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When the Traffic Lights Stopped by Martin Friel


Chapter 8


“Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome once again to the show that puts every one of you in the position of power – The People’s Politician!”

Ritchie and Don, the double act that had hosted every edition of the People’s Politician, took a step onto the stage in unison, opened their arms wide and stood stock still, heads thrown back, bathed in the lighting effects, the rain of the glitter cannons, the dramatic classical music and the frantic slapping of the audience’s hands as the latest edition kicked off.

The two had become a second-rate British institution, the light entertainment equivalent of Poundland. They went through their little routine with their topical gags, the manufactured, petty disagreement and then, once satisfied that the audience had been suitably warmed up, got back to the well-trodden path of voting for the next mug.

“It’s great to be back isn’t it Don,” said Ritchie, “and so soon too. It only seems like yesterday,” he said wistfully, with faux nostalgia before winking conspiratorially into the camera and through to the people at home.

“Indeed my little friend it does,” agreed Don. “We’ve had our ups and downs on this show, we’ve had successes and of course, we have had failures. And you know what Ritchie, we’ll have more failures and more successes,” he said, voice deepening, adopting a Churchilian tone.

The audience lapped it up, classic Ritchie and Don stuff this.

“But this great land of ours and the people who are custodians of that land,” he continued with a sweeping gesture across the audience, “give me the confidence that we are on the right path, that we are giving power back to the people, back to where it came from!”

He finished with a triumphant fist clench as the audience whooped their delight.

“Eh, Don, you feeling alright mate?” asked Ritchie tentatively.

Don looked dazed, shook his head as though woken from a trance.

“Yeah, yeah. Fine . Think I might have been channelling the Prime Minister for a moment there. If you’re watching at home PM,” he said looking straight into the camera, “next time, give us a bit of warning if you’re going to do the body snatching thing, eh?”

Ritchie, standing behind Don, looking into the same camera, drew his finger across his neck while pointing at Don with the other.

The audience fulfilled their role and lapped it all up: God, such a cheeky pair those two; it’s a wonder they get away with it; reminds me of my grandson; wish our Leslie would bring someone like that home. They were experts in their field. Albeit a muddy, shit-filled field but they were the kings of it nonetheless.

I hated the show, I hated the processed, artificial sensation it left me with and most of all I hated Ritchie and Don and their constant mugging for the camera. But I had to watch it as I had promised myself, no matter who won this time, how annoying or loathsome they might be, I was going to watch them like a hawk. I was going to hold their hand every step of the way and, where possible, protect them from the politicians. In essence, I had promised myself that I would do everything for this People’s Politician, that I had failed to do for Marjory.

I had failed Marjory because I didn’t want to taint my reputation with something I thought was frivolous, vacuous and created purely to give our rotten system a veneer of democracy. I had let her wander, bold but naive, into the political den where she was lazily toyed before being brutally dispatched for having the affront to challenge.

I had given my motives and my actions deep consideration and I was confident that I was now clear about who I was. I was a coward of course but I was also worryingly indifferent to the plight of those that did not immediately impact my condition or situation. I of course had empathy but I had developed an ability to switch it off when it posed a moral inconvenience.

I found that I was a man who could stand back in the shadows and watch as an innocent was fed to the establishment. And it wasn’t just Marjory. I behaved the same with Sian and Ben and although they did not suffer the extremity of Marjory’s fate, they were broken on the wheel all the same. Damaged, savaged for the entertainment of the public in the face of defiance from the establishment.

And I was part of that establishment. I was clear on that. I had always taken great pride in the belief that I was a knowing outsider, one of the few who did not play the political game for personal gain but the shock of Marjory made me look at myself and my actions with greater detachment than I had ever managed before.

I saw clearly that far from being the one outside throwing the stones in, I was already in, protecting the establishment from the stones. I was complicit in the very thing I disdained, hated even. That was not who or what I wanted to be. It was too late to realistically change career now, not without accepting a huge change in living standards (which I just wasn’t prepared to do) so I resolved to change my behaviour within the machine, remember who I was, stop ignoring my instincts and remember how to obey them.

Which is why I had decided, regardless of who won this latest instalment of The People’s Politician, I was going to help them in any way I could. I was going to protect them from the emotions of the political class which could swing from mocking indifference to a lethal fury with very little provocation.

I may have hated the system, the political class structure, but I understood it better than most, better than some of the politicians themselves and I was determined to use that knowledge to protect the latest lamb offered up to a public sentiment, a media structure and a political system that was nourished on the spectacle of the fallen, the disgraced and the humiliated.

I had hitched my trailer to this unknown individual. If the worst happened again, I was going down with them. It would be my only hope of defying who and what I had become. There was still time for my sins to be absolved.


This latest episode was the first time that the general public, I, became acquainted with Seth and it was also the last time we would vote for a People’s Politician. There was no real hint at what he was really like in that first appearance. He kind of stood out but not as someone who would ultimately change the fabric of our society. He didn’t have that revolutionary look or the air of a grand leader of men.

He was quite a small man, about 5ft 8 and thin without being skinny. He had dark skin but it didn’t appear to be the result of foreign holidays or sunbeds; more a natural sallowness. He wasn’t a ‘big’ figure by any means, neither in stature nor personality but one thing I do remember very clearly from seeing him the first time. His eyes. They were blue, clear and yes, they sparkled. At the time, I put this down to excitement which it turned out it was, but it was not excitement at being on TV. His excitement had a deeper source, a source that I would come to know well over the years I worked with him and although that sparkle waned over the course of those years, a hint of it remained, even until the end.

There was a sense of energy about Seth. The way he talked was fast and pointed, enthusiastic and encouraging and most of all you found yourself listening when he spoke. I’ll always remember that. And the fact that he made you feel good when he spoke. I can’t explain it. Many have since tried to explain the pull he had but I suppose the point of things being ethereal is that they can’t be pinned down.

The way he spoke didn’t feel designed to draw people in, get them onside, but it did. He just had a natural way with people and they were drawn to him. This was of course helped by the fact that his face was handsome and he had a ready smile. I suppose, fundamentally, he was attractive and people were drawn to that, as we often are.

And that first time he appeared on stage, beckoned on from the wings by Ritchie and Don, he did seem different to the others that had come before him. He seemed normal, approachable and someone you could readily like. I remember watching his first appearance on TV at home and thinking: “He seems like a nice guy. I hope he doesn’t win”.

But as that episode progressed, I started to realise that there was more to Seth than a handsome face and a personable persona. There was a depth, a feeling that he wasn’t letting on about something. That he had a knowledge, an intelligence that lay just beneath the surface.

I can’t remember much else about that first episode but I do remember that. That there was more to him than the nice guy he presented. Oh yeah, and I thought he had an odd name. It just didn’t suit him.

“Welcome to the stage our latest candidate for the People’s Politician, Seth!” roared Don to the talent show template of bright, flashing lights, loud music audience applause.

Seth came on from the wings through the cacophony of noise and light and took his place beside Ritchie and Don.

“Welcome to the show Seth,” beamed Ritchie, looking not at Seth but into the camera.

Seth replied his thanks, smiling and waving to audience.

“Now folks, you know that the rules have changed slightly since the last show and one of those is that we don’t publicise contestants’ last names anymore. Those pesky journalists have been giving everyone a hard time lately and we don’t want our contestants to feel intruded upon,” continued Ritchie, affecting a drawn-out, upper class accent at the end.

“Indeed me don’t Ritchie,” Don cut in.

“Now Seth, why don’t you tell us and the people at home a bit about yourself and why you think you have what it takes to be the next People’s Politician. So tell us Seth, who exactly are you?”


To be continued...



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