Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Great Week for Music

Good music seems to have followed me around this week :-

-> Abbey Road studios is in danger of closing - cue lots of Beatles tracks and a reminder that George Harrison was the most talented of the Beatles. "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" are a class above the rest of the Abbey Road album. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is the best Beatles track bar none. Don't argue with me.

-> Ice Dance from the Winter Olympics - yes a strange way for a straight man to spend his time, but watching Virtue and Moir skate to Mahler's gorgeous 5th as though gravity was optional - I've got goosebumps just typing this. Not as good as Brazilian football, but what is? Is it nearly World Cup time yet ?

-> "Nurse Jackie" ended with "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" by Creedence Clearwater Revival - about the only band in the world absolutely guaranteed to make me burst into song. Can't help myself.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Suspended Animation

If you have a crash on the driving test, I was told, no matter how much it wasn't your fault, you will be failed. Even if a drunk disqualified driver steals a fire-engine and clips your bumper while you're parallel parking - the only safe decision is to fail you.

The Magistrate appraisal system seems to be similar. You could be unlucky enough to get a highly emotional case and some highly annoying colleagues on assessment day. Under those circumstances, even the saintliest of Mags could be provoked into a reaction that causes the appraiser to flunk them. And it's unfair because many other appraisees would have had a perfectly straight-forward day.

This was in my mind before my recent appraisal : "Please don't make it complicated. Bit of traffic, bit of drink-related shoplifting and home for lunch".

Atheists are rotten at praying, so of course something complicated came up.

The case concerned a rather sad older man, who was making a honest but incompetent attempt to kick his drink habit. He had countless previous for petty crime, but his most recent transgression was a year ago when he received a prison sentence suspended for two years for domestic violence.

He was in court now for getting drunk and starting a fight in a bus station.

Had it been a first offence it would probably be a matter of a fine and some unpaid work, but he had committed this offence when this suspended sentence was hanging over his head. This could make it a much more serious matter - we could decide to activate the custodial sentence he got last time and send him to prison.

Well, my opinion was that his "last chance" was one year ago and that yes, he should go to prison now. My appraiser and the chairman took the opposing view that it would be better for him to continue on his various drink/violence programs and to give him some unpaid work for this latest offence.

It did cross my mind that maybe I shouldn't be awkward during an appraisal and just nod along, but happily I took no notice of those voices and made a polite, assertive, utterly doomed attempt to get my point of view across. To the credit of my colleagues they behaved in a totally professional manner and after a short debate, I conceded that in this chap's case, we could construct a non-custodial punishment. The debate was constructive and friendly and even though my opinion didn't prevail, I didn't feel that I had "lost".

My general opinion though is that violating a suspended sentence order should lead to immediate custody in the majority of cases. Otherwise, what's the point ? I understand that immediate custody would not have been the best thing for the offender, but what about the victim of the original domestic violence and the people he assaulted more recently ?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Judging the Judges

It's been a while since I've had anything to say about being a Magistrate, and rather untypically for a blogger, I decided against waffling on about nothing.

Administration keep cancelling my sittings and I haven't been able to get any replacements, so I've started getting letters from Management subtly implying that I'm deficient and need to pull my finger out. Quite frustrating - none of the cancellations have been my idea - if they need me to do more sessions, they should list me for more. Or stop blooming well cancelling me.

No wonder retired people are over-represented on the bench - the reality of being a Magistrate is that your sessions will be cancelled and you will have to take replacement sessions at short notice to make your quota. This is likely to hack off even the most saint-like of employers.

Anyway, enough whingeing, today was a day worth blogging, because it was my first performance appraisal.

The way it works is that after your first year as a Magistrate (and every three years after that) , you will be observed by an experienced Magistrate who will look for evidence that you are competent.

There's a detailed list of points they are looking for, but the overall thrust is to check you are following the process, don't have any undesirable personality traits and that you have a plan to become a better Magistrate.

It was quite painless - the business of the day takes precedence, so you just do what you usually do and I almost forgot that one of my colleagues was ticking boxes. The hard part for me was the "plan to become a better Magistrate" - not because I think I'm already perfect, but because I don't yet have a clear idea what I suck at.

The sample development plan includes such things as "I will read the section in my Bench Book on community penalties". I really have a problem with that - who would actually put that as a development objective rather than just, you know, reading the section?

In my case, I haven't yet been able to take part in any multi-day complex trials, so that's what I'm committing to doing next year. Hopefully this will help me get to 26 sessions next year without hassle.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who'll be my role model now that my role model is gone ?

I walked into the room while Stanetta was watching "American Idol" right about the time that a wide eyed adolescent male contender was saying "I hope one day to become a role-model."

This blew my mind. A role model is usually defined as a "person who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by others". Is this really what he had in mind ? And can you actually set out to be a role model - surely you just do what you do "with clean hands and composure" and almost accidentally become one.

The John Terry saga illustrates for me that the "role" part of "role model" has been forgotten. If you're looking for a great example of a muscular, thuggish centre-back, then John Terry is a great choice. Since when was he supposed to be a model father or model husband ?

I think Ron Greenwood sums it up in his assessment of a previous generation's role model:-
"Ask me to talk about Bobby Moore the footballer and I will talk for days. Ask me about the man and I will dry up in a minute."

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

An Open Letter to a Young Football Hater

Yes my love, I do see exactly why you might think football is a worthless game and with moral garbage on legs like John Terry, I can understand why you might think football players worthless.

But look what happened tonight. Crystal Palace are in administration. They were so skint that they couldn't play their star striker at weekend because the administrator wouldn't take the risk of him being injured before they sold him off.

They were so lacking in resources for tonight's cup game that they had to play a defender in attack - someone who had almost accidentally scored a handful of goals in over 200 games.

They were playing Wolves, who are in the Premier League - they're not a great team but they should have easily been able to have seen off this shower.

What happened ? Well, the stand-in striker scored a hat-trick in one amazing seven minutes of football that Roy of the Rovers would have struggled to match.

It wasn't just the goals - it was watching the contrasting emotions that made the experience special. And this wasn't manufactured fictional emotion like you'd see in a good production of Macbeth - this was real human feelings of the type you never see anywhere else.

Take a look at the Palace fans - team up for sale and in real risk of relegation - they turn out for a cup game and sing their hearts out and, blow me, something magical and improbable happens - a miracle beyond their wildest dreams.

Look at Danny Butterfield, who is so obscure that I've just had to google to get his first name. Yesterday he was a honest hard-working footballer playing for a team on the skids. Today he's got thousands of people chanting "Butterfield for England!" His reaction of puzzled incomprehension wasn't one that any gifted actor could have matched.

Look at Mick McCarthy's face. He's the Wolves manager and he cares about doing a good job. Really cares. And his expensively-collected team have just let an unremarkable defender put three goals past them. He's not just crying - he's crying what looks like blood out of his bloodshot eye and it looks like his head is about to explode. King Lear never felt quite this bad.

Football is drama, Stanetta - it's just that it's in a language you need to learn. Come over to the Reebok and let me give you some lessons ?