Sunday, November 06, 2011

My last press-up

I used to like press-ups. You can do them anywhere and they exercise the chest, arms and shoulders in a way that compliments the lower-body work-out I get from cycling.

Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago I went down for the first of a set (30 I hoped), when instead of a nice tension across the pecs I got a crunching noise from the shoulder/neck area. I stopped and wondered what had gone wrong. Neck felt a bit tender, but no big deal.

Later, however, I developed a white-hot stabbing pain all along the arm to the tips of my fingers that even the leftover hospital-strength cocodamol from the bike accident didn't touch.

Hard to explain how little effect these powerful pills had - there was zero diminution of the pain and absolutely no rest from it. I was rolling around the floor and trying ice and heat, meditation and medication, but to no avail.

Eventually I did what I only do in the most dire of emergencies - I went to the doctors.

Fortunately I saw a sympathetic nurse who had experienced similar symptoms while doing yoga.Turns out I have in my spine something called "facet joints" which connect vertebrae and control the twisty motion in the same way that disks control the bendy motion. Somehow I've damaged one of these and in the aftermath my ulnar nerve was "pinched".

You've got to love the term "pinched nerve". Sounds like such a minor thing - like a Chinese burn.  Instead it's a total immersion pain that makes it impossible to think. Getting my foot crushed did hurt - but the pain could be numbed by drugs and ice.

Nerve pain is a completely different animal. There's no prospect of numbing the pain - instead you have to interfere with the way the brain works when it receives the pain signals. This brings you into the realm of drugs that were originally designed as anti-depressants.

I was put on a low dose of amitriptyline just before bedtime - starting with 10mg and going up to 20mg - compared with the antidepressant dose which is around ten times higher.

I can't actually say if this helped but I was able to sleep, which was something of a medical miracle. The downside was that sleep brought me hyper-real, disturbing "Philip K Dick" dreams where I would be walking along a city street and everything around me would start breaking down like a malfunctioning amusement park before melting like a Dali painting while the Universe shouted random error messages at me.

Heaven alone knows what ten times the dose does for your dreams, but I stopped taking them as soon as I felt that I could get to sleep naturally, which was three or four nights of surrealism later.

I'm still pretty sore - but its just "normal" pain which I'm coping with normally with paracetamol and ibuprofen. I'm also getting some physio and acupuncture. Pretty naffed off that it's taking so long to mend but I'm sure I'll be a menace to traffic on my bike before too long.

Think I may have done my last press-up though.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

13 @ Olivier Theatre

Mike Bartlett's "13" is a glorious mess of a play with immense ambition, tons of passion and a big muddle of complicated ideas. Bit like the inside of my head sometimes.

The plot is simple :-

* There's an all-too-believable war coming between Iran and a "US-led coalition"
* A number of people in London are suffering from a shared dream of monsters and they are sleep-deprived and going slightly round the twist.
* A charismatic preacher arrives in a London park, stands on an upturned plastic bucket and starts to talk philosophy to passers-by. An anti-war protest crystallises around him.

The ideas involved are far from simple - religion, war, death, politics, the nature of protest, social media, how crappy my generation is and how great his is ...

Bartlett continues his habit from "Earthquakes in London" of having more than one subplot play out on stage at the same time, with the actors from one subplot passing through the other like ghosts and having radically different conversations over the top of each other. Sounds complicated, but somehow it works - although you don't get much in the way of silence and stillness.

I loved this play - loved the ambition, loved the passion, loved the big muddle of complicated ideas.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Politely Illegal

He was very polite. When the policeman first asked him to blow into the bag, he refused politely saying there was no point because he knew that he was over the limit. When he was told that not taking the test was a crime, he still refused. Politely.

Back at the station he remained polite, but refused to take the  test. He was reminded that if he refused to take the breath test again he would be charged with the offence of refusing to take the test. He refused. Again. Politely. And was charged with refusing to take the test.

Then he was led to the cells and asked the policeman how long he would be inside "10-12-14 hours - until morning anyway".

Then in one possible scenario, he panicked, changed his mind and asked (politely) to be allowed to take the test. But the copper told him to stop messing them around and get in the cell.

In the other possible scenario, that conversation never happened.

Then in the morning, even though he knew he had been over the limit, and even though he had consistently refused to take the test, he got an expensive lawyer to very impolitely try to get him off on a technicality.

The lawyer made much of the fact that couldn't be sure that he hadn't had a final change of heart that had been cruelly denied by a policeman in a hurry. And OK, so he left it late, but is it possible to define how late is "too late"?

We didn't have much sympathy for these argument and found the guy guilty.

What boggles me though is that this civilised, polite guy, did something wrong, got caught, acknowledged it was wrong, felt shame for doing it and yet still expected somehow to escape punishment. What is in his head ? Does he feel himself a victim? Does he feel he's been "punished enough already" ?

One interesting fact I got from the defence solicitor - it takes about 1 hour for the alcohol in breath to fall 7 micrograms. So say you decide to play for time and manage to delay the process by ten minutes then your reading would only be one microgram less. If you were twice the limit you'd have to stonewall for five hours - by which time you for sure would be charged with refusing the test.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I have to admit still being puzzled by suspended prison sentences. To me, a crime is either so serious that only a prison sentence is appropriate or it isn't. What are we actually saying when we suspend a sentence ? And how do you explain it to the victim of a crime when the perpetrator "gets off with" a suspended sentence order.

I had two recent examples that might help. Both of these came into my court on the same day.

(1) A rather nasty common assault - two drunk young women beat up another drunk woman - with kicks and blows to the head with stiletto shoes. Had a bunch of equally drunk lads not intervened, I'm sure there would have been a murder. Both girls had little previous. Sentence : 12 weeks immediate custody

(2) Local cab driver with a serious cocaine addiction that he funded by stealing golf equipment from cars at the many plush golf courses in my area. Charged with theft and possession. Fairly extensive previous for similar. Sentence : 12 weeks suspended.

So what were the difference ?

* The girls had no dependents i.e. nobody else would be harmed by them being imprisoned
* The girls had committed a violent crime
* The girls were first-time offenders
* The cabbie had substance issues that probation reckoned could be addressed through a drug treatment programme. This could prevent further offending in a way that 12 weeks prison would be unlikely to manage.
* The cabbie had children.

There's no scientific way of putting the above together and deciding to get G4S to take the girls down and releasing the cabbie rather than vice-versa. We could have decided it was a "bit extreme" to send two first-timers to prison. We could have decided that the cabbie's considerable previous meant that he was due some stick this time. In the end, we need to decide which outcome is best for society as a whole.

Now there's a phrase that bears repeating : "... we need to decide which outcome is best for society as a whole"

Heck of a job description, isn't it ?!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


... is the German word for "Rubber Bullets". Sounds to me like a new type of Haribo - a bit like Gummi Bears, just shaped like a bullet.

Anyway, I left for a holiday in Germany the night after the riots kicked off . My foot was still messed up after the accident and I had meanwhile picked up some species of fever that burned so fiercely that I couldn't sleep and so I watched over and over again on the 24-hour news channel as familiar towns repeatably burned and the financial markets entered a repeated death-spiral.

I couldn't help humming "Ride of the Valkyrie" - it was that kind of night.

While in Germany I wasn't out of touch because I had the "Bild" newspaper and my erratic German language skills.

Here's a link to one of my favourite articles :-

(original)       Kann ich jetzt noch nach London reisen?  
(translation)   Can I still travel to London ?

What's the German for "Yes - of course you can - just avoid the bits that are on fire" ?

After a wonderful holiday full of good beer, Currywurst and way too many Brötchen, I came back to find that the English press and political establishment weren't any more coherent than a sleazy German tabloid with more boobs than headlines.

But you know what ? I'm going to be one of the few people in the country who doesn't have a strong opinion on "What Must Be Done". You see, I don't live in these neighbourhoods and anything I said would be under-informed and naive.

Exactly like the Lie-Dem MPs for Waitroseshire who seem to think the Mags and Judges should have given the thugs a nice big hug and a community centre.

Or the Tory Boys who ran amok in the early '90s with the Bullingdon Posse - they want a big stick for poor people who smash stuff up.

As for the Labour Party - I couldn't work out from their impenetrable billshut what exactly their position was. Sorry.

Vote Stan.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Newton's Law

Newton's first law of motion is very soothing I find :-

"A body will continue in its present state of rest or, if it is in motion, will continue to move with uniform speed in a straight line unless it is acted upon by a force."

I was working from home Friday morning and decided to take a bit of a bike ride in my lunchhour to clear my head. I was proceeding down the main street of a local village, very much at a uniform speed in a straight line, when an external force, in the shape of a BMW, came out of a sidestreet and acted upon me.  

The physics became quite complicated after that. The car hit my back wheel, I skidded 180 degrees and ended up facing the way I had come, on my back with my right foot trapped under the bike.

24 hours later - this is what we have (yes, I am using one of my crutches to hit the button that takes pictures on my webcam) :-

No broken bones, just a bunch of what are coyly described as "soft tissue injuries". Could have been much worse - I'll just be hobbling around on crutches for a day or two.

Now, as a Magistrate I know very well that "emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle" is a specific example of "driving without due care and attention" and he could be in line for a fine plus 3 to 9 points or a possible discretionary disqualification. As it happens I don't have any inclination to bring the law into this. Once I've given the bike a lookover I might send him a bill for any damage to that, but otherwise I just want to move on.

Sometimes stuff happens and the criminal law really doesn't help. Too early to tell how this might affect my thinking next time I get a careless driving case in court.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Woman Killed With Kindness @ National Theatre

I've always loved the bit in the computer game "The Sims" where you've finished tinkering with the zillions of different settings that actually probably don't make any difference to the health or happiness of your virtual family, and you hit the button to fast-forward them through their day - stopping when they start yelling at you in Simmish so you can sort out their problems or (more often) so you can look on helplessly while tragedy unfolds.

That's pretty much what they've done with the play "A Woman Killed With Kindness", currently on preview at the National Theatre. The stage is split in two - and two barely connected plays take place in each half. Sometimes one side will fast-forward : the actors moving slow or not at all while servants whizz around moving stuff. Sometimes they both fast-forward. And then eventually everyone is on the same side and doing the equivalent of yelling at The Player in Simmish.

The actual plays are guff of the worst order - leaden iambic nonsense - but the acting was of a high quality and the staging was tremendous, which just about made it worthwhile for me. If only that team and that cast had picked a play with some substance. Grr!

Or as they say in Simmish (while shaking their fists) : "No pala!!! Ooh kay kay keelah!!!"

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Booze and You Lose

You can be addicted to adrenalin, tanning, body-building, overeating, arson, undereating, texting, gambling, sex, work, porn, cosmetic surgery, computer games, self-harm, power, powerlessness, smoking, masturbation, caffeine, exercising, stealing, violence, vomiting, exposing yourself, social networking, shopping, religion, pleasing people, perfectionism, collecting junk, making money and to any one of a thousand of pharmacology's greatest "hits".

The Ministry of Sound reckon you can be addicted to bass and Robert Palmer points out you can also be addicted to lurve.

But it's the addiction to alcohol that is the one that I find the most horrifically fascinating.

How can it be so widespread in all cultures, so apparently random in its victims and why is it so difficult/impossible to cure ?

Although alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes, end-stage alcoholics have had all the personality drained out of them, and yes they look and behave very similarly indeed. And unfortunately that's the kind of alcoholic we get through the Magistrates court.

Unless you're a social worker or a Magistrate or live with an alcoholic yourself, I'm not convinced you would know how damaged these guys and gals are. You'll maybe have an image of drunk people shouting, fighting and chucking up in the street on a Saturday night. Most of these people aren't alcoholics at all - they'll feel rotten in the morning, sleep most of Sunday and have a quiet night on  Sunday. Merely enthusiastic amateurs.

Let me take you through the five levels of true alcoholism :-

(1) Adaptation - you drink so much and so often that your body chemistry changes so that the same level of alcohol has less and less effect.

(2) Losing Control - you drink to avoid feeling lousy rather than drinking to feel good. Thanks to your body's adaptation you need to drink so much you can't remember what happened the previous night. You don't drink just in the evenings - every hour is happy hour now. People start noticing and your work is noticeably affected.

(3) Manipulation - your life, assets and friends are used like chess pieces to get you the drink that is your main reason for living.

(4) Control, What Control ? - drink, pass out, drink more, repeat until drink gone, beg/borrow/steal more drink, drink that, repeat

(5) End State - body and mind broken, alcohol is consumed as a reflex until death occurs through organ failure, poisoning, choking, hypothermia or suicide.

We had a late stage alcoholic in the dock this Monday. He was overweight and sweat was gushing out of him. He'd been picked up on Friday night stealing meat from a supermarket to swap for booze and so when we saw him he hadn't had a drink in 60 hours and was really struggling. He had advanced heart disease, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. He was in his fifties but he had the face of an eighty year old who had died the previous month.

He had a considerable history of crime - back when he was just a Stage 1 or Stage 2 alcoholic, he had raped and burgled houses. Recently though he was only capable of drunk and disorderly and shoplifting - a cynic would have said that in this case, alcohol does seem to have done the world a favour.

He had failed many times to attend alcohol treatment programmes and recently the Magistrates had adopted a familiar pattern of giving Conditional Discharges where they could and short prison sentences when they couldn't. We decided this was one of those "couldn't" occasions, so off to prison he went.

Well, not quite. He reportedly collapsed in the cells and had to treated by paramedics. I'm sure the prison authorities won't thank us for dumping him on them, but what exactly were we meant to do ?

In a perfect world, maybe we would stuff him in a taxi to The Priory where he would receive the medical and psychology help he needed before being released, a new man,  back into a society to which he would now be capable of contributing.

**Rude word deleted ** !

You can't effectively section somebody for stealing bacon. And would people start feigning addiction to get a nice cushy rest-cure rather than prison ? And what about the shops - the law needs to protect them from having their shelves stripped bare. Remember, it's not all about the criminal - the victims' interests also need to be considered.

And anyway, Amy Winehouse continues to lose her fight against alcoholism despite receiving the best help that money can buy, so there's no guarantee that even the "dream" solution would get the job done.

I had a momentary mental panic about sending a dying, sick man to prison. But that's what Magistrates do on your behalf. If you don't like it, write to your MP and tell us to stop.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Legalese 101

Part of an irregular series on court vocabulary and the way it is interpreted by this Magistrate:-
  • Melee
    • Translation : "My client did not hit the complainant, but even if he did, it was an accident 
    • Example Usage : "I maintain that the broken nose was most likely sustained in the ensuing melee rather than as a result of any premeditated act by my client".
  • My client tells me that ...
    • Translation : the phrase itself has no meaning except to prefix a statement that is at best a half-truth but which might persuade a bench to think twice about imposing custody.
    • Example Usage : "My client tells me that he has an interview for a job on Monday"
    • Contrast this with  : "My client has an interview for a job on Monday" - this is most likely true because the brief will have actually seen proof before making such a verifiable statement in a court of law.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I didn't have much confidence that I was going to enjoy my training session on the new guidelines on Assault. I had a sinking feeling that that this would be yet another attempt by The Powers to stop me imprisoning people who deserve prison just to save a few quid.

In fact the Guidelines are rather good. You feel there are some fine minds at work here and the detail indicates a huge amount of practical experience. True, there is a slight softening of the penalties involved in low level assault, but equally there is a hardening at the upper end which was a pleasant surprise.

I remember well a Common Assault case that I blogged about back in 2009. This was a hateful case where a man had argued with his pregnant wife (she was sitting on the stairs in their house) - she had yelled back that he couldn't hit her because she was pregnant - he shrugged and made sure that all his punches were to her face while in the background their young daughter was yelling for him to stop.

For some reason this was charged by the CPS as a Common Assault (s39) to which the defendent gratefully pleaded guilty, ensuring that all we could give was a tiny prison sentence or a Community sentence.

Under the new rules this would go right to the top end of the newly extended guidelines thanks to increased culpability and increased harm (premeditation, presence of a child, pregnant woman afraid for unborn child, sustained assault) and suddenly our wife-beater is looking to get the full six months (less guilty plea allowance). Doesn't quite make up for the CPS undercharging the offence, but that's someone else's issue to resolve.

One of the worked examples in the training materials concerns a drunk who punches an ambulance worker  in the face while they were doing their duty. As Stanetta is intending to pursue a career as a paramedic, I'm probably not the right Magistrate to ask what the correct punishment for this should be. The model answer is "High Level Community Punishment" - I'd prefer something involving electricity.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Only Way is Ethics

The most honest person in the world lives in Brentwood, Essex.

My rucksack and the shiny laptop I bought last week stayed on the train when I got off at Ilford. I ran around headlessly going through phases of panic, nausea and finally resignation after trying all the things you try when you lose something.

The next day I got a call from the station at Brentwood - my rucksack had been handed in by the most honest person in the world, they had found my phone number inside and could I please come over and collect it.
An experience like that gives you a nice warm feeling - someone out there did the right thing for someone they didn't know.

Thanks, whoever you are for giving me back my rucksack. my laptop and my faith in humanity.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rapture Deferred ?

The Reverend Camping should be brought before the international court for his crimes against Mathematics.
I don't mind that he's stared at the Bible so long that he has seen hidden messages in it - as a godless heathen this is none of my business. But when he claims to have some Mathematics to back up this assertion, that's when I get interested.

Although, when you actually look at his reasoning, it isn't anything like Mathematics at all - more a kind of painting with numbers.

The argument runs like this :-

(1) The bible contains words about judgement day that can be substituted by numbers :-

Atonement = 5
Completeness =10
Heaven= 17 (no, really - Heaven 17 !)

(2) Therefore obviously (5 x 10 x 17) squared is a special number - 722,500.

(3) The bible contains more words about judgement day that can be substituted by numbers :-

Those who are to bring the Gospel = 2
Wrath = 23
Judgement = 43

(4) 2 x 23 x 43 =1978
(5) Therefore judgement day will be 1978 years after the crucifixion of Christ.

(6) Christ was crucified on April 1st in the year 33

(7) Therefore judgement day will be in 2011

But which day ?

(8) Let's convert that 1988 (solar) years into days using the conversion factor 365.2422

1988 x 365.2422 = 722,449 (and a bit left over that we'll ignore)

(9) Whoa, Nelly ! Stop the bus !! That's just 51 short of the special number 722,500 we derived in point (2)

(10) So judgement day will be 51 days after the crucifixion date of April 1st - i.e. MAY 21st

Q.E.D or Amen - it even fits in with another of his theories that the end would be 7,000 years after the Great Flood, which was obviously in 4990 BC

Hard to know where to start with this - a few questions spring to mind
  • Why those numbers for the first set of words ?
  • Why multiply them ?
  • Why square them ?
  • Why those numbers for the second set of words ?
  • Why multiply them ?
  • Why NOT square them too ?
  • Why solar years ? Surely your God works off the lunar calendar (hint: Easter)
And that's without arguing the toss about whether the date of the crucifixion was definitely that day.

It's all a bit messy too - bits of days left over - a totally meaningless 51 days.

You'd expect more from The Creator.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Serious, Proper Rape

"the classic rape, where someone jumps out of a bush...serious proper rape" : Ken Clarke

Dear Kenneth Clarke,

Anyone who works in the criminal justice system knows that their words are like live ammunition when they speak. The issues involved are so raw and personal for the victims that any off-hand insufficiently sensitive remark can cause offence and anger. Does the man in charge of the whole system not get that ? You patronising simpleton.

Why didn't you simply say that all rapes are serious, but that some rapes deserve extra punishment ? If pressed on what rapes those might be,  you could have quoted from a Crown Prosecution Service sentencing guide:-


  1. Offender ejaculated or caused victim to ejaculate
  2. Background of intimidation or coercion
  3. Use of drugs, alcohol or other substance to facilitate the offence
  4. Threats to prevent victim reporting the incident
  5. Abduction or detention
  6. Offender aware that he is suffering from a sexually transmitted infection
  7. Pregnancy or infection results
It's almost impossible to read the above without imagining just how bad an offence rape can become at the extreme.

Especially when you bear in mind that those aggravating factors are taken from the guideline "S5: Rape of a child under 13". Would the rape of a 12 year old without any additional aggravating factors be considered as not serious or not a proper rape  ? You total cretin.

All rapes are serious, all rapes are proper rapes.  You absolute buffoon.

Please be more sensitive with your language when you speak about these matters in the future and maybe I'll be more careful with my language when I speak about you.




Monday, May 16, 2011

England and Wales and the Border Esk

Some days in court you wonder why you bother.
The morning was composed of trials that couldn't happen because some people or some paperwork was missing, and usually the absence of people was due to them not being sent some paperwork in time.

I blame the royal family - these wedding bank holidays have caused chaos in the government bureaucracy. Although someone in the previous court should have realised that setting a court date two weeks in the future was optimistic considering so few of those days were working days.

We did some busy-work (statutory declarations and the like) but even so, we had finished the morning business well before 11:00.

The afternoon was given over to private prosecutions, which can be very interesting indeed. We've seen everything from illegal truckers to truancy enablers, copyright criminals to benefit fraudsters. This afternoon though was devoted to fishing licence evaders.

Now don't get me wrong, a crime is a crime, and fishing without a licence involves entering a business premises and taking goods without making an attempt to pay. Fish larceny if you like.

But the police deal administrative with way more complex crimes than this with on-the-spot fines and cautions, and traffic wardens hand you a ticket if your car is illegally parked - so why oh why oh River Wye does this stuff end up in a Magistrates Court ?

Nobody bothered showing up to plead guilty or to attempt a defence so we managed to sentence a half dozen of these cases in less than an hour and that was the business of the day concluded. We had been in court for less than two hours total and had not seen a single defendant.

One interesting bit of trivia though : Scottish devolved government took over control of fishing on Scottish rivers - except for the Esk, which meanders back and forward across the English border. And so, the whole of the Esk (even the Scottish bits) remain under English law. This means that it is possible for Scottish people to be well inside Scotland doing some fishing and end up in an English court because they haven't got an English fishing licence.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Old Man's Slippers

I am being royally teased by the Stan Clan at the moment because I have reached the stage in my life when I can properly appreciate a good pair of slippers.

I bought these from M&S and they are outrageous comfortable - you feel like your knackered old man's feet are being hugged by memory foam.

I could care less that they look like footwear favoured by OAPs. I mean, only my close family will ever see them and anyway just how trendy do slippers get anyway ?

Fashion faux-pas ? Je ne regrette rien.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Christmas Time

The Magistrate Court calendar is a little out of whack from reality. While some cases can be dealt with in a matter of days, others drag on for months. So just as the daffodils are coming out, Christmas has come to the courthouse in the shape of a bunch of offences dating back to December.

Christmas 2010 was not a season of goodwill to all men, and it certainly wasn't to all women. It was the season of dysfunctional families forced to spend time together, with an added sprinkling of financial worries, unreasonable expectations and binge drinking.

There's a widespread delusion that domestic violence is about a mentally deficient alcoholic man in a dirty string vest beating up on his long-suffering wife because his dinner wasn't on the table when he got back from the pub. In fact, it's hardly ever about that.

Tommy Cooper beat his wife. Hillary Clinton beat her husband. Ringo Starr beat his wife. Liza Minelli beat her husband. Abraham Lincoln was beaten by his wife. With Humphrey Bogart it was more 50:50 with his wife. The legendary libel lawyer George Carman punched his wife in the stomach when she was pregnant and threatened her with two knives, saying: "Which one do you want in you first?"

The abuse case I worked on concerned a very successful local businessman who took his family out for Christmas dinner, had a skin-full, went home  and then proceeded to beat his wife and then his teenage son who had gone to protect his mum. Despite his entire family coming to court and giving consistent testimony against him, he still insisted that he was the victim - in his view his son had jumped him for no good reason and his wife and other kids had lied to get back at him (for reasons unknown). Had his dog been called as a witness, I'm sure he would have protested that that dog had always had it in for him.

There were some particularly disturbing details in the story. For example, the wife, as soon as the argument started, went to the kitchen to tidy cupboards while her husband verbally abused their teenage daughter in the lounge. It spoke volumes of a long pattern of abuse that she can cope with only be going to a place where she has power and blocking out the unmanageable.

I looked at the man in the dock and wondered what was going on in his head. I sensed incredible weakness - a man who had lost the control he craved and could only impose his will through throwing his weight around.

I almost pitied him.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Three Wise Men (and Norbert)

We have a knitted Nativity set in our window at Christmas (doesn't everyone?).

This gets packed away in a big crate with the rest of the decorations in January and stowed on a high shelf in the garage. Except this year, one of our wise men fell down behind the sofa and missed out on being packed.

He's still around. This is partly because I can't be pestered to get the crate down, but mostly it's because it amuses us to have him around and we imagine he is Norbert, the not-so-wise man, who set off from the East with the Magi, but made an absolute hash of following the star (how hard is that ?) and ended up really quite a long way from Bethlehem still carrying his present for the baby Jesus.

Socks, I imagine - I don't believe Norbert's taste in presents is any better than his navigation skills.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stand-up, Stand-up for Jesus

I couldn't quite believe "Thought for the Day" this morning. Some total whack-job (Rhidian Brook) evaded security and managed to deliver a surreal dead-pan treatise on why the gospels are more comic than tragic, before he could be dragged away from the mic, medicated and sent back to the Home for the Bewildered.

I'm no bible scholar, but isn't the story of Jesus highly tragic, with a twist of hope? Not comic, not by any stretch. Jesus by all accounts was a serious man with a serious purpose who was messily killed by other serious men. Yes, it is eminently possible for a sermon about some of the issues in the gospels to be comic and for a talented preacher to make a congregation roar while still making a serious point. But that doesn't make the source text in any way comic.

He was also seems under the impression that Jesus was born in a pig sty. Hello ?!

I'm looking forward to Rhidian's sequel, in which he explains to Muslims that the Koran is more comic than tragic. He should definitely avoid using cartoons to illustrate his points though.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Change in the Weather

Can't actually remember the last time I read a novel from end to end - it has been several years anyway.

I did finally get the chance since I've been on the train to London and not the car - the police get all agitated when you try reading a good book while you're driving on the M6.

I'll probably not wait a couple of years now that I've read "Solar" by Ian McEwan. His protogonist is a physicist with a planet-sized ego and a planet-sized appetite (and not a small planet either). A fairly blatant metaphor for the human race in other words. If you want the plot spoiled, read this bunch of spoilers masquerading as a review in The Guardian, otherwise just trust that the prose is excellent and well-worth the effort. All but one of the characters are one-dimensional but this is absolutely justified since the book is written from the point of view of the Prof and this is exactly the way he sees the world.

Funny how climate science seems to be chasing me around whenever I get cultural - I enjoyed the imperfect but rather brilliant play "Greenland" at the National Theatre recently. Written by four separate playwrights it gives you four different human insights into our present muddle about climate change.

* A teenager who wants to do something and can't understand why everyone else (especially her parents) don't.
* A troubled mother and daughter in family therapy - the fact that the neighbour leaves a light on all night for his dog is a crime against the planet in the daughter's eyes. To the mother though, this fretting over nothing is  a sign of mental illness.
* A geography student on a field trip to the warming Arctic
* A climate modeller's affair with one of Ed Milliband's advisers in the run-up to the Copenhagen talks

The play was treated by the critics and bloggers like a polar bear treats a guillemot chick, but I rather liked its complexity and craziness. Climate change is a complicated subject best left to atmospheric physicists, but our personal and political response to it is even more complex and this is where Ian McEwan and the four "Greenland" playwrights can make an important contribution to the debate.

The polar bear in "Greenland" was excellent too - worth the price of a ticket alone.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stan The Album

I've compiled a Spotify playlist containing all the music I've mentioned even tangentially during the last two years of the blog.

Click here.

It's quite a mixture of songs I love, songs I hate and songs I love to hate. Watch this space for a Dub Step remix sometime soon.

If you love music, have a broadband connection and haven't yet got Spotify, I really don't understand how your brain works.

Update : Playlist now contains everything I could find covering the whole five year life of the blog.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bungee Judge

A number of the inhabitants of my little bit of England get a fair bit of coverage on the front and back pages of the tabloids, so when their business makes it into court there tends to be quite a buzz about the trial.

I've not sat on any of the newsworthy cases before and frankly I was looking forward to reporting here how it feels to be involved in one.

So when I heard that a particular lady was due in court on one of my days, I thought that my chance had come.

I arrived early, around 09:00, went to the retiring room and read the order of business - no mention of the lady in question. One of my colleagues turned up and asked if I wanted to see the cells under the court - she knew one of the security guys well and he wouldn't mind giving us a tour. Excellent idea.

The cells are ancient - very minimal - the main feature being that the heating comes up through the bottom of a long metal bench. The facilities for the prisoners were much better than those provided for the guards I couldn't help noticing, but even so, not even up to Travelodge standards.

The guard's walkie-talkie squawked and we were told we had to leave because prisoners were arriving. We stepped out into the compound in time to see a WPC handcuffed to a very tall black woman in a very short red dress. You can tell I have reached a certain age because my mental reaction wasn't "Phwoarr!" - instead it was "By 'eck, she's not really dressed for this".

We went back to the retiring room to find a District Judge fresh off the train from London. Nobody knew he was coming but apparently we needed to move to a neighbouring court room for a Domestic Violence trial and he was to take care of the rest of the day's business, including the Lady in Red.

Now, I'm not usually a conspiracy theorist, but ... Is it possible that The Powers That Be don't trust Lay Magistrates with newsworthy trials ?

The most damning piece of evidence I can find is that the biscuits in his retiring room were just the normal Magistrate selection - the admin staff hadn't had enough notice to nip out and get the special Judge-quality biscuits made from caviar, saffron and gold-dust before the DJ parachuted in.

As it was, our trial ended up lasting all day and it was challenging and fascinating and really quite rewarding. Hizzonnah next door dealt with the lady in a few minutes and then presumably got the next train back to London. I can report that a racket was briefly made by the members of the press and other interested bystanders, but unfortunately I still can't tell you how it feels to be in the glare of media attention. Sorry.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Weasel Words

I'd like to nominate British Foreign Secretary (for now) William Hague for an award for services to avoiding the damn question.

When asked to respond to a comment from an exasperated colleague that he lacked enthusiasm for the role, he created the following smoke soup :-

“These are historic times and momentous events are taking place and I say to you very seriously that all of us who have taken on the job of shouldering responsibilities at this time must see those responsibilities through for an extended period of time in the face of any criticism of setbacks.”

Now, English is my first language and I can't pick the bones out of that lot - maybe it lost something in the translation from whatever language William Hague's brain speaks. Didn't he used to be a Yorkshireman ?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

What's the deal with Radiohead, Stan ?

... surely they're just another group, right ? Why can't you just listen to the new "King of Limbs" album a couple of times and just darn well decide whether you like it or not ?

The long and short of it is that I'm not nearly musician enough to judge. It's like the first time I tried to read "Ulysees" I thought it was incoherent piffle. This was because I was a simpleton. When I was slightly wiser I re-read it and realised that it was actually the best novel of all time. I wasn't the only one - look at the reviews for "Ulysees" when it came out - George Bernard Shaw (who should have known better) said "In Ireland they try to make a cat clean by rubbing its nose in its own filth. Mr. Joyce has tried the same treatment on the human subject"


It really hasn't grabbed me and shaken me like their previous albums - sorry guys, it sounds to this fan very much like a whole album of B-sides. Very listenable with some nice ideas but nothing that lands the killer blow like on every single previous album :-

Pablo Honey (1993) - "Creep"

The Bends (1995) - "Just"

OK Computer (1997) - every single second of every single perfectly formed track

Kid A (2000) - "Everything In Its Right Place"

Amnesiac (2001) - "Pyramid Song"

Hail to the Thief (2003) - "There There"

In Rainbows (2007) - "Reckoner"

The King of Limbs (2011) - ???

Any Radiohead Head wanting to contradict me need to tell me which album King of Limbs replaced in their Top 3 Radiohead albums and which track from it now features in their Top 10 Radiohead tracks.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I've got a Vodafone mobile internet dongle that I use when I'm away from home. Staying in a Travelodge in the East End of London, I'm surrounded by high buildings, and even though I get a nice blue 3G signal, it seems to drop out if the dongle is moved an inch or if the wind blows or if anything moves anywhere in England.

I've solved the problem as per the attached photo. Basically you put a dongle in an empty coffee mug. This is bizarre enough, but it seems to work even better if you leave the spoon in the cup too.

Sometimes you solve problems with science - sometimes you just need to stick your dongle in a mug.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Radiohead Free Stan

You never really grasp a Radiohead album the first time you hear  it, so I'm not in total shock that I'm not immediately bowled over by their eighth offering "King of Limbs".

The album it most resembles is "In Rainbows".

But without a track as strong as "The Reckoner".

And much, much. much, much shorter.

Let me listen to a couple of dozen times and I will report back.

Meanwhile I recommend  Track 6 "Codex" and Track 8 "Separator" - these two are likely  to be coming to an upscale coffee house near you real soon. They're both definitely well crafted and tonal - superior chillout music. Too early to tell yet if they're anything more important than that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Confidence and Paranoia

New Radiohead album due out at the weekend !
New Radiohead album may suck and I'll be as depressed as ... er .. the average Radiohead fan.

Bolton Wanderers may qualify for the UEFA cup !
The following season, the overstretched squad inevitably flirt with relegation

Low interest rates !
High inflation rates

"Horizon" - Consistently excellent factual science on the BBC (get it on iplayer now !)
"Outcasts" - Consistently blooming mediocre science-fiction on the BBC (avoid, avoid)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A cyclist's observation

If you can get a bike down both sides of your car, then your car is not parked; rather it has been carelessly abandoned in the middle of the road.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

8 day week

Our administration team has been slashed over the last few years and the few remaining staff are good people who work very hard for little money to remove the many obstacles in the way of us doing what we do.

The following email though suggests that maybe the increased workload is starting to take its toll :-
Is anyone available for a Saturday Court on Friday 19th February please?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Strong Words

The subject of the book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat" suffers from a condition called Visual Agnosia - a complete inability to recognise familiar objects caused by some sort of brain damage.

Also, something like one in ten of the population do not have sufficient stereo vision to "see" 3-D television.

I wonder if I am suffering from something similar with regards to "Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show !".

I'm not saying I don't find it very funny - I'm saying I can't even  recognise it as a comedy program - I only know that it is a comedy because the studio audience guffaw throughout and it is listed on the "Comedy" section on the BBC i-player. The Powers at Radio 4 must think it's utterly hilarious because they keep commisioning new series (six at the latest Count).

Vest. Banana. Marimba. Oswald Mosley. Plinth. Dogger, Fisher, German Bight. Einundzwanzig. Sumatra. RAM. Bird Cage.

The above is what the program sounds like to me, a random soup of words without meaning or substance and certainly not funny, no matter the silliness of the voice you read them in.

So, either I am brain damaged, or this programme is a total waste of  the paper used to write it and the studio in which it is shoddily acted.

Do let me know whether I'm alone on this - if so, I'll get a check-up from the neck-up and have my brain adjusted. Otherwise, I'll be asking Radio 4 to please commit to commissioning comedy shows that actually contain, you know, humour. 

By the way, I also don't "get" The Shuttleworths, but Mrs Stan assures me that this is simply because I'm from Lancashire.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

How to make £2000 a day or £1 a day in prison

I'm a Maths graduate who qualified as an accountant who now makes his crust crunching big data sets for complicated companies. Give me numbers and I'm a happy man.

Well, I was until I became a Magistrate.

A few months ago we saw a farmer who had broken all kinds of environmental legislation the previous year by burying asbestos, spent uranium and kryptonite in his cow field (only a slight exaggeration). He had been heavily fined - then had stopped paying - threatened with prison - started paying again - stopped paying - threatened with prison - continued not to pay - given a final warning - didn't pay - sent to prison.

We sent him down for 12 weeks, a sentence which effectively wiped out the £100,000+ in fines and compensation he still had to pay. He'll likely only do six weeks, which means that every day inside would be equivalent to over £2,000.

Fastforward to more recent events and we have a drug addict with over 200 previous shoplifting offences who walked out of a supermarket with £24 worth of meat under his jacket. Over the previous few decades Magistrates had tried on him just about all the punishments and education programmes in the book - all had failed and the last half dozen times all that was left was the sort of short jail sentence the current Justice Minister hates us using (but not enough to change the law to stop us).

We were no different from our predecessors and we sent him down for 8 weeks - which if we assume he does half, means that his £24 of bacon cost him roughly 24 days of custody.

Unfair comparison ? To make it "fair" should we have given the farmer 460 years? Alternatively, should we could have sent the meat thief down for 17 minutes ?

There's a point there somewhere about how you drive yourself crazy trying to compare sentences given for different crimes to different criminals. The world of The Law is very different from the world of Logic and Reason - it has built up over time, cares too much about some behaviours and not enough about others, is inconsistent and frequently contradictory.

But I'm increasingly in awe of it - imagine a world without Law - a world where there's nothing to stop farmers from poisoning rivers and drug addicts from stripping the shelves bare. There are a few thousand things I'd change if I ever got elected to something though.

Vote Stan.