Where were you when the exit poll came in?
Wherever you were, I doubt you’ll ever forget it. Because when big news arrives, time stands still. It’s like a mini Vesuvius – a world-altering tremor, capturing time in its wake and somehow preserving it.
On Thursday night, I was sat in a restaurant with my boyfriend. We’d just been to see a documentary and I was looking forward to talking about the film over dinner. But when we sat down to eat, the film didn't seem to matter, not in that moment, anyway. It didn’t seem to matter, either, that earlier that day the former head of the FBI was referencing Thomas Becket in an attempt to accuse the president of the United States of foul play. Because nothing seemed to matter. We were simply waiting for 10pm, with all the excitement of waiting to hear if a flight is delayed.
And then 10pm came and that’s when time stopped. I watched my boyfriend’s stunned face lit up by the screen of his phone, as he shook his head in disbelief. “A hung parliament,” he said, as if trying to say a phrase in a language he didn’t know.
Because, out there, everything was still. I was still, my mind was still, time was still. It couldn’t be refreshed or retweeted. It couldn’t be manipulated and stolen by the chatting mania of media voices
In the last three days, this country has had one hell of a shock. “I know nothing. We know nothing,” Jon Snow of Channel 4 News said. We’ve all been ambushed and now we’re trying to figure out from which direction the attackers came from. “It's the revenge of the young,” said Matthew Parris. Theresa May’s campaign was terrible, said everyone. It had nothing to do with May – it was Corbyn’s magic, you bunch of Neoliberal elites, said Twitter. It was a vote against hate, said some; a vote for change, said others. It was the power of hope and optimism, said the Guardian's Gary Younge and Polly Toynbee and a lot of my Facebook feed. It was the anti-austerity vote that Miliband couldn’t muster, said many. It was the demise of the right-wing press, nearly everyone cheered. And then all bets were off – Kensington went red.
And, since then, endless streams of opinion and theories have been smeared over the internet and the TV and the radio. And, for the last 72-ish hours, the pundits have chattered and the columnists have scribbled. And, very quickly, I began to feel exhausted, trying to keep up with the cartoons and memes, the cabinet reshuffles and the political back-stabbing played out on Sunday-morning television by the very person who created the policies that allegedly this election result was a protest against.
And I began to be tired by who was eating humble pie and who wasn’t. Tired and confused. “I was wrong,” they all said, “Corbyn *is* electable.” (Except he wasn't elected.) And Corbyn is still offering to lead the country. (Except that’s not actually possible, because even if all the other parties agreed, he still wouldn’t have enough seats.) And everyone wants to know when May will go, but that seems like a hard question to answer when a) she is clearly not adverse to throwing others under a bus first and b) she is still pretending that the election she called never happened. And the tremors of our mini Vesuvius just kept coming: May is doing a deal (but definitely maybe not a coalition) with the DUP, who deny science, dignity and human rights; Boris Johnson might be the next prime minister; and, if you squint and tilt your head, much like studying an Impressionist painting, for the first time in a long time the Labour party looks united.
Isn't anyone else exhausted?
So, on Sunday, we drove out of London, we turned off Radio 4 and we lost the 4G. We parked by a small, shallow river, nestling between two banks of English summer greenery. My boyfriend disappeared, fly-fishing for trout. I sat in the sun. And, once again, time paused, not out of shock, but out of a power bigger than push notifications, because indeed time waits for no man, not even Anthony Lane, the guy who wrote the hilarious New Yorker piece which was trending over the weekend. And, no, I didn’t sit in the peace and quiet of the English countryside and have any sort of revelation. I didn’t suddenly understand the multiple factors that caused the biggest Labour surge since 1997, nor did I see into the future to a point when May will go or there'll be a(nother) general election, nor predict what old wounds may now be reopened in Northern Ireland.
Because, out there, everything was still. I was still, my mind was still, time was still. It couldn’t be refreshed or retweeted. It couldn’t be manipulated and stolen by the chatting mania of media voices. Those voices were lost on the wind and no one was chasing their own tails with righteous opinion, tripping over trap wires made up of other people’s indignation, repeatedly asking questions no one had the answers to, or producing emergency versions of their late-night politics show.
The flow of the river just went on, forward, simply, unquestioningly. The breeze pushed clouds across a wide sky.
The one thing we do know right now is we seem to know very little. So, maybe – just for a moment – we all need to take a minute, catch our breath and pause.