Three days in my favourite place; I still find it exciting after all these years. And such a variety of things to do. First a dinner to support a former pupil of mine who is the Labour Candidate for Erewash (it’ s on the borders of Derbyshire and Nottingham, if you need to ask) then a trip to Peter Jones in Sloane Square, my old stomping ground. The swinging sixties had ended by the time I moved to Old Chelsea, but there were still art galleries and individual boutiques selling new designers creations and family owned restaurants and cafes, Picasso’s for a good Italian meal, Asterix selling crepes and Charlies for coffee. The Chelsea Drug Store was still a pub and not a McDonalds. Now it’s mainly the chain fashion stores so just another high street. I was glad to see the book shop John Sandoe was still going.
Today was much more interesting, Chiswick House Gardens because the dog needed a walk. It’s a wonderful mixture of woodland, cricket ground,
miniature canal with a variety of ducks and geese on it, a beautiful Palladian house. or rather a pleasure palace and an orangery not with citrus fruit but a collection of camellias. Good cafe in the grounds as well; lots of other dog walkers and couples airing their children. Definitely worth a visit.
Then to the Royal Academy and a visit to Paris at the time of the Revolution. An exhibition of the works of Daumier. He is better known for his political caricatures in the UK but he painted the people of Paris going about their ordinary lives. I particularly liked a painting of a laundress with her daughter on the Ile St Louis, hard to believe it was a very poor area of Paris at that time.
Then one of the best places for Christmas presents, Fortnum & Mason’s. I know the food stuffs they sell are very expensive but they are so beautifully
packaged that it’s worth paying the price. Those receiving tea or biscuits in such gorgeous tins feel they are getting a luxury item, rather than simply teabags or gingernuts.
And of course at this time of year the windows of Fortnum’s are dressed in their Christmas finery. This year they hark back to the 1950’s with figures of a family decorating the tree or cooking lunch on an Aga. If you are in London at this time of year then the windows of all the big department stores are enchanting. Just stroll round Oxford Street, Regent Street and Picadilly for a free show. Enjoy.
Should the age of consent for sexual intercourse be reduced from 16? It’s a good question and I would say no, it shouldn’t. However I would add a caveat to that which is to acknowledge that many young people under the age of 16 are physically mature and that it is societies’ decision that they are not emotionally mature enough to indulge in
Also those aged between 14 and 16 rarely see themselves as children even if parents and the community at large do, and a number of them want to have intercourse whatever the law says. There are other things to consider as well, such as boys under 16 are children as well even though they are capable of having sex. (When I first qualified a boy of 14 was considered incapable of SI and therefore could not commit rape) Zoe Williams makes the same point in her article in todays Guardian. And as many parents know, often boys mature emotionally more slowly than girls (Isn’t that why girls and young women tend to have relationships with men a few years older than themselves?)
As in the case I outlined in my blog Serious Stuff, these cases are often more complicated than the press and media generally allow for in their condemnation of underage sex. I can think of a number of examples of cases where the girl was a willing participant in the sexual activity and was not a victim in any real sense of the word.
I have just spent a whole day at the National Trust Property A La Ronde. The group was small; only four of us with a tutor from the University of Falmouth, Meredith Miller. We were given a tour of this strange sixteen-sided house built by two sisters, the Parminters, in 1797. The rooms are strangely shaped and filled with objects collected by the sisters as they travelled around Europe. And of course the shells they collected and used to decorate their home.
Meredith put the construction of the house in the context of events in the world of literature and politics and described the period as turbulent after the French Revolution of 1789. A La Ronde was for the Parminter sisters, the stillness in the storm.
When we came to write, I wanted to build on that phrase and write about ‘being still.’ I had just finished reading The Last Runaway by Tracey Chevalier about a young Quaker. In the novel Chevalier describes the Quaker meetings and how still Honor Bright, her main character is during these services. I thought it would be a good exercise to write about stillness. I have called my character Sophia and I pictured her sitting in the drawingroom where I was sitting and I tried to imagine what it would have been like.
‘Sophia sat still, very still. On her lap was a collection of shells she had gathered that morning. The clock ticked the seconds away. She heard the click of her mother’s knitting needles, the rustle of paper as her sister turned the pages of a novel. Then the clock chimed, one, two, three … up to eight.
Sophia felt the chair pressing against her back, the arms holding her arms. Looking down at the shells, her eyes lingered over them; the round pink pincushion of a sea urchin, the brown and white whelk shell and shiny bluish tinge of the clam shell. She wondered where they had come from. What tides, what winds had brought them to the beach below the house? Did those same winds blow over Robert, wherever he now was?’
The route to publication has moved on another step. I have checked through the printers proof again. This time instead of doing it on the computer screen I printed a hard copy of my novel. There are 350 pages so I printed four pages using both sides of an A4 sheet of paper. It is beginning to look like a book, with an acknowledgements page and the publication details as well as the publication rights. I found only six changes needed making. I’m sure there are others but I’m missing them. I will get it returned to me again to check there are no more changes necessary. I do hope there are none, as I’m sure the law of diminishing returns sets in and I will fail to spot any mistakes in it.
I think the next version will have the front and back cover in place. We have yet to finalise the draft blurb, so that’s another step
to get through. Interestingly I met a writer friend on Tuesday, who complained that the blurb for her book was written by the publisher and she was not consulted. One of the differences between traditional publishing and independent is the lack of control, once a writer has sold the publication rights, over the presentation of the novel to the public.
The same author expressed how dissatisfied she was with the marketing of her book. I am paying for a marketing campaign, so I do expect some publicity to be generated. The other job I had this week was to answer a questionnaire about my book which included providing another summary of the story and biography which included any media interest in my personal story. During my Twenty-five years at the Bar I did do a number of cases which attracted a great deal of publicity at the time, but most of it was some years ago. I thought two might still attract some media interest today.
The first was the killing of the fashion designer Ossie Clark by his lover Diego Cogolato. Ossie Clark was very successful designer in the 1960’s along with his then wife Celia Birtwell. There is a wonderful painting of them both by David Hockney in the National Portrait Gallery. By 1996 Ossie was living in a one bedroomed council flat in West London and Cogolato under the influence of a mixture of drugs killed him. He was diagnosed as suffering from a drug-induced psychotic state. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and after I mitigated on his behalf he received a sentence of six years.
The other case featured in the newspapers only five years ago, when a young woman called Alex Griffiths was successful in her A level examinations. The Times, no doubt looking for a different angle to report on the announcement of the results chose to write an article about her, because as the baby she was stolen from St Thomas’s Hospital within hours of her birth. A nation-wide search followed, and she was found alive and well three weeks later. I represented the woman who stole her, coincidently also called Griffiths, Janet Griffiths. She too was diagnosed with mental health issues, in this case she had Munchausen’s, not the by- proxy type that has been much in the news over the last few years, but the original illness. She received a hospital order and was released after about eight months. She was to die about four year later of cancer. It is not often a barrister gets to know what happens to the victims and defendants in cases in which they appear, but I am pleased that on this occasion I did.