By R J Askew
ST. ALBANS, Jan 26 – There you are, minding your own business, peeling an orange one Saturday lunchtime in your kitchen perhaps, painting a skirting board perhaps. Then it happens. The knock. The tap on your door. The ringing of your doorbell.
You open your door. Your eye latches onto the yellow, red, or blue rosette of THE ELECTION CANDIDATE. Your response will depend on your constitution and instincts. There is a very good chance you will go into flight or fight mode faster than a floored Ferrari. You may just slam the door without saying a word. Or you might hesitate that fatal split second and then it’s too late, THE CANDIDATE has you.
With just 100 days to go before a British General election in 2015 this little scene will be repeated innumerable times from Cornwall to Caithness.
Katie Barron’s ADVENTURES IN TORY LAND gives us a candidate’s-eye view of this ritualistic political transformation of the British populace from private individual into potentially biddable voter. I suppose we can blame it on Magna Carta – which coincidentally will have been around for 800 years in 2015. Democracy!
ADVENTURES IN TORY LAND is a collection of acutely observed doorstep vignettes of typical voters. We see ourselves here, we British. We are right there, blathering away to the poor candidate. There is precious little politics involved, more a deluge of personal diatribes. Believe me, they are tremendously funny. We meed ‘The Animal Lover .. The Nice Lady .. The Nudist .. The Aristo’. All display their quirks and prejudices. It is often said that we are becoming more alike in our ways as the rule of the mean (very) average (very) and mass marketing, brand-loyalty and all that erodes our individuality. But, if ADVENTURES IN TORY LAND, is to be believed – and it is very plausible – we remain as varied and fascinating as at any time in our history.
The candidate – I love this – is silent throughout. She has no direct voice at any point. It is the British public we hear. Indeed, the candidate is almost a visiting confessor, and free, a sort of peripatetic counsellor rather than a would be elected councillor.
My especial favourite was ‘The Aristo’ who thought of himself as ‘a place, not a person’ and who was in danger of conflating his dog with his wife. Marvellous stuff. And as for the ‘Welderlie – True Blue’ who favoured Sainsburys over his local Waitrose because of a certain type of bread, well, I confess I have a suspicion I may know which bread he means.
There are nine vignettes in ADVENTURES IN TORY LAND. My only complaint is that there were not more, say 12, or even 15. I was definitely there for a few more, possibly a couple of short ones to vary the pace and offer even more range.
Still, with 100 days to go before the BIG ONE – the General Election – there’s time for the author to add a few more. I also think the offering is crying out for some cartoons and I would suggest the author try to hook up with a known political cartoonist to do a joint offering. I reckon it might go down a storm in the next few months in the UK.
I would also like to say that the writing is concise, clear, flows well, is grammatically sound. I didn’t spot any literals.
The candidate’s wry political agent describes the ward as a ‘a polo mint’. I confess that I live on one arc of the mint. That said the types in the book will be immediately recognisable to readers in hundreds of similar ‘mints’ in the ‘Tory heartlands’.
‘How are your shoes?’ begins the organiser. In an age where everything is online this, postal voting that, and minutely orchestrated TV debates, it is refreshing that it still comes down to the right shoes – at the local level that is.
Should the author ever knock on my door one Saturday lunchtime, that will be my response, ‘How are your shoes?’ I shall then be very wary what else I say for fear of becoming one of her satirical vignettes. Not that there would be any shame in finding oneself vignetted as I believe we laugh in sympathy with the targets of her humour as much as at them. I say this because, although the book may seem to be partisan in its approach, it is above politics in the way it becomes a study of us – the public.
that will earn and deserve your enduring regard.
by R J Askew