A woman struggles out of her car, trailing scarves, catching her clipboard in the seat belt, almost tripping over the belt of her coat. She goes to the car boot and puts in her handbag, returns to the driver’s seat to have a last fiddle with some paperwork but within seconds is at the boot again, rummaging in the handbag for her mobile phone. Standing in the street, she sends a quick text message to her separated husband telling him where she is and what she is about to do, because they tell you to tell someone every time you go door-knocking, and although the irony of texting this particular person is not lost on her, she doesn’t know who else to tell. She slips the phone into her coat pocket, clips a badge onto her lapel, makes a last check of the clipboard, papers and pen and, finally, manages to leave the car.
I have been canvassing. It’s one of the more peculiar jobs I’ve had in that long roster of Jobs Actors Are Good At When They’re Not Acting. The first stage was easy. Well, it was supposed to be easy. It sounded easy on paper. Deliver nine hundred and ninety-nine forms over a long weekend.
It should have been okay, but it was during The Summer, and as might be surmised from the dearth-like nature of this blog since June, The Summer was not a good time. I was sick, then, in more or less all ways. Sick of myself; sick with the impact of the Bim’s new-found love; sick of having no money; sick of having to borrow all the time; sick of feeling stuck; sick with an appalling cough I just couldn’t shift, about which my lovely healer friend said, “I’m not worried about the lungs – that’s just the grief.”
So, obviously, delivering nine hundred and ninety-nine forms when you’re that sick isn’t easy.
Recently, stage two has kicked in. I have to go back to all the houses which have not responded to the call to join the Electoral Roll and encourage the householders to fill out the form with me on the doorstep. Of the 999 delivered, there are more than 350 forms to chase.
It’s quite a process (once I’ve actually managed to leave the car, that is, which seems to be a key part of it). Each time I go out I have to fortify myself for the challenge, remind myself that I am doing this in order to be able to afford Christmas, and sally forth.
Knocking on three hundred separate doors is an experience. In fact, if the occupants are not in the first time, I have to knock on the three hundred doors three times each, and meticulously record each knock on a given form, before I can be said to have done the job properly. As Anna-mouse would say, that’s a lot of knocking.
I have to protect myself to do this. I don’t mean physically (although we were given a handy sheet at the start of all this about what to do if threatened by a menacing dog), I mean in the psychic sense: each house approached, each bell rung, each door knocked upon affords multiple glimpses in miniature into the lives of the people who live there. Garden gnomes, gravel, gate latches; steps up, steps down, ‘No hawkers’; door knockers, broken bells, letterboxes; dog barks, cat bowls, litter trays; peeling porches, faded nets and odious runaway smells: all these reak of the effort of living, the attempts to lead individual lives.
I have encountered human nature in all its dreadfulness and glory, on these local doorsteps. I find myself making up stories for those I meet, filling in the blanks, endowing these neighbours with qualities they may never have heard of. I remember the man whose gaze was so direct, expressionless and disconnected that I found myself backing down the pathway before the interview was over; I remember longing to step inside, when the Asian man with the kind eyes and empathetic gaze asked me if I'd like him to make me a hot drink.
Above all, meeting so many people who live within the same small square mile I myself inhabit has caused me to acknowledge quietly to myself that the life I am living, this difficult, uncomfortable life of mine, is also acceptable within the scheme of things: it differs in the details, which are important, but I understand that we all, all of us, are trying to look up, and striving for some kind of purer air, and clearer light.