"What's the name of the prime minister?" I was quizzed just a few days ago after I'd had a heavy fall involving a teeth-rattling thump to the head. Folk were seeking to assess my disorientation.
"Jacinda Ardern" I rejoiced.
Mistaking my wishful-thinking fantasy for proof of concussion, my rescuers hurried me away for assorted tests and scans.
My tumble and my largely true account of what followed it coincides with latest reports of how medical folk (for example paramedics and A&E nurses) are less and less likely to ask anyone "What's the name of the prime minister?"
It used to be one of the standard questions asked to assess someone's disorientation, an experienced A&E nurse told ABC Radio National's Patricia Karvelas, but these days the question is seldom asked. This is because experience shows, the nurse explained, there is such a widespread general ignorance of who the prime minister is that the question is no longer a good test of state of mind.
Political ignorance is much on my mind at the moment. As well as the nurse's sobering report of the nation's deepening dumbness it now emerges that voting in extra ignorance is one of the unforeseen consequences of what's been called the "early voting revolution". Suddenly, beginning last Monday, teeming millions of Australians are taking the opportunity to cast their federal election votes long, long before the May 18 election day.
University of Sydney political scientist Dr Stephen Mills has been everywhere in the media in recent days discussing the unforeseen consequences of this revolution. One of them, he fears, is that "early voters almost certainly cast their votes with incomplete knowledge of what the parties and candidates are offering". It saddens him that what ought to be a kind of one-day-of-the-year "celebration of democracy" (complete with the famous democracy sausages) has now become, for early voters, just a "queue-avoiding chore".
Somehow, democratically old-fashioned, I find myself horrified by this early voting trend. I will call it "premature voting" so as to suggest it is, like premature ejaculation in men, a regrettable condition that should be treated (in this case not by kindly sex therapy but by new laws and fines that forbid it).
Analysing my horror (for the unexamined life is not worth living) I realise that I have always chosen to think of election campaigns and their outcomes in the same ways in which I think about novels, plays and operas.
What if, voting so early, the premature voter later has cause to regret how he or she has voted? There is no going back.
Election campaigns ought to unfold as one follows them in the ways in which a novel unfolds as one reads it. Following an election campaign should be like reading Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice.
What will become of the two candidates, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy? What will each make of the promises they see in the other? Will they elect to deny their feelings for one another? Or will they, eventually persuaded (over the course of the romantic "campaign" of the novel's action) vote to marry? The delicious suspense as, in the closing pages (the equivalent of an election night) the counted rapturous results of Miss Bennet's and Mr Darcy's feelings are announced. Following an Australian federal election should be just like that.
Another closely related way of looking at a full-length election campaign is to think of it as a shortish educational course. An entire campaign teaches you what you ought to know if you are to use your vote sensibly, with skilled aplomb.
If I took advantage of premature voting opportunities and voted today (I am handcrafting this column on Tuesday morning) my ignorance would be profound. There are said to be six candidates, Elizabeth Bennets and Mr Darcys, contesting my seat of Canberra but I have yet to see even pictures of five of them (the Liberal candidate's portrait-sporting posters outnumber the trees in my neighbourhood) let alone hear from them what's going on in their hearts and heads. I do not know who and what they are.
And the fact that none of them are lurking at my shopping centre to buttonhole me and bedazzle me with their charisma, their animal magnetism, points to another symptom of the pre-polling craze that has Dr Gill unnerved. It is that now that so many are voting early, the candidates and their party elves are doing all of their face-to-face lurking and ambushing at the early polling voting places, trying to have an instant, late influence on those voting prematurely.
Then, what if, voting so early, the premature voter later has cause, before polling day, to regret how he or she has voted? There is no going back.
What if, nave, I vote for the Clive Palmer's United Australia Party candidate, thinking him a decent bloke, only to find out too late (perhaps after some investigative journalism by Al Jazeera) that he is an active member of a Satanic flat earth cult and has behaved shockingly in a Los Angeles strip club?
What if, having prematurely, cruelly voted to send Liberal Senator Zed Seselja to oblivion, he suddenly, just before election day, displays a nobility, humanity and openness of mind one had never given him credit for? Premature voters are surely running the risk of being tortured by remorse.
Let us in our voting all use patient, painstaking Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy as our role models, taking all 61 chapters, all 326 pages of a full-length election campaign to make up our minds.