my front gate. "This is what elections used to be like."

Consider nipping up to Conservative HQ to suggest that they move their banner to join ours. But I don't know if I can bear two more weeks intense scrutiny by every passerby. When we first moved in here I didn't realise there was a bus stop right outside the door. We were waiting for our curtains and I was sitting on the bed stark naked giving my feet a bit of tlc. I looked up and there was the whole upper deck of a number 27 grinning with delight or gaping in amazement only a few yards from our second floor window.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Frightful Friday

Went home to make sure well, and collect mail. Everything seems calm. Open bills, grab a couple more shirts and decide to give my one pot plant a little water before I leave.

While I am doing this phone rings. Cold call from the House of Fraser trying to sell me a twenty four hour plumbing service. Refuse. Man says you might have a plumbing emergency, what would you do. Because it's election time and you never know if it might be the Daily Mail I am reasonably polite and explain that we have had the same plumber for thirty years.

Turn off tap. Fail. Try again. Try and try and try. It won't budge and there is hot water gallons of it gurgling down the drain. Ring our friend a few farms away who used to be our plumber until he retired with plumbers back and plumbers knee. He explains to me that modern taps no longer have washers but have ceramic discs and I need to get a plumber to replace mine.

He diects me via the phone to a cupboard upstairs where I am to turn off the hot water. Do this. Nothing happens at the tap end. Think it might take a while to drain and go off to do something else. Within five minutes disaster strikes and find water flowing cool and clear and smoothly through the ceiling of the box room on the first floor and on to the cloakroom below.

Panic, ring back retired plumber who rushes round to help. We turn off main water supply and open all taps. After half an hour we are just left with drip drip drip. He explains that our plumbing is very ancient and something I did, he is not sure what, caused one of the tanks in the roof to burst.

He assures me that the water will dry up eventually and it is safe to leave the house, as long as I find a plumber for next week. Tear back to the constituency making sure I do not pass through any south Yorks speed cameras too quickly. Make it with a minute to spare before man appears to fit new blinds in BBM's office. He tries for an hour. They won't work. The windows are crooked due to ninetweenth century subsidence around here.

Friend from Home rings, she has just been to our house with the police. Alarm has gone off. She tells me I have had a bad leak but it has stopped now. She says she has reset the burgular alarm.

At one o'clock this morning my son rings. Alarm company have rung. Alarm has gone off again. What do I want to do? Realise that water had got into the system and is setting offf the alarm. The base station is in the box room.

Think I want to die actually.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Two weeks on and we'll be gone

What a difference the weather makes. You can smell happiness in the air at half past five a.m. The sun is coming up, outside the front door it's fresh, not chill, and the wheelie bins are due to be emptied in a couple of hours.

In this constituency green small-person sized plastic containers guard every front door. Most residents only open their doors when they have a stuffed plastic sack ready to chuck in the wheely. It takes six seconds. Unlock, lift lid, chuck, thump! and then it's back to "No canvassers, no hawkers, no financial advisers" except on collection days when the bin has to be placed outside the front gate. Suggest to BBM that he should get rubbish collection rota from the town hall and follow the bin men to meet more voters.

Went with BBM to discussion group at the local FE college yesterday afternoon. Only the three big players turned up. Tory Lib Dem and us. There is a Green candidate and a UKIP and a National Front, but dunno who or where they are.

The Lib Dem bloke has been a candidate every election forever, so once every four years or so we meet up and chat in back rooms, corridors and under awnings when it rains. He moans to me that his party in this town is getting old and tired and that he doesn't have anyone to canvass for him any more. Same with us I tell him. He's just had a heart op and been told to walk everywhere so he gets up at first light and walks all over town alone pushing leaflets through hostile doors.

The Tory is a young posh bloke from out of town and he has some youthful locals to support him, so they look much more impressive than the rest of us. They rattle on about immigration and asylum seekers as decreed by Lynton Crosby and are hurt when the audience and BBM have a go at them. I'm sitting at the back with the Tory supporters and one of the young men hints that the continual emphasis on immigration has become an embarassment to them. "It's not going down at all well with the locals." he whispers. Well it wouldn't here. The immigrants in this town are all senior health service workers or human rights lawyers. Consultants at the hospital in their forties and fifties who live in the best areas and have hoardes of very smart children who are training to be lawyers, television producers and Members of Parliament.

Well, that's where I left off there this morning to do some wifely duties. I have to prepare lunch each day. Today it was s chicken with lemon potatoes from the River Cafe Cook book. Yes I know it sounds very posh but it's easy to do and you can eat it cold.

BBM appears very upset. One of his ongoing cases, a local family who have been supported by the whole town in their asylum application have had their appeal against the appeal verdict tuned down. He has to tell them later today and is desparately trying to find a way for them to stay. I offer to help by ringing the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in London and ask if there is any more we can do. There I am working away. Forgotten I am a wife. Forgotten I am in Constituency, feels like a normal day back at the media coalface. A phoen rings and I answer it without thinking. The Daily Mail wants to know if I have been fined seven hundred and fifty pounds for speeding. Of course I answer Yes. You can't lie about things like that. And then I realise it's a trick to find out if I am the awful MP's wife. Clever stuff, but then the Daily Mail is clever. Too clever for me it seems. Break the news to BBM that they have discovered my blogging activities. He sighs with misery. It's turning into a very bad day indeed here and there are still fourteen more to go.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

15 bloggy days to go

what a bad blogger I have turned out to be. This is the first election with blogging and I realise now just how hard it it to record anything. First there's BBM: king of the bloggers. I pointed out to him just after I started and it has now become the very reason for his existence. Sometimes he's posting two thousand words a day. It gets mentioned on the radio and quoted in the papers, so he is thrilled - this is his way of getting a bit of input to the national campaign. If he could use a computer then I would never have to see the bloody stuff, and wouldn't be put off my own blog- but of course he can't post without me. He has a keyboard such as are issued to children with learning difficulties. He blogs away on this. Then I connect it up to my computer, watch it transcribe itself at about fifty words a minute and email the chaos to his secretary. She spell checks it. He gets a double spaced print out from me. He edits this and faxes it to her and she then makes the corrections. He reads it all through again (no wonder it's funny) and passes it to a third member of staff and she posts it. Or doesn't.

While we were at Westminster it was fine because one of BBMs London researchers did the postings. A young sparky lad he didn't care a bugger about the content. Here in the constituency it is a different story. The posting researcher "just happened" to show the copy to some of the old codgers in the local party and the outcome was predictable- total disaster. They complained to BBM and to a man insisted thay he must stop publishing unless they got editorial control!

War rages and nothing has reached BBM's blogsite for a week. I suggested yesterday to BBM that this was crazy and he poked the researcher into action. Except that she didn't really know the password or the username and she fiddled with it so much that I got an email saying we must change the password, and it took two hours to sort the whole thing out. Two hours when I might well have blogged myself.

BBM is moaning. No one has quoted him on the BBC or in the papers for a few days and he knows the reason why!

Latest news is that researcher will come round here this afternoon and I will let her use my machine to post. We will see.

The election? Good heavens what with three cooked meals a day and worrying about the blogs, the laundry, and the deep depression from being a fulltime MPs wife, theres no time for anything else. But here's a promise. I am going to post something at least once a day for the next fifteen days, no matter how great the obstructions, the distractions and the instructions issued by BBM.

I will be heard.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The first week of the campaign

What a hopeless failure I am. I was going to write a witty amusing paragraph every day, and I have done everything but. It's been awful. At least eight hours every day cleaning and preparing rooms for researchers and out of town assistants. I spent the first weekend of the campaign dejunking the upstairs rooms at BBM's local office. Since May 1st 1997 they have been using them as storeage space for everything they will never need again. The local Labour party offices were sold a year ago and in the hiatus till they got new ones BBM thoughtfully stored all the junk they had no place for. Dozens of cartons of dead paperback books. Nothing you or I would want to read but the leftovers from every party fete and Xmas fayre for the past decade. Barbara Cartland romances with coffee rings, Dennis Wheatley, and Anthony Robbins guides for a better future.

The stairs are mean and steep. I struggled up and down and down and up until my back ached, stopping now and then to read odd gems from the past. There were boxes and boxes of old files (carbon copies, remember them?) Poster sites for the 1979 election. Every single person who offered to take a poster is now dead, what kind of message is that?

Anyway I was left totally to my own devices. In some ways this was brilliant, unsupervised I managed to take eighteen sacks of rubbish to the tip without BBM moaning about destroying valuable archives. When the staff returned on Monday morning I was down to the harmless stuff: old clothes, manual typewriters, word processors, early computers. As BBM has never learned how to work a computer he can hardly complain when I proclaim them all worthless. The office staff watch silently as I trail up and down, in and out to my car. I dare to mention this to BBM and he points out that they have important work to do for constituents. I on the other hand am only an MP's wife, entirely suited it seems to making life more comfortable for them.

Thump a pot plant down in the bathroom, chuck a pile of clean towels on the beds and head for home. BMM comes in with a ruddy canvassers glow and dares to ask what I have been doing all day, and what's for supper.

Take ten minutes off to watch the Blair Brown video ad by Anthony Minghella. Can't believe how strange it is. Looks to me as it is designed to show that Blair and Brown can't get on. Blair is in shirt sleeves Brown had coat and tie like he's ready for a trip to the kirk. The speak across one another, around one another, over one another, never to one another. Not even at one another. It seems a disaster to me and I voice my opinion forcibly to important bloke in the local party. "Oh you media types" he snaps. "I thought it was wonderful. Really showed them getting on together."

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lord dismiss us ....

Lord dismiss us with thy blessing, we sang every last day of term at the girls' high school. It was like that in Portcullis house on Thursday. Those retiring who'd planned it and were looking forward to it, were jolly. Those who didn't know what the future held...they wanted to come back but had small majorities (under say four thousand) over the Tories, were scared. Mostly people who'd won their seats for the first time in 1997 and now felt that Tory gods wanted retribution. There were farewell lunches with staff and cobbled up agreements "If you don't win, I'd love to take on your researcher" "If I don't win, will you do something to help Janet?"

BBM has what's known as a safe seat, so none of this applies. We load the car with absolutely everything we think we will need for a month in the constituency, and have not even got as far as Finchley when we are making a list of essentials we have left behind.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Life under Canvass

BBM and I went out canvassing together. Well, that means we went in the same car and did the same street, but the minute we got there BBM leaped out of the car and announced that we would take one side each. This meant that for four long hours (it was a bloody long street) I got glimpses of him in the distance being harangued by local residents. I was left totally on my own, and mine was the longest side by far because it had lots of culdesacs and crescents. I think he must have done the street before and known which was his best side. On my side the only people who were at home were over fifties couples who were both sound alseep in front of Countdown or children's cartoons. The houses were small and terraced with little front gardens so I had to walk past the sitting room window to get to the front door. A hard decision whether to knock or leave them in peace. Soon discovered "leave them in peace" was the only correct solution after two old fellas stumbled to their front doors to tell me that they wouldn't vote for that loser BBM if he was the last candidate on earth. Took time to tell me they always have voted Labour in the past of course but BBM had been such a bad MP that they'd changed their minds for ever.

Decided the only way to cope was to avert my eyes as I passed the sitting room window, and give a short ring on the bell. The first rule of canvassing is that doorbells, well ones in our area anyway, never never work, so even if there is someone at home, you are quite safe. All the doors are exactly the same, replacement plastic painted mini georgian jobs from B and Q. They always end about four inches from the ground so there is a difficult threshold to cross if you are invited inside. (Not much chance of that)

They all have the same letter boxes. Golden coloured metal with two brush edges just inside the flap. You put your hand in with the leaflet, and the brushes have to be forced apart. You finally get the leaflet through and the brushes seem to close like a crocodile's jaw and hold your glove firmly in their grip. Out comes your hand and your glove stays right there in the door. Remove glove, but it's a freezing afternoon and my canvassing hand is purple and white within minutes.
Walk miserably from empty house to empty house. Every front garden is a scrap yard for broken gnomes, dewheeled push chairs and old plastic paddling pools. When I take a sly peep through the windows the view is always the same dusty vases of plastic flowers, a couple of holiday souvenirs and yesterday's local paper open at the telly page. The tellies are all the same. Huge silvered plastic boxes which bring the whole world to the constituency on cable.

This is the kind of street where "Our People " live. For a quarter of a century the party has told me this is where we must go to "get the vote out". These are supposed to be the people who will vote Labour whatever happens, but I don't think it's true anymore. These people are quite frankly fed up. The tellies bring the world of Westminster to them every night and they hate the sight of all those politicians promising the good life. Nothing ever changes round here. All these people are struggling through on two or three hundred pounds a week. Scrimping and saving to make ends meet. The promises of middle class lifestyles seem as far away as ever eight years after that lanslide in May 1997. Can't help feeling that this will be the year when they will stay at home on polling day to try to teach us a lesson.

So here I am maundering along thinking maudlin thoughts about how badly we are going to do and I get the fright of my life. I push the leaflet through a quite front door and suddenly there is chaos. There is a rumble and a crash and the leaflet is snatched from my fingers by a huge dog. I just get my fingers out in time but he continues to terrify me by throwing himself at the front door with such force I think it might break. Then he rushes into the sitting room and throws his whole body against the window and snarls at me. I belt across the garden and leap the fence to safety in the neighbours patch.

A man delivering the local freesheet newspaper arrives. He's travelling the other way down the street. We are like ships passing in the channel. "Are there any more doge like that one?" I ask nervously. He tells me that one paper deliverer was so badly bitten by the dog at 113 just by the school gates, that he had to get his fingers stitched at the hospital. "Dog's dead now though!" he said cheerfullybut without explanation.

The other change from last election is the number of people who have put up signs telling you to go away. "No hawkers, no canvassers, no door to door salesman for insurance. No money lenders. We have got everything we need, so don't even think of knocking!" proclaims a large sign in one of the poorest looking houses.

Every now and then I come across a small group of young women having a fag by their front gates and watching their kids play in the culdesacs. I try really hard to be charming and fail miserably. I chat on about the election and the fact that I'm married to BBM ("poor you") and what a good job Labour has been doing. I mention in my stupid middleclass London voice the Surestarts, the way Labour has done so much for young mums, etc etc. Every single woman looks bored rigideven embarassed by this speech from an old woman in a woolly hat, anorak and jeans. ("How the hell do we get rid of this nutcase?") They either hand the leaflet back or stick it in the pocket of their jeans. "I'm afraid I'm not really interested in politics" they sa, and turn back to each other.

I hope Michael Howard's not thinking what I'm thinking.