Long ago, in 1950 *cough* something, I used to travel out to New Zealand on the stately Rangitata in the custody of the Purser to spend the summer holidays with my Father.
It was not an unusual journey to make alone, July would see unaccompanied children travelling all over the globe to see parents working in far flung corners of the empire.
A posse of stewards would be detailed to keep this unruly gang of children amused and dissuade us from climbing over the guardrails into the lifeboats, or any other game we thought up to risk our precocious lives during the five week duration of the journey. Five weeks in each direction….we barely spent a few days in New Zealand before it was time to make the return trip!
I digress, as usual. One of the games the stewards – and another short digression here, John Prescott was one of the stewards, though I cannot claim to remember him or the bare knuckle fist fights he engaged in to ‘entertain’ – plus ca change. Anyway, one of the games was faux horse racing. Even the adults joined in.
We would nominate runners – ‘Yes, Yes’ by ‘Whisper’ out of ‘Corner’ and ‘No, No’ by ‘Another Whisper’ out of ‘Same Corner’, that sort of thing. The pieces of paper containing the names would be rolled into tight wads, and fired by primitive catapults from one end of the dinning table to the other.
The ‘horse’ that travelled the furthest distance would be dutifully led round the dinning room in state and its owner would dine at the Captain’s table that night and be made to feel very important.
It was designed to give the passengers a sense of normal life, a chance to forget that we were endlessly marooned on this ageing vessel, rolling from side to side, in an unforgiving and dangerous ocean. It engendered a sense of team spirit, a chance to jeer and cheer, a distraction from the mind bending boredom enlivened only by the ‘would we, wouldn’t we’ excitement of squeezing through the Panama canal.
In reality, your chance of winning depended entirely on the steward in charge of your horse. If he had a strong right hand – step forward Mr Prescott – and could roll your paper up tightly, it would travel further than the other horses. There were dark rumours that sleight of hand might have inserted an extra weight into some horses.
If your steward was conscientious, he had acquired a rubber band for his catapult, brand new, and extra strength, from the post room, British Post Office issue – if he was a lazy laggard, he might have picked one up from the floor, discarded from some cheap gift.
These allegations were mere rumblings though, we gratefully accepted the opportunity to believe that temporarily we were part of ‘normal’ British life, that the horse race was real, that one of us might really benefit from entering the ‘winning enclosure’. We would, of course, be eating the same meal that evening; it was just the faces round the table that would have changed.
This fit of nostalgia has been brought on by day two of the election campaign. The technique is the same.
The stewards are busy rolling up the wads of paper. ‘Cameron’ out of ‘Necessity’ by ‘Business Vote’; ‘Gordon’ out of ‘Wilful Determination’ by ‘Unite’, and ‘Clegg’ out of ‘Something Different for the Week-end, Sir’ by ‘Cable’.
There are the same muttered rumbles of discontent regarding the probity of the race; it is in the hands of the stewards, their choice of rubber band, their ability to weight the horse.
I have entered a rank outsider, a nag that boasts no thoroughbred ancestry. A rank outsider. He will be powered by the good will of the Blogosphere. ‘Old Holborn’ by ‘Blogging Community’ out of ‘Trougher’s Halt’.
If, by some miracle, we power him to the far end of the table, you can be sure that he will not be led by the nose to sit at the Captains’ table. He will not pretend that the Wootton Pie tastes just like steak and is really good for you.
In fact his first act will probably be to kick the clerk of the course. Then to remind the rest of us that we are still at sea, and have a long journey ahead of us.