Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How can it possibly be "Yes" ?

I listened to a victim of Domestic Violence in court recently. She described the way that she was scrupulous about keeping receipts to prove to her man that she was telling the truth during his drunken evening cross-examinations.

The way she described it, she made it seem the most normal thing in the world that a woman would not dare lose receipts to avoid angering a man that most people would describe as "her ex".

This was a man who had assaulted her on numerous occasions, often in front of her child. He especially liked to humiliate her in front of her neighbours - which seems to be a common perk of abusing middle-class women : they likely care quite a bit what the neighbours think.

She was asked by the defence solicitor whether she still loved him.

"Yes." she said.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Proper Bad Guy

Anyone who's seen a few episodes of The Sopranos knows that major criminals don't live in the areas they control. They live way the heck out in the suburbs, where they can keep their families (and themselves) away from the havoc they cause.

I remember the chairman of the Big City court where I did an observation teasing me about the low-level nature of the crime I'd likely deal with out my way. The words "Poultry Rustling" were used. The truth is, however, that the senior dealers are more likely to live near me, even though the users are more likely to live near him. If you're looking for a top drug dealer/loan-shark/gangster, he's more likely to be wearing a Pringle at my local golf club than wearing a hoodie outside an inner-city fried chicken shop.

Incidentally, I couldn't possibly suggest that everyone wearing a Pringle at my local golf club should be arrested on spec ... No, really I couldn't ...

Anyway, suburbs are fantastic places to deal drugs. There's more cash sloshing around and the users are less street-wise, often paying well over the odds for substandard gear. Which means turf is well worth fighting over.

I saw my first major dealer the other day, passing through on his way to the crown court. Not that he was charged with dealing - he just had some questions to face regarding a business rival that he and some colleagues had supposedly taken for a ride (in a car boot) for an extended game of baseball (no ball, but plenty of bats).

It was a shock after so many of the Mad and the Sad who pass through my courtroom to finally see someone (allegedly) so genuinely Bad. He stood tall in the dock like it was his Local, totally ignored us and instead chatted constantly to his heavily pregnant woman in the public gallery. I really shouldn't have been surprised when I heard that his address was in one of the leafiest parts of our most leafy county.

When he wasn't talking to his woman, he was openly intimidating his much-younger co-accused. You felt that it was more than their lives were worth to cut a deal and plead guilty while he was around.

After the shortest imaginable time in the retiring room, we gave a big "Hell, No" to allowing bail and they were dragged away by the guards, the boss' discussion only being terminated when the door down to the cells closed on him in mid-sentence. I do hope he was giving instructions to his missus regarding the disposal of his portfolio of stocks and shares, rather than anything more sinister.

Then it was lunchtime - and we were faced with the small matter of how we would get to the sandwich shop without being lynched by his supporters who were hanging around outside the court. I always wondered at the number of well-heeled magistrates who brought in their own sandwiches from home. Now I think I understand why ...

Monday, September 21, 2009

You know you've a teenage daughter in the house when …

  • It takes you half a hour to find the shampoo among the chemistry set that your bathroom has come to resemble
  • Her quick showers take twice as much water and quadruple the time of your longest bath
  • You learn that there are four seasons in a fashion year - as opposed to the two that you recognise (t-shirt weather & too-cold-for-t-shirt weather).
  • Your paper recycling is full of glossy pictures of sexy half-dressed young women, and you didn't put them there.
  • Your bathroom smells good.
  • Shoes. Lots of shoes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I enjoy watching one particular defence solicitor work. She's not widely appreciated by some of the bench chairmen - they see her as insubordinate and rude. Personally, I see someone engaging in a full-throated support of the interests of her clients.

I've seen way too many lethargic defence briefs doing as little as possible for their money. Don't think for a moment that I give any extra credence to what she says, just because she says it well. It's just that it's good to watch a professional doing good work.

If one of my friends were in legal trouble, I'd advise them to do three things.

(1) Phone her and pay whatever it costs. It's probably a lot, but this one is worth it.
(2) In court, do exactly what she says.
(3) In court, don't do anything she doesn't say.

The last few times I've seen her in court she has been representing people on Legal Aid, and so they have been getting world-class legal representation and not paying for it. Do they rejoice in this and take full advantage by letting her work ? No, they tend not to. They answer back to the prosecutor, they chew gum, they swear under their breath. In one case they even turned up drunk and told a long rambling story while she was speaking.

She's a lot older than her clients and this is the point where she suddenly turns into Mother-from-Hell on her clients. In one case her client was in the dock behind a sheet of plexiglass, digging a hole for himself with his big mouth. She put on a face like thunder and turned and strode over. His eyes widened and he shut up, stepped back and involuntarily sat down. She winked to the bench and without missing a beat carried on with her argument. Pure class. Her client was someone too stupid to fear the police, the courts or anyone on the streets. And yet, through an inch-think sheet of plastic, a middle-aged woman in an ethnic skirt knocked him over with a look.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


I'm still doing lengths up and and down England every week in the Big Stupid Spanish Diesel, which has given me scope to get extremely bored with the usual dozen or so albums I play on the journey.

For a change this week I went out of my way to pick out music I hadn't heard for some time - the theory was that if it was rubbish, Oxfam would get it, and if it was good then it would go on the list to freshen up my music rotation.

First up was "A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane. I've heard it half a dozen times without getting it at all. I've been told a few hundred times in hushed tones by better musicians than myself that it is brilliant - which always makes me feel thick.

After listening to it again, I'm no closer to understanding it and nowhere near enjoying it. Too many notes ! It still sounds to me like a pre-schooler blowing through daddy's sax after too much sugar. One for Oxfam.

Next though was a real find - Film Four's "Essential Soundtracks Compilation" album. Just check out the track list here - I listened to the second CD first and was immediately in Eclectic Music Heaven, where Chuck Berry, The Prodigy, Jimmy Cliff and The Pixies come together.

I had heard "Speaking of Happiness" many times before but would never have been able to put the name to the gloriously clear soulful voice that sings it. It's Gloria Lynne - she deserves to be better known.

But the biggest joy was hearing "Happy Heart" by Andy Williams. Big and unfashionable - it demands your attention. I imagined someone in 1969 driving up the pre-motorway trunk road in a Ford Anglia listening to it on a tinny radio. Then in my head-film, I cut to myself in 2009, driving at £60-fine-and-three-points mph on the M6 listening to it on my rather excellent stereo. Can anyone point me to more powerful voice from the last forty years. Tom Jones ? You're having a laugh.

The fact is - female "Torch" singers have never been more popular (Duffy, Amy Winehouse, the Pop Idol lot etc.) but all the male voices these days seem to be whiny indie kids. But these things should by rights come round in cycles.

So here's a prediction : the biggest selling song of the next 12 months will be a man in an Italian suit with a voice like a Viking God singing a torch song, backed by a big band playing real instruments.