The long wait
As the daughter observed the other day, the referendum has become a bit like an exam. You've done all the revision you're going to do, and now you just want to go and actually do the paper. So, as I write this at 9.30 pm on referendum night, with the voting nearly done and dusted, it's a bit like that limbo time between doing the papers and the moment when the results are announced.
To be honest, I cant remember what I did after the other two referendums (or referenda) I lived through, and I have no recollection whatsoever of how I actually found out the result. For general elections, we have a long standing ritual, which involves some large hunks of nice cheese and a large bottle of nice whisky, and staying up till the moment when you more or less know what the result is bound to be (not usually beyond 3.00 am). There's a nicely comparative, historical side to it too (not unlike listening to the Archers, I fancy), as you compare the silly gadgets for displaying the predictions with all those you've seen before, or the eloquence of the presenters and of the exhausted politicians brought on to speak for the booming or failing parties. Why else do we get nostalgic about the swingometer--even though few of us could accurately describe what it actually was? And why else the rather jolly memories of the Portillo moment, which has mythic status far beyond the claiming of a single Tory scalp?
And, perhaps more important than any of that, there is a sense that the decision is reversible next time, and that -- important as some ideological and policy differences are between right and left -- an awful lot will go on exactly as before. You can go to bed, sorrows drowned, and think of living to fight another day.
This doesnt feel like that kind of occasion at all. That's partly because at this point it looks like you'll have to be awake at still at 4.00 am before there's any reliable indication. It's partly because we dont have the usual props of exit polls in marginal constituencies. But it is largely to do with the 'no going back' aspect to the whole thing, which must be one of the things that underlies the toxic turn (let's not forget that we have had the closest thing to a politcal assassination in this country for many years).
And that's why I guess, we're seeing, mad conspiracy theories -- like the idea that the establishment (whoever they may be) will be busy tampering with ballot papers, rubbing out the pencil crosses in the 'Leave' box and replacing them in 'Remain'. I'm usually a cynical sort of person, but not so paranoid that I think it remotely conceivable that there are battalions of secret agents in the the counting halls of Cambridge, or elsewhere, armed with erasers doing some dastardly alterations.
But the truth is that I am not even at home, and far from being armed with whisky and cheese, it's been wine and a Thai Green curry on hotel room service. And my suspicion is that I might be fast asleep before a single result comes.