But this was no social outing, festival performance or other casual diversion – the electors of Grouville had assembled to perform their civic duty by electing three members of the parish roads committee.
Normally that might attract just a handful of them but this was different. Sitting members David Cummins, Peter Le Cuirot and Stanley Payn were being challenged by prospective newcomer Peter Hargreaves and word had got around. He was hoping to unseat one of the incumbents by championing a sustainable transport manifesto calling for a better deal for pedestrians and cyclists on parish roads.
These days, of course, such gatherings bring their own challenges. The Constable reassured those present that he had approached Dr Ivan Muscat, deputy medical officer of health, for expert advice on how to elect a committee during a pandemic. Technically, the event was a continuation of the one that took place in very different circumstances on 10 December last year. Restrictions then allowed only for a nomination meeting, so voters had the five intervening months to consider their choice.
As so many wanted to attend, Mr Le Maistre had decided to use the parish church as a second polling station, with proceedings in this two-centre election being relayed from the parish hall across Grouville Hill onto a screen facing the chapel.
Suitably masked and performing their ritual hand sanitisation under the watchful gaze of parish officials, the electorate queued outside in the rain to exercise their democratic role in preserving the fabric of Grouville’s smaller thoroughfares.
For those across the road, it was surely the first time in the history of the parish that a virtual Constable had welcomed them to church to elect a roads committee. To minimise the risk of Covid infection, Mr Le Maistre had instructions particular to this meeting: ‘For your safety, please do not loiter or mingle during or after the meeting, and at the end adopt a safe distancing as soon as you are able to do so,’ he counselled gravely, explaining the one-way system from the ballot box to the car park, via the fire exit.
For the duration of the event it would not be possible to distance but this was acceptable for so short a time, as long as the candidates’ supporters confined their speeches to the five-minute limit – it gave the parish secretary’s tinkling warning bell an additional public health significance not inappropriate to contagious infection.
‘In my judgment,’ said the Constable, ‘five minutes is plenty of time to cover the remit of the parish roads committee.’
With the speakers scrupulously observing this requirement, the Constable issued further instructions to govern the safe exit of the electorate past the ballot box and the contest was under way.
An hour or so later, with only a handful of now physically distanced candidates and supporters allowed to remain in the hall, Mr Le Maistre announced the result, commiserating with Mr Hargreaves, who polled 79 votes compared with 202, 209 and 182, respectively for Mr Cummins, Mr Le Cuirot and Mr Payn. Ordinarily, Mr Hargreaves’s support would have been more than sufficient but it merely highlighted the unusual circumstances of the election.
‘This has been a fantastic event and it can only be good for our parish that we have so many people taking an active interest in it,’ Mr Le Maistre said to conclude an evening which demonstrated the continuing influence of the honorary system in the Island.