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Life at the Bar – Going Equipped with Who’s Who.

The offence of going equipped to commit burglary doesn’t seem to feature in the courts these days, but as an articled clerk I was sent to sit behind Mark Carlisle on just such a case. The two defendants, both male, had been apprehended in one of the lanes in the countryside inland of Blackpool. The evidence against them consisted of observations by the police to whom they were well known and the various objects found inside their car, a grey Vauxhall, I think.    Who's-Who--book-cover-

The offence took place on a summer’s evening when an observant police officer had seen the two men, Ken and Norman, driving along a narrow lane that led down towards the River Wyre. He knew it was a dead end, so he radioed for help and an unmarked car arrived. When the Vauxhall emerged from the lane and turned along the main road, the police care followed at a discrete distance. The car then turned down another of the lanes which went towards the River, another dead end. The police stayed on the main road keeping watch. This was repeated a third time, but this time the police followed and as it reached the entrance to a large house set in extensive grounds, they indicated the Vauxhall was to pull over.

Norman and Ken got out of the car and went to meet the officers. As the two policemen, DC Smith and DC McKie, approached Norman, he pulled  his wallet from the back pocket of his trousers and began searching through it.

‘Here’s my driving licence and I’ve got insurance as well,’ Norman said, waving the pieces of paper under the DC Smith’s nose.

‘Thanks,’ said the officer, pushing away Norman’s arm. ‘Let’s have a look in the car shall we.’

All four men strode towards the car. ‘What you doing round here?’ DC McKie said. He rolled his r’s and looked straight at Ken, who dropped his gaze.

‘Looking for work. Been told some guy wanted a job on his roof,’ Ken said.

‘What’s this guy’s name then?’ McKie said.

‘Don’t know, just told where he lived.’

By this time they had all reached the vehicle and the two officers opened the boot. Inside was a bag of tools, spanners, screw drivers, a couple of hammers, and laid across the base the dark metal of a crowbar glinted in the low summer sun.

‘Doing a roof were we; with a crowbar.’ McKie wasn’t expecting an answer.

Norman spluttered. ‘Yes, guv. We were going to see this guy about some work.’

‘Where does he live, this bloke you were going to see?’ Smith said, as he opened the front passenger door.

On the floor was a piece of paper torn from a reporter’s notepad, the type anyone can buy in WH Smith’s. ‘We had a map…’ Ken pushed past the officer, leant into the vehicle and picked up the sheet of paper. ‘We’d met this guy in the pub. Said he had a few jobs we could do and he drew this map of where his house was. Here, see.’ He thrust the piece of paper into DC Smith’s hand.

The map had been drawn by an inexpert hand, but it clearly showed a lane of the main Cleveleys to Singleton Road. The drawing showed two or three houses along a twisting lane that led down to towards the River.

DC Smith sucked his teeth as he contemplated whether to arrest the two men. He didn’t believe a word they were saying, but with a good defence lawyer they would probably be acquitted. Was it worth the paperwork involved; whatever they were up to they had been stopped in their tracks.

‘Well not sure…’ he said, but was interrupted by DC McKie who was holding a book in his hand.

‘What’s this. A copy of Who’s Who. Now what would you be wanting with this then?’

They were arrested and charged with going equipped with a crow bar, spanners, various tools and a copy of Who’s Who. Despite Mr Carlisle best endeavours both men were convicted.

Life at the Bar – Boundary Disputes

Articled Clerks always get the worst jobs in the office. On my first day in the office amongst the files I was given was one very thick bundle of papers. It contained correspondence going back for about six years. Our clients owned a bungalow on the main road east out of Cleveleys, a small seaside town close to Blackpool Lancashire. The land had originally been farm land but strip development had taken place. The farmer who had sold off the plots of land had retained a strip wide enough for his farm machinery to get into his fields. But that had been many years before and his tractor was now too wide to get along the track. He maintained the owners of the bungalows on each side had planted hedges on his land which had matured and were now impeding his access.    fence_-2

Our clients disputed this and argued that the hedges were inside the boundaries. Among the papers were copies of the plans from their conveyance. Land in east Lancashire was not registered with the Land Registry at the time. I looked carefully at the plans but they were of very little assistance. They were endorsed with the phrase, ‘This plan is for the purposes of identification only and not of delineation.’ That meant they were not to scale, and anyway the thick red pencil line would have made it difficult to measure with any accuracy.

I dreaded telephone calls from our clients, made slightly worse because the wife’s voice was that of a tenor’s and I couldn’t tell which of them I was speaking too. Fortunately, the solicitor for the farmer thought the whole thing was hilarious and, in his view, incapable of solution. ‘My client will just bulldoze his way through. They’ll want to sue for the damage to their hedge and you’ll tell them that is not a good idea. Then it will all die down until the next time. Just put the file to the bottom of the pile and tell them you’re working on it.’

I wasn’t too happy with that. I wanted to make a good impression with my principal and with the clients, although I thought the farmer’s solicitor was probably right so, despite my misgivings, I took his advice. My salvation came in the form of Trevor, a rather chubby young man, who was the new articled clerk.

He had already been given a few files to work on when he came into my room to see if I needed any help. ‘Well, there is this,’ I said, handing him the dog eared bundle.

A couple of weeks later he came into the office looking very smug. ‘I’ve solved that boundary dispute,’ he said. ‘I went round, got the farmer there, together with our clients, and we pegged out the boundary.’

It was only a couple of days later I was driving along the road and as I passed our clients bungalow, I noticed a pile of white pegs dumped on the grass verge.

Back in the office, I told Trevor, not to bother with the bill and to put the file at the bottom of the pile.



On the last day of the Festival I went to two talks. The first was by Helen Pearson who has written a book called The Life Project – The Extraordinary Story of our Ordinary Lives. Pearson is a scientist/journalist who edits the magazine Nature. She found the research work based on following the lives of a cohort of babies born in one particular week fascinating and it forms the basis of the book. The first group was the babies born in one week in March 1946 and their lives have been documented over the last seventy years. Further cohorts have been recruited roughly every fifteen years. She looked at a number of conclusions that have been drawn from this research – she described it as the jewel in the research crown. One area is pregnancy where the link with smoking and infant mortality. On education, another book Born to Fail showed how hard it was for those from poorer neighbourhoods to improve their incomes and status. It was this research which gave the impetus to the introduction of comprehensive schools in the 1960’s. It was a fascinating account of important research which unfortunately will not be continued – the last cohort recruited in 2015 has already been abandoned.

We had coffee in the beach hut before the talk  by A C Grayling drawing on his book Progress in Beach Hut at BudleighTroubled Times. He believes the 17th Century was a turning point in the way humanity thought about itself as religious philosophy changed to the scientific one. He argued it came about when the Protestant religion introduced liberty of conscious – ‘you are your own priest before God.’ This liberated many to think for themselves about the world in which they lived. Whilst they tried to make base metal into gold, searched for the elixir of youth, and read the future in the stars, alchemy became chemistry, magic medicine and astrology astronomy.

It has been a brilliant four days. Looking forward to next year.


The third day and I’m scheduled to go to three talks. First is Shami Chakrabarti On Liberty. She is in conversation with Rachel Holmes. She explains how she took up her job with Liberty on 10 September 2011 wit1473940275491h the intention of promoting a number of issues on Civil Liberties, but after 9/11 all the organisation could do was react to the increasing call for a surveillance society. Those wanting greater powers argue ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ but she  argues we all need some areas of our lives that are private and not subject to state snooping. We have become complacent towards our freedoms after living in a peaceful world for so long, but we will lose them if we are not careful. She made the arguments with wit and some humour, comparing the Palace of Westminister with Hogwarts.

Next was Kate Summerscale talking with Erica Wagner about her new book The Wicked Boy. She began her career in journalism writing obituaries. The facts for the pieces she found by reading newspaper clippings about the deceased. This had given her a love of old newspapers and it was trawling through one of them she found the story of 14 year old Robert Coombes who murdered his mother. He was tried at the Old Bailey and found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Broadmoor. The book traces the facts of the case and follows what happened to Robert and his brother after the trial. She said she made nothing up, all the facts are from the transcript of the trial or newspaper reports at the time. Definitely, one to read.

By this time it was 5.30pm but I still found time to go for a swim in the sea before a fish and chip supper sat outside our beach hut. After supper, Mark Haddon was in conversation with Rachel Cooke about his new book, a collection of short stories The Pier Falls. These stories are dark and the excerpt he read from ‘Bunny’ was truly disgusting. So much food! He acknowledged he found the modern short story difficult to read and write and it was only when he realised he could write action based stories that he was able to write the short form. He confessed to being unable to write for quite long periods, and to writing a lot of rubbish. Being a good editor was his key to writing a publishable novel. I was rather relieved to find I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get the bulk of short stories.


On the second day of the Festival, I began the morning in Rome with Virginia Bailey, author of Early One Morning. I have to confess I had already read the novel which I bought at the book launch in London. Just saying.Virginia Bailey talks like and Italian, with her hands. The novel is set in 1943 and 1970’s and unusually those parts in the 40’s are in the present tense and those in the 70’s in the past tense. Bailey’s explanation was of giving an immediacy to the earlier events.

Virginia Bailey talks like and Italian, with her hands. The novel is set in 1943 and 1970’s and unusually those parts in the 40’s are in the present tense and those in the 70’s in the past tense. Bailey’s explanation was of giving an immediacy to the earlier events.   img_20160916_115022

Although she thought there were similarities with the modern crisis in the Middle East she said she found it difficult to process current events and preferred to look for parallels.

She liked to move between locations because she likes to step into a different world and also it enables her to make the familiar exotic.

I enjoyed the novel and would recommend as well as her debut book African Junction.

The weather was not so warm so I gave up any idea of a swim and headed to the Festival Marquee for a cup of coffee and a browse at the book stall.

Then into the Public Hall to see Alexandra Harris being interviewed by Rachel Cooke about her book ‘WeatherLand.’ Harris is such an exuberant personality, confessing she came to Budleigh as a child for holidays and how she would lie on the beach looking at the pines against a blue sky and imagining she was in the Med where most of her friends were. She said the idea for the book came when she was working on her biography of Virginia Woolf, particularly Orlando and how Woolf uses shifts in the air as a way of being. In literature, the weather is a powerful indicator of mood. She gave examples such as it is always winter in Anglo Saxon poetry and how Shakespeare changes the idea of weather away from the Gods to the emotions of the characters. I can’t do justice to the range of authors  she cited who use weather to indicate mood. Perhaps just one more – Wuthering Heights is a one great meteorological disturbance.  I had to buy the book and will look forward to reading it.

Finally Juliet Nicolson in conversation with Carol Ackroyd about her book A House Full of Daughters. She is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville West and she has used family archives to tell the story of  her mother, grandmother and great grandmother as well as her own. It is a family with all the glitter of the wealthy and the important but there are hidden secrets of illicit relationships.



What could be better than books and the beach – they go together like love and marriage. After a swim in the sea, I went to the opening lecture in the Public Hall. Erica Wagner was in conversation with Helen Rappaport a scholar of Russian affairs. Her book Caught in the Revolution – Petrograd 1917′ considers the revolution as it appeared to foreign nationals living in the city.   Swimming at Budleigh

The Winter or 1916/17 was very bad and hunger stalked the city. There were queues for bread and it was this that drove the revolution in February of 1917. It was a grass roots revolution unlike the events of October that brought the communists to power. Nor was it as benign as the official figures would have the world believe. Rappaport believes many hundreds died their bodies stiff with the cold and carried off by their relatives. The weather was a major influence on the conflict, if it was very cold there was less violence.

Amongst the foreigners whose eye witness accounts Rappaport has utilised for her book are diplomats like the British Ambassador George Buchanan, the American Ambassador David Francis and his valet Phil Jordan. Jordan was an African American who had been taught to read and write by Francis’s wife. His letters are ungrammatical and have no punctuation but provide a vivid and immediate account of  the events.

A number of women journalists provided accounts of the revolution and often photographs and film taken by the cameraman accompanying them. Emily Pankhurst arrived as well to support women who were being urged to persuade their men to fight in the Great War. Everyone was obsessed with food and if you were rich you could get hold of it, but if you were poor you starved.

The February Revolution deposed the Czar, but the weak government that followed allowed the communist to have their revolution in October. The Russians need a  strong leader/Czar.

Then it was back to the beach hut for lunch.

In the afternoon I went to the talk given by the President of the Festival Hilary Mantel. Professor Helen Taylor from the University of Exeter was the interviewer. The subject was writing short stories perhaps prompted by the outrage in some of the press about ‘The Assassination of  Margaret Thatcher.’ Mantel read a new short story called ‘In a Right State.’  Mantel said she was unable to write commissioned short stories, she needed all the elements to come together before she could get them to work. This one set in a hospital waiting room had three sources. One was the sort of questions asked by newspapers of celebrities like ‘what was your best kiss?’, a comment in one of Alan Bennett’s diaries about going to A&E for recreation. (As an aside she said she had asked Bennett to come to the Budleigh Festival but she said he is rather frail and doesn’t go out much, anyway he thought Budleigh might be too frisky for him.) was the second and the third was the news stories this winter about floods and the crisis in the A&E.

Talking about writing short stories she said one of the differences between a novel and a short story was that the writer had to use voice to capture characters that hints at the back story. The writer must find the best words in the best order. In a novel technique can take you through the difficulties but not a short story. They cannot be forced.

She confirmed my own experience, it’s hard to write a short story.


Budleigh Salterton

I have struggled with writing my blog over the summer, but I have more episodes from ‘Life at the Bar’ lined up for the autumn. Before that this week I will be attending the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival. Four days of listening to outstanding writers from Hilary Mantel to Shami Chakrabarti with Virginia Bailey, Kate Summerscale, A.C. Grayling and many more. I hope to do some posts about the Festival as it happens.

I hope the weather is good as we are renting a beach hut for the period of the Festival. We got the key yesterday and spent a few hours there enjoying the sun. Here’s a photograph of my other half and our dog Lily.

Beach Hut at Budleigh

The Diversity of London

Should the Notting Hill Carnival be moved from the streets of Notting Hill to somewhere else? It has been a matter of debate ever since it was first held. I didn’t go this year but walking around the streets here in West London I came across some of the performers getting ready for their day in the sun.


London is always changing and I see different things every time I go out. Here are just two of them.

Front door

Not quite number 10.

And what about this for a construction hoarding.


Bakers Talk

I was in the bakery the other day waiting to buy bread. In front of me was a woman in her sixties dressed in white cropped trousers and a bright floral tunic. She ordered a low gluten loaf and then said to the breadshop assistant, ‘I see Heather’s had her baby.’ It wasn’t a question.

I assumed Heather was one of the shop assistants. The young man serving nodded his head. ‘She was 7lbs 2oz. This morning at 5.o6.’ He spoke with an air of authority that made me think he might be the father or at least a close relative of the new mother.

The woman then said, ‘Has she got a name yet?’


‘Harper. Well, I suppose it could be worse.’

The shop assistant looked rather taken aback by this remark. I thought it was a rather rude comment so I said, ‘That’s a nice name. Named after  a famous author.’

The woman and the shop assistant both looked at me. ‘Harper Lee. The author,’ I said.

‘Oh, yes. The author,’ the woman said.

The shop assistant smiled at me, asif he was thanking me for providing a reason for the baby’s name.

Then the woman said, ‘More likely Victoria Beckham’s child.’ She picked up her bread and swept out of the shop.

“Blood on her hands”

A thoughtful commentary


Ben Butler convicted of the murder of his girlfriend’s daughter Ellie, in the criminal Court.

Ellie had been removed from the care of Ben and Ellie’s mother (who was convicted of child cruelty and perverting the course of justice) in 2007 by the family Courts with findings made that they had caused her a serious injury  and placed with Ellie’s grandparents.

In 2012, Mrs Justice Hogg overturned the previous findings and returned Ellie to the care of Ben and Jennie Gray. The Judge had said that fresh medical evidence showed that the previous findings were wrong, and that Ben and Jennie were exonerated and that it had been a miscarriage of justice and that it was a joy to be able to return Ellie to their care.

The case was widely reported as a miscarriage of justice in the family Courts, put right by Mrs Justice Hogg and the unusual step was taken to name the…

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