Friday, 25 September 2020

The last six months…

They’ve been interesting, haven’t they?

Thankfully, I wasn’t furloughed, unlike many of my colleagues, and work for me has stayed pretty buoyant throughout (apparently commercial deals are still being done, generating a need for contract negotiation and drafting — and us commercial contracts lawyers haven’t been (totally) replaced by AI just yet).

2020 was meant to be the year we finally moved house. We thought COVID had put paid to that, but when the property sector reopened with gusto in the early summer, we decided to give it a go. We’re glad we did: our house is sold (STC) and our offer to purchase has been accepted. We’re hoping to move pre-Christmas… provided the moving gods are still smiling on us.

So the summer was largely a blur of estate agent viewings and that sort of stuff. All pretty tedious — and it wasn’t helped by two of our neighbours also listing their houses within a fortnight of us going on the market. Bastards.

I worked from home even before COVID hit — save for two or three trips to the office per month — so there wasn’t a great deal of adjustment needed for me on that front. The daily firm-wide webcam calls have been a bit of a drag, but it’s been a small price to pay in exchange for avoiding all commuting.

I’ve also had no issues adjusting to wearing a face mask — provided I use my ‘ear saver’ (a rubber strap with notches onto which the mask’s ear loops can grip*). Fun fact: I’ve sensitive ears and I don’t like things pulling on them. One of my hobbies (nothing kinky) requires me to wear a respirator for lengthy periods of time, so popping on a surgical mask whenever I womble around Sainsbury’s isn’t much hardship.

* For the benefit of the uninitiated, this is the type of thing I'm talking about:

I suspect the next few weeks and months will be a continuing ball ache of conveyancing nonsense, mortgage applications and quotes for removals. Actually, we’re quite a way down some of those roads already — and I even had to dust off (electronically) my property law and practice materials from the LPC to remind myself of certain points in the conveyancing process. 

The law firm we’ve instructed in connection with our sale and purchase are all right, but that’s about as much as I can say for them. I’m sure my numerous emails, letters and phone calls to them have been getting on their ‘thruppney bits’ (to quote Sharon and Tracy from Birds of a Feather that my wife and I are currently re-watching, episode by episode**). Having a client who’s both a lawyer and a bit of a control freak must be a bit trying. Still, I have to bear it as part of my day job, so why shouldn’t they?

** That’s the original nine series that ran from 1989 to 1998 on the BBC, not the subsequent ‘comeback’ drivel that aired on ITV more recently.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Movies to self-isolate by

Actually, that should be: 'movies to watch while self-isolating'. Ne'er mind.

I saw yesterday that the Guardian had compiled a list of movies that people self-isolating from the Coronavirus could watch to while away some of the time.

That list was strange, very strange — to say the least of it.

I’d not heard of at least half of them, and they were supposed to be ‘comfort films’.

Even those that I had heard of, wouldn’t have brought any comfort to me.

So instead of the utter trash that the Guardian suggested, here’s my suggested list of films.

Airplane (you can't beat a spoof)
Airplane II (you really can't beat a spoof)
The Big Bus (spoofs are the best, you know)
North Sea Hijack (also knows as ffolkes)
Jurassic Park, I, II, and III (my wife’s suggestions, seconded by me)
The Core (it’s surprisingly watchable)
The Mummy, I, II, and III (or whatever their correct titles are)
Die Hard (I, II, and, at a push, III)
Airport (the 1970 original)
Airport 1975 (in some ways better than the original - watch out for the singing nun that inspired the corresponding scene in Airplane)
Airport 1977 (this was a corker)
Airport 1979 (turns out there was nothing you couldn't do with a Concorde)
Speed (but not Speed II)
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick's obviously, not the Stephen King's mini-series abomination)
Jaws, I, II, III (and the revenge if you get really desperate)
Piranha (the 1970s version)
The Final Destination movies (cos we're probably all doomed anyway)
The Bond movies — any until Pierce Brosnan’s rather lame attempts in the 1990s, and absolutely none since)
Journey to the centre of the earth (my wife's choice, not mine)
Fire, Ice and Dynamite (Roger Moore and Simon Shepherd and a complete lack of meaningful plot or acting). Actually, don’t watch this: it’s atrocious.

You'll be pleased to know that I might update this list over time.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The world is falling down around us

I just can’t COPE with this Coronavirus business. It feels like the world as we know it is disappearing in front of us, and it’s far from clear whether it will ever be the same again.

Schools are closed in Ireland.

Tom Hanks has been bitten by the bug and is mopping his fevered brow as I type.

McLaren have withdrawn from the Australian grand prix.

My work meeting next week has been cancelled and replaced with a call, but I’ve already bought an advance train ticket in the GWR sale to travel to London. Bum! Do I go into the office and do the call from there, or write off the cost of the ticket (it was cheap, stupidly cheap, compared with the standard price), or do I try to exchange it for £10 and use the ticket at a later date. I like to show my face in the office occasionally, as it helps to underline the fact to my colleagues that I’m still alive and I still do work.

My wife and I want to stick our fricking house on the mother fricking market, having been focusing for the past 8-9 months on getting it up to scratch. It’s an absolute outrage. First Brexit, now Corona. 

Still, you kind of feel that humanity has brought it on itself. We’ve long been due a plague: just think about what Stephen King prophesied in The Stand — not that we can rely on him as being an authority on anything, save perhaps for writing (too) many verbose books.

And now there’s a dirty great big bluebottle crawling on the outside of my office window — a bad omen, if ever there was one.

To paraphrase the great Murray Walker: if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Smallbone Deceased

Back in late 2015 I discovered the range of classic crime books that are being re-published by the British Library.

Aptly titled ‘British Library Crime Classics’, these books are a mixture of whodunits and other formats of the crime genre written during what it recognised as the ‘golden era’ of crime fiction — that is, the period between the two World Wars. The books published include those written by a number of eminent authors of detective fiction, including E.C.R Lorac, John Bude, J. Jefferson Farjeon, Freeman Wills Crofts and George Bellairs.

The list of BLCC titles has grown to nearly 80 now — and I’ve read about three quarters of them. Most are good to very good, a few are sensational, with just the odd let down (‘Somebody at the Door’ by Raymond Postgate immediately springs to mind for the latter category). I eventually had to cast that aside, not fully read.

Aside from the BLCC range, I’ve also become an avid fan of George Bellairs’ Inspector Littlejohn mysteries — and Bellairs now ranks among my very favourite authors.

Smallbone Deceased is a whodunit written in 1950 by Michael Gilbert — who was a practising lawyer himself. The story is set in a London law firm, Horniman, Birley and Craine, where a body is discovered in one of the large deed boxes. It’s as good a place as any in which to hide a body (and it certainly beats hacking the body up in the lavatories and depositing segments of the cadaver into lever arch box files).

I particularly appreciated the book’s legal setting as well as a number of elements of the story’s backdrop. But its appeal is by no means confined to those with experience of legal practice; it’s a corker of a crime novel and is written with a well-judged humour and wit (something that Alan Melville didn’t quite get right in my view in his book, Quick Curtain).

I’m not going to review the Smallbone Deceased per se. There are plenty of reviews of it out there and I’ve nothing particularly remarkable to add.

But I will share some of my favourite excerpts. Being able to download all of your notes and highlights from a novel in a couple of steps is one of my favourite features of the Kindle.

So, without further ado…
  • In reference to one of the recently deceased partners of the firm (not the body discovered in the deed box by the way)… “[he died] as I am sure he would have wished to die—in harness. It scarcely seems a month ago that I walked into his room and found him at his desk, his pen grasped in his hand—[.]”
There’s many a time when I’ve been working on a particularly fraught matter that I’ve thought I’ll die ‘in harness’, where someone will come in the next morning and find me slumped over my keyboard — cold, stiff and lifeless.

Get the violins out, people!

  • “It had been on my conscience a bit—but a trust isn’t like a conveyancing or litigation matter that has to be kept marching strictly along—and you know how it is. I was a bit rushed and the least urgent job went to the wall.”
I think all of us in legal practice can relate to that. In fact, shortly after reading the book, I paraphrased this quote about the least urgent matter ‘going to the wall’ as an explanation to a colleague as to why I hadn’t done something. It beats a bold-faced lie, I suppose.

  • “A man who hunted down facts with the passionless pleasure of a butterfly collector and pinned them to his board with the same cold precision.”
Every law firm boasts one of these characters.

  • Describing a scene in the Law Society eatery: “Their nearest neighbours were two middle-aged solicitors, one of whom was eating spaghetti and reading a law journal, whilst the other appeared to be amending a draft contract on a diet of fish cakes.”
What an image! I’ve been guilty of slurping (and spilling) soup over a draft contract on many occasions in the past — although these days I tend not to eat at my desk.

On a related note, I tried a Sainsbury’s taste the difference fish cake the other day — the first fish cake I’ve eaten since my home-made attempt in June 2008 when I managed to give myself chronic food poisoning. Sadly, this latest fish cake was a real disappointment; it was basically a fish cake shaped potato croquette; you wouldn’t have known it was supposed to have a fishy theme at all. It was so bad, the other one was deposited without grace or ceremony into our compost bin.

  • In reference to a cat: “He had long had his eye on a particularly stupid pigeon which roosted in the plane tree at the south end of the garden. He had noticed that lately it had formed a habit of making its evening toilet perched on the lowest branch of the tree.”
We have a pigeon who loves to perch on the sycamore tree in our front garden and make his toilet there — at any time of the day.

  • “I hate the law. I loathe and detest all this pettifogging round with words and figures, and hours and days and weeks spent mangling bumph”
Don’t we all feel like this sometimes? (In my case, most of the time.) And what a fabulous word: ‘pettifogging’. I was introduced to it through a George Bellairs novel, no less. And it was used in the context of, yes, you guessed it — a lawyer.

  • “He thought of the future. Ahead of him stretched unbroken reefs of trouble. Endless shocks to his nervous system; endless assaults on his gastric fluids; endless nights when fear of insomnia would prove more potent than insomnia itself.”
This might have been describing me!

Monday, 30 September 2019

Is a career in law for you? 6 reasons why people become lawyers

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Long hours, constant learning, dealing with difficult clients and often distressing cases, the prospect of loosing an entire case, the constant pressure…why would anyone choose to become a lawyer?

It’s amazing that despite all this, thousands of people every year decide to take up a career in law and even more surprisingly – enjoy it! Ask any law firm – check out if you’re looking for legal representation – and they’ll tell you that working as a lawyer isn’t just a job that pays the bills, it’s a vocation and a way of life. Wondering if it’s the career for you? Check out these 6 reasons why people become lawyers. Who knows? Maybe you’ll join them!

The money
Ok, ok it sounds pretty cold. But for some people the lucrative legal world is attractive simply because the salary reflects the hard work you put in. The idea of earning a six figure income certainly an attractive prospect, and if you choose to become specialised in a certain area of law then you have the potential to earn even more and enjoy your job as you do it!

The prestige
All lawyer jokes aside, the world of law is a prestigious one. It cries wealth, knowledge and an extended education. To be a lawyer is to be within circles of other successful professionals and have links to the elite. As a successful lawyer, your reputation will always proceed you and there’s also a glamourous depiction that goes with it. It’s a job that looks good and sounds good.

You can help others
The main reason people get into law, is that it gives them the chance to help others. As a lawyer, you’ll meet people from all backgrounds and all walks of life, and you’ll be the person they turn to for help and justice. It’s an honour. Whether you’re helping someone through a domestic abuse case, or you’re helping an estranged couple come to an agreement over access to their children, you’ll work every day knowing that you’re making a real difference to someone’s life. 

Challenge your brain
We all know that heading to law school and then passing the bar requires years of extended education and hard work. However, the work of a lawyer means that you never stop learning and for some that means the chance to challenge their brain and literally learn something new every single day. Not only that, but as no two cases are the same, you’ll get to work on your problem solving skills and work logically to get your clients the results that they deserve.

The world of an attorney is a far cry from the sterile and often dull working environment of the average office worker. If you enjoy a plush office and all the perks that comes with it then you’d best start working towards that law degree.

Role diversity
From family law to personal injury, employment law, civil litigation and even environmental law, there are so many law divisions you could become an expert in. The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Best Christmas EVER!

I’ve been confounded by Asda’s marketing campaign for Christmas 2017 which has been thrust under my nose every time I open a Metro or turn on the TV for the last few weeks.  I’m fricking sick of it.  That campaign, of course, is the one promising people (but presumably only those who shop at Asda) the best Christmas ever. 

(Yes - I've really cut this out from the paper and scanned it in.)

Best. Christmas. Ever.  I mean - Christ...  where do you go from there?

If Asda are right, future Christmases are going to have scarily big shoes to fill.

There’s enough ‘organic’ pressure exerted on people throughout November and December to enjoy Christmas at all costs without subjecting them to a marketing campaign that’s focused solely on adding to that pressure.  Come on, Asda - that’s just cruel!

I’m not particularly anti-consumerist around the festive period.  I’m really not.  But I really hate the way that after months of build-up and increasingly intense coercion to invest (in every sense) in Christmas and all things Christmassy, from the evening of 25 December onwards, it’s dropped like a scalding-hot turkey that everyone ought to be ashamed of.  Before people have barely had time to whip off their tacky paper hats or locate the Alka-Seltzer to ease their indigestion from gluttonous helpings of Christmas lunch, the message comes down from on high that Christmas is over, it’s time to move on and focus on stampeding out of the house to the Boxing Day sales as a remedy for being cooped up with loved ones for, what, a WHOLE fricking day.  Hours later, we’re then directed to shift our minds to New Year’s stuff, detoxing and gym memberships.

So, after months of being subjected to shedloads of Christmassy shit, we’re then, in an instant, to pretend it never even happened?!?  Well – I’m sorry.  I’m just not playing that game anymore. 

I honestly believe that enjoying the entire festive period is much better for our collective mental health.  Why the constant search for the next big thing?  How about celebrating the present for a bit? 

So, Asda, I’m going to enjoy Christmas, but I’m not going to try to inflate it into something bigger that it can never live up to.  And I’m not going to venture into one of your cheap and nasty stores in any event.

Try to come up with something a bit more sensible for next year’s Christmas campaign, eh? 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Christmas sandwiches

Since 2010, November has always brought with it the first opportunity since the previous December to wrap my chubby little chops around a Christmas-themed sandwich during my lunch hour. As you can tell, I'm something of a lunchtime gourmet when I venture into the office.

Imagine my delight when today, after two weeks of eagerly looking, I finally spotted the Christmas butties neatly haphazardly displayed on the chiller shelf in Sainsbury's Local. There was just one Turkey Feast left which I quickly discounted; I never fancy the 'last turkey' of anything in a shop. Thankfully, my greedy little eyes spotted a few boxes of turkey with pigs under blankets left, so I practically shoulder-barged out of the way the dithering shopper in front of me and made a grab for one.

I thought it would be a good choice with which to open my Christmas sandwich account for 2017. Turkey with pigs under blankets has been one of my go-to Christmas sandwiches for the last two or three years and it's always a safe(ish) bet (to the extent that any of them are).

I noticed that the box design has received an overhaul for this year; it now sports a bright pink exterior with a few seasonal stars (of Bethlehem perhaps?) which, I thought at the time, gave it a hint of cheeky sophistication and sass. (Incidentally - I've always been a sucker for nicely-presented tat.) So, as I mooched my way towards the self-service checkouts -- I mean, why interact with another human if you can possibly avoid it? -- I thought: “oooooh – this is going to be a belter of a sandwich”. Or, as I saw on a pub sign in the run-up to Christmas last year, "It's [going to be] like Christmas in your mouth!!". Whatever that means.

Turkey with pigs under blankets (2016 edition)

Note: this box is last year’s get-up.  I couldn’t find a picture of the new one and I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo of the box myself.

However, my excitement was short-lived. Once I got back to the office and finally made a start on my eagerly-anticipated lunch, I was disappointed. The sandwich wasn't sassy. It was stale.

The disappointment that hit me when I finally wrapped my chops around what turned out to be a miserable excuse for a sandwich is hard to convey. It's a truly galling experience when, after a fortnight of excited anticipation, you realise after the first gobfull that your supposed Christmassy sandwich is utter shite.

So, what was wrong exactly? Well - the sausages weren't flavoursome, the cranberry sauce was insipid being neither sweet nor sharp, the turkey was largely absent and to the extent it was there, was dry, the bacon was rubbery and un-bacon-like and the bread might have been fresh sometime last week, but it certainly wasn't today. Put frankly, it was wrong in just about every way a turkey, bacon and sausage sandwich could be wrong. And, to add insult to injury, I was left with a few pence of the tawdry excuse for meat stuck in my lower left third molar for the rest of the afternoon.

Trying to force that sandwich down was somewhat akin to, I should imagine, eating a curious assortment of flavourless cardboard pieces squidged lazily between two slices of stale bread. And it cost me £2.35.

Let's hope things improve when I try a 2017 version of the Turkey Feast. Because one thing's for sure: I won't be giving the pigs under blankets a second chance this year.