Marjory stands tall
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When the Traffic Lights Stopped by Martin Friel


Chapter 5


Marjory ... What happened to Marjory still bothers me and the conflict it generates in me deepens that discomfort. She felt the full force of the politician’s cruelty, disdain and calculated indifference to those that do not belong to their class and for that I am truly sorry. Although I did not actively participate in her humiliation and its consequences, I was still part of the system that precipitated it. As were those viewers who took part in the televised vote and elected her ‘their’ third People’s Politician.

We are all complicit but perhaps myself more than the viewers. I had a more thorough understanding of the true nature of the politicians and what they were capable of, how far they would be willing to go to protect themselves and their lifestyles. I am ashamed that I let her walk blindly into that bear pit, unarmed, poorly prepared and with no real understanding of what she was facing.

Equally, I am aware that without Marjory, without the tragedy of her experience, we may never have received Seth, he may not have had the moral outrage required to tackle the politicians. If he hadn’t had that and hadn’t acted on it, we would all still probably be living our impotent lives turning our frustration and anger on each other and ourselves rather than upon the political structures that suckled that anger. We would still be gnawing on ourselves, shredding our nerves as we spun in circles trying to figure out what was wrong with us.

The scar tissue of our collective impotence prevented us from getting past the superficial and truly understanding what was holding us back, what was feeding our own sad, little self-destructive impulses and emotional immolations. We couldn’t see that the frustration was caused by the political system we lived under, the eroding of our rights, our independence, our pride in ourselves. The patriarchal nature of our government kept us emotionally on the cusp of adulthood, caught between knowing we have the ability to think for ourselves while being held in an infantilised state. They would have us feel that we needed to be led as we didn’t have the ability or maturity to manage our own lives. We couldn’t be trusted. We needed our political parents to take us under their wise wing and guide us through our own lives. They knew better. We were just the people, the rabble, a mass of idiocy.

Granted, we still needed Seth to break out of those walls but it needed Marjory, her efforts and treatment by the politicians to lay the ground for what Seth did. Without that, Seth may have floundered in much the same way as those who preceded him had done. In fact, he may not have even bothered trying in the first place.


Marjory was a good one. She was a woman from the old days – motherly and warm, she made you feel secure but she had a side to her that terrified. Marjory was not a woman to be fucked with. It was undoubtedly best to keep on her good side. She reminded me of my grandmother and I suspect many felt the same.

Where Ben had been conscientious but ultimately weak and Sian had been confident but lacking in any ability or application to the job, Marjory was confident, bullish even, but she had a way with people and had plenty of emotional intelligence. She had no qualifications to speak of but she was smart, sharp and not afraid to share her opinion.

She was a big woman in her late 50s, big tits and belly pinned into a functional dress designed to last. She came from a class and time where self respect and pride in yourself were paramount. She was utterly fearless but loveable and the public clearly felt that they needed that after the meek showing from Ben.

Marjory had spent a working life keeping children in check as a dinner lady – mother bird feeding scores of hungry, demanding, rowdy chicks. She cared for them and had a need to nourish them but she understood that the only way she could get every one of them fed was to rule with an iron rod. In her case, it was a wooden rod, half a clothes pole that she used to brandish wildly when the dinner room threatened to run out of control.

‘Whack!’ The stick would come down on a table, scaring the shit out of the children closest to the swipe and echoing across the room. “Sit down, shut up and eat or you’ll feel this across your shoulders” Marjory would bellow.

They knew she was not to be messed with. When they heard the ‘whack!’ and the threat, they scurried, they ducked and they settled, waiting for Marjory’s minions to bring out their food. Fear her as they did, they were also aware of the kind acts; the way she tended to them when they had skinned their knee, when someone had been picked on by the other kids, when one of them was upset and nobody could figure out why. Marjory always gently coaxed the reason out of them and soothed them in a way no other figure in the school could.

It was an effective mix – her charges listened and obeyed because they sensed, they knew, ultimately, that she had their best interests at heart. Of everyone they came into contact with outside of the home, Marjory was the one they loved and trusted; feared but adored.

She was no fool and had been watching how the previous People’s Politicians had fared and she took the same approach to Parliamentary sessions as she did the dinner room. She always began politely but when she felt she was not being listened to, she would bring out the battle-axe Marjory:

“This is worse than the dinner hall,” she chided at one early and particularly boisterous session in the House.

“I have come here to talk to you about what your constituents want and all you can do is shout insults across the room at each other,” she said, her voice rising with every word uttered. “Nobody is listening to anyone else. It’s just noise and bluff and I won’t stand for it. Pipe down the lot of you!” she shouted, finally, with a hearty slap of her hand on the lectern.

There was a mix of laughter and drawn breath in the House. We had all seen Marjory’s personality during the voting stages but still it was a shock to hear the way she spoke to the politicians. They weren’t prepared for it. Some were reminded of their own school years and understood what she was doing and laughed. Others took great exception. They were the elected representatives of the people. She was a dinner lady that got lucky. I was quietly delighted. I just wanted to see what would happen, how they would react to this challenge and for the first time, I felt we had a People’s Politician that could actually stand their ground and perhaps make some progress in the position.

The PM rose slowly, smiling. “Marjory, dear. May I commend you on your robust challenge to the gathered honourable members. If only I had years of experience in the dinner hall in how to control a rowdy room. Had I had such experience I certainly would have achieved more in office than I have,” he said to laughter from the politicians.

Marjory just stared back at him.

He continued: “But it is my duty to remind you that it is the role of the Speaker of the House to control members, not any one individual. And I am glad it is so for I fear I would have lost my voice in trying to control this lot,” he chuckled as he swept his hand across the room.

“So please, if I may, can I ask you to leave matters of control of the House to the Speaker?”

“Well if he was any good at his job, I wouldn’t have to resort to raising my voice,” Marjory replied. “He sits there mumbling protests while the rest of you just talk over him and I won’t have it. I have been asked to come to the House to tell you what the people of this country want and I intend to be heard!” she said, voice rising again.

“Of course, of course,” the PM tried to soothe. “Believe me, I fully understand your frustrations but we must not and cannot allow established protocol to fall by the wayside purely as a result of frustration. Anyway, I’m sure the House accepts your apology for raising your voice and we can of course now move on to the pressing matters you wish to present to us.”

“I certainly do not apologise! Why should I? You and your friends were the ones who were being rude in the first place. I was merely trying to do my duty and the only way I can do that is by being louder than the lot of you,” she bellowed. She stood straight when she said this. Her chin inched higher and she held the PM’s gaze. It was a challenge. That much was clear.

The PM’s face reddened – I couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment or anger. But it flushed and it was obvious. Murmurs of “shame” and “the cheek” slipped down from the benches and curled around and into his ears. Who was this woman to treat him, the PM of all people, in this way? She was lucky to be here and now she had the audacity to shame the PM and the House in such a way.

I wondered if she was playing to the cameras, showing the people back home that she really was fulfilling her promise to stand up for them and what they wanted. Or whether she was genuinely affronted at the lack of respect shown to her. Either way, I found my admiration for her growing with every utterance. She was truly fearless and the politicians just weren’t used to it.

“Marjory, may I apologise personally and behalf of all members of the House if you feel you have been slighted in any way. That, I guarantee you, would never be intentional but you must understand that is the nature of debate in this House and there are existing protocols to manage that process.

“Regardless, you certainly have our undivided attention now, so please, do carry on,” the PM said.

And so Marjory did just that. She proceeded to tell the House what she had found on her initial visits to the ‘regions’ as they were described in political parlance and what she felt should be done about the various gripes and perceived injustices she found.

The House listened, some with obvious reluctance and resentment, but they listened and as she held the floor that day, I could see her confidence growing, her faith in her ability to do this thing properly building as she stood absolutely straight, like a big piece of concrete humanity. Unmoveable, solid and permanent. She had gained control of the House in exactly the same way she used to control the dinner room – through force and stubbornness and a refusal to be bullied by anyone. And now she, and everyone else in the country, could see that not even the PM of the country could tell Marjory Allen what to do.

If I’m honest, I was a little fearful of her and although I was excited about the prospect of what the presence of this new force in House would mean, I resolved to keep my distance and not interfere with her too much. She seemed to know what she was doing and I certainly didn’t want to get on the wrong side of that woman.

In due course, I would regret that decision for as I will recount now, that bullishness, brashness and confidence in Marjory was a shield and she genuinely needed my support. She needed my guidance and my knowledge of how to navigate this political world and I neglected those duties and Marjory paid for my fear and inactivity.

But when we look back at Seth’s revolution, we can see clearly that it was Marjory, her bravery and her sacrifice that was the real catalyst for change. It was Marjory and the treatment she received that galvanised Seth. It was the same that made the people so disgusted with their leaders that they were willing to follow Seth, to rip of centuries of tradition and start all over again. And it was the same that made me realise my responsibilities in ensuring that The People’s Politician, in the form of Seth, needed to be guided and chaperoned through the moral maze of Parliament if we were ever going to change things. If we were ever to rid ourselves of a system that served only its members and infantilised its people.


Chapter 6



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