In idle hours I cast my mind back to the dullest jobs I’ve ever had to tackle.
A particular night from my youth springs to mind – I’d snaffled what was expected to a plum ‘tips galore’ gig running the cloakroom at a black tie ball, but it was a glorious summer evening and hardly anybody had a coat to check. A couple of coats in, nothing to do for hours, a couple of coats out. Yawn.
I once spent a fortnight sitting in a public enquiry which I’ll never get back, and I dimly recall a long afternoon cutting grass with nail scissors from primary school days but I’m pretty sure that was a punishment rather than paid employment.
But overall I’ve been pretty lucky in my working life, compared to some – and certainly compared to the poor saps who are charged with running polling stations.
There might be a frisson of excitement in a marginal seat at a general election, but when it’s just a local poll it must be the dullest job in the world.
You can’t really chat, you can’t have the radio on, you can’t play games – you just hand people bits of paper and tick their names off a list.
And let’s not forget that polling stations are open from the early hours right through to bedtime. I don’t suppose the same person has to man the fort throughout, but I bet they must feel at times that the clocks have stopped in their tracks and the ordeal will never end.
I recall popping in to vote in last year’s police and crime commissioner election – not many of you can say the same, I’ll bet. I was on my way to work so the ballot boxes had been in ‘receive’ mode for nearly three hours, and I recall the look of gratitude tinged with despair in the eyes of the chap behind the desk. I was only the second fresh face he had seen that morning, but he know only too well that I would soon be on my way again.
So anyone charged with helping the wheels of democracy run smoothly in this way has my sympathy, but here’s a brainwave that might make the chore more meaningful.
The powers that be are always looking for ways to encourage people to vote, but only one in three of us will be bothered to make our mark this week. Here’s my wheeze – everyone who is on the electoral roll but just can’t be bothered to do their civic duty has their name entered into a draw.
If their name comes up, they have to do a full shift at a polling station come the next election, or pay for someone else to do it.
It might not make the job itself any more interesting – but I’m pretty sure the prospect of being stuck there for hours doing nothing much but safeguarding our democratic process would help to increase the turnout the next time we are asked to go to the polls.