Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gone Fishing

I don’t suppose anyone has noticed (sob) that I haven’t written anything for a while. This is due largely to spending the last month or so wallowing in self-pity. Fortunately a dear friend told me to shut the fuck up and do something about it. So I did. I’ve started fishing. I was going to say that this particular brand of fishing doesn’t involve tackle, although I’m hoping it will do at some point in the future. There must surely be a reward for trawling through countless profiles other than the obvious potential for poor puns.

So I’m not afraid to admit that I have joined the crazy world of Plenty of Fish. You would think that the beaches of the South West were chock a block with forty and fifty-something single men, the number that claim walking on the coast is amongst their favourite activities. There are so many adrenaline junkies out there: I was previously blissfully ignorant of the number of surfers, rock climbers and cyclists in the South West. Having an unused gym membership does not make the claim of possession of an “athletic physique” any closer to the truth. It’s not so much the transparently false claims that irritate than the sheer stupidity that these erroneous claims will be plain if any of these men actually get a date.

And they’re all genuinely genuine. However, having a user name “wannafook” may be uncharacteristically honest, but please, it’s not appealing. Neither is the opening gambit “Hi sexy – r u feeling horny?” And that’s not to mention the far too liberal use of lol which should not be employed by anyone over thirty: “Hi lol. Are you free at the weekend? Lol”, “Are u wet? lol”. Those three little letters do not give you permission to suggest a plethora of sexual  practices to a stranger. Mercifully I’ve been blocked by a distinctly unattractive man who accused me of being rude for not replying to his messages. I suggested that what, in fact, would be rude would be telling him that I have no desire to fuck an obese sixty-something that can’t punctuate and has a face like a bag full of spanners. LOL.

In summary, it’s been an eventful, if unedifying fishing expedition so far, but at least I haven’t caught anything...




Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Let them eat cake

Just a quick one that tickled my fancy, and might tickle yours, whilst still at my desk at 7.48 pm. Here is a note from a legal visit confirmation email I received today:
The following may not be brought into HMP Erlestoke:

Computers/laptops, mobile phones, USB memory sticks, recording devices, DVD/DSs, MP3 players, aerosols, alcohol, wax, chewing gum, wire, metal cutlery, weapons, drugs (non HCC), magnets, toy guns, syringes, alarm clocks, matches, glue, yeast, ladders, tin foil, clingfilm, solvents, bleach, rope, glass, vinegar, prescribed medication, Vaseline, lipsticks/gloss/lip balm, cameras.

Seemingly I’m permitted to take in a birthday cake with a file in it. I’ll probably not try it tomorrow, however tempting.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Zen and the Art of Motor Purchase

My apologies in advance for becoming something resembling Jeremy Clarkson. Most of my recent posts appear to be about car trouble, and I sincerely hope that this is the last in a significant line. After a further breakdown rendering my vehicle uneconomical to repair I asked my father for advice about what I should do in the hope that a loan would be forthcoming. It was, and as my brother and I discussed this evening, we are blessed with very generous parents, but that does not mean that there isn’t a price to pay, albeit frequent deep breathing and regular tongue biting rather than interest.

I had been feeling a tad guilty about not involving my dad in any decision making because for him it seems nothing is simple, but he knows much more than me about cars, so what could go wrong? I had reached the point of not asking whether he preferred to coffee or tea lest he make a decision in the house of Goddard, but decided to relent.  If I had gone it alone I would have wandered into a dealership, told them how much I had to spend and asked them to show me a black, navy blue or grey one. I would have then picked the prettiest car, pulled out the plastic and the job would have been a good’n. It’s my general approach to shoe buying, and I have very few regrets on that score.

I’m not sure if it’s a generational thing or a man thing or a combination of both but going car shopping with my dad made thoughts of having my wisdom pulled out with pliers but without anaesthetic seem appealing. Sticking pins in my eyes would have been preferable, but I persevered firstly because I knew that his approach was sensible whist mine was expedient and shallow, and he had a very firm grasp indeed on the purse-strings and wasn’t afraid to remind me of this. Frequently.

We went on a recci to the local dealerships. I had hoped in vein that this would lead to a purchase which in retrospect was naive in the extreme. After establishing what a two to three year old five door car costs in the land of trade sales (something that could have been established on the interweb) we re-grouped to  consider our position. The interweb search followed. Telephone calls to “people that know about motors” followed that. In the meantime, having been dropped at a bus stop after the unproductive foray in dealership world I embarrassed Twin One who accompanied me by giving the bus driver our address and asking him to stop at the cashpoint on the way home.

In any event I am pleased to report progress. Today I identified a car that is economical, has low mileage and within budget sufficiently to satisfy my lender. It’s black and pretty enough to satisfy me and the Twinset. My brother observed that on learning that dad was helping me with a car purchase that he had anticipated a discussion about makes and models over Christmas lunch. That has to be a result...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining or Every Silver Lining has a storm cloud

Kate asked me to explain the term “every cloud has a silver lining,” and since she is invariably of a sunny disposition approved of the notion. Since this conversation I have attempted its application when a cloud enters my airspace. I appreciate that relating tales of car troubles may be tedious, but my motor vehicle has been something of a four wheeled storm cloud of late. Last Tuesday morning  just as I was pulling out of a parking space outside of Jack’s school the power steering failed, and I was stuck partially blocking a narrow road. I went through the AA routine, and expect to become best friends with the call centre staff shortly. It also happened to be a white van man morning in this particular cul-de-sac, and although I had engaged the hazards, white van men issued expletives for what they considered extremely bad parking until I explained that the technical term for the state of my motor at that moment was “totally fucked” They then they apologised and negotiated around my stranded rather than abandoned vehicle which is my general method of parking. Eliciting sympathy from men not renowned for wishing female drivers luck was something of a silvery chink.

Oh, and I lied when I said earlier that I was pulling out of a parking space. I had pulled over onto the outside school zig zags which everyone knows makes children hurl themselves in front of oncoming traffic, and is evil. I digress, but Jack informed me recently that the only positive thing about paedophiles is that they always slow down near schools. The next cloud on the horizon was a traffic warden. I explained that I had broken down, that I hadn’t actually parked on the zig zags, and that my child hurls himself out of my slowly moving vehicle when I deposit him at school which means that but for the break down I hadn’t technically parked there. Just as I was about to receive a waggy finger, and possibly a ticket the AA man arrived, told the warden that he would move my car, and that was the end of that.

He confirmed that the power steering was knackered and needed replacing, but with a method I admired he carried out a temporary fix – he bludgeoned the pump with a mallet – to enable me to drive the car to a garage. Then he asked me which garage I use. It then occurred to me that the last time my car has seen a mechanic was the summer before Frank died, so almost two years ago. I found myself explaining, matter of fact, that my late husband sorted out the car more in the hope that he didn’t think I was a completely dippy bitch, rather than playing the dead husband card, which I now strictly reserve for the Inland Revenue, and to be honest they’re all out of love now if ever there was any. While the AA man drove round the block to make sure his temporary repair would hold out I phoned a friend (50/50 and ask the audience being unfeasible) who knows about local garages, and he booked the car in for me. Another chink of silver appeared.

The AA man then said that he would follow me to the garage to make sure I arrived safely, spoke to the garage owner in much the way that a paramedic would hand over a newly arrived casualty, and then gave me his mobile number and invited me to call him if I have any car related questions. The kindness of this particular stranger fully lined the morning’s cloud.

Another silver lining was the garage loaning me a car while my motor was repaired. The cloud: it was a skoda. The silver lining: I appreciate the quality of my car.

When I managed to negotiate the clunky old Skoda that Jack later remarked was louder on the inside then the outside – a bit like the Tardis being bigger on the inside than the outside – I received a call from my boss offering me five day’s urgent work that would be worth about a grand. An unmitigated silver lining. Then the bill for the repairs to the car arrived. Let’s call it quits.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Another Grumble: for what it's worth

I’ve become sick to death reading about threats of strike action by teachers, tube drivers, nurses, and probably tree surgeons. Last month the Government imposed 8.75% cuts to the publicly funded work that I do. We are remunerated with a fixed fee based on the time spent on a case calculated on notional hourly rates. Now I have to undertake more work to hit the so called “higher” standard fee. The hourly rates as well as the standard fees have been reduced by 8.75%. Forgive me for not giving a shit about those workers (particularly public servants) that are complaining about a 1% pay rise. I’d happily take a pay freeze.

I appreciate that just because my profession is being savaged it doesn’t justify cuts to other services, and I agree. A dear friend and I have been accused of “teacher bashing” because we dare to mention the fringe benefits this profession receives including long  holidays. When we’re not facing a 17.5% pay cut over the course of the next two years my giveashitometer might stop flat-lining. Almost as painful as the pay cut is the lawyer bashing mostly by the Daily Fail, quoting the fees of the top two criminal QCs in the country intimating that we’re all fat cats in a feeding frenzy from public funds. The truth of the matter is that most legal aid lawyers in the criminal justice system earn significantly less than newly qualified teachers, receive no sick pay, holiday pay or pension contributions.

Teachers, nurses, firefighters, and probably tree surgeons complain that because their professions are vocational they are expected not to  be well remunerated. My first point is that they are. My second point is that lawyers have been instructed by the Government to  undertake pro-bono work. We already do, but we just don’t make a song and dance about it. I have given serious thought to changing jobs. In fact I considered lecturing in law, but just thinking about it lead to me experiencing the first signs of coma. So despite the fact that this option would be better remunerated, and I might even get paid holidays, I concluded that if my heart isn’t in it I won’t do it.

Here are a couple of the reasons why. About a week ago a life sentence prisoner client that I have represented for almost ten years confided in me that he had reached a point of utter despair and was pondering the most efficient manner to despatch himself since the powers that be, he believed, would never despatch him from prison. I have known him long enough to know that this was not an idle threat. He wept. Generally when client’s cry in front of me I inform them that cry babies have no business committing crime, and that they are wasting valuable (though barely chargeable) time.

In this instance I was in no doubt that my client was suicidal, and I understood why. If I had been thoroughly stitched up by my Probation Officer I would undoubtedly feel the same. He made me promise not to tell anyone because he did not want to be placed on what is known as an ACT (suicidal prisoners are monitored every fifteen minutes in the hope that if they do try to top themselves there is sufficient time to prevent death setting in, thus averting an inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate). When you’re feeling low enough to welcome death, the last thing you want is a prison officer looking at you as often as adverts appear on prime time TV. I agreed to say nothing, but crossed my fingers behind my back. One of the few occasions that solicitors are permitted to breach client confidentiality is when there is a real prospect of self harm. You can also dob them in if you are aware they’ve committed a crime, but if a client attempts to make a clean breast of it with me I generally stick my fingers firmly in my ears and chant LALALALALALA. Unless the SRA are reading this, in which case I follow the Code of Conduct to the letter.

Before I left the prison I reported my concerns to the Duty Governor. Two days later I received a call from my client and his cousin thanking me. He had been provided with help and support and felt better able to face the challenges ahead, and that I had been instrumental. I did a small thing that made a big difference and it made me feel better about myself. Priceless, as Mastercard would say. Almost as good as when you complete a level on Candy Crush that you’ve been stuck on for months.

There are other occasions when my job just makes me laugh. I could probably write a book about the things that prisoners should never ever say. A few years ago a career criminal was giving evidence at a recall hearing before the Parole Board. He had been returned to prison following police intelligence that he was dealing in class A drugs which he denied in the strongest possible terms and wished to take to the highest court in the land. During the course of this evidence it was put to him that he had been observed buying £10 bags of heroin. He replied –“you’ve got to be kidding, you can’t get a £10 bag for love nor money these days; do you have any idea how much smack costs?... Oh shit.”

There are also those moments when cultural diversity intervenes and makes me appreciate the society I inhabit. I have represented a Bengali national who informed the Parole Board that he could not accept that he was guilty of assault because the victim “was my wife.” There was a Nigerian who proclaimed – “rape?!!! – she was a woman.” I offer advice, but am at times relieved that clients choose to ignore it. Also known as giving them the rope to hang themselves.

I’ve heard of many experienced quality solicitors are planning to leave the profession. At times thoughts of running a coffee shop or florist are attractive. But like my client with his £20 bags, I just don’t want to give it up.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

I want a new pair of moccasins

Today has been challenging. On my way to HM Prison Dartmoor this morning a tyre I purchased in January burst. In the old days I would have phoned my very own fixer, the Frankster, and he would have made a very nice man appear to change the tyre. More precisely he would have asked his secretary to call the AA and rearrange my appointments. With the benefit of hindsight I recognise how much I relied on Frank to sort things out. In any event, after running out of profane exclamations I googled the AA and telephoned them, called the legal visits officer at the prison and put my appointments back to the afternoon, arranged afterschool childcare, and then emptied the boot contents onto the back seat in order to investigate whether I was the proud owner of a spare. During the latter process I discovered what has happened to the eighteen pairs of Jack’s PE socks I have purchased since the start of the school year and the source of that odour.
While waiting for the AA I pondered the very many times that Frank asked me what I would do without him. As well as wanting to scream skyward “THIS, AS A MATTER OF FACT!” I recalled my response was generally a warm smile, whilst muttering under my breath, I’d phone Natasha. I am no believer in the notion that everything happens for a reason, but today has drawn a number of diverse strands of recent thought together. It brought to mind a strange conversation with my dad at the weekend. I asked him if I could borrow his lawnmower, and after ensuring I was aware how inconvenient my request was (as is his way) he agreed. He then informed me that my mum was away for the weekend and he was on his lonesome. I ignored the inference that he would be amenable to a dinner invitation, and instead suggested that he walk a mile in my widowed single parent  moccasins. He stated that I’m happy because I don’t need anyone. I’m generally fairly good at retorts of a sardonic or sarcastic nature, but on this occasion i was stumped.
It occurred to me that I have been irked that my newfound ability to bludgeon the boiler with a wrench, cobble together flat-pack furniture, and generally overcome my fear of power tools had apparently gone unnoticed by my parents. I wasn’t expecting them to arrange a chorus of Halelulah, although that would have been nice, but a “well done you” wouldn’t have gone amiss. What occurred to me at that moment was that my father was disappointed in me for not being needy enough. It’s possibly a man thing (cue sexist remark debate). Frank liked helping people generally, and became animated when he was able to fix something for me or the Little Darlings, frequently celebrating as if he had scored the winning goal in the 89th minute of the FA Cup Final. I suspect that if I hadn’t called on him as much as I did he would have been equally as disappointed as my dad seems to be.

I didn’t need Frank’s help with anything, but I liked the fact that he loved sorting things for me, and that I miss. Once I’d sorted the tyre, and realising that as I had no CDs in the car and the Jeremy Vine show was about to start on the radio I popped into Sainsburys about bought one. It’s music that I have on my ipod, but rarely listen to these days as the Twin Set have it away with my earphones on a regular basis: when the boy isn’t inserting them up his nostrils that is. I’m in danger of getting a bit soppy, but this track, which I’ve listened to many times but never heard, made my eyes leak. I didn’t need Frank, but that’s not the point. I don’t need any more pairs of shoes either, but it doesn’t stop me wanting.

When Grumpy (as he is known to the Little Darlings) appeared, huffing and puffing I pointed to the lawn and informed him that it wouldn’t mow itself. I believe this is the first time in a long time that I’ve made my father happy.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Attempting to be a good mother for a change and struggling

I learned today that Jack has been offered a place at the local academy school in September. I was keen to move him from him from his current school, mostly on account of the fact that he is the only child in his year. I did ask for an appointment with the Head to discuss this about a month ago. Strangely enough while the secretary is scrupulously efficient in pursuing overdue fees, she is concomitantly inefficient in arranging appointments where difficult questions are in the offing.

Frank and I opted for this school after the Twinset’s first year at the local primary school when it came to our attention at the end of reception year that Kate and Eve were unable to write their own first names. We didn’t choose monosyllabic names to ensure an easy introduction to the written word, but having done so I anticipated more progress than was demonstrated. I have a number of friends who are teachers, and can therefore virtually feel the heat from their reddening cheek areas. Frank and I could legitimately be criticised for not teaching the Twinset to write at home after school. My view is that children go to school to learn, and while I’ve always been prepared to help with homework, I am a bad parent and not a teacher. If I am expected to teach my children, then their teachers can come to my office and do some filing. Just saying.

During the course of this academic year I have formed the view that we do not always get what we pay for, and concluded that the Little Darlings are likely to be better off in a good state school than a mediocre private one. With this in mind I took the Boychild to visit our local state school late last year and he was staggered by the options and facilities on offer, particularly in sport: a sports hall; tennis courts; and rugby and football pitches. One look around the woodwork and metalwork rooms and he was asking where his signature is required.

The Twinset are divided. After their visit Kate concluded that it would be like attending Waterloo Road, the maths teacher made her laugh rather than cry, and would move tomorrow if beaucracy were not an issue. Her motives may not be based on securing the best education available because high on her list of wishes ticked off were the fact that she could wear trousers and would not have to tie her hair back. Still, I took that as a victory. Eve on the other hand had to be dragged, literally, huffing and puffing just to look around. She rolled her eyes and sighed loudly at approximately seven second intervals. Since then she’s been using every weapon in her armoury to persuade me not to send her there. I have been on the wrong end of emotional blackmail bullshit that “this wouldn’t be happening on dad’s watch.” She’s learning what a hard bastard I’ve become since dad’s watch prematurely concluded, but she doesn’t like it and I’m ruining her life. The fact that I ruin her life when I won’t let her watch Eastenders because it’s mindless drivel and clashes with Chanel Four news which I am compelled to watch on account of it makes me feel superior to most of my clients, means that this particular attempt to pull at my threadbare heartstrings has, to date, failed.

I don’t intend to cause her needless unhappiness, but, for fear of sounding like my own parents (which let’s face it, all parents if they’re honest promise themselves they won’t but nevertheless  end up doing at some point), I know she would be better off there. I also appreciate that adjustment will be tough, and I will be on hand to provide as many hugs and chocolate brownies as she can stomach, probably considerably more of the latter. I’m also prepared to act as a punch-bag if this helps.

This is the hardest thing that I’ve embarked upon since Frank died. The bastard bank, HMRC, Sky and BT have made my blood boil, but I don’t recall losing any sleep over it – possibly because at the time I was medicating with repeated doses of Sauvignon Blanc. The grim reality of making life changing decisions for the Little Darlings as a reluctant single parent – I’m struggling to remain cliché-free (Luke) – really can be pants: an XXL sized, over-worn and under-washed pair at that.