I’d like you to cast your mind back to when things were marginally less shit. Can you remember that? When there was still a tiny glimmer of hope – a hope that we might replace one posh white man with another, slightly less offensive one? When we all thought that, well, at least it’s not going to be worse? I know it’s difficult. I’m struggling too. It’s a bit of a stretch but lets all try to go there.
Yes, I’m talking about Thursday. As the country went to the polls – well, slightly over half of them at least – I spent the day in Folkestone at the excellent Hunt & Darton Café, running Clerke and Joy’s Election Day, a participatory event where customers in the café get to stand as electoral candidates (by filling in a multiple choice policy form to create a manifesto), make rosettes, speeches and posters, and finally, vote for their preferred party.
It’s an event we ran before during the European Elections, when Hunt & Darton were stationed in Cambridge, so we had some sort of idea of the fact that people really like to make true on that old adage of ‘I could do a better job than the politicians do’, and I more or less remembered how to make a rosette this time.
The only spanner in the works was that Jojo couldn’t do the gig, because she’s just had an operation on her neck which has made her into a robot, and also goes some way to explaining why you might not have heard much from us over the last few months. She’s fine, by the way, and 100% didn’t die.
So, in classic Hunt & Darton style (they have 7 trained performers who can play them when they can’t do a date), we replaced Jojo with Hannah Sullivan. Hannah is a performer, a woman, a part of Interval and better with children than I am, so she pretty much filled all the Joy criteria and did a bloody excellent job. Unlike Jojo she can also drive so I’m actually considering taking her on full time and getting rid of Jojo all together*.
It’s funny doing stuff like this, because I mainly think of it as fun. Like, we’re creating a fun experience for people that is outside of their routine, and that breaks their expectations of what can happen in a pedestrian space such as a café. Which is nice, and great. But the reason the Hunt & Darton café is so good is because you witness so many moments that break that routine and you realise that even though it is fun, lots of it, it’s not just fun. It reminds me that it’s also important and fascinating and powerful to break that routine, that expectation, and I don’t mean that in a ‘worthy’ way, I mean it in a very real way.
The café is a magnet for a town’s eccentrics and it’s passersby. It’s unmistakeably available for ‘hanging out in’. It feels equally stocked with families and lonely people, both glad of the conversations and interactions they are having.
Some things I witnessed in Folkestone:
A whole ‘set menu’ performance being live-translated into French for a large family.
A three year old winning an election on a ballot of ‘everyone carrying their own stickytape’.
A conversation about the politics of using Nestle products in the café (it’s a political point in itself)
A customer being rewarded for their loyalty with a visual poem.
A speech and a song from the leader of the UKCP (UK Cohesion Party) in a constituency that until a few weeks ago was a UKIP target seat.
A couple who had never voted learning about the electoral system, and consequently heading off to the town hall to see if they were registered to vote. (this was probably the best moment of my life so far)
Hunt & Darton are nearing the end of their epic two year tour, but you can still catch them in Harlow in June, and Peterborough in August and September. And I’d thoroughly recommend you do.
*sorry you had to find out like this mate.