Chef Charon (Neuf Stars Chef) talks from Maison Charon en Glasgow

When I start ze restaurant Maison Charon, I specify that ze entrance must have ze big glass doors, pas de valeur architecturale… zut alors!… non!…. mais… so my maître d‘ can see ze punters coming in more ways than one.

You English have ze saying… less is more… I take zis to my heart….so in Maison Charon…. we are, how you say…. minimaliste…. minimal decoration, minimal service and ze minimal portions pour la haute gastronomie.  You English have been watching too much of ze Masterchef avec Chef Michel Roux, so I am more than happy to, how you say, fart about with your food and construct ze tours absurde on ze plate and smear ze sauce avec merit artistique. Zis allows me to give you less and charge more…. you see?… I am anglophile!

It is also important… pour ze clientele who frequente Maison Charon zat I ensure there is bollocks complète on ze menu, so I hire l’expert en marketing to write zebollocks complète to describe ze dishes I prepare.  Zis is one exception to ze ‘less is more’ rule.. here… more description means we can serve less…..

I give un exemple of how less is a lot more.  Zere is a chef in Denmark… Chef Rene Redzepi of Noma…. amusingly ze best restaurant in ze world… mon dieu!…… and he collects ze seaweed, berries, grasses and other delectations du nature, serves zem up on a plate and… Voila!….. ze hyperventilation of ze clientele est superbe!.

I do zis at Maison Charon..only se ozzer day. I send a sous chef to Wandsworth Roundabout and Hyde Park  avec a book on  foraging and say I want grass, berries, anything edible…..   I get anuzzer sous chef to go to B&Q to buy some Welsh slate roof tiles et Voila!…. ze Cuisine naturelle a La Suède. I wanted to put ze description a La Pseuede… mais…. maître d‘ he says to me…. “Chef Charon… you have eighteen Michelin stars to your name…. even though you give them to yourself… this is a step too far….. to mock ze punter is Le Sport… to ridicule ze punter is not good business.”  So… with free ingredients from Wandsworth Roundabout, a few absurd smears of sauces, berries arranged at each corner of ze welsh slate from B& Q and much pantomime from maître d‘… we serve three tiles of grass, and edible leaves and berries and charge £38.50 per portion…. who needs an amuse-bouche when one can do zat?!

Ze best part?…. when I come from le cuisine...to le salon de la gastronomie….avec mon chapeau de chef on my head to take ze adulation of ze punters…. and tell zem how much they have enjoyed l’experience du Maison Charon.….. and tell zem we take ze  AMEX.   Aussi… I try very hard not to drop my fake  accent français

I wish you all a Joyeux New Year

Chef Charon

New Year’s Eve with a laugh with Jerry Hayes before you get struck into the Claret et al.

CRONYISM, DISHONEST JOURNALISM THE HONOURS SYSTEM AND WHY CROSBY DESERVES A DUKEDOM

“What has happened to the Independent apart from selling less copies than Goldfish Weekly? This was the paper which was to break the mould and put professional, impartial journalism at its core. That’s why it was called the Independent. But read today’s splash with care.
“Almost 30 Tory party members or supporters receive awards amid accusations of cronyism”, it screamed. And then there were the quotes from the usual suspects. Andy Burnham (yes, I thought he was dead too) was ‘outraged’ at a knighthood for Lynton Crosby and then goes onto a diatribe about the wicked Tories thinking that they can do what they like.

Well, this looks like a tale of Cameroonian baubles for the Bullers corruption unearthed by the painstaking skill of an Independent scribbler in the finest traditions of Her Majesty’s Press. But then let us read on. It is revealed by the head of the honours committee that,“26 out of 1,196 awards were for political services including Parliamentary clerks, Rosie Winterton, Ed Davey and Harriet Harman’s former adviser……”

To put it in legal terms the subheadline is complete bollocks and utterly misleading. I am not sure that we can go to journalist default mode and blame the sub editors as I thought most if not all of them had been sacked. It’s not just sloppy journalism it borders on the dishonest. It wouldn’t have happened under Andrew Marr’s editorship.

We Brits love our baubles adorned with meaningless medieval gobbledegook. And there is a modicum of cronyism from all parties. Who cares if some bag carrier from the Ministry of footpaths and dog shit gets an MBE? Who cares if Labour’s Chief Whip gets theDBE, after all she has had to put up with Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and now Corbyn? What we do care about is when the greasers, chancers, donors and arse lickers get pushed into the Lords where they have the chance to legislate. But honours at a political level have always been a means of control. Keep your nose clean as an MP for about thirty years and you’ll get a K. If you stab a PM in the back as a senior minister forget about a peerage.

There is also a lot of press outrage at the award of gongs to civil servants. This year’s Joan of Arc is Lin Homer. I know Lin of old. I was counsel (for Labour actually) in the Birmingham postal ballot fraud when the election commissioner likened her handling of an election as ‘worthy of a banana republic’. But she was looked after and wreaked havoc and disaster at UKBA, the Department of Transport and now as chief executive of HMRC. She should have pensioned off years ago. I don’t give a toss about her DBE which comes with the rations, but I do care deeply about a charmed life and a massive pension pot worth millions…..”

Read the rest

Advice for first time freelancers on creating robust contracts

Advice for first time freelancers on creating robust contracts 

One of the biggest concerns for many people who start working for themselves is how to go about making sure their work is on a firm contractual footing.

A freelancer must expect to do work ‘up front’ and then be paid for it at a later date, and although this is also true for most people in PAYE-based ‘paid employment’, for a contractor it can be more of a worry.

So whether you are a freelancer, sole trader or anyone else working on a contracted basis, how can you make sure your business documentation is watertight legally in order to protect yourself when dealing with clients?

No single rule

The truth is that there is no definitive ‘one size fits all’ answer. Many different factors can come into play, depending on the type of work involved and the time scale it is due to be completed on.

For instance, some jobs may have a definite deadline by which everything has to be delivered and signed off on by the client before an invoice will be issued.

In other cases, the nature of the work may be on going, and regular payments by instalment may be made along the way.

In any case, the important thing is that everything should be clearly laid out and agreed by all parties before any work commences.

Factors

A good contract for a freelancer should make it clear exactly what is expected, when it should be completed and how payment will be made.

Some companies can take as long as 90 days to turn around an invoice payment, whilst others will settle outstanding amounts almost immediately. Payment methods vary too – the contract should specify whether remuneration will be made by bank transfer, cheque or even cash.

Any deductions should be clearly stated too – some contracts may include penalties for late delivery, and international work may sometimes include country specific tax deductions.

When it comes to money, that is where most business disagreements lie, so having everything clearly set out and agreed to from the start means everyone knows exactly where they stand.

Invoicing

Making out invoices in the correct way can also be an essential part of making sure you get paid on time.

This aspect of freelancing can be difficult for someone who is not experienced in handling payments, so having a third party look after your financial settlements can be a cost effective and time effective service to use.

When dealt with correctly, invoicing should be a straightforward process, and as long as you have full knowledge of the terms in your contract, you will be able to budget responsibly in advance.

Professional help

Of course, part of working for yourself is having a willingness to take on tasks that might fall outside of your core services or skills, but by the same token, there are some areas in which using third party professional outsourced help can be fully justified.

If you are every asked to sign a contract that is unclear or has aspects you don’t understand, you should always take advice before you commit to something that might turn out not to be in your best interests.

West London Man – The series – with sound files. I’m writing some new episodes.

 

Tuesday December 29th 2015  

West London Man (24) : Diamonds are not forever
15th January 2009
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (23) : Half baked Alaska?
16th November 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (22) : It is crunch time
1st October 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (21) : Upwardly beautiful and officialdom
4th August 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (20) : A trip to Sainsbury’s
2nd August 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (19) : A short holiday in Padstow, Cornwall
29th July 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (18) : Der Peitsche
13th July 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (17) : Jolly Snorting Weather….
7th July 2007

Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (16): “I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five.”
3rd July 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (15): 15 – love to George…
29th June 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (14): Royal Ascot – First Day
17th June 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (13): Friday 13th…
13th June 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (12): Panic buying
10th June2008
Text Version
West London Man (11): Biscuits
10th June 2008
Text Version | Audio Version

West London Man (10): Caroline talks to a friend….
5th June 2008
Text Version
West London Man (9): Short suits and other matters…
June 3rd 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (8): Legal advice…
25th May 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (7): Pre-dinner….
25th May 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (6): At home…
20th May 2008
Text Version
West London Man (5): To Lords for a spot of cricket…
17th May 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (4): A bit of gazundering…
17th May 2008
Text Version
West London Man (3): Talks Stagflation….
16th May 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (2): A trip to Lords is coming up…
13th May 2008
Text Version | Audio Version
West London Man (1): With the first hot weekend of summer…
13th May 2008
Text Version | Audio Version

West London Man 26: The La Guardia Archipelago

West London Man 26: The La Guardia Archipelago

Following his arrest at La Guardia Airport  in New York City (Episode 24), George has been relieved  of the diamonds and jewellery he received from financier Bernard Madoff and is now a guest of the American authorities in a nearby detention center. As an Englishman with refined cultural and culinary sensibilities, George considers these austere surroundings akin to an outer circle of Dante’s Inferno or perhaps to Scotland. His defense counsel, the well-known New York lawyer Scott Greenfield, shepherds him through the American legal system while his wife, Caroline, secures matters on the home front.  Although storm clouds continue to gather, George has resolved that he will not be broken by his present circumstances. Allowed writing materials by his captors, he has begun to compose an epic memoir….

To find out what happened you’ll have to listen to the podcast or download the script. The podcast has great music and sound effects as well as some pretty ‘classy’ acting!

Listen to the podcast (14 mins 21 secs)

Download the script in pdf format

Notes:
West London Man 25 was written by Colin Samuels, Scott Greenfield and Charon.  Colin Samuels and Diane Jankiewicz played the parts of the La Guardia Detention Centre guards.  Lawyer Greenfield was played by Scott Greenfield, a well known criminal defense lawyer in New York and author of the Simple Justice blog

Other episodes of West London Man

Time for a bit of Jerry Hayes blogging – always enjoyable and amusing.

PRESIDENT ERDOGAN OF TURKEY PRESENTS A TERRIBLE DILEMMA FOR THE WEST

29 Dec 2015 at 10:30

If August is the silly season for journalists desperate to fill pages with surfing squirrels and singing dogs, the Christmas to New Year dead space, where hung over journalists attempt to titivate a comatose nation with quizzes and stories that would normally never see the light of day, must be the the dopey season. A few days ago the normally well informed and sharp as a tack Fraser Nelson came up with a story so bonkers that I had to check that it wasn’t April the first, namely that Cameron was considering making Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary. The Downing Street flunky who ever came up with this one must have won a bet about who could get the most un-airworthy of kites off the ground. And then in the Times this morning there are some quotes from a Tory donor called Alexander Temerko (I know, never heard of him either) who will give squillions to ensure that Boris becomes the next Tory leader as Osborne’s living wage policy will be a green light for immigrants. Mr. Temerko was born in Ukraine. The age of irony is not dead…..

Read the rest of the post…

EastPark Communications publish an extensive range of magazines – many for local Law Societies.

EastPark Communications publish an extensive range of magazines – many for local Law Societies.  They are well produced and worth reading.  Simon Castell runs East Park Communications – so if you any publishing projects it would be a good idea to have a chat with him.  He has a lot of experience.

Other magazines published by East Park Communications

Tel 0161 5612776 / Email

 

And back to podcasting this Thursday…with US Lawyer Dan Hull

I am looking forward to getting back into podcasting again.  On Thursday I am doing a podcast with an old friend, Dan Hull, a US attorney and senior partner of Hull McGuire.  Dan does two blogs – one serious What About Clients? – the other What About Paris?  which look at the lighter side of life.  They are both very good blogs.

The post below will give you a flavour of the humour which Dan employs in his writing 

“Merry Christmas anyway, you bastards….”

“Since 1866, Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park (northeast corner near Marble Arch) has been important in Britain’s demonstrations, protests and debate. In 1872, the area was specifically set aside for those purposes. Here are among the best and most eccentric daily shows in London. Marx, Lenin and Orwell all spoke at Speakers’Corner there on Sundays, the traditional speaking day. For the dark history of this area of Hyde Park as the execution place know as Tyburn Gallows for nearly six centuries–everyone condemned to die could make a final speech–see the website of the Royal Parks.”

I still walk with a stick because of that bad driver….

Well there I was seven years ago, stationary at a junction, waiting to turn right… when a woman in a Volkswagen hit me from behind at 40 mph…

I had never had a bike crash until that evening,  and I’ve been riding for many years on roads, race tracks and the like. I rode long distances – Southern Spain – South of France and Northern Italy. I calculated my mileage from records at 160,000 miles over three  years. The most dangerous place to ride – largely because of the bad driving of some car drivers –  was London – some of them phoning while driving and two, I saw, eating sandwiches and talking on a mobile phone while driving badly.

I heard the screech of brakes and the sliding of tyres on wet tarmac. It is true that everything goes into slow motion when one is in danger. It was one of those “Oh…S**T’ moments… and then the car hit me. Unfortunately there was a car coming in the opposite direction. As the bike lurched forward, I could see a look of horror on the face of the driver in the car coming towards me. It was fortunate / lucky that I was able to twist the bars to the left.  The wheel gripped with enough traction for the bike to veer to the left, avoiding the oncoming car, according to the witness, by less than a yard – and then I went down, under the bike, and slid about twenty or so feet with my right leg taking the weight of the bike and the scrapes from the tarmac.

It is fair to say that I used colourful language as I lay on the ground. It was a performance which Gordon Ramsay would have been proud of. I could not move. A big guy ran over, lifted the bike and told me not to move. I moved my neck – my helmet was smashed in on the right side. My head was still attached to my shoulders and seemed to be working. As I tried to get up, onlookers brandishing mobile phones were intent on informing the Police, Ambulance, Coast Guard and, who knows, even HM Revenue & Customs, so keen were they to help.

A young woman – a student at the local Arts Ed in Chiswick, saw everything and volunteered herself as a witness. The driver, a lovely woman in her late forties, her daughter and the daughter’s child were distraught. As I didn’t die or suffer life threatening injuries I did not want to waste time with the Police. Have you ever waited for a copper to turn up at a non-fatal RTA? Could be days! I certainly did not wish to go to one of our hospitals. Hospitals are full of ill people, some  infested with MRSA and other nasties – and, frankly, I did not need any more problems that night. (Quite apart from the fact that I am told that hospitals do not serve Rioja in their waiting rooms and I had no desire to sit for six hours next to people with knives in their arms, other injuries, or those who may be harbouring some appalling tropical disease after their holiday to tropical regions)

Codebreaker’s wife (Codebreaker wrote for my blog occasionally) is a nurse. She lived nearby. Plasters covered the wounds – I then hobbled to The Swan in Chiswick for a couple of glasses of Rioja and a few absolutely fantastic Silk Cuts. I had to operate on several of my cuts later in the night when the larger wounds split with the swelling – but a needle and thread did the business. The Doc was not that impressed this morning with my auto-surgery and told me that I should have had a scan for my head. He was appalled when I told him that I had been drinking Rioja with a friend of mine, an ex Slaughter & May partner, until midnight. That also did the business. I asked Doc if I was OK, after he shone lights into my eyes and ears, took heart rate etc etc – to which he replied that I was. I agreed with him.

Wine is a great healer!. Still puzzled as to how the woman driver did not see me. My helmet was very yellow, as was my jacket – and the bike is one of the biggest on the road. THINK Bike?

 

I used to ride motorbikes…and enjoyed doing long distances to Italy and Spain

Here is a post I wrote many years ago (2007)  before a lady driver drove  into me in her car when I was waiting to turn right and I ended up with a cracked spine and walking with the aid of a stick – I still have to use a stick to walk:

This is a parking sign. It shows that the space is reserved for motorcycles. The markings on the road also say ‘Motorcycles only’…. so why, three times this week, have I arrived at 7.00 am to have breakfast at a cafe to find a bloody car parked in the parking bay I use ?

I had to go and park my motorbike in a Pay & Display zone and pay £1.50 for the privilege. Twice this week! (I am turning into a grumpy old git by the day)

So, yesterday…. I parked my bike on a yellow line, just behind the car, and waited. Having seen the offending car drive off the previous day at about 7.15, I had a hunch that I might meet the driver. I did – a young woman. She approached and had the grace to look a bit sheepish. Politely, I asked her if she would mind not parking in the bike bay, explaining that there are few free bike bays in West London. She apologised with a smile. Great!… everyone calm, no-one teed off. By way of contrast – I saw a courier asking a bloke to move his car from a bay some time ago. The bloke in the car told him to ‘F’ off and went into the Bank. The courier dismounted, walked off up the road, returned with a traffic warden and the driver was ticketed. It was quite amusing and, given that there were, by this time, quite a few couriers and other bikers pulled up near the bay, the driver was in no mood for bravado or practising his command of  Anglo Saxon expletives.

And now, inspired by Belle de Juremen shopping… or, to be more precise, my attitude to shopping. Curiously, with the exception of gadgets, cars (about ten years ago), bikes and other gizmos, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in shopping. It would not occur to me to go off on a shopping spree to buy clothes. When I wore suits and ties everyday – I’d go to the appropriate shops, at best twice a year, and buy ten shirts – almost certainly blue, quite a few identical, and select a few ties. When I bought suits, I’d buy two and get a spare set of trousers for each. Same principle with shoes. Casual clothes are even easier – five pairs of exactly the same jeans, trousers, shirts, polo shirts… two pairs of deck shoes. Done and cleared in about thirty minutes.

It is quite a different matter when it comes to buying a motorbike…. I pore over the magazines, read reports… look for pictures on the internet and go for complex test rides. Mind you… I have had nine Honda  Fireblades, eight Honda Blackbirds, one Ducati 916…and a few other Honda makes. … so maybe I am a bit rigid in my choice of bikes!

I got stopped by a Spanish bike cop years ago at 6.00 am on a motorway near Mojacca.  The road was empty )not a soul – empty) and I was doing just under 190 mph. The cop showed me my speed on his ‘machine’.  The cop fired a flare into the air, waved me over and told me that I was going a bit fast.  He laughed and asked if he could sit on my bike.  I sat on his bike and we smoked while smoking – communicating in a  curious mix of Spanish, English and French.  Nice chap.  He did warn me to drop the speed nearer the big cities on my way back.  The Guardia Civil cops in those areas were not so amusing when it came to speeding!  I took his advice.

 

I have a feeling – when I am settled in Scotland – that I will buy a second hand Honda Blackbird and ride again. Older second hands ones are good value and not expensive.  Few riders will have had the opportunity to ride their bikes fast in this country.  I hope I can buy another motorbike.  I am only 63 this year.  A man can dream?

Rive Gauche: A look back a few years….

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An amusing story from The Water Cooler in The Times today about a reception held at Inner Temple to mark the 45 year old career of Sir Ivan Lawrence QC. A judge remarking of his career as a Recorder: “Justice had not only to be done and seen to be done — in Sir Ivan’s court it had to be seen to be believed.”

Another…the rather better known story: I quote from the piece in The Water Cooler:

“Sir Ivan also recalled Judge Maude sentencing two homosexuals for an act of gross indecency. “It is not so much the enormity of the crime itself that appals one,” he said, “it is the fact that you chose to do it under one of London’s most beautiful bridges.”

Attitudes and times have changed…

spy27decThe Modern Attorney-General

“I am the very model of a modern Attorney-General,
I’ve information political, immoral, and analytical,
I know the judges of England, and I quote the laws historical
From Domesday to Archibold, in order categorical;
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters apolitical,
I understand donations, both the simple and problematical,
About restraining injuctions, I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
With many cheerful facts about who is going to lose.”

With sincere apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan.

With not much else to do, I decided to report my own death back in the day on Saturday, March 10, 2007

charonferrymandec27

I’m afraid that Charon died this afternoon.

The Bollo had run out Rioja. Scotland failed to beat Ireland at Rugby. England lost the friendly cricket match against Australia yesterday, The Lord Chief Justice had to give a speech (because useless interfering politicians who know little about law, penology or the criminal justice system, have been interfering) complaining about the fact that judges have lost their discretion to sentence criminals and that we have far too many people serving indeterminate sentences, Jade Goody refused to answer Police questions and the Police could do nothing about it, Patrick Mercer MP was sacked by WebCameron for making unfortunate remarks, the cafe where he usually has breakfast ran out of eggs and, therefore, he could not have the breakfast he has had for 23 years without interruption, someone sent him James Joyce’s book, Finnegan’s Wake, and he tried to read it, Lord Jeffrey Archer is still a member of The House of Lords, TV companies have stopped running phone-in competitions so he has nothing to do now late at night, banks are being criticised for making stealth charges on customer accounts, the viagra pills he bought off the internet didn’t arrive, The Bollo has introduced a ‘no-smoking’ policy on Sundays so that people can bring their absurd children in for lunch and let them run around screaming, The Bollo seems to be encouraging people who talk about ‘hice prices’ in West London to come into one of his favourite pubs, he could not face looking at any more trainee blogs… It was all too much.

We regret his passing. It was quite a moving ceremony. ‘Hello’ magazine covered it. At 8.45 this evening he was ferried across the Styx, a silver coin in his mouth, by a member of the family.

Rest in peace, Charon….

No flowers. Charon was a nihilist. At a quiet dinner the other evening he told a group of us that he had many lives and death was but a temporary inconvenience – a bit like your internet service provider [ISP] ‘going down’ for a while, or losing signal on your mobile [Cellphone for non-UK residents] (yes… Charon had an ‘Orange’ phone and it did not always work in Chiswick – another ’stress’ he had to bear). He told us that he believed he would defeat medical science and be blogging again within 24 hours. We now have an opportunity to see if he was right.

And… on that note… I wish you all… “Good Nietzsche.”

***

PS… at least he asked us to use some punctation before he took the ferry….

The Diary of Barrister A: Saturday 3rd March 07

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;


Richard III. 1. 1

Danielle asked me over dinner the other night why the papers were full of senior lawyers having affairs. I’m afraid the subject does not interest me that much. I am not a voyeur. I replied as follows: “Opportunity, Motive, Ability and Mens Rea”

“By which you mean?” she asked, sipping a glass of Chablis.

“Many of these lawyers are in their late forties and early fifties. They are absorbed by their ability and power. I suspect, in the back of their minds, they wonder whether they can still hack it. They work long hours – and opportunity is there. Another late night is easily explained away – as is a trip out of town. As to motive – they probably have children and may well not have had any exciting sex for some time. There is a darker side, of course. It may well be that in the back of their minds they know or believe that their sexual prowess is waning. Power can, after all, only go so far as an aphrodisiac or attractant.”

“And… mens rea?”

“Oh yes.. plenty of that. Lawyers are a secretive bunch. Some of them are Masons… although not as many these days. Their skills of advocacy are often brilliantly demonstrated when they get caught.”

Danielle smiled, tapping her nails on her glass… “You wouldn’t do anything like that, would you?”

I was ready for the question. I had been ready for it when she asked the first question. “Darling… I am not shaped for sportive tricks… dogs bark at me as I halt by them”

She laughed… We moved on to discuss John Reid. Later, it occurred to me that she may have been asking if I am a Mason.

***

What – with The Attorney-General, the DPP and sundry other QCs and senior lawyers exercising their rights under The Freedom of Fornication Act (nicked from Private Eye – could not resist it) to have ‘have it away days’; we have now got the surreal and, frankly, absurd situation of a Court of Appeal judge being charged with flashing at women on a train on two separate occasions – a charge which he denied when first questioned about this some months ago. Guardian [The BBC story mysteriously disappeared from their website last night – cannot be connected with being gagged below, of course]

The Attorney-General, rather than gag over his breakfast as he reads about his extra-curricular activities being reported in the Sunday tabloids, has now gagged the BBC to stop them reporting a story about the cash for honours business. It seems that prosecutions may be on the way. Guardian

Nearly Legal has found an extraordinary statement by Law Society President Fiona Woolf – worthy of Matt Muttley.

“Thought Leadership”: I quote from Nearly Legal’s blog… and repeat his comment – you will have to visit his blog for the rest of his excellent commentary on this! And here is Fiona Woolf:

“And so, given its ever-increasing importance, the Law Society has taken the bold decision to enter, for the first time, the territory of thought leadership – to facilitate a better understanding the issues around staff retention and job satisfaction by exploring factors that help to meet the needs of not just fee earners but their supervisors and employers too. “

firewallofchina27dec

Friday, March 2, 2007

Charon banned by Great Firewall of China!!

I regret to inform you that my blawg has been blocked by the Chinese authorities. It may be that the Chinese authorities do not care for human rights, Rioja, excessive smoking and references to scandal – cash for honours, gigolo lawyers, senior lawyers having affairs etc etc. It is, of course, possible that my taste in UK blogs (as evidenced in my blogroll) does not meet with the approval of 中华人民共和国主席@greatfirewallofchina.

This is a great honour… and I am pleased to be in the UK, a relatively free (if ponderously overgoverned) country, to hear the news of this award.

 

My cousin Tom turned up to pick our Grandmother up with a spade…

There is a picture of me as  an eight year old (one front tooth missing from an accident) eating an ice cream… in short trousers, prep school cap, with a parrot on my shoulder. My Grandmother is standing beside me – looking strangely “amused.” [May her God have mercy upon her soul] I remain convinced to this day that my Grandmother put the parrot on my shoulder when I was not looking to make me look absurd. She was like that. A curious and demanding woman. She used to stand up and wail…calling upon God to take her – at various intervals, usually after a Sunday lunch – prompting my cousin (10 years older than me) to turn up to collect her for the ‘Sunday lunch’ one week, with a spade, and ask her if ’she was ready for God.’ Yes… I enjoyed that. She never did it again.

***

Thick and brick, paired, is most appropriate in the case of a new motorist, a brickie, who got a drink driving ban 38 HOURS after passing his test. Apparently the born-again pedestrian, as he know is, went out to celebrate passing his test, got pissed on six pints, went to bed, got up a few hours later and drove. The Sun reports “The cops stopped him for driving without lights.” Yes… not really surprising at night.

Police Inspector Eric Robinson expressed the view “It’s possibly the shortest time anyone has held a licence.”

I am gladdened by the news, again reported in The Sun, that thousands of children think that cows lay eggs. Apparently, many of these children also believe that bacon comes from sheep. The children were eight years of age. At that age I was about to qualify as a Master of Wine…. OK… I may be exaggerating…

Prince Charles, on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, has managed to irritate a lot of people by calling for a ban on McDonalds. Excellent. Glad to see he is keeping busy.

Jesus’ bones found: The news that Titanic film director, James Cameron, and his co-director on the Lost Tomb of Jesus(Discovery Channel) have found the lost tomb of Jesus has irritated priests, god-botherers and archaeologists who did not make the discovery themselves. He appears to have also found the tombs of the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and Joseph – so a full house then. An american news reporter (Video) tells us that this story comes from the Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones school of archaeology. Not good news for the Resurrection theme in christianity? A bit irritating for agnostics as well.

***

Associates Office – Lower ground floor 

From: Matt Muttley
To: All Partners
cc: Dr Strangelove

Date: 24th May 2007

ANY OF YOU KNOW ANY FAMILY LAW ?

Eva Braun has just put the Evening Standard in front of me. A woman has won a £48 million divorce battle. Do we have anyone who knows any Family Law? If not, can we do a lateral hire? Approach a Silk who is into Family Law and bring him/her into the partnership?

If we only handle high value cases, what would the downside be? Cross-fertilisation into asset management, trusts, tax, off-shore, private equity, hedge fund?

Eva sent me this from a blog: Family Lore“Needless to say, Mr Charman does not accept the words of the President of the Family Division, and has indicated that he intends to appeal again to the House of Lords. Oh well, more money for the lawyers and legal analysts, and more copy for the media…

By the way… one of our associates is sitting at his desk with a Bluetooth earpiece in his ear. I’m looking at him on CCTV now. Looks ridiculous. Think he is in Trusts…. can someone tell him that if he wants to look as if he works in a call centre, we have vacancies in our Mumbai office.

Get back to me if you have any thoughts / ideas

MM

A look back to a Crime Scene In Progress – Lord Chancellor Impersonator Grayling

It may give The Twitterati some transient pleasure to mock one of the finest gentlemen to have ever graced the House of Commons benches by referring to him as a ‘Crime Scene in Progress’  – I talk of no other than Lord Chancellor Grayling, a man of vision who made his long walk to freedom  from obscurity to hold one of the highest offices of state in the land: Lord Chancellor –  the first non-lawyer to serve as Lord Chancellor since the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1672-3.  It did not end well for The Earl of Shaftesbury, it has to be said – although charges of High Treason were dropped and Shaftesbury fled to Amsterdam,  fell ill, and soon died.  But, be that as it may.

And as for those of you with a predilection for trawling through Wikipedia for amusing nonsense on Chris Grayling and other fellow Conservative MPs to find this sort of thing…..shame on you!

Between 2001 and 2009,[8] Grayling claimed expenses for his flat in Pimlico, close to the Houses of Parliament, despite having a constituency home no further than 17 miles away[9] and owning two buy to let properties in Wimbledon.[10] Grayling says he uses the flat when “working very late” because he needs to “work very erratic and late hours most days when the House of Commons is sitting.”[11]

During the Parliamentary expenses scandalThe Daily Telegraph reported that Grayling refitted and redecorated the flat in 2005 costing over £5,000.[9] Grayling said that both the water and electrical systems failed “leaving the place needing a major overhaul”.[10]

Grayling’s expenses issue was seen as embarrassing for the Conservative Party as he had previously criticised Labour ministers for being implicated in sleaze scandals.[12]

There is more to heaven and earth Horatio than was dreamt of in Wikipedia…. and on that note, I bid you good day. Although I am partial to the Australian greeting…”Gooday mate, how’s it hanging?” when unable to avoid socialists in the house.

 

A look back: 31st July 2009: The creation of the UK Supreme Court

Today, Friday 31st July 2009, brought the curtain down on a venerable institution – the Judicial Committee of The House of Lords – to be transformed on October 1st into The Supreme Court of The United Kingdom. The judges of the Supreme Court are to be styled ‘Justices of the Supreme Court’.

But… there is still a problem… how are they to be referred to in the papers, on television?  As Joshua Rozenberg pointed out in the Law Society Gazette this week… calling them ‘Justice’ is either a bit too Americanand could lead to confusion with our most senior judges being on a lower level in title terms than a High Court judge (Mr Justice or Mrs Justice ) or the Court of Appeal judge ( Lord Justice or Lady Justice).  Rozenberg suggests that Justice of the Supreme Court Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony is just not going to fit in the television captions or, I would add,  be capable of being remembered by the average television autocue based presenter/interviewer.

I opened a bottle of Rioja and imagined a conversation between two men who meet in the pub quite a lot.  I shall call them  Man in a Hat and Man in a Cap.

Man in hat: You do know that the Law Lords stopped being Law Lords today don’t you?

Man in cap: Stopped being Law Lords…?  what sort of Lords are they going to be then?

Man in hat: Well.. they’re still going to be Law… Lords… as in Lords who do Law… but they won’t be Law Lords… The House of Lords… or part of it… … see… has changed into the Supreme Court….

Man in a cap: Yeah… I read about that in The Telegraph… they’ve got a new building an all…. an expensive new building…. 65 million quid  it was… did you see that? And.. I also read that new judges to this Chicken Supreme Court aren’t going to be Lords at all…. just law judges… so won’t they feel a bit left out… what with all the others being Time Lords who aren’t any longer… and that?

Man in hat: Yes… I saw that in The Mail.  Disgraceful… you’d have thought a man or woman who works all his or her  life for his or her country and goes to our highest court of law would get a Lordship wouldn’t you? … especially since all the other lords who do law but aren’t law lords any longer have got lordships.

Man in cap: So if a new judge is appointed to this Supreme Court aren’t going to be Lords what will they be?  Sirs? Dames? ….

Man in hat: Well… they will probably be Sir or Dame already because of being a High Court judge.

Man in cap: But that is a bit confusing…. I read that a judge … if a bloke… goes to the High Court… the Queen gets her sword out and he becomes a Sir and then everyone calls him My Lord. But…  he is a ‘Sir’, gets called My Lord and he  is called Mr Justice in the newspapers and on the telly…. what’s that all about then?  I’ve got a Scottish mate… he says it is even more confusing up in Scotland.  There… he says… judges of the Court of Session don’t get Lordships but are calledLord and when they go from the Outer House  to the Inner House…First or Second Division… some of them who are already called Lord… get real Lordships in the House of Lords….. and can call themselves Lord…even though they already have been calling themselves Lord… even though they aren’t Lords…. .. but they can’t call themselves Lord Lord.

Heat gets to HH Judge Hardly-There QC: August 2009

It was a moment of unusually high drama at the Midshire  Crown Court this afternoon when HH Judge Hardly-There QC passed sentence on a young shaven headed man with the letters H A T E tattooed on the fingers of his right hand.  The man had been convicted of assault causing grievous bodily harm; a not unusual event in the town on a Friday night.

The judge leaned forward on the bench.  His face was initially impassive but then, quite suddenly, his face became florid and he banged his hand down on the bench.

“Your case illustrates all too clearly the completely lax penal policies of this bed-wetting government and the insidous Human Rights Act brought in by Teflon Tone and his motley crew of clowns and bath dodgers.  “Tough on Crime, Tough on the causes of crime”… was Blair’s rallying cry to the chavs of modern Britain and the B&Q visiting fraternity who waste their weekends endlessly doing up dreary suburban houses and putting tasteless decking in their back yards. Well, all Blair achieved in his ten years in power was to start a war against a regime that was quite able to control militants and insurgents and that knew how to quash rebellions.  All Blair’s government has been able to achieve on law and order is to allow shaven headed scum like you to run riot, hitting law abiding members of the public and police officers,  because you aren’t even man enough to hold your drink.

People like you, and there are literally hundreds and hundreds of chavs like you, come to our beautiful towns from your Ikea furnished hovels and avail yourselves of the beautiful amenities that our middle class  burghers built in times past and you behave like thugs and vagabonds.

In the past ten years the national debt of this country has risen to extraordinary heights because idiots like you can’t resist spending money on plasma screens, your obese wives and children and tracksuits, bought on credit,  and how do you repay the society that tries to give you a sense of belonging?… I’ll tell you how… by  hitting a Police Officer who, albeit dressed in full riot gear with his shoulder boards taped over and wearing a balaclava,  sprayed you with CS gas and hit you a few times with his baton because you were behaving like a lout. I’d like to send you to a labour camp, but we don’t have any…. fortunately, there are a couple of places left in a nearby prison and you  are going down and will spend ten years in there.  Take him down.”

It is not known whether the Chief Justice has had time to refer HH Judge Hardly-There QC to the Office for Judicial Complaints – he may still be dealing with the matter of Judge Trigger who went a little overboard, according to The Times, yesterday. In the Judge Trigger case The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, has asked the Office for Judicial Complaints to rule on whether the comments Trigger made were too political. The decision will be made jointly by Lord Judge and the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw.

 

On August 8th 2009 I wrote this Postcard From The Law Library – quite fun looking back…

In the week when a denial of service attack struck Twitter, causing post-traumatic stress disorder, nervous breakdowns and anxiety on an unparalleled scale because Twitters could not tweet and tell each other about the baked potato they had for lunch – the legal world has gone on holiday…many, they say, not to Tuscany, but to ’somewhere in England’.

I have, of course, been at my post by the sea side (or at least the estuary) but there has been no sign of Hans,  my mate the U-boat Kapitan.  I do miss our late night chats.  When I was onDas Boot in Chelsea by Battersea Bridge last summer, Hans would surface at about 9.30 pm, moor the U-boat by the jetty and we would have Schnapps and he would ask if I needed any nylons.  Inevitably, the answer was always the same.  I told him that I did not need any nylons for personal use, as I am not a bank robber,  and none of the women I knew wore them.  He would shrug, then twitch slightly, down his Schnapps and the U-boat would dive and he would be gone… I know not where… for another week.

It has been a strange old week. I have read over 100 law reports to update my Contract and Sale of Goods materials which I am giving away free online – and have started recording lectures…. this allows me to use different voices when I quote from the judgments.  I began to realise that I may be losing the plot when, at 8.00 this evening, I found myself recording a  one hour lecture on Acceptance and concerning myself with the intricacies of unilateral offer revocation and Daulia v FourMillBank Nominees.  This… had to stop… so a bottle ofRioja was found from my stock, opened and I am necking it now as I write.

But…at least a Greek woman hasn’t thrown Ouzo over me and set fire to it as happened in Crete this week to a man who was trying to fondle her… so not bad, all things considered.  The England cricket team has mounted its final assault on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in The Ashes by giving an exhibition performance on how to play crap cricket – prompting @stephenfry to tweet about arseholes or words to that effect…. shortly after Mr Fry intervened on behalf of theCricketerati… England actually managed to take a few wickets.  All out for 102 on the first day, shortly after lunch, was a sterling effort.

What @stephenfry actually said was… “Bah! England weltering in an arsepit of horror. Straight and full. Straight and full. You have to try SO hard not to try too hard.”

Line and length..line and length…. that is the mantra in Cricket and I was delighted, years ago, to find a cricket lover when a pissed woman in a bar started muttering to me about line and length. Moving on….

With all this reading of law reports, I started to think about the law libraries I have used in my time… and my febrile imagination threw up images of me as Professor Plum in the library with a length of rope and a candlestick, waiting for the delectable Miss Scarlett….  who was probably being stalked by Colonel Mustard.

Clearly, the unexpected heat of this ‘barbecue Summer’ that we are not having has not only unhinged my mind… I refer to a somewhat unusual piece of judicial bluster which I covered earlier in the week in my piece about HH Judge Hardly-There QC.

It would appear that HH Judge Trigger – which prompted my piece – has ‘form’ for outbursts.  A barrister mate of my mine drew my attention to this wonderful piece of bluster… from HH Judge Trigger – via the blog written by David Jones MP:

His Honour Judge Ian Trigger. Last week, in Liverpool Crown Court, Judge Trigger gave vent to his obvious frustration and despair when passing sentence on a teenager who had beaten an elderly woman about the head with an iron bar. The youth was on bail at the time.

Judge Trigger told the yob…

“It is the fault of politicians that bail is so readily granted, rather than judges or magistrates.

“Parliament, and its woeful and indeed dreadful concentration on rights, forgets duties and responsibilities. It has meant people like you have the right to bail in these circumstances…… We are living in a society which is bedevilled by wild feral youths such as you……..Before we plunge into even greater violence at the hands of lawless and irresponsible youths it is time for us to address the problem.

“It is time for parents to resume control over their offspring……It is time for parents to teach values and respect to their children, value and respect for other people and not allow their offspring to engage in selfish and irresponsible behaviour.

“It is time for the police to be released from administrative tasks and red tape and be once more a visible 24-hour presence on our streets, particularly in our violent hotspots.

“It is time for the public not to criticise the police but support them so that wild youths like you are brought to justice.

“And it is time for Left-wing intellectuals and well-meaning do-gooders to abandon their obsession and concentrate on the obligations and responsibilities which we all owe each other.

Well… he has a point… I’m just not entirely sure (a) the yob would understand it or give a toss (or be ‘bovverred’) and (b) whether judges should make comments of a wholly political nature…. I would rather have something rather more brutal and direct from the the judge  for Mr Yob and his feral mates….

I spy with my little eye – From the recent past – Monday, August 10, 2009

I spy with my little eye….

With the news recently that cameras fitted to Police helmets were a Health & Safety hazard (There was some talk of them going on fire, apparently) this has not diminished the government’s (and local government) taste for spying on us.  Now I accept, of course, that our security forces, when they aren’t answering questions about torturing people, have to do the business and avert terrorists (and they do this rather well – this we accept.  There haven’t been any atrocities for some years in Britain, thankfully) … BUT it does seem that this surveillance business is now being done on a bewildering scale.

The Independent reports only today…

UK public spied on ’1,500 times a day’

“Police, councils and the intelligence services made more than 500,000 requests to access private emails and telephone records in the UK last year, according to an annual surveillance report.  The figures, compiled by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Paul Kennedy, found that about 1,500 surveillance requests were made every day in Britain. That is the annual equivalent to one in every 78 people being targeted. It included 1,500 approved applications from local councils.”

It was only a matter of time… a very short time, I suspect, before the ‘it beggars belief mob’ popped up..and they did.. in the form of the eternal political optimists… the Lib-Dems… who can beat the England cricket team by a long mile when it comes to winning anything of substance….

The Independent, hyperventilating…possibly because of the recent heat…. reports:“The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne seized on the figures, saying they “beggared belief,” warning that the UK appeared to have “sleepwalked into a surveillance state.”

I don’t know about you… but I find it all a bit creepy…. why do local authorities need these powers?  Stories are legion about jumped up officials in Town Halls up and down the country wasting public money, abusing The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by spying on people who put their bins out early…or in an ‘improper manner’.  Are we going too far?  I think we may be.  I am, of course, not alone.  Various officials, including the Information Commissioner himself, believe we have gone too far.

Unfortunately, our politicos are rather absorbed at the moment poring over Boden catalogues for summer beachwear… or catching up on their accounting…. to be over bovvered about this at present…

I have come up with a solution…. I shall buy myself a burqa…. I can’t see anyone in government wishing to challenge the right to wear one…… can you? …

Rive Gauche: Christmas greetings from a lawyer friend

I received this from a friend…some time back

Dear Charon,

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially cohesive, trans-national, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, exercised according to accepted best practice traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all and a fiscally successful, financially prudent, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society are helping build a fully inclusive and socially democratic European Union (not to imply that the European Union is necessarily more inclusive or socially democratic than any other place, country or region of choice), and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual orientation of the wishee or wishees.

This wish is limited to the customary and usual good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first. ‘Holiday’ is not intended to, nor shall it be considered, limited to the usual Judeo-Christian celebrations or observances, or to such activities of any organized or ad hoc religious community, group, individual or belief (or lack thereof).

Note: By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. This greeting is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. This greeting implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for the wishee her/himself or others, or responsibility for the consequences which may arise from the implementation or non-implementation of same. This greeting is void where prohibited by law.

Not only that, Merry Christmas……
Mark

Pronunciation of English – by the many who speak it…

I rather like this: The Chaos

Those who are not native speakers of English  may be baffled, at times, by English – but you should hear how we speak and pronounce it in different parts of the country! I am not stupid enough to identify any particular part of Britain.

I quote a few verses the full version of The Chaos is well worth reading. Clever –  in fact, brilliant.

The Chaos
by Gerard Nolst Trenité

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say—said, pay—paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,

Rive Gauche: The noble art of Sabrage

sabrageSome (many) years ago I dabbled with Kendo and enjoyed it. I was reasonably proficient. The then Mrs C was not, however, too enamoured of my habit of slicing pineapples or apples with a Samurai sword – a katana – at dinner parties and was appalled when a friend of mine threw a pineapple into the air. I hit the pineapple with the sword – it was, unfortunately, not a clean cut and pineapple and juice went everywhere. I was younger then. I don’t do these things any more.

However… I have opened a bottle of champagne with a sword – here is how to perform The Noble Art of Sabrage

I do think lawyers should have a few unusual skills up their sleeves – if only to entertain the instructing solicitor at ‘difficult moments.’ I take no responsibility whatsoever if you are inspired to buy a sword and try this at home.

I did like the writer’s caveat:

Caveat: Based on my experiences, some bottles don’t sabrage as well as others. For example, Chandon (CA brand) has been a disaster…the glass is too fine. Also, the Roederer Estate brands don’t sabrage well. And avoid brands with “plastic” corks, whenever possible, although I have sabraged many and they work. Korbel and all brands of French Champagne work very well (thicker glass) as does Methode Champenoise types like Asti Spumante, Cava, etc.

 

Cricket is my favourite sport to watch – here are some marvellous examples of Aussie sledging…

So… to sledging. Banter by fielders when the opposing batsmen are at the crease is a part of the game at test level. It is a pity that viewers cannot hear it and have to rely on commentators to inform us.

Here is a selection which appeared in The Sun some years back:

“I’ll bowl you a F*****g piano, you pommie p**f. Let’s see if you can play that.”
Merv Hughes to England opener Michael Atherton.
“Mate, if you just turn the bat over you’ll find the instructions on the other side.”
Hughes to Robin Smith, Graeme Hick and just about every other England batsman who ever faced him.

Question: “Why are you fat?”
Answer: “Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me a biscuit.”

Zimbabwe’s Eddo Brandes gives Glen McGrath a taste of his own medicine

“So how’s your wife and my kids?”
Aussie wicket keeper Rod marsh welcomes Ian Botham to the crease.

“Can I borrow your brain? I’m building an idiot.”
Aussie fan to England spinner Phil Tufnell

I became a grave digger because I needed a job to help fund my law degree.

gravedigger2I became a grave digger because I needed a job to help fund my law degree. There weren’t any gastropubs then, so I became a crap waiter at an Angus Steak House. I sacked myself, knowing that it was only a matter of time before I was sacked. I have never liked wearing bow ties in any event. I’m sorry if any of you have a penchant for wearing bow ties – but there is something ‘of Las Vegas and a Cruise ship’ about men who wear bow ties routinely which I feel sure is an irrational prejudice of mine from having had to wear a bow tie when I was a crap waiter.)

The truth of the matter is that I was in a Yates’ Wine Lodge listening to jazz one night – after a tutorial on Re Vandervell – and, like those students who came after me – I needed a stiff drink after that Equity tutorial. I was poor and was drinking exceptionally cheap port. I have absolutely no idea how I found myself talking to the saxophonist in the band, telling him that I was a poor law student looking for a part-time job – but he told me that he had done some work as a gravedigger and that I should contact my local cemetery. I did. I was hired immediately. I was over 6ft – 190 lbs and extremely fit to army levels – having recently returned from somewhere other than England.

Digging graves is a bit more technical than simply bringing in a JCB and ripping up turf. (JCB diggers are used on new graves – or were in the cemetary I was assigned to) – but old graves and new graves in consecrated ground, or plots where a JCB could not be used, had to be dug by hand.

In a new grave – the depth is not ’six foot under’ – it is closer to 12 feet. (It was in that cemetary.) It doesn’t take long – about half a day. I would start digging at 8.00 and take lunch at 12.00. I could not afford to go to a restaurant for lunch – so made my own ‘pack lunch’ – a brioche, some fine pate, a bit of sushi, grapes, exquisite french cheese and a bottle of Burgundy) [Reality: it was a cheese and tomato cob (roll) and a coke]. It was the long hot summer of 1976 and it was hot… very hot. I would sit at the bottom of the grave and eat my lunch – reading The Times and The Guardian. I had an hour to do so. On occasion, I would be visited by an elderly lady – charming woman of 74 (she told me), who spent many happy days wandering about the cemetery asking the diggers who was ‘going in’. The other diggers could be fairly brusque with her – but I liked her and would talk to her about art, news, politics – in fact, anything but death.

I enjoyed that job. Our ‘ganger’ was an irishman – a former road builder. He had a few missing teeth, enjoyed his whisky (which he drank throughout the day from a hip flask) and wore a black silk top hat – a gift from the local funeral company. He would raise it before digging a new grave and raise it and say a prayer before digging into a grave which already had bodies in it.

It was an interesting experience. I fell through an old coffin while digging a grave one day for a ‘newbie’. Police were called. White tent erected. Sexton involved. Pathologist attended. Police tape. When they were absolutely certain I was not a grave robber, I was allowed to proceed. The coffin lid had rotted and my weight, through the thin separation of soil between coffins, was too great.

AND… apropos of nothing in particular – here are a few Cliches from newspapers…

I found this news report on the net.  It is riddled with cliches – I’d be very interested if you can find a few other examples from the UK press.

Ken Starr, who is spearheading the campaign to get the President,
says he’ll leave no stone unturned in his intensive investigation
to discover the true facts behind the latest sworn affidavit.

Taking leave from his prestigious law firm job, Starr has left
gentle hints that so far we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
He paints a grim picture of the the red-faced pillar of society
who has tried to sweep the facts under the rug.

Both sides have unleashed a storm of protest in the ongoing battle
for the reins of government. But defenders are few and far between
for the disgraced and dishonored President, who aides say is
nervous and distraught.

Conversation: Aijalon Gomes. Mr. Gomes is the American teacher who was held captive in North Korea during much of the year 2010.

Conversation:  Aijalon Gomes
Michael Cavendish

As a second instalment in the Conversation series for Charon QC, we convened an interview with Aijalon Mahli Gomes.  Mr. Gomes is the American teacher who was held captive in North Korea during much of the year 2010. 

Today, Aijalon Gomes is one of a handful of westerners to have been held as an expatriate,  international prisoner of conscience by the North Korean regime. Five years on from his ordeal, Mr. Gomes is living in Boston and pursuing his normal life, and he has graciously agreed to discuss his captivity for Charon QC readers, and human rights students everywhere.

-Michael Cavendish

Questions

MC: In January of 2010, you were an American living in Seoul, teaching English lessons to Korean students there. And you had found a local Christian church that you joined. You were black. And you were gay. What do you recall the most about your time in Seoul? What was your personal community or circle of friends like?

AG: Actually I was teaching in the rural part of Korea.  About an hour out by train, and about a thirty minute bus ride. 

For several months I had no community where I lived, so I traveled on Sundays, about two hours, and then took a taxi to get to the “mother church” my Korean aunt introduced me to while I was still living in Boston. 

It was a huge church; and although I was immediately recognized as different, and welcomed and provided an ear piece for translation, it felt too overwhelming and cultish to me, so I eventually stopped going.  That, plus the commute. 

I was exhausted by the time I got home each night, and I had to teach elementary aged kids the next morning each day. 

I have been abstinent for many years, so being gay wasn’t a part of my immediate identity.

Being black, on the other hand, in the rural parts of Korea, was like being someone famous.  I was gawked at wherever I went, and people wanted to touch my skin; and even more so when they discovered I was American and could speak English!

MC: At some point you formed an idea. You were going to walk into North Korea. How did your idea come about? How did you arrive at it?

AG: The idea actually came about before I decided to teach in South Korea.  I had been fasting and praying and seeking direction for my life.  While in a church service praying, I heard in my head one word – “Korea.” 

I had been contacted some months earlier by a recruiting company to teach English there but I had never been out of the country, so I refused. 

But when I heard the word “Korea” I immediately began to make plans.  But more than that, one day while socializing with a group of Korean/American women after church (they were all military wives), one woman said:

“There is only one Korea – South Korea.  North Koreans are not Koreans.”

I was shocked, and deeply hurt and offended. For me it brought up thoughts about racism, segregation, and the condition of race inequality in America. 

I decided that after I taught English in the South, I would find a way to teach the children in the North as well.

MC: Before you approached North Korea successfully, you had a spur-of-the-moment episode while teaching in South Korea where you took a taxi to the DMZ, and snuck behind an outbuilding, and you ended up spending three days in the snow, climbing up and down cold mountain ridges hardened by South Korean military posts. You even stumbled into a control room of some kind. Looking back on that, were you in danger of being shot on sight or falling into a ravine, had you not been lucky?

AG: Of course I was in danger! I understood and was prepared for the risks. I knew that if I was caught, I would be detained, or shot, or killed.

MC: To approach North Korea on your second attempt, you traveled first into China. Was that scary? Was the travel difficult? Who did you meet during that trip?

AG: I wasn’t afraid to travel to China. The plane ride was actually quick and convenient – I was seated next to a Godsend.

A woman from the northern part of China was returning from her shopping trip to Korea. Apparently it was cheaper to buy goods from there.  We exchanged in what little of Korean we had between us. 

In fact, after we disembarked and passed customs she found me while I was trying to acquire a taxi, and she offered to drive me to Tumen City. 

It wasn’t necessarily on her way, and so I am so thankful to her—and the universe—for arranging that encounter. 

If it wasn’t for her and her family I would have had greater difficulty getting to Tumen City, which is about an hour-long ride from the airport.

MC: How long do you recall spending in China while you were making your way to the North Korean border?

AG: I arrived at night, and after a hotel was arranged by this same Godsend, I awoke the next morning and spent the day walking the city and observing the border surroundings.

MC: By the time you had traveled all the way to the China and North Korea border, what had you brought as provisions? What did you have to bring with you as you were preparing to cross into North Korea on foot?

AG: I had only my backpack, with my computer and a Korean/American Bible in it.  Oh, and some toiletries.

MC: You found a place to cross at the border where there was a river that was frozen over? Which River? What did it look like? How wide was it where you would have to walk across?

AG: It was the Tumen River which divides the borders.  I don’t know how wide it was, but I figured I could run across it.  If I had to guess, I would say it was more or less than thirty to forty feet.

MC: What can you remember about that moment where you began to cross the frozen river? What were you feeling right then?

AG: Fear!  First I was afraid the ice wouldn’t hold, so I crept slowly at first. Then I began a fast-paced walk across.  Throughout, I oscillated between ‘I’m going to make it’ and ‘I’m going to get shot!’

MC: Had anyone given you any advice about in which direction you might walk, or what you should to try to head towards once you crossed over into North Korean territory?

AG: No.  I did a little research about the area before I boarded the plane to China.

MC: Once you started to walk across the frozen river, how far did you make it? What happened?

AG: I was a several steps from the border, maybe about halfway, before a soldier appeared from behind some brush and I was ordered at gunpoint to stop.

MC: The soldiers who came out and grabbed you, how many of them were there? Did they appear to speak English at all? Were they asking you to answer them in Korean?

AG: It was the one at first; then a second came shortly after pointing his gun. 

After forcing me to the ground the one that held me first ordered the other to tie my hands. 

They spoke only in Korean, so everything was done by gestures and with force. 

Although I understood them, I didn’t want them to know that, so I said nothing and pretended not to understand.

MC: They grabbed you in the middle of the frozen river. They didn’t try to turn you back, to force you back into Chinese territory? Did you ever find out why? You had hardly gone far enough to trespass. It seems like they wanted to detain you more than they wanted to keep their border clear.

AG: I suppose I was more on their side of the river than the other, so, no. 

They just tied my hands behind my back, and nudged with their guns behind my left shoulder.

MC: As they dragged you and walked you the rest of the way across the frozen river to the North Korea side, where did they take you? The North Korean landscape that they were pulling you deeper into; what did it look like?

AG: The bank of the river was rugged and hilly, but a short distance on the other side was a cement structure I hadn’t seen earlier that day.

MC: Other than this landscape, what was the next thing that you saw as the soldiers were walking you further in?

AG: It was dark.  I could only look at the ground to see where I was stepping.

MC: While they were detaining you and drawing you further in, did your emotional state change from what we might call adventurous and curious into an ‘uh oh, why did I do this?’ type of self-doubt or panic?

AG: It was actually a strange relief.  I had accomplished entering the border. 

My only regret at the time was being caught before I could reach a village or meet a civilian, which was the goal.

I wanted to see and hear their version of North Korea and have the opportunity to teach.

MC: How far do you think they moved you into North Korean space before they reached the stopping point?

AG: I was still on the edges of the border, but they eventually moved me into a cement cell connected to a wooden lean-to.

MC: How did the rest of that day, the day the soldiers grabbed you on the frozen river, play out?

AG: I was moved to a cement cell, which was beyond freezing. On the way in, I passed a woman and a man in plain clothing seated near a fire cooking or something. 

After a wooden door was opened, I was untied and forced into the cement crawlspace.  It was no bigger than a dog’s house. 

A little while later, an old blanket that looked like carpet underlayment was thrown in.  And later still, a package of Korean or Chinese snack food was tossed in.

MC: When you rose the next morning to stand, did it immediately occur to you that you were now an international political prisoner?

AG: I knew I was a prisoner the entire night I spent in the cell.  My shivering kept me awake the entire evening. 

I tried singing to keep warm, but eventually the woman complained, and I was told to keep quiet.  I couldn’t even feel the warmth of the fire through the wooden door, which I knew wasn’t locked.

But I had crossed their border illegally and I was now subject to them and their rules. 

As I said, I knew or I imagined the consequences if I were discovered, and I was prepared to accept them – at the time.

MC: While you were held in the cement box on that first night of your capture, you made the small gesture of taking a Chinese yuan note from your pocket and placing it under a rock that was next to you. Who were you hoping would find the money?

AG: I was hoping some other person or defector held there might use it as leverage to be allowed to cross into Tumen City.

MC: In your time in South Korea, you taught English for a time at an orphanage. The children called you “Bear teacher” in Korean because “gom,” the Korean word for bear, if pretty close to “Gomes.” This was an endearment, and you clearly had the gift of kindling friendships with many of the local people you worked and lived beside in South Korea. As your captivity in the North went on, did you find that it was easy for you to find affinities with some of your captors, and some of the North Koreans you may have come across, outside of the military guards?

AG: Absolutely!  Their knowledge of the world outside North Korea is, in fact, censured and manipulated, so I was a natural curiosity. 

Although the interpreter and I eventually grew close, the most memorable “friendship” was with the guard who drew caricatures of me, and the nurses, and who made attempts to lift my spirit at a critical time before my trial.

MC: The day after your capture, the guards drove you to another military post. What happened there?

AG: We stopped at three military posts after I was captured.  The first was not too far from the border. We arrived there while it was still morning. 

I was seated on the floor in a room with a guard posted at the door, while I waited until evening for an investigative official to arrive with an interpreter. 

At the second post, I was accompanied by the interpreter into a small room with a single bed. 

The interpreter was actually an English teacher from an outlying province.  We had an instant connection.

I remember his kindness and his curiosity about the world outside of North Korea. 

I also remember some sort of choir rehearsal going on in the space above us as we dined and talked together. 

The last overnight stay was a second story apartment on the base.

MC: As you rode in the guards’ auto on that second day, did you reflect at all on Robert Park—a friend you had made, a Korean-American you’d met in Seoul who, as the world would come to find out, had also crossed the border into North Korea, about a month before you did, during December of 2009, and who, on that second day of your captivity, was also being held in captivity somewhere in the same North Korean apparatus.

Did you think you’d see him there at some point? Did you think his captivity would affect yours, or that yours could now affect his?

AG: I didn’t think I would see him.  I had hoped to, but I heard Robert was being released before I had made attempts to enter the border.  Naturally I thought of him and how my actions could affect our mutual situation.  And in one way I think it did. 

I am convinced the Korean/American Study Bible equipped with hymnals was used to trick Robert into believing North Koreans have religious freedom when he was allowed to visit a “church” in Pyongyang.  But I wouldn’t find that out until much later. 

During the ride to Pyongyang I was only concerned about my fate and observing the surroundings – comparing and contrasting fact and rumor.

MC: Soon after your brief time at this second outpost, you were driven overland to Pyongyang, in a Ford Expedition SUV of all things; this was a journey of vistas, replete with an appropriate soundtrack in the truck’s stereo. Describe this journey for us. 

AG: I was comparing and contrasting the things I heard from the North Korean defectors I had met in the South together with photos from the internet. 

Besides the natural beauty of mountain ranges and deep valleys seen from the road hanging off from the sides of them – I witnessed the people who walked those inclines carrying bundles or very rarely driving an ox pulled cart. 

As we approached, they prepared the road for us by filling in potholes and tamping them with their feet or halting to one side until we passed. 

As we got closer to the capitol, I began to see more of an infrastructure, but the cement buildings all seemed abandoned; still, they all had some faded slogan with pictures of soldiers or the father, son, and mother of the nation. 

At one intersection they sold wares, and there were several community efforts to rock military trucks out of ditches. 

At one point, I was told to close my eyes while we drove past the scene of a pedestrian who had evidently been run over. 

MC: Because you spoke some Korean, you could make small talk with the guards who drove you. Over and over again, the topic between you returned to the reunification of the Koreas, the prospects for that. Looking back, how would you describe their views on unification? Were they seeming to parrot some official line their superiors wanted to hear, or did they have a range of nuances in their opinions expressed to you?

AG: I actually spoke only to one of the officers, the one to the right of me, who spoke broken English. 

When the subject of reunification surfaced, I got the impression from that officer, and way he expressed in Korean to his superior    the general ideal was that Korea would be reunited.  Under what nation’s ideology remained in question.

MC: As you approached the city limits of Pyongyang at the end of that trip, you came to an intersection where you were struck by the sight of two different people at either end of an intersection, one woman and one man, who were both, for lack of a better term, really good looking and well-dressed. I suppose that any of us journeying to Pyongyang the first time would expect nothing but grime and weather-beaten faces. What was it about this passing scene that you meditated on later?

AG: I was amazed at the orderliness and cleanliness of the city and its people. 

Everyone seemed to quietly and respectfully go about their duty.  Even the queue for the bus was without the chaos I’ve seen living in metropolitan areas. 

I was also struck that there were so few people milling about.  But the ones I did see were most likely not in the military and had some influence, for it seemed they were more fashionable. 

The guy I saw wore a black turtleneck and slacks, and possessed a swagger I’ve seen on runways. 

MC: Once in Pyongyang, you were taken up the steps of a hotel, and placed in a room where you could sit in a chair or on a bed but were forbidden to lay down. You were left there, sitting, inside the whole time, with occasional meals brought in, for four or five days. Against the massive sweep of the length of your total captivity, that doesn’t seem like much, but as the hours went on, and one of these days turned into the next, what changes in your state of mind did you feel arriving on the inside?

AG: I think the effects on my degenerating mind were intentional. 

The solitude and the days without hearing anything about what was going to happen to me caused my imagination to run the course of all types of scenarios. 

I began preparing answers to questions I assumed were to be asked and was preparing at every moment to be transported, tortured or killed. 

My mind was in a constant state of alert and worry, and that high level of stress causes fatigue in body and brain and morale to be disheartened.   And I alternated between questioning and blaming God, and praying and meditating.

MC: This period of waiting ended when you were dressed in a laundered pea coat you had carried with you, and put in a videotaped room with someone the interpreter described to you as a high ranking North Korean official. This official told you that you were required to sign a “confession” written in Korean before an investigation into your offense of entering the country could begin. You asked for a clarification in Korean—‘I have to sign a confession before you will begin the investigation?’ and then, after some back and forth that ended with the official berating you, you chose not to sign the document?

AG: Yes, I refused to sign the document unless it was translated into English or I could speak with someone from the United Nations or my country. 

Although I had a proficiency in understanding and speaking Korean (I didn’t want them to know that), but reading Korean was still difficult – which is why I brought a Korean/American Bible with me so I could study further. 

Regardless, I did not want to sign something that could mean signing my life away. 

I didn’t know what “rights” I had to refuse, but I did not want my ultimate purpose of teaching English to be misconstrued.

MC: There was a moment you had while in your Pyongyang hotel. A translator was speaking to you alone, and you asked him whether he’d have any interest in studying abroad, and whether he was allowed to do so.

And he told you, “yes, we can do that, anybody can leave the country, if they ask for a special permission.”

Did you understand that as this man repeating something that a higher official had told him, but something that perhaps he knew, down deep, to be a fiction?

AG: I knew when he looked away with downcast eyes—the same look I saw in the first interpreter I encountered at the border when he spoke of his aspirations and inquisitions about other nations— that leaving the country was a distant hope. 

They all but said ‘it was reserved only for a selected few,’ like being chosen for an elite space expedition or winning a lottery, except the lottery was rigged, and favored the nationalistic and elite.

MC: As things turned out, you were kept in this same hotel room for all of the remainder of the following month—all of February of 2010. That is a long time to spend in a single place before you know or learn what is ultimately going to become of you. A long time in limbo, I suppose. What do you remember about February of 2010, about that hotel room you were confined to? About the guards or the interpreters who came in to check on you during that time?

AG: As I recall, it was the latter part of January through early March.

My mind was in constant upheaval. 

The most vivid memories are of those planning my escape – of jumping through windows, digging through cement walls, overtaking the guards or creeping out while they slept. 

My imagination is overactive to begin with, so another memory is of a guard whom I assumed to have a degree of autism.  I don’t know if it is true or not to this day, but I justifiably accused him of defiling my meals by urinating in my soup dishes! 

As for the interpreter whose assignment was to translate to me, I knew he desperately wanted to converse freely with me, but, as he said, it was forbidden.

MC: It was reported in the media, early on, that Sweden’s diplomatic corps in North Korea had made efforts to see you and act in the United States’ interests in communicating with you. You were driven to a meeting with the diplomat Johan Eidman, and one of the decisions that you made in that meeting with him was that you did yet not want details of your detention to be made public to the world media. Looking back, was that a momentous decision? In hindsight do you think it produced any effect on your captivity?

AG: My goal was not to be a part of a media stampede.

I had an admittedly naïve but altruistic reason for entering North Korea. 

I wanted to reaffirm that my intentions were not a publicity stunt. 

I have no way of knowing, but I hope it indicated my sincerity to their “powers that be.”

MC: That interlude of relief with the Swedish consul was soon followed by more interrogation sessions with the North Korean regime’s investigator. What do you recall about him? Is it true that at one point he crisply asked you to affirm that Boston, Mass. was “founded in 1630 by Puritan colonists from England?” What was the method to his madness, as they say, from your point of view?

AG: Honestly, I alternate the cause for their motives between a regurgitation of historical fact from recent information passed onto them from the Swedish Embassy or the State Department, or blatant Gestapo tactics – or possibly both.

MC: During more than one interrogation, you were asked if you came to North Korea “to investigate the human rights situation” and each time you gave the, frankly, bold answer “No, but if I had discovered any human right issues here, I would have addressed them.”

Tell us about that point of view, that resolve that you were drawing from in answering like that.

AG: How can I, as a member of the human race, abide the disregard for life? 

The greatest heritage I have, from my great grandmother, is not idly allowing the mistreatment of children.  As she would say, “That child didn’t ask to come into this world…”

MC: From your written accounts, it seems that each time you gave that answer to the question “are you a human rights researcher,” the interrogator seemed to drop the subject, moving on to something else. Did they seem reluctant to rebuff your challenging statement? Did they seem to want to make it appear as if they wanted to talk about your interest in human rights, but not really probe into that topic?

AG: It seemed to me that all the parties involved knew of human rights abuses and/or were aware that the world had been informed of them. 

In a statement Robert Park sent me via email, which I regrettably but intentionally carried with me on my laptop, it addressed the subject of human rights repeatedly.

I desired an eyewitness account, or at the very least a dialogue.

But a candid conversation wouldn’t come until after my trial and near the occasion of my ultimate release.  But yes, I believe they wanted to tie my captivity politically to that of Robert Parks’, using his manifesto. 

But human rights abuses weren’t my ultimate concern. 

The adage of “teaching a man to fish…” comes to mind …  I could personally do very little about feeding or freeing millions of individuals … but I could impart my humanity, and attempt to educate.

MC: Toward the end of March, a new North Korean official visited you—you recalled him as an elegant man smoking Chinese cigarettes—to advise you that you would be put on trial. He told you there would be a trial, but at the same time he told you that you would be released at the conclusion of the trial, since North Korea had determined that you were not a threat or a foreign agent? What did you take away from this news? Did he seem to be telling you that there a trial just for show?

AG: I knew enough at that point that everything was for show and could not be trusted.

I knew I was being lied to and told what I wanted to hear so that I would be willing sign the papers I had originally refused. 

It was all a ruse, but I was broken, and weary of the games being played for my life. 

I signed with red ink, and imprinted my fingerprint on every document he and the interpreter stacked in front of me. 

I was in the hospital, and just wanted it all to be over with.

MC: This same elegant man—the High Official—advised you to cast your eyes downward for the duration of your trial, to not even glance at any of the judges, or sideways at any diplomatic officials in the gallery. Did you begin to suspect that this trial was going to be videotaped somehow, like a recorded TV episode, with you starring as the remorseful trespasser?

AG: Absolutely!  It was all staged for whomever, wherever.  I’ve been in plays and productions, mostly in my undergraduate days, and this was no different. 

The stage was certainly more elaborate, and the video camera more evident, but I was a player in a reality show, pleading for forgiveness and my very life. 

It was the most authentic part I have ever played.

MC: This same man reiterated to you before you trial commenced that if you did exactly as he said, you would be sent home to Boston immediately upon the trial’s conclusion?

AG: I was repeatedly reassured that if I did exactly as I was told, I would be placed on a plane as Robert Park had been in the video shown to me. 

I was disappointed, and disgusted, at being used, as a pawn or for leverage for political gain, by “powers-at-large.”

MC: Now, five years later, what do you most recall about the trial of April 6, 2010?

AG: I remember the look on the faces of the Swedish ambassadors. 

They knew, if I wasn’t fully aware then, that the entire proceeding was a sham. 

I also remember the light shining through the cathedral-like pane overhead as I pleaded for my life in the speech I delivered. 

That spotlight was a testament before God, and the universe, of my truth and true intentions. 

I also knew for certain I wasn’t going home.

MC: At the close of the short trial, the judges deliberated for all of ten minutes and then returned to read out their judgment on you, which was a conviction and a sentence. What sentence did they impose on you?

AG: I was convicted of “espionage” and “attempting to overthrow the government.” I was sentenced to eight years in prison, and fined 700,000 US dollars.

MC: You had a further encounter with the elegant High Official, who continued to assure you, even as he mentioned that you were being driven to a prison “as a formality” that your release and return home was imminent. What was this man’s position, and in hindsight, why was he expending so much effort to suspend your normal belief that the charges were real, the trial was real, and that this trip to a prison would be real?

AG: I would say that I am a good judge of character, and although this man was sent in to coerce me, for someone’s ulterior motive, I was also certain that he had major influence with his higher ups. 

Korean custom is built on the notion of Confucius’s idea of hierarchy, and the notion of doing unto to others as you would have done to yourself – a principle not far from what Jesus and others have taught. 

My faith was not ultimately in this man, but in the justice I hoped, and still hope, to receive.

MC: Your trial was over, your sentence had been imposed, it was now a rainy early April, and you were first confined to a strange kind of villa house where you were instructed to make bricks all day using cement, a water hose, and a simple mould. This must have seemed surreal. Was this clearly an ad hoc kind of punishment someone in the regime had invented on the spot for you? What did you think about it?

AG: It was certainly an invented punishment. The cause is still unclear. At the time I felt demeaned but grateful the task wasn’t as grueling as it could have been.

MC:  You received another visit from the “high official” you were familiar with, and he clearly advised you that the North Korean government was holding out, waiting for the United States to pay the $700,000 sum the North had demanded the Obama administration pay to secure your release.

When were you able to get any insight on just what exactly the communications were between the North Koreans and the U.S. State department about your status and the conditions of your release?

AG: The information I was afforded was inaccurate, and was only provided to ease my increasing anxiety.

I had no realistic perception of what was being done for my release. I couldn’t and didn’t have confidence in the information I was provided.

I trusted the Swedish Embassy; still, they were vague with me at certain points.

MC:   At some point in your stay at this makeshift villa-turned-internment center, you were advised that a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, had been sunk, and that this would now delay progress toward your release.

AG: Yes, the interpreter entered the room and told me that a ship had been sunk, and North Korea was the cause being blamed. The television broadcasts had said as much, so I prepared myself for some consequences.

MC: I will tell you that, from the outside, the world press reported—over the course of several days in late March of 2010—that the Cheonan was sunk in what looked like a surprise attack by an undetected North Korean mini-sub that fired a torpedo.

It was reported as an unbelievably belligerent military provocation by North Korea during the same time in which North Korea was holding you.

What did the North Korean officials tell you about the crisis or the scandal relating to this incident?

AG: It was reported on television I watched. I knew instinctively the incident was going to affect my condition directly. It aggravated me to know that people had perished, and that I was going to be used further, as a pawn.

MC: In later April you were granted another meeting with the Swedish consul Johan Eidman, and he brought you letters written by your family. What did it do to you to read these? Did the experience of getting these letters change your outlook, our mindset, your strategy for survival, at all?

AG: I was overjoyed to receive letters from my family and very grateful to have them – to be able to receive them at all.

They sustained and encouraged me. I only wish there had been more. I read them repeatedly, and could not get enough of words from my family.  The hope, and the joy the letters provided kept up my will to live.

MC: Eidman also brought you a book to help pass the time. It was The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. What did that do for you, given where you were and the uncertainty and also the drudgery of the brick pouring work you were living with?

AG: I tear up as I think about the reading material I was given. 

The White Tiger inspired me to consider the life I had survived, and encouraged me to believe in a future freedom.

The mistreatment of children is still a cause for me. I cannot abide it.

MC: You were given more books, the last of which was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson. What did you draw from reading Larson?

AG: I was immediately inspired. I deigned to have the intellect and resources to impact my own situation and the world.  The narrative was my own, and I rooted for her survival and success.  I fantasized about the content of the trilogy and it gave me hope to one day encounter them.  The survival of child abuse is a wonder, and I appreciate the expression of it.

MC: As April and May turned into June, and the monotony, the everyday sameness of your confinement went on, you had a pretty bad day in late June where you kind of snapped and ran out from your cell into a common area with an eye toward escaping, until a gaggle of guards dragged you back, with a few punches and kicks for good measure. 

Have you reflected on what you were going through just then and how it manifested to your state of mind? It seems you experienced a typical panic attack—which is to be expected any time someone is confined like that for the first time in their lives, not to mention in a close society on the other side of the world from home.

What do you think you were going through, and was it inevitable? Did you not have any other option other than to endure that sort of “dark day of the soul?”

AG: I was fed up and tired. I knew, since the sinking of the ship, and the absence of the interpreter, that my predicament was not so favorable.

I was conscious that I had placed myself in that situation, still, I had reached a point I had not yet experienced.

I was confined and had means of escape, but I resisted out of respect – for my decision to cross the border, and for the sake of the guards. 

It was also because one of the guards had a moment of human connection with me and then disappeared. 

I was deeply hurt, because I thought he was punished for reaching out. The following day another guard replaced him and seemed more privileged.

The new guard expressed a hate for my being American, and then would listen to his mp3 player.

I can’t really rationalize what caused me to run from the room, but it was an opportunity I felt (or heard God or the universe say to me) I had to take.

MC: But things were to get darker yet. By July 4, 2010, you had resolved to make a suicide attempt.

The plan was to open your arm veins with razor blades. What were the external factors you think pushed you to the point of considering suicide? What were you being told, if anything, about the North Koreans plans for your confinement or other punishments?

AG: I wasn’t being told anything. And that was one of the issues. 

I hadn’t had contact with the Swedish Embassy, and I had been viciously attacked.

I felt I needed to do something drastic to get out of a situation with no guidelines.

Since my first escape attempt failed, I was determined to leave in a box or walk (or run) out the door.

I was also aware that negotiations were at a stalemate.

The news broadcasts about the ship, and old grievances, sounded tiresome and unproductive.  It was a planned decision – one I had prepared to take before I entered North Korea.

MC: You went through with the suicide attempt. You sat in a bathtub while the guards outside your chamber were watching Tom & Jerry cartoons.

It was perhaps the fiftieth consecutive day you had where the day had passed like that. Your confinement, the guards outside, smoking and watching Tom & Jerry.

You have written a very detailed account of the suicide attempt. It is hard to read.

One of the things you found out was that it hurts, a lot.

You doing violence to your flesh and muscle and arteries, and you were repaid in pain every millisecond of the way.

You also found out that your body’s capacity for shock as a survival reflex was pretty impressive, because you somehow lived. How did you live through your attempted suicide?

AG: It’s very hard to talk about this.

Tears well.

With the amount of blood I lost, my less than average physique, and the pain, I can’t really give you a sensible account of how I survived.

I do attribute my survival to God, and to the plans of the universe.

I also believe I survived by the will and wisdom of my great grandmother. The intelligence I acquired while I was caring for her reminded me of certain techniques used in such situations.

Eventually I was instructed by God, the universe, or my great grandmother herself, to leave the bath tub, and to at least try to be warm before my blood was let out.

The guards found me, and I was rushed to the hospital.  I passed out more than once trying to prevent my hospitalization, but I suppose I am meant to live.

MC: You spent all of July and into August in the hospital, recovering. Although you were alive and your physical health was being nursed back toward normal, you were now a shadow of the hale and hearty man you were when you walked onto that frozen river in January.

And it seems that what transported you from the robust physical and mental health you were in to your hospitalized state of post-suicide attempt fragility, was the bewildering combination of isolation and uncertainty—where every day you were hoping that you might have a chance to go home soon, but where every day you also saw no progress toward that and you were suspended in this brick-making, Tom & Jerry re-run kind of nether zone.

AG: Hope was the cause of my survival.  Every second, I believed that someone or something would and could rescue me. 

The tears and the prayers were my manna. 

I had no recourse or source of inspiration besides my faith. 

I had stopped eating, as a form of protest, and the Swedish Embassy was made to endure my self-induced madness. 

I was extremely stubborn.  I was going home – in a box, or by my self-determination.

MC: In the first week of that August, you were still being held in the hospital, but there was a breakthrough. A delegation of American officials was being allowed to visit you. They, along with the Swedish consular officials, came to check on you, and they brought you a packet of, among other things, M&Ms.

What did this visit do for your state of mind? Did it cause you to think of the geopolitics of your situation, along the lines of “Whoa, America is coming to try and get me released.”? What were your thoughts after their visit ended?

AG: My initial reaction was one of extreme joy and surprise! 

I was constantly being told by North Koreans that America and Obama’s (“Your black kin, Gomes”) administration was doing nothing for my release. 

Even though I was informed of their arrival, I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe until I saw them for myself. 

I gave out hugs to the entire delegation as soon as they entered the hospital wing. 

Still, my trust in the politics and politicians had long expired.  I saw the delegation twice.  The first meeting was a series of test given by two members of “Doctors Without Borders” – a physical examination, and then various psychological tests. 

At the second meeting, before they left back to America, I knew I wasn’t going home with them, and I said so frankly. 

Although they reassured me that they were doing everything possible, my hope had been depleted. 

Thankfully, I had enough left to endure until the end of August when President Carter arrived.

MC: When was it after that American delegation visit that you first heard that a deal had finally been struck and that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was coming to Pyongyang to bring you home?

AG: It was about two days before President Carter’s arrival!

I began to see old news reels of President Carter and the late Kim, Il-sung on the television. 

I wasn’t formally informed until late August, it was sometime in the evening—about twelve hours before his arrival.

MC: Did you also learn from one of the North Korean officials interacting with you that the North Korean government had been kind of “holding out” for a famous or high profile American to be sent to Pyongyang—someone of Jimmy Carter’s level of fame? What did you learn about that?

AG: I was being told that the North Korean government was doing everything in its power to allow me to go home, but that America would not send anyone to acquire my release. 

I knew from a previous incident—with the two female journalists held in captivity—that the North Korean government prided itself on America bending the knee, so to speak. 

The news reels indicated such as their way to legitimize their government, their leader, their way of life, and their status amongst the world powers.

MC: Someone who would accompany President Carter on the trip to get you also let it slip that the former President and the Carter Center people had wanted to retrieve you earlier, in the month of July, but that this had been disallowed by some decision makers in the State Department or the Obama White House team? This must have been intensely interesting to you, as news or a bit of gossip. What if anything more did you find out about this?

AG: Yes, on the plane ride home President Carter stood at my side with his hand on my shoulder and told me himself “we would have come to get you around mid-July but that they were hindered by the State Department.” 

I was mortified.  The gap was during the days of my hunger strike, some of the lowest days of my life, and they could have been prevented. 

President Carter informed me that the State Department wanted to send their own delegation ahead— I suppose, to discover my worthiness—but I remembered then that I was on a plane leaving Korean airspace, and I was just grateful for this man of God who was by and on my side.

MC: By August 26 of 2010, a combined travel team from the State Department and the Carter Center had arrived to check you out of the hospital. One of them asked you if you had been physically mistreated, abused, tortured, by the North Koreans during your captivity. You said in response that you preferred to wait until everyone was aboard the airplane before answering the question.

There were unverified press accounts during your captivity that indicated that you had been subjected to forms of torture, whether during interrogation or for some other reason. If you are willing to talk about it . . . beyond what the guards did when you tried to escape the villa, roughing you up with punches and kicks, did you, as a captive, receive any torture, any intentional physical abuse, from anyone involved with your captivity in North Korea?

AG: Out of respect for President Carter, who indicated his desire to maintain an amicable relationship with North Korea, I do not wish to answer that question. 

As the title of my autobiography suggests, there were moments of violence and of humanity. 

At some later date, with President Carter’s permission, or otherwise, I may reveal more of my treatment in North Korea. 

This is the reason I have not given more interviews, and why I hesitated to publish the autobiography for some time.

MC: Jimmy Carter was accompanied on the trip to get you by a man named John Moores. Mr. Moores, you would come to learn, was a trustee of the Carter Center, the owner of the San Diego Padres professional baseball team, and also the man who donated the private jet that the Jimmy Carter team used to fly to Pyongyang.

I want to report that Mr. Moores’ personal and financial contributions to the rescue trip to Pyongyang were completely unheralded. His involvement or assistance did not appear in any of the press accounts that I followed regarding your release.

Were you able to speak with him on the flight out of Pyongyang? What did you say to him?

AG: John Moores, Sr. was very instrumental in the efforts of my release.  I did speak with him on several occasions, and we took pictures together on the plane ride home, which he sent to me at my request.

And after we landed at Logan Airport, I jokingly stated that even though he owned the Padres I was still a Red Sox fan!

He had given me his business card and I have emailed him and sent letters of gratitude. 

MC: Concerning President Carter, what is your recollection of the day you left North Korea with him?

AG: President Jimmy Carter was my savior, and I felt his genuine kindness.  His humility and his smile from the heart are incomparable, and to be envied.

MC: You then had a series of very long flights to take you from Pyongyang to, eventually Boston. What raced through your mind during all the quiet time on the airplanes? Were you trying to make sense of your captivity and all that had led up to it? Were your thoughts on a future in Boston? What did you find yourself returning to as an item you were meditating on?

AG: It was all surreal.  I vacillated between thinking ‘is this really happening,’ ‘is this really the President,’ ‘am I going to be taken into the back of the plane for interrogation,’  ‘am I going to be arrested,’  ‘was this all a ruse for further abuses,’ and so forth. 

In North Korea, I had been lied to and hopeless so many times I just didn’t want to believe what was happening!

I didn’t want to trust anyone or anything until I landed in Boston and saw my family. 

Although many of the passengers sat comfortably and slept, I remained on high alert. 

President Carter had given me his personal Bible to read, and I meditated on my faith.

I didn’t know what awaited me in Boston, and had no hopes for the future. I just wanted and needed my body and brain to rest.

MC: Did you go through any kind of debriefing with the State Department officials once you returned to Boston? Did anyone from the U.S. government give you a list of things about your captivity and rescue that you could or could not talk about now that you were again a free man?

AG: To my surprise, after being reunited with my family in the terminal, I never saw the State Department again. 

I sent letters of gratitude to them, and they acknowledged the receipt, along with a bill for thousands of dollars for my Pyongyang hospital stay.

After some negotiations through my lawyer the astronomical amount was reduced, and funds were raised.

But, no, I wasn’t given anything specific to say, or not to say, but again, upon debarking, President Carter indicated that I shouldn’t engage the media.

MC: How did you spend your first two or three days at home after that last flight you took landed in Boston?

AG: After landing in Boston I entered the terminal to greet my family and meet members of the State Department.

I was then immediately led to a family member’s car, which was escorted by a state trooper through traffic. 

I stayed with my aunt and uncle for a few days spending time with my family. 

I was also taken to see a psychiatrist.  I spoke with her a few times and was diagnosed with PTSD. 

I’m an extremely independent person and it is difficult to ask for help.

Instinctively, I knew my family couldn’t and wouldn’t offer me the support I needed, so within a few days I asked to be reviewed for public assistance.  Other than that, I just tried to reconcile my faith and allow my mind to accept my new reality, and rest.

MC: You were a man of a deep Christian faith before your captivity. Did this entire experience modify, from your point of view, your personal faith in any appreciable way?

AG: My faith was certainly tested throughout the ordeal.  As I said in the autobiography, I entreated whichever God “answered by fire” – meaning ‘heard my prayers.’ 

My faith is still within the Christian tradition of my youth, and yet I appreciate all faiths in which love, respect for humanity, and personal growth are tenets. 

I accept a universal term for God, whom no one can claim to fully know or understand, just like the expanse of the universe.

MC: There is actually a Wikipedia entry on Americans detained in North Korea, and it pegs your captivity there at 213 days. In exchange for this remarkably long captivity, and all that went through while a captive, you were given an inside look at what has to be the single most mysterious, closed, and hidden nation on earth. And one in deep need of human rights and civil rights assistance due to the restrictions and privations its populace is subject to.

What do you want to do with this special insight you have? If you could work with the U.S. government, or with a private NGO, or even a philanthropist like John Moores, and pursue any type of project related to the human rights situation in North Korea—or anywhere for that matter—what would it be?

AG: I see myself a teacher, a humanitarian, and one who desires to inspire.  I wish I had the means and the prestige one needs to be involved in any humanitarian effort outside the U.S. 

If given the legal chance I would re-enter North Korea to do the work I desired.

I do feel the people I met while in captivity were given a chance to reevaluate their perception of America and Americans. 

I wish that for all the nations where injustices arise, including America.

MC: Since your rescue, have you been able to make contact with some of the other Americans, starting with Robert Park, who have also been held captive there? Do you want to communicate with the other American captives about your individual experiences?

AG: I have not seen or heard from Robert Park since my return.  I don’t have any particular desire to communicate with other survivors.  One of the main reasons I wrote my autobiography was to distance myself from the experience I was reliving every day in my head. Writing was a form of therapy which allowed that to me.  Still, I grieve with everyone who has survived any experience like mine.

MC. Were you left with any way to send communication back to some of the individual North Koreans you met during your captivity—the ones you have singled out as being kind and friendly to you as the “captive American.”

AG: I have kept in contact with Johan Eidman of the Swedish Embassy. Only, after my return, he was promoted to a position in Brussels. 

Otherwise, no.  I’m actually afraid to put any of the individual North Koreans who helped me in jeopardy.

MC: Have you had any setbacks or frustrations since your return, in terms of people you wanted to communicate with, projects you wanted to pursue, or the opposite, people or members of the public who were annoying or harassing you—now that you are famous!—whom you just wanted to leave you be?

AG: Of course I have had setbacks and frustrations.  At first, absolutely no one in my family reached out to hear my story. 

Only after publishing my autobiography did some members of my family inform me they were told not to do so. 

I still have issues with anxiety, so I am mostly a recluse. 

I recently attended an alumni event here in Boston where people are still curious, but mostly I’m sensitive to the prospect that people will think I’m an idiot for entering North Korea in the first place. 

I wouldn’t say I am famous, and really don’t have any desire to be. 

I would just like to live my life peacefully and help people any way I can, which is why I volunteer at a local place, “The Home for Little Wanderers” thrift shop.

MC: Will you be an activist in the future? Will you involve yourself in future campaigns to free other prisoners of conscience who are held by foreign political regimes for show or other geopolitical purposes?

AG: I am an activist.

If I see or feel any sort of injustice, even if I can’t physically be involved, my emotions and prayers are there, and letters are sent in my stead. 

While Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller were still imprisoned in North Korea, I sent my first and only blog or tweet, which has since been rescinded. 

It stated that “if no one else was willing to go to Korea to secure their release, then I am willing.” 

You might enjoy listening to this….

I am a fan of BBC Radio 4.  Rarely watch TV these days – save for Have I got News for You and Daily Politics and good documentaries – but Radio 4 is on all day and much of the night.  I only sleep for four hours daily.

I think you may enjoy listening to this… Three to Four minutes.


It is from another culture but is compelling – The Hindu  Monkey God – Hanuman.

Rive Gauche: Always time for good honest blunt blogging from Ex-MP and barrister, Jerry Hayes

TRUMP, HOPKINS STOP THE WAR & MOMENTUM HAVE ONE THING IN COMMON; INTOLERANCE

“I wonder what Donald Trump sees when he gazes lovingly into the mirror. I suspect it is a young, slim, virile leader of men who has the courage to say what most people really think. Oh, and with a dashing mane of hair. The poor fellow. If only he knew what we see. An overweight ego maniac with a preposterous hairdo and a mouth that pouts like a cats anus.

But according to well respected political philosopher, Katie Hopkins, he has shown great leadership despite talking ‘hot air’ and that his policies are ‘unworkable’. I sometimes wonder, although not too often, what the Hopkins mindset is before writing a piece. I suspect that it is along the lines of, ’ I am the most hated woman in Britain. This is how I earn my living. I offend the metrosexual Guardianistas and anyone who has anything to do with the biased British Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation. I articulate what the unemployed, underachieving benefitista really thinks. Immigrants are taking their jobs, Muslims are taking over the country and let’s get out of bloody Europe. I will do anything and say anything to go that extra mile to piss off the smug, self satisfied entitled Fleet Street Bubble’.

And of course, that strange, shouty, scary lower pond life of bitter folk with dragging knuckles who infest the sewers of the Guido comments section thinks that she is wonderful. So apparently does Donald Chump….?”

Read the rest.  Jerry Hayes is always worth reading for good analysis and, above all, a laugh. I’ve known him for quite a few years now. (He has given me a lot of help)   He’s much like he is on his blog as he is socially in real life.  A most amusing bloke…one who knows how to enjoy life and have a laugh…in a good way – and a good lawyer. . Still not convinced he is a Tory though.  He will, I am sure, forgive that last comment.  I’ve said it to him several times.

 

Cheap Infamy by Michael Cavendish

Cheap Infamy

by Michael Cavendish

Fame, the many old saws go, is fleeting. Its opposite, infamy, tends to endure.

Could this be why, within this dizzy age where it is no effort at all to tweet one’s unique plumes and chirping thoughts into the public sphere,  some would-be public leaders offered a chance to labor toward fame settle for a sort of cheap infamy?

Cheap infamy. The phrase sounds like the title of an off-year Martin Amis novel. Or a forgotten Kinks album. Or a condition that Karl Rove could fall into, if he continues down the spiraling path of punditry, never to claw back upslope to the fastness of a won election. Why describe it further; cheap infamy. It self-advertises.

This year, across America (and I wildly guess at numbers here) several hundred policy-oriented thinkers from the ranks of law professors, aspiring columnists, think tank proselytes, and folk simply bored of the crossword puzzle, submitted Op-Ed essays to their public newspapers on the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and what it all means, and why anyone might care.

About two of them (seven at the outside) made it into print. The Magna Carta is, evidently, boring to 21st century American newsroom editors. But this August, the neo-conservative commentator Ann Coulter, author of books aimed at politicians not of her Republican Party with titles like Treason, tweeted that Donald Trump’s new immigration proposal was “the greatest political document since the Magna Carta.” 

America’s online news aggregators widely circulated Ms. Coulter’s comment, which was an onionskin of different layers of cheap infamy, hers atop Donald Trump’s. And the result was and has been that someone looking online for information on the relevance of the grand old charter to today’s politics is funneled and filtered through her cheaply infamous, not to mention disastrously uninformed, understanding of the thing.

Were we living in the world of news and Internet of only five years past, the filter for a curious searcher’s initial get-to-know-you might approximate this Op-Ed essay that a conservative American Congressman, Bob Barr, wrote on how U.S. anti-terror legislation was in certain ways antithetical to the due process and habeas corpus rights that are Magna Carta’s legacy.

Barr’s was not a riveting epistle. But it was sound, mature, circumspect, and needed in the commentariat’s square when it was offered.

Our ideas, and our expressions of them that our self-governments churn along on, require effort and labor to bring out. To a certain plumage of politician and journalist, such work must seem boring. And when the labor of idea-crafting concerns a doughty rather than a stylish or a salacious subject, the boredom must compound. Boring work toward a boring proposition won’t make one more famous, and if by some lottery chance it did, the effect would slip away soon enough. It would achieve a public good by spreading education, knowledge, mature perspective, and familiarity with the wisdom that history holds, but—Yawn.

Yawn, and alas, but that world of 2011 has gone away. Cheap infamy is in vogue, at play, and can be bought more cheaply than ever. 

A tricky part of becoming known for saying acidic, outlandish things that tear away at our social fabrics is that the infamy which bakes itself into the sequence of the speaker’s DNA reflecting their public persona, their very image, makes them to us into something beyond even outsiders.

This is the lesson of the Le Pens and the FN party of Anglo-America’s closest European cousin-state. The Le Pens are ever in the news, and talking and being talked about on French television, and perhaps signing autographs and accepting honoraria for giving speeches. Much of this attention has to do with the many cheap infamies they have cultivated alongside whatever contributions of substance they and their followers have fashioned within French politics.

The Le Pen party has just roundly failed—once again—in French elections despite enjoying recent high poll numbers during a period of extraordinary, terror-fueled insecurity throughout their nation. Why? Cheap infamy.

Voters may gossip about, and run agog over, and generally pay overmuch attention to the cheaply infamous, but voters seem decidedly slow to pick such outlandish canards and canaries to shepherd a church, drive a bus full of schoolchildren, or indeed, run a government.

Cheap infamy stuck in a plasticized political DNA. Isn’t this also the hindrance to higher prospects for a Nigel Farage, or even the Mayor of London himself? 

It assuredly is just that—a hindrance—for political Americans like Donald Trump, or his less infamous yet striving-that-way rivals Chris Christie (recent quote: “[a]nd I would bar both widows and orphans, by the way, Wolf”) and Ted Cruz (recent quote: “ I don’t know if [Syrian] sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”).

Oh, that the Davies brothers were still a band and could pound out a mocking single on cheap infamy. Oh, that Amis, or the late Christopher Hitchens, or the retired-from-satire Steven Colbert, could settle our villager’s scores with the braying pop-noggins who truck and trade in our public debates as the cheaply infamous. If only line-of-battle news editors were still accepting boring-if-accurate think pieces on the ways in which our civilizations have advanced through political ideas over the ages.

Boring lessons are gone away. Cheap infamy abounds, ablaze.

Michael Cavendish is an American trial lawyer in Florida writing on assignment for Charon QC.

Salmond trumped by Trump?

Mr Trump seems to have an over inflated ego.  Frankly, speaking bluntly as a Scot – I’d be quite happy to see Mr Trump Fuck Off out of Scotland and take his goddam Clubhouse with him.  I’d back Mr Salmond any day – and probably will back his SNP at the next election.

PS – I had no idea that Americans had their own College of Arms to draw up absurd ‘Crests’.  The man is, clearly, a buffoon – a rich, buffoon, but a buffoon, nevertheless.

 

Why Do Divorce Enquiries Increase in January?

Why Do Divorce Enquiries Increase in January?

December is the month of festive cheer, but it seems that by the time January comes around, many married couples would rather hear single bells than jingle bells. Divorce lawyers across the country report that they are inundated with enquiries in the period following Christmas, which has led the first working day in January to be dubbed ‘D-Day’ by the media.

UK firm Irwin Mitchell conducted a survey to get to the root of this phenomenon. They found that 1 in 5 couples were planning to separate after one final family Christmas together, and that 26% of people were only staying in their relationship for the sake of the kids. The firm also reported that they saw a 27% increase in January divorce instructions compared to their monthly average throughout the rest of the year.

The head of family law at Slater and Gordon has also commented on the ‘D-Day’ trend: “We’ve seen the number of enquiries double around this time and then in late January it tails off. Over the last two or three years I’ve noticed that people even enquire a little bit earlier between Christmas and New Year”. Marilyn Stowe, one of the UK’s best-known family lawyers, has also announced that her firm saw divorce enquiries double in the period following Christmas.

So why do divorce enquiries increase after Christmas? There are many reasons why couples decide to separate in January. These often boil down to the pressure Christmas has put on their relationship. Christmas may be the time of joy and goodwill, but it can also be an extremely stressful period for many people, placing huge expectations upon a family. This is exemplified by one of the more modern Christmas traditions – the unveiling of the Christmas TV adverts. These adverts show happy families enjoying an idyllic Christmas that can cause us to question whether the Christmas we are providing is good enough.

Christmas can also bring enormous money worries for a family. Everyone wants to give their children a Christmas they will never forget, but buying presents can lead to credit card bills spiralling out of control. The Money Advice Trust’s National Debtline recently reported that almost a quarter of Britons feel pressure to spend more than they can afford on Christmas, with 35% of people planning on borrowing money to pay for gifts. Add the cost of the Christmas dinner and the expense of entertaining family and friends, and it’s perhaps not surprising that 40% of parents surveyed by Irwin Mitchell said that financial pressures were putting a strain upon their relationship.

Christmas Pressures Leading to Divorce Enquiry Spike

Christmas is one of the few times of the year that working parents will get to spend a lot of time with their family. When the normal distractions of our everyday lives are stripped away, any relationship problems may become very clear.

When January comes around, we tend to reflect upon the year we’ve had and think about what we want to change in the future. If a couple have had a particularly difficult Christmas, it’s understandable that they may decide that the time has come to separate.

With all of these pressures, it is hardly surprising that Christmas can place a huge amount of strain upon a couple. Anyone who is thinking about ending their relationship in January can certainly take comfort from the fact they are not alone.

You can find out more about divorcing in Scotland from http://www.familylawglasgow.com/ and http://www.familylawedinburgh.co.uk/ .

Back in the Day: Ken Clarke, Lord Chancellor in The Big Society Diary Room


Big Society:
Good afternoon, Lord Chancellor. Any “xenophobic and legal nonsense” being cooked up today in The House?

Lord Chancellor: Good afternoon, Big Society. While I had anticipated that I might be doing something with George at the Department of Business,  that has gone by the board to accommodate dear old Vince.  I am, however, delighted to be at the Ministry of Justice.  I am a Bencher of my Inn and my legal experience should, after all, give me a bit of a head start in my new department.  It is not as if I will need to read Law made Simple unlike Theresa over at the Home Office.

Big Society: Indeed.  Did your predecessor leave you a letter saying that there was no money left?

Lord Chancellor: hahaha… no… nothing like that… although there was an absurdly large report on the reform of Civil Justice in the drawer with some very amusing comments in the margins.

Big Society: So.. you’ll be getting down to business, trawling through american websites, to see where you can buy pre-fabricated prisons and prison ships to accommodate all the “have a go heroes” who  don’t quite come within the provisions of Theresa May’s new ‘Good Samaritan’ law?

Lord Chancellor: We will have to wait for  the draft legislation on this.  I suspect it will not be that different from the present law by the time she finds time to get around to it.  She has rather more pressing matters to attend to.

Big Society: Indeed.  Been boning up on the unwritten British Constitution and your Human Rights Law?   Your predecessor, Charlie Falconer was accused  of designing the new Supreme Court on the back of a fag packet over whisky with Tony Blair.  Are we going to be seeing reports of you enjoying a beer and a large cigar with David Cameron and then revealing a Bill of Rights with so many holes in it  that even a recidivistic first year law student  with a bad hangover could see the problems?

Lord Chancellor: Hahaha.  No, I think I can safely say the the future of our constitution is safe and the Human Rights laws will also be in safe hands. Government tends to bring about a re-assessment of the more ambitious manifesto claims.

Big Society: The Coalition agreement talks about repealing a raft of laws, preserving the right to jury trial and curtailing the misuse of anti-terror legislation.   You are going to be fairly busy are you not?

Lord Chancellor: Modifying a statement I made some time back… I have certainly not got re-elected to retire, and I shall certainly start trying to push my influence in government as far as I possibly can

Big Society: You said some time ago..and I quote..“The Conservative Party have got to ask themselves, ‘How do we persuade people who at the moment are voting Labour and Liberal Democrat to vote Conservative?” It seems that your party pulled a blinder and didn’t need to get the people who voted Lib-Dem to vote Conservative, they just had to persuade the people who the voters voted for to come in with you.

Lord Chancellor: Hahaha. We live in remarkable and interesting times, Big Society.

Big Society: You are a Big Beast in political terms and Cameron took a risk in putting you back on the shadow front bench, given your well known views on Europe.  Not a great deal of European dimension in the Ministry of Justice is there?

Lord Chancellor: No… I don’t think I’ll be troubling our friends in Europe on too many Justice issues… but a re-shuffle may come along soon… and…modifying something else I said some time ago… of course I’d have loved to be Chancellor or Business Secrtary. But I’m not nursing a grievance.  I’ve got to go…. The Chairman of the Bar wants to talk to me about legal aid and a few other matters.

Big Society: Good luck… he knows what he’s talking about.

Lord Chancellor: Indeed… we’ll have another chat soon, Big Society

Big Society: I’m always here.

***

 

Uncertainty, The Only Sure Thing

Uncertainty, The Only Sure Thing.

2016 has all the signs of another uncertain year in the residential property market. With the pace of change even those in the profession and associated disciplines could be forgiven for missing the nuances that could significantly impact conveyancing in 2016 and beyond.

The housing stock shortage isn’t going to be solved overnight. The potential injection of properties resulting from the Autumn Statement, Stamp Duty reforms will possibly generate a flurry of activity at the lower and mid range ends of the market.  Of course, there’s also the spectre of Income Tax reforms announced in the July budget which could see many small Buy to Let investors exit the market.  There’s a very real chance that they will be paying more in tax and mortgage interest than their rent will cover.

So what if anything could these changes mean for our national obsession with house prices?

Regardless of the short term impact – a lack of new housing, depressed interest rates and increased lending are all ingredients that will lead to further price growth. Some observers predict up to 10% increase in the average house price year on year.

The new Help-to-Buy ISA, launched on 1st December means savers can earn a 25% bonus on savings towards a new home. Limited to savings of £200 a month, this could mean the initiative will have a smaller impact on first-time buyers. The return of 95% LTV mortgages, however, and the extension of the ‘Help to Buy’ mortgage guarantee scheme is bound to have a positive impact.

In 2015 the average price of a starter home increased to an all time peak of £215,000. Regardless of other programs, if this trend continues, the “Bank of Mum and Dad” is likely to continue to become the de facto norm for deposits. Alternative funding sources reinforce the need for conveyancers to employ robust Client Due Diligence (CDD). VERIPHY, a detailed, risk based and auditable electronic AML product, and others like it, will provide economical and easily accessible solutions.  A conveyancer’s experience and instinct, however, are still irreplaceable as part of a best practice approach.

From a conveyancer’s perspective, the potential for growth in the overall volume of housing transactions informs staffing decisions and business predictions. Observers within the conveyancing search industry suggest that housing transactions could increase by a relatively conservative 4.6%. This may not seem like much, but since many conveyancers are still struggling with how to grow a new business pipeline, even a modest increase is likely to create an impact. Many firms find themselves trying to pursue more work yet worrying how to cope if they are successful. 

Providing a comprehensive and ‘best practice’ compliance service is frequently found to be at odds with the profession’s approach to pricing.

By quoting comprehensive search costs firms continue to fear that they will appear expensive.  Yet behaving this way they make it more difficult to justify best practice compliance.

For example, since Orientfield Holdings Ltd v Bird & Bird LLP [2015], a conveyancer who fails to undertake planning and infrastructure searches as part of a routine transaction could now be considered professionally negligent.

It’s difficult to speculate why a respected firm didn’t appreciate the risks associated with failing to inform a client of all potential issues. They, however, are not likely to be the last.  Thankfully, more and more firms are recognising the positive impact of transparent upfront quotations which include all required and recommended searches.

QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright’s underlying focus on service and the client’s best interests has reinforced the policy that clients always receive a “Best Practice Search Pack” as standard.

Faye Green:

“Since the recent judgement on the Bird & Bird Professional Negligence case our search packs include Landmark’s Plansearch Plus as well as an Energy & Infrastructure search. We believe that the client’s interests are best served by providing them with all of the information available on every transaction”.

In Orientfield Holdings Ltd v Bird & Bird LLP [2015] the High Court said that a solicitor had acted negligently for failing to warn their client about plans to build two schools in the same street as the client’s new property.  Who wouldn’t want to know that planning consent had been given for a school, a nightclub, high-density housing, a fireworks factory, a wind-farm, a high-speed rail link or a fracking license near their new home? Furthermore, recent changes to planning policy mean applications which may have failed in previous years may now be granted – creating more potential for aggravation.

It is a legitimate expectation of a client that their conveyancer will look after their wider interests in the transaction and alert them to issues that might affect their use and enjoyment of the property in the years ahead.

Firms have voluntarily paid compensation to clients in cases where they failed to raise concerns which a planning report would have pointed out.

Courts, it seems, have now taken this one step further.

Faye Green is a Partner and Head of Residential Property at QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright.

Andrew Stradling is Senior Legal Services Manager at Property Information Exchange and Brighter Law Solutions.

Contact: andy.stradling@brighterlaw.co.uk 07775 444 402

Andy Watson is Channel Development Director at Property Information Exchange and Brighter Law Solutions. Contact: andy.watson@poweredbypie.co.uk 01189 769 479

Legal Futures – a good news resource for practitioners.

Keeping up to date with law and news of relevance to practising lawyers is not easy but is a lot easier now with the many excellent law blogs around – many of which are linked on my blogroll.  Legal Futures is an excellent news resource and I will be alerting readers of my blog to leading posts on their blog on a weekly basis.

I’ll start now with the following:

Gateley shareholders see first fruits of their investment as firm announces dividend

SDT unhappy with SRA again after finding that “misguided” partner did not act dishonestly over insurance

BSB reveals low expectations of ABS take-up

Shareholders issue claim against Quindell

“No procedure” for informing law firms about banned staff, SRA admits

Regulator’s training plans could “promote nepotism”, Law Society president says

 

Review of some UK Law Blogs….(1)

A painting I did some years ago. As with all my paintings – it took under 30 minutes to do.  When I painted at school 42+ years ago and sold many – one of my nicknames was “Risotto” (Ready in 20 minutes)

And here is another painting I did – digitally manipulated in some gizmo I found on the net….

charonxmas2015

 

And on that note…on to a few law blogs…

David Allen Green on his Jack of Kent blog writes: The damning Commons justice committee report on the criminal courts charge

“One of the most illiberal and misconceived measures adopted by the Ministry of Justice – perhaps by any government department in recent years – was the criminal courts charge.

Today the Commons justice committee has published a short but critical report. You should read it – the web version is here and a PDF is here.

The MoJ cannot easily ignore this; and it may be that is the point.  It is very helpful for a Tory-majority select committee to give “cover” to the MoJ in reversing this measure.  Indeed, you can easily imagine the polite conversation…..”

Clare Rodway on her The Conversation blog:When The Times announced that Jonathan Ames would be editing its new daily news shout “for all that’s legal”, alongside Frances Gibb, I knew The Brief was going to be a success. I can’t think of anyone with a better blend of establishment (Sorry J, I know you’d prefer me not to say this, but it’s true!) and maverick credentials. Jonathan has been a legal hack for almost as long as I can remember.  He was long time editor of The Law Society’s Gazette; he has edited more than one overseas/international legal magazine, including a stint based in Dubai; he has been contributing to  The Times Law section on a Thursday for years; and he is equally famous for his recent role at the highly irrelevant Legal Cheek and his iconoclastic tweeting under the pseudonym @judgejohnhack. I knew his handling of The Brief, launched this September, would be informative, insightful and entertaining in equal measure. And in the two months since its first despatch, the evidence backs me up….”

 

A good friend and one of my favourite iconbusters when it comes to blogging is Jerry Hayes.  His blog has nearly as much law in it as mine – not much – but it is ALWAYS worth a visit if you wan’t a laugh.  This post is typical of his style…

TRUMP, HOPKINS STOP THE WAR & MOMENTUM HAVE ONE THING IN COMMON; INTOLERANCE

 

Jerry Hayes writes: “I wonder what Donald Trump sees when he gazes lovingly into the mirror. I suspect it is a young, slim, virile leader of men who has the courage to say what most people really think. Oh, and with a dashing mane of hair. The poor fellow. If only he knew what we see. An overweight ego maniac with a preposterous hairdo and a mouth that pouts like a cats anus.

But according to well respected political philosopher, Katie Hopkins, he has shown great leadership despite talking ‘hot air’ and that his policies are ‘unworkable’. I sometimes wonder, although not too often, what the Hopkins mindset is before writing a piece. I suspect that it is along the lines of, ’ I am the most hated woman in Britain. This is how I earn my living. I offend the metrosexual Guardianistas and anyone who has anything to do with the biased British Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation. I articulate what the unemployed, underachieving benefitista really thinks. Immigrants are taking their jobs, Muslims are taking over the country and let’s get out of bloody Europe. I will do anything and say anything to go that extra mile to piss off the smug, self satisfied entitled Fleet Street Bubble’.

And of course, that strange, shouty, scary lower pond life of bitter folk with dragging knuckles who infest the sewers of the Guido comments section thinks that she is wonderful. So apparently does Donald Chump……”

Carl Gardner writing on his Head of Legal blog:

The strange, slow death of the criminal courts charge

“The criminal courts charge is, or was, one of the less well thought-through criminal justice reforms of recent years. Since April this year, courts have had a duty under section 21A of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to impose a fixed charge “in respect of relevant court costs” on those convicted of offences.

When I say “fixed”, I mean it: regulations set out in a table the amount courts must charge, regardless of the convicted defendant’s means. Notably, the charge for being found guilty after a trial (e.g. £520 for a minor offence in the Magistrates’ Court) was much more than for pleading guilty (£150)—a situation that risked pressurising poor defendants into pleading guilty solely to cut their losses. That’s obviously undesirable, and raises questions about the fairness of trials in our courts. For that reason among others the Commons Justice Committee last month recommended the early abolition of the charge. The new Lord Chancellor Michael Gove’s decision to do just that has been broadly and warmly welcomed.

But it’s an odd sort of “abolition”—for two reasons……..”

 

A few more Law blogs later tonight… Off for a walk.

 

 

9 Top Tips for Safe Online Christmas Shopping

matttorrensdec9 Top Tips for Safe Online Christmas Shopping We all do it, some of us even enjoy it – but, when we go Christmas present shopping, some of us get scammed. In the seasonal spirit of goodwill, here’s a Sprout tip list to keep you safe whilst you browse

Read this excellent PDF from Matt Torrens, Legal IT expert and entrepreneur, SproutIT has been providing secure, innovative, outsourced IT services to professional service firms for over 20 years. He co-owns SproutIT, a specialist in the legal industry and now the leading supplier of IT strategy and service to Barristers’ Chambers.

Xmas9Points.pdf

Muttley Dastardly LLP: Age is not a factor at The Firm

Muttley Dastardly LLP: Age is not a factor at The Firm

old-man-door

The government is planning to abolish the retirement age of 65. As with many things the government does, this will not affect us. Partners may retire when they wish. If they haven’t retired by the time they get to 50, they haven’t been billing hard enough and, in the highly unlikely event that such a faux pas should be made (and it has not happened to date in the glorious history of this firm), the individual will be invited to visit the library or leave.

STATEMENT FROM MATT MUTTLEY
Managing Partner, Muttley Dastardly LLP

To: All staff

RE: AGE

1. The government is planning to abolish the retirement age of 65. As with many things the government does, this will not affect us. Partners may retire when they wish. If they haven’t retired by the time they get to 50, they haven’t been billing hard enough and, in the highly unlikely event that such a faux pas should be made (and it has not happened to date in the glorious history of this firm), the individual will be invited to visit the library or leave.

2. My attention was drawn to an article in Legal WeekLocking out older partners? The least-defended minority in the Square Mile:

“Given the level of debate generated by law firms’ treatment of gays, ethnic minorities and women, a neutral observer wandering into the Square Mile might wonder why there is so little comment on the deal dished out to older lawyers.

“After all, many City firms have hardly any partners over 55, law firms are notoriously lax at implementing the employment laws they lecture clients about and the long-hours culture of commercial practice is hardly conducive to career longevity.

“Yet it’s hard to see how the status quo is sustainable. The forces pushing for reform are too many and too fundamental. Aging Western populations, longer life-spans, later retirements, tougher employment laws and changing attitudes to age – it’s all pointing in one direction…”

3. While it is always of interest to me to read and listen to reports of travail, angst and difficulties at other City firms, we simply do not have an issue at this firm with age. Associates destined to join The Partners are selected most carefully and those who do not make the cut, on closer inspection of their own contract of employment with us – what we call a contrat d’adhesion – will discover, if they were not already aware, that they do not enjoy many rights in the event of termination of the relationship. If they did not realise the one-sided nature of the contract, this merely serves as evidence of their unfitness to continue as a member of the firm. For particularly recidivistic associates who have managed to find a copy of a book on employment law, they will face the arcane and complex and obscure world of ‘restructuring’ will stand in their path for a successful prosecution of a claim.

4. As this memorandum raises issues of age and termination of the employment relationship, I would like to take this opportunity of reminding associates about Clause 482 (1) (b) (x1) The Faustian Pact, the contents of which, were inspired by a note I found on Faustian pacts on Wikipedia:

“You undertake, by this pact, to kill children or consecrate them to the Devil at the moment of birth, take part in Sabbaths, have sexual relations with demons, and sometimes engender children from a succubus, or incubus in the case of women. The pact can be oral or written. An oral pact is made by means of invocations, conjurations, or rituals to attract the demon; once the conjurer thinks the demon is present, he/she asks for the wanted favour and offers his/her soul in exchange, and no evidence is left of the pact; but according to some witch trials and inquisitions that were performed, even the oral pact left evidence, namely the diabolical mark, an indelible mark where the marked person had been touched by the devil to seal the pact. The mark will be used as a proof to determine that the pact was made.”

5. Clearly, we do not believe in any form of superstition here. There is no question of the devil, or indeed ourselves sui generis, exacting enforcement, should same even be possible in an English Court of Law. I cannot speak for some courts in other countries, but our contracts are governed by English law.

6. Just see how successful you are at getting a job in The City, if you try and sue us and we make it known to potential employers that you signed a contract which included clauses, inter alia, whereby you promised “to kill children or consecrate them to the Devil at the moment of birth, take part in Sabbaths, have sexual relations with demons, and sometimes engender children from a succubus, or incubus in the case of women.” I rather suspect that this takes care of any age-related discussions?

7. That is all.

Matt Muttley
Managing Partner, Muttley Dastardly LLP

Strength & Profits

An interview for a training contract at Muttley Dastardly LLP

An interview for a training contract at Muttley Dastardly LLP

bagheadman

Eva Braun, Matt Muttley’s PA, elegantly dressed as always in a tailored black suit and high heels, led a young man into the Partner’s Boardoom and seated him at the opposite end of the long boardroom table. He had a brown paper bag over his head. Dr Erasmus Strangelove, director of Psyops, Strategy and Education, looked up from his iPad 2, which held the applicant’s curriculum vitae and the security clearance report provided by a leading specialist security firm, and put his first question.

 Eva Braun, Matt Muttley’s PA, elegantly dressed as always in a tailored black suit and high heels, led a young man into the Partner’s Boardoom and seated him at the opposite end of the long boardroom table. He had a brown paper bag over his head.

Dr Erasmus Strangelove, director of Psyops, Strategy and Education, looked up from his iPad 2, which held the applicant’s curriculum vitae and the security clearance report provided by a leading specialist security firm, and put his first question.

“If you don’t, my colleague will take you to a waiting taxi, an idea I came up with after watching SurAlanLord Sugar’s reality TV programme The Apprentice the other night. This has the advantage that candidates who I reject do not recognise me should we happen to meet socially or in a nightclub in the West End.

“Contestant… are you ready?” Strangelove shouted.

“Yes, Dr Strangelove” came the slightly muffled reply from the young law student seated twenty-feet away at the opposite end of the table.

“If you were on the menu in a two-star Michelin restaurant in London, what dish would you be?” Strangelove asked as he glanced at the cricket score on his iPad 2.

The young man, smartly dressed in a newly purchased suit, hesitated and said “I haven’t eaten at a two-star Michelin restaurant.”

Strangelove considered the reply for a moment, sat back in the high backed leather chair and smiled. “At Muttley Dastardly LLP, we assume that our future trainees hold a first from Oxbridge or Russell Group university. We assume, having paid a risibly high fee for your LPC at a purveyor of legal education, that they will be sensible enough, and have the grace, to ensure you leave with a creditable result in that course. We are not that interested in the grade.

“We prefer to teach you how to be a practising lawyer ourselves, but we do like you to start from the entirely reasonable base of actually knowing some law from your university.

“We have a diversity policy here and we expect our future associates, men and women who we rely on to add to the capital value of the firm and a year on year growth in billings of 20%, to have the flexibility to be able to think on their feet.

“That you have not eaten in a two-star Michelin restaurant troubles me not, but there is no phone a friend or fifty-fifty at our interviews. I don’t want to put too much pressure on you, but you are one down. We have a ‘three strikes and you’re in that taxi’ policy rule here – a wonderful concept which I seem to remember our current prime minister, Mr Camcorderdirect, coming up with before he became Prime Minister and wanted votes. Let me suggest another line of enquiry.”

Dr Strangelove flicked back to the applicant’s file on his iPad 2.

“I see, from your Facebook page, that you have a talent for drinking and gurning. Three photographs of you in a file captioned “Future Employer’s… f*ck ‘em” – I will overlook the apostrophe solecism – shows you dressed in what I am advised is tight spandex gear worn by militant cyclists, flicking a V sign at motorists. Do you consider that to be conduct becoming of a future associate at Muttley Dastardly LLP?”

The young man leaned forward. He was shaking slightly. “I thought I had erased those files”

Dr Strangelove smiled. “Fear not. We are specialists in ‘reputation management’ here. One of my ‘black hat’ departments is most expert at erasing information from Google and replacing it with a more ‘positive’ message. We prefer that more subtle approach to the bludgeon of a superinjunction. After all, we don’t want our clients to be all over Twitter, do we? The question is important. Think carefully.”

The young man sat bolt upright. “Yes… frankly. If I want to go through red traffic lights, cycle on the pavements, and assert my libertarian rights, I shall damn well do so.”

“Correct answer. Well done!” Strangelove said, banging his hand down on one of those old bells found on hotel reception desks in 1950s American movies used by guests to attract the attention of the psychopath who ran the joint.

“Finally… our maxim at Muttley Dastardly LLP is ‘Strength & Profits’. How do you feel about lawyers making exemplary amounts of money during their careers?”

The young man, more confident after his last answer, replied “A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi – a precipice in front, wolves behind. I want to be a wolf.”

“Young man,” Stranglove replied, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Welcome to Muttley Dastardly LLP. You may remove the paper bag.”

Rive Gauche: A few Charonglass Pics to reflect a view of our recent past

 

I thought it appropriate, given that we are but weeks from waking on Christmas day to be disappointed by the Christmas gifts, disappointed by the burnt, dry, turkey and disappointed, generally, with life,  to dig up (I dug graves to pay my way through law school back in the mid 1970s – true story ) some old Charonglass pics- a view of political history through a half decent glass of the vino rosso collapso.

charon13dec1

charonglass13dev20

 

And I thought it only fair to give one of the world’s leading political commentators – although you won’t see him on BBC Daily or Sunday Politics… the last word..

 

 

And I admire this man….

 

And I just had to add this from Tom Harris, former Labour MP and a first rate blogger.  I hope he returns to blogging. 

And finally for this post…

Of course they have had their throats cutschtik happens…

Advert on the Charon blawg:  I can offer you an image + link advert for £20 for one year and £50 for life.  Email me or send me a DM on Twitter if you would like one.  It keeps me going and it, therefore, keeps the blawg going!

(No legal analysis lurking in this blawg unknowingly, I’m afraid (Thankfully)  – Plenty of good law blogs about though as my blogroll indicates. )

 

I Zorba danced near Zorba’s mountain on Crete

I ‘Zorba danced’ at the very same spot after a spot of local wine drinking.  In fact at the very same spot as pictured here by two very famous Zorba dancers. A friend who went to Crete with me and other friends occasionally did an impromptu ‘Zorba Dance’ at an Italian restaurant in Chiswick – music supplied from a portable tape recorder!  I then thought it would be a good idea – very over refreshed – to try and learn to wind surf.  They came from miles around to watch the over refreshed Scotsman failing to learn how to windsurf. Not surprisingly, it was easier to wind surf sober, as I discovered another day. I enjoyed my holidays in Crete back in the day. Friendly folk and the local wines were more than drinkable – they were good.

Sorry… still no law about…despite using my best endeavours to find some when I nipped out to get some woodbines. Another day, perhaps.  If you want Law on this blawg… I’ll try and shoehorn some in next year….. March, possibly.

Postcard from The Bunker in Perth: A Restaurant Review

Some years ago I did a few restaurant reviews for an excellent website,  Here is  a ‘review’ I wrote some years back in the good old days when one could smoke as one ate and drank vino rosso. 

A Bar & Dining Room
Somewhere in London

Meal for two with wine: £90
Nil points

Charon goes to a restaurant run by East European border guards?

“Have you booked?” asked the black silk shirted Maitre D’ guarding the entrance. The abruptness of the greeting took me by surprise.

“I have not booked. Do you have a table?” Blackshirt’s eyes narrowed as he flicked open the diary. The page had one entry. Blackshirt looked up, eyes darting. “How many of you are there?” It may seem to the casual observer that I suffer from dissociative identity disorder, but I was alone. I heard Sir Alec Guinness in the recess of my mind: “Charon” he said, “Use the Force….”

“I am one.”

The Maitre D’ surveyed the dining room. It was that sort of place… Not a restaurant, but a Bar and Dining Room. It was 12.30. Only two tables were occupied. “Do you smoke?” Blackshirt snapped.

“For England.” I replied.

I was escorted to a table in the corner of the room – a table for two. An East European border guard, dressed as a waitress, appeared with a menu. I selected a bottle of Claret and asked for two espressos and a glass of tap water, no ice. “You want espresso?” the waitress asked, unsmiling. “Now?”

“Yes please.” I watched her walk towards the bar. Well it was more of a march… more Red Square than Sandhurst. I was not invited to taste the wine when it arrived.

The menu was fairly typical of many gastros – a mix of “Confu**tion cooking” with a bit of thai/vietnamese nonsense thrown in. I enjoy reading Anthony Bourdain… but his books, do on occasion, get into the wrong hands… and so it was, today. Couscous and polenta featured heavily. One day I am sure that I will find a gastro pub with a dish called “Irish tagine”.

A couple were seated at a table nearby – both late twenties, both City professionals. I know this because they managed to tell me, indirectly, by relating events to each other of their successes during the week. They talked at each other; he admiring himself repeatedly in the mirrors lining the walls on our side of the restaurant. They obviously knew each other well – at least one assumes so, because, later, declining the offer of pudding, they started eating each other.

I have no idea why nutters on trains, tubes, buses and restaurants gravitate towards me – but it happend again today. The East European border guard escorted another customer to the adjacent table – a man in his early sixties, blazered, highly polished Oxford shoes, grey trousers, Turnbull & Asser shirt, silk tie and a traditional ‘British’ haircut. One could almost smell the George Trumper cologne.

“Good day to you.”

“And to you.” I replied.

“Writer?” the man asked, pointing at my laptop. I learned long ago not to answer that question.

“Just doing a bit of surfing.”

“Surfing Eh?…. yes… I used to surf when I was a junior partner with X&Y in Hong Kong…. on trips to Australia…. tied up a few M&A deals, I can tell you… out there…. those were the days…”

God in heaven. I know I drank a bottle of cider in Church once when I was at Prep school… but I had no idea, then, that I would continue to be punished for that sin nearly 40 odd years later on Easter Sunday 2007… in the form of a retired City lawyer, from the days of Tai Pan, sitting at the next table.

“Really…? good stuff.. ” I replied, affably, but with what I hoped was the correct tone to indicate that I wished ‘to be alone’. It was too late to pretend I was Bulgarian and could not speak English.

So there I was… a couple of young professionals, but a few tables away, talking at each other and Mr Drone, to my right.

“Been to Church?”

I was looking intently at my laptop screen. The words appeared to come from above. I looked at the ceiling. I looked at my bottle of Claret. I had only had one glass.

“The Vicar had a few of us back for a glass of sherry after the service”

“Really…?”

“Yes… quite a few actually. Have to splice the mainbrace after sitting through all that without being able to charge fees at the end of it! ” a statement which provoked so much laughter from the speaker that I was concerned I may have to do a Heimlich manoeuvre on him.

“Oh Yes… Vicar did us a good sermon today…”

Mr Drone told me at length that he would have been in New York to advise on a merger but the US firm had ‘cocked up’ on timing… adding that he liked to take on important cases on a consultancy basis from time to time…

“Ah….”

I drained my glass, re-filled and lit a cigarette.

“Smoker Eh?…yes… used to smoke until the Doc said to me ‘My dear chap, unless you pack in the gaspers now you won’t be able to get it up when you are 65′.” Another burst of self satisfied laughter, gave me the opportunity to wave at the waitress and explain to the gentleman seated at the next table that I needed to concentrate on my work. He made a curious signal, tapping his finger against his nose and said “Got it…Roger… mustn’t stop a chap from his work “

“You are ready with your orders?”

I smiled at the waitress, trying not to look as if I had something to declare, and ordered a main course. I justified my lack of a first course, when questioned, by explaining that I may have a pudding. She seemed satisfied with my explanation and marched off.

It takes a rare talent to cook roast lamb badly, but only inhalation of super strength cannabis would suggest beetroot risotto and chilli jam is a sensible, or even suitable, accompaniment to lamb. The waitress looked at my plate, barely touched. The lemon meringue pie had the merit of being bought in. The wine was more than drinkable and, after negotiating my release without the aid of the Foreign Office, I returned to familiar surroundings.

Postscript:  What is wrong in the picture of the food and wine glass?

Several things:  1.  The wine glass is absurdly empty. 2.  The Chef may have been smoking the garden again believing that a piece of lamb needs to have grass sprouting out of the bone  3.  The plate is almost empty of sustaining food, although I did detect some mash and a brussell sprout hiding in plain sight with a carrot.

THE LAW OF LEGAL SERVICES John Gould – A review by Professor Stephen Mayson

THE LAW OF LEGAL SERVICES

John Gould

Jordan Publishing, Bristol 2015; ISBN 978-1-84661-935-9; 651pp;

£185 (hardback)/ £168.35 (e-book)

It is probably a measure of our times that this book is necessary.  Here is pretty well all a practitioner needs to know about the law relating to his or her professional activities in delivering legal services. 

It is a big book, but it covers a lot of ground.  And as the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, rightly reminds us in his foreword: “The function of lawyers is to deal with legal issues, and they therefore have nowhere much to hide if they fail to know of or observe their own regulatory rules”.  My own experience is that there are too many lawyers who ‘fail to know of’, so this book should be welcomed by them, their clients and their regulators.

Although the book is not structured in this way, its 13 chapters can be grouped into three parts: the regulatory framework; professional matters; and business.

The chapters on regulatory framework look at the overall ‘superstructure’, and then explore authorisation for practice, regulatory codes and compliance, misconduct, supervision, enforcement, and disciplinary tribunals.  The treatment is largely descriptive and even-handed.  However, there is the occasional judgement, such as that the current framework is “labyrinthine”, an “unsatisfactory compromise”, and “more complex and, in some respects, less effective than the previous arrangements”.

The law relating to professional matters is covered in some very helpful chapters on a lawyer’s contact with clients, fiduciary and other duties, negligence, indemnity insurance and compensation arrangements.  There is an interesting observation in this part of the book that “many regulatory requirements are derived from fiduciary obligations imposed by the law independently of codes or rules”.  The current regulatory mission to simplify professional regulation and reduce burdens on practitioners might then count for little if the law nevertheless imposes greater fiduciary obligations on them than the rule-book.

The chapters on business matters again very usefully look at the protection of lawyers’ goodwill in their firms (including the thorny issue of restrictive covenants), at lawyers’ fees and charging arrangements, and at the structures, liabilities and insolvency of the business forms in which they choose to practise.

The book is comprehensive, and any gripes are limited and minor.  It is surprising that there is no mention of insolvency practice in the section on ‘other activity-based statutory schemes’.  And what drove the decision not to include chartered legal executives in the chapter on profession-based regulation?  It is also surprising (and possibly somewhat frustrating) that the book’s index does not refer to the authorisation process for alternative business structures set out in chapter 2.

Inevitably, a book of this scope and complexity will not record later developments, such as the SRA’s revised approach to the separate business rule.  But it is at least possible that, in announcing in July that legal services regulation would be reviewed in the lifetime of this Parliament, the Lord Chancellor was mindful of the book’s judgement that “regulators are struggling to define their role within the constraints of various statutes”, and that “Arguably, the framework is struggling to keep pace with commercial realities”.

In this context, it is disappointing that the promoted link in the Preface to an updating website for the book does not currently lead to any updates!  At the time of writing (10 December), nothing has been updated – even though some updates have been flagged as ‘due September 2015’.

In sum, a welcome and valuable book which – although some might be tempted to think that its price puts it out of reach – should in fact be within an easy arm’s length of every practitioner and compliance office for legal practice.

Professor Stephen Mayson is an independent adviser and non-executive director to law firms, and honorary professor of law in the Centre for Ethics & Law at University College London

Primitive buffoons: – People who kill foxes with dogs….

I have no respect at all for people who ride horses and hunt foxes to death with dogs.  They don’t eat the foxes.  I doubt that the dogs do either.

All hunting with horses and dogs should remain banned. 

THE LEAGUE AGAINST CRUEL SPORTS

My good friend, US Lawyer Dan Hull – who writes a very good law blog and an amusing spin off sums it up with this tweet:

Heil Trump? – Been reading too much of the old Mein Kampf again?

heiltrump

Trump is not an original Thinker… a guy called Hitler got there before him with that arm schtik…

ahitler

But, a very much more amusing American, Mel Brooks, knew how to deal with ‘Unusual People’.

The Hitler Rap….

And here is the link to a scene from that excellent film….

MEL BROOKS – THE HITLER RAP (To Be Or Not To Be)

And a Bit of Springtime for Hitler and Germany… why not?

I’m only surprised that Trump hasn’t said “Come on be a smartie…come and join the Nazi party”.  Give him time? Hopefully, not.

The BBC reports: Donald Trump: How you can get banned from coming to the UK and why

At last count, 300,000 people have signed a petition calling for US presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, to be banned from entering Britain.

He says he supports temporarily stopping Muslims from coming to the US – something which has caused outrage around the world.

His comments may be offensive but could they get him banned? In theory, yes.

You’re essentially “banned” from the UK if the government refuses to give you a visa.”

BBC story

Rive Gauche: A HEAD TORCH….fantastic

If you smoke using one hand and hold a glass of wine in the other and there is a powercut or you are outside in the dark – then you must have a HEAD TORCH.

This HEAD TORCH – a gift from a good friend and lovely lady – has just arrived.  I shall have to walk into Perth Later.  Should get a few glances.  The torch also has a RED light beam…which could be most useful if I want to assist the police and be a temporary traffic light to stop traffic.

headtorch

 

If you would like an image advert + link and 5 guests posts to write about your practice or area of law – I can do this for £30 p.a. Send me an email or DM on Twitter

Buffoon du Jour 1: UKIP councillor insists ‘lots’ of people believe gays will cause the apocalypse

The UKIPpers are a strange lot to be sure, but this example of buffoonery takes a fair bit of beating…

“A senior UKIP politician has weighed in to defend a boxer who claimed homosexuals will bring about the apocalypse – by insisting “lots” of people share his views.

Heavyweight boxing champ Tyson Fury has controversially been nominated for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award – after claiming that homosexuality and paedophilia will bring about the apocalypse.

Police are currently investigating a hate crime complaint against the boxer – who has also claimed that sex with children was legalised by a fictional ‘Gay Rights Act 1977’.”

I marvel...the rest of the article is here

I thought I would start a new Buffoon du Jour category.  I suspect that UKIP people will feature in it fairly often.  Strange people, to be sure. The Boxer may have had too many boxing blows to the head?

Trump: ‘Areas of London so radicalised, police fear for their lives’

The man is clearly a buffoon. However, it is thoughtful of our American friends to provide us with a few laughs. 

Donald Trump condemned across world after calling for a ban on all Muslims entering US but insists: ‘I. Don’t. Care’

David Cameron leads the condemnation of the Republican presidential candidate’s comments insisting his views are “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong”. Here’s the latest developments

Read the rest of this ludicrous story

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is proposing that all new solicitors should take a final, competency-based exam before they qualify.

Lawyer2b reports: The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is proposing that all new solicitors should take a final, competency-based exam before they qualify. 

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination, or SQE, has been rumoured for a while, but the SRA has now officially opened a consultation on the proposal.

All intending solicitors, regardless of the type of training they had gone through, would have to take it in order to qualify.

Speaking to Lawyer 2B, the chair of the SRA’s education and training committee Martin Coleman said: “The main reason for doing this is to ensure that the high standards we expect of solicitors are maintained and consistently applied across the board.

“At the moment there are 104 institutions offering undergraduate law degrees, 33 offering the Graduate Diploma in Law, and 26 offering the Legal Practice Course, and there are over 2,000 firms offering traineeships.

“While we have very many training providers, there is no standard basis on which to measure the consistency of quality of students who emerge from the process.”

In addition, new pathways to qualification have emerged over the past few years as alternatives to the training contract, including the equivalent means route, dubbed the ‘paralegal short cut’, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme for foreign lawyers wishing to practise in England and Wales, the new government-approved Trailblazer Apprenticeships and the University of Law’s Articled Apprenticeship.

“The idea of the SQE is that it will reassure the public that standards are common across the board, regardless of the pathway the individual has taken,” Coleman said.

Depending on the response it gets from its first consultation, the SRA will follow it up with a second consultation in 2016, which would look at the different pathways to qualification and how intending solicitors would prepare to take the exam. “We would hope that if we were satisfied of the rigour of the assessment, that would give us the confidence to relax our requirements around training pathways and to specify them in less detail that we do at the moment,” Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, told Lawyer 2B.

Key points

What form might the exam take?

The proposed new assessment is based on the competence statement drawn up by the SRA earlier this year.

The SRA is currently thinking along the lines of a two-part assessment – a knowledge test and a skills test. In principle, people would take them at the point they felt ready: “You might be able to take the knowledge test while you were still at university,” Brannan said. However, “the skills test would be set at the point of qualification, so at the standard that people normally reach at the the end of the two-year training contract, not at the end of the LPC.”

Is this like the old Law Society final exam that existed before the LPC?

“It is absolutely not a return to Law Society finals days – a test I did myself,” Brannan said. “It’s not about rote learning, it’s about testing that all qualifying solicitors have the competencies that we’ve set out in the competency statement.”

“So far as knowledge is concerned, it’s not about memorising knowledge, it’s ensuring that intending solicitors can use legal knowledge effectively to address their clients’ problems, and it will include proper rigorous assessment of skills, which Law Society finals did not do.

“Times have moved on: we know from medical education in the context of qualifying doctors that these sort of skills-based assessments can work effectively in assessing large numbers of candidates in a consistent manner.”

Coleman added: “It’s very important that, regardless of their pathway to qualification, the intellectual and analytical level of all intending solicitors should be at least equivalent to graduate level, and the exam will ensure that is the case.”

What does this mean for the legal education landscape?

It would depend on the outcome of next year’s consultation but Brannan says that potentially, the SRA might no longer require everyone to take the LPC. “It could enable us to move away from the tripartite training we have at the moment – the silo of academic teaching, the silo of professional teaching and the silo of work-based teaching – and enable us to integrate all of those.”

Theoretically, intending solicitors might be able to gain experience of working in a law firm at the same time as learning the academic principles, and there might be more elements of what is currently the LPC built into undergraduate degrees.

“At the moment, students are usually introduced to cases on contract law in their first year of their undergraduate degree but don’t see a contract for the first time until the LPC three years later. I haven’t yet come across anyone yet who thinks that’s a good way of teaching,” Brannan told Lawyer 2B.

She continued: “It’s clear that different universities approach the teaching of law in different ways. I’m sure some will continue to teach law as an academic endeavour; others are more interested in integrating academic and professional training.”

What about the training contract?

The former chairman of the SRA may have challenged the wisdom of the training contract model, but the proposed changes do not necessarily pose a threat to its existence.

It certainly seems likely that some kind of work-based training will be mandatory before qualification as a solicitor is allowed. “We have already had a lot of views on the benefits of having a work experience element in the training process,” said Coleman. “We are currently minded to retain a pre-qualification work-based training requirement. We think that’s one of the distinguishing features of the English and Welsh system and one that’s served it well.”

This means the training contact would remain a perfectly valid way of qualifying, but the introduction of pathways such as the paralegal short cut mean that other work-based experience are already equally valid. Further exploration of the extent to which the SRA is able to liberalise requirements around pre-qualification training is probable. “Can we recognise other forms of experience working in law firms? Does it have to be one block of training over two years, or can it be split over time? Those are the sort of things we need to think more about,” Brannan said.

When will all this come to fruition?

If approved, the changes won’t come into force before the 2018/19 academic year. “One the one hand it’s important that we get this right; on the other hand were very aware that prolonging the uncertainty doesn’t help either,” Brannan told Lawyer 2B.

See also…

Previously…

3 Sep 15: Exams, ethics and roleplay: government reveals more details of solicitor apprenticeship route

16 Jul 15: City firms attack SRA training proposals as “undermining position of English law as a qualification”

15 Apr 15: First paralegal to qualify through non-training contract ‘short cut’ admitted as a solicitor

3 Nov 14: ULaw ‘articled apprenticeship’ to allow school leavers to qualify while working

20 Aug 14: Government approves standards allowing apprentices to qualify as solicitors

21 Oct 13: SRA chairman questions wisdom of training contracts

25 Jun 13: Revealed at last: details of the Legal Education and Training Review

The man in the red hat will start smoking Disque Bleu again… if he can find any in Perth!

I really liked this image….took me back to wonderful holidays ten years ago in Monaco and Menton in the South of France – when I rode down on my Honda Blackbird motorbike in the good days when one could get away with speeds of 150 mph.  No longer. I used to smoke Disque Bleu and would do so again if I could find any.  None in Perth, Scotland.   (I add, Scotland – because a number of my friends are under the ‘delusion’ that I have been deported to Perth, Australia! – I phone them on Skype and talk ‘Strine’ and call them ‘cobber’.  Seems to keep them happy.  One even asked if it was sunny. I didn’t have the heart to say that it was pouring with rain in Perth, Scotland where I am at present – and plan to be for the rest of my life.)

I managed to get it up to 196 mph on the clock  in Spain at 6.00 one early morning.  Stopped by a Guardia Civil traffic bike cop who was smoking a cigar. He fired a red flare into the air.  The road was empty.  I was the only person on the dual carriageway.  He was not remotely interested in giving me a ticket.  We smoked and chatted, sat on each other’s bikes,  and he advised me to cool it nearer the big towns and cities as his friends in the Guardia Civil near big cities or towns were not quite so relaxed about high speeding bikers or drivers!

 

Gove clearing up Grayling’s mess – An Augean stables job 2015 style?

The Guardian reports: “Criminal courts charges, introduced during Chris Grayling’s tenure as justice secretary, were a bad policy. Their abolition by Michael Gove is welcome. The fee is paid by convicted criminals on top of fines, damages and legal costs, with a preferential rate as a reward for a guilty plea. Thus, Mr Grayling asserted, would criminals “pay their way”.

The perversity of the device was obvious to anyone who applied a moment’s study to it. It encouraged poor defendants to own up to offences they had not committed if they felt there was any risk of conviction. Magistrates hated the charge; scores resigned, and one even paid the charge himself. Last month, aCommons committee report identified “serious problems” with a system that imposed “grossly disproportionate” penalties.

Famously polite, Mr Gove praised the intent of Mr Grayling’s plan, but his actions since inheriting the portfolio suggest a bleak evaluation of his predecessor’s legacy. Like a new home-owner dismayed to discover faulty wiring and wonky construction beneath the developer’s glossy decorations, Mr Gove has been stripping down and rebuilding the government’s justice agenda.

Within months of moving in, he abandoned petty restrictions on prisoners’ access to books that Mr Grayling had already been forced by courts to water down. He scrapped plans for a vast “secure college” for young offenders that penal reformers had criticised as a “super-sized child prison”. Mr Gove also killed off Just Solutions International, a commercial venture selling departmental expertiseto foreign governments, such as Saudi Arabia, with appalling human rights records.

But the Justice ministry is not the only Whitehall space that has had to repair jerry-built policy installed by Grayling Solutions Ltd. A little-noticed feature of last week’s autumn statement was the decision to abandon the mandatory work activity programme, which was Mr Grayling’s responsibility as employment minister at the work and pensions department. A government review found the scheme, which forced claimants to take unpaid work in exchange for benefits,was ineffective in promoting long-term re-employment. Even some supporters of welfare reform thought it gave the government’s agenda a bad name. The efficacy of the wider Work Programme, of which the MWA was a part, has also come into question. The scheme was constructed at breakneck speed on Mr Grayling’s watch but was found, once he had moved on, to be no more effective than pre-existing policies.

Mr Grayling is in danger of acquiring a reputation as the cowboy builder of Whitehall, knocking policy together for a quick political hit, leaving leaky pipes and peeling plasterwork for unfortunate successors to contend with….”

Read the rest of the article

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