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.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Blogger’s new templates: Contempo, Soho, Emporio and Notable


blogger soho themeFor a while now, I’ve been increasingly conscious that the design of Law Actually has become a bit long in the tooth. I’ve occasionally tinkered with the look and feel of my blog over the last few years, but there’s been no escaping the fact it was based on a (now pretty primitive) blogger design from six or seven years ago. The last major refresh I’d made to the design was in 2012. Yikes.

I made a few minor changes earlier this year when I suddenly remembered I used to do (and quite enjoy) something called blogging. Don’t look at me like that: apparently, blogging simply isn’t such a big thing any more.  Despite, the need for a visual change, I rather sadly recognised that it was well beyond my web design skills to produce something half-decent myself. Although blogger templates are available from third parties, they tend to be infested with problems – including advert placements and other awkward elements which are difficult to remove or modify. After a few very disappointing attempts to find a free blogger template from elsewhere, I gave up.

Given that Google hadn’t released a new blogger template since 2011, I figured something new might be coming before long. Despite a bit of digging on the blogger blog – that’s almost mind-bendingly recursive, isn’t it – I didn’t find any indication of when this might be.

I was truly delighted, therefore, when, earlier today, I visited blogger to check out my recent visitor stats and saw that Google had made a range of stunning new themes available.

The new theme categories – called Contempo, Soho, Emporio and Notable – are all stunning, modern and functional. I’ve tried a bunch on Law Actually and I had a really tough time deciding which to pick.  That really speaks to the quality of options to choose from – all for what is, let’s not forget, a service that Google makes available for free. I’m no Google fanboi – heck, I use Bing in some sort or perverse act of contrarianism (or is it self-harm?) – but there’s no denying they do some good stuff from time to time.

In the end, I went with a slightly modified version of the white Soho design. The acid test was my wife’s reaction when I first showed her the new theme: “wow, that a looks a bit more modern”, she said.

Enough said, I think.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

When is close of business?

Close of business
Ah – ‘close of business’. What a phrase. At least it’s not quite as bad as ‘close of play’.

These curious expressions which are frequently bandied about in offices throughout the western world are intended, of course, to mean the end of the working day. (Whatever the hell that is – particularly in today’s world of taking work home, answering work emails late into the evening and sleeping with a smartphone under your pillow. No wonder we’re all quivering wrecks.)

A recent case considered this very issue. No – not the quivering wrecks thing – but when ‘close of business’ occurs. The case, for those of you who might be interested, was Lehman Brothers International (Europe) (In Administration) v Exxonmobil Financial Services BV [2016] EWHC 2699 (Comm).

The claimant, Lehman Brothers, provided equities and bonds to the defendant, ExxonMobil, under a securities agreement. ExxonMobil sent a default valuation notice to Lehman Brothers, which, to be valid, needed to be received by 'close of business' by Lehman Brothers on the relevant day. The notice was sent by fax and was received by Lehman Brothers' London office at 6.02pm.

To determine whether the notice was valid under the agreement, the court had to consider when ‘close of business’ occurred. Lehman Brothers argued that 'close of business' in London was 5.00pm – meaning the notice had arrived too late and should be deemed to have been received the following day. ExxonMobil contended that 'close of business' was 7.00pm – meaning the notice was in time and therefore valid.

The court accepted ExxonMobil’s contention that, as the claimant, the onus was on Lehman Brothers to establish when the close of business had occurred for the purposes of the agreement. Crucially, Lehman Brothers adduced no admissible evidence on this point. Silly them.

The wording of the contract was such that the validity of the notice turned on the precise meaning of the term 'close of business for commercial banks in London’. From a contractual certainty standpoint, this still isn’t great, but at least it’s a bit narrower than ‘close of business’.

Lehman Brothers argued that this phrase meant 'normal business hours' as worked by ordinary businesses and high street banks. The court acknowledged that 'commercial bank' was not a term of art in English law, but accepted ExxonMobil's argument that, in the modern world, commercial banks closed at about 7.00 pm. The judge emphasised, however, that this was a finding of fact limited to the instant case. Consequently, it was held that, for the purposes of the agreement, ‘close of business’ meant 7.00pm. The valuation notice was therefore valid.

On use of the phrase ‘close of business’ generally, the judge said this:

[T]he term “close of business” on a particular day or date is a useful term which is used in many different contexts, including court orders. The present context is as to the time of receipt of notices in a standard form financial contract. Where the intent of such a contract is to impose a definite cut-off time in this regard, it can do so expressly [by stating a precise time.] The fact that the contract does not state a time, and uses the term “close of business” instead, gives a useful flexibility, and should deter arguments based on the precise time of receipt, which may make little commercial sense.

That’s an interesting point, but, as a school admissions officer might say, ‘you have to draw the line somewhere’. And when you’re dealing with contracts, it’s generally better if everyone knows where that line is going to be drawn.

From the perspective of contractual (and therefore commercial) certainty, there is simply no substitute for precision in the drafting of contracts. Close of business for one person might be very different to another person’s stance. The idea that use of a rather woolly phrase would help to deter quibbling over whether an action had or had not been taken in the required time makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. It didn’t exactly work in the present case, did it? But I take the court’s point as to it possibly helping in a day-to-day commercial pragmatism kind of thing. Maybe.

But here’s the acid test: if I saw that phrase in a contract I was reviewing, would I let it pass, or insist on it being substituted for a specific time?

The latter, you say? Yep – you’re damn right.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

All aboard the booger bus

bogey boy

Yep – it’s all a-happening down in Bristol.

From the Bristol Post 27/02/17:

A woman [called Sian, it seems] claims she was physically sick in the street after a passenger on a First Bus wiped a bogey on her leg.

Shocked and disgusted, she got off the bus and told First Bus she "puked in the middle of the street" in a complaint made on Twitter.

She said she wasn't sure if the incident was an accident or intentional but branded it "gross" in a series of outraged tweets.

"Some guy picked his nose next to me and left a boogie on my jeans," she wrote.

Responding to the complaint on social media, First Bus West of England said the incident should be reported to the police as an assault.

Sian said she would not be taking the matter any further as it was "just a boogie", instead asking for some complimentary bus tickets.

Her request, however, was rejected

Well – booger me. Poor Sian. Not even a complimentary ticket to ride the bus and have another opportunity for a passenger to, y’know, wipe snot all over her.  Sian – you’re a glutton for punishment.

Let’s face it: anything can happen on public transport. I was on a late-night train back from a client meeting in Leeds several years ago, when, towards the very end of the journey, I heard a curious loud rustling sound. It sounded much as though somebody was trying to scrunch up a sheet of baking parchment greaseproof paper. It happened a few times and I didn’t think anything of it until I suddenly became aware of everybody in front of me scrambling back in earnest.  This was followed, almost instantaneously, by a wave of very strong smell – something like spirit alcohol mixed with something I couldn’t quite place.

It quickly emerged that a young chap – he looked roughly in his mid-teens – had tried to consume his bodyweight in spirits and was now retching it up in the carriage. The rustling/scrunching sound was the contents of his stomach hitting the floor. Nice.

Suffice it to say, I, like my fellow passengers didn’t hang about, and was out of my seat in a flash and moving towards the back of the carriage like a scalded cat. The kid, thankfully, decided to get off at the next stop, but not before being admonished by the unimpressed train crew.

It’s a train journey that I won’t forget. A bit like this one.

I wonder if Michael Palin would be interested in reconstructing it for one of his ponderous railway shows…

Interestingly, this isn’t the first snot-related-possible-assault themed post that I’ve ever posted. Remember this?

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Law Actually is 10 years old today

Law Actually 10 years old

Yes - really.

I’ve posted quite a few birthday blog posts over the last – well – decade and, looking back, I always seem to start them by saying that I can’t believe Law Actually has been going so long.  (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Well, now this blog has reached double figures, I really can believe it. It feels like ten years.

I started Law Actually as a bit of lark; a creative outlet from the travails of studying law. It was probably my contrarian and rebellious streak coming out, plus a procrastination device to distract myself from preparing for seminars.

Ten years later, it feels like I’ve seen it all come and go in the blogosphere. (And I’m getting an increasing number of grey hairs to prove it.) The web and the world have moved on considerably since blogging was considered de rigueur. Now it feels like it’s something more to be ashamed of than celebrated and the sense of community in the ‘sphere has long since disappeared. I think I’ve grieved long enough over that loss. Life and things move on. I get it.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that I enjoy blogging more when I take it less seriously. People blog for all reasons, but mine is a sort of creative catharsis. I used to get as much (if not more) pleasure from playing in Photoshop creating a graphic to accompany the text as I did from the writing itself. I think my skills on both fronts have improved appreciably from those early days.

I’m conscious that I’ve subjected my readers and this blog to a lot of crap during the last decade. A few years back, it was little more than a bawdy-house for SEO where you couldn’t turn around for all the sponsored links and posts. Apologies for that. Sometimes blogging felt more like a chore than a pleasure in those days.

I’m going to make no predictions as to what the future will hold for me or this blog. But if I hang about in the blogosphere I want it to be on a no-strings, casual basis. If I post, I post. And if I don’t – well, it’s not the end of the world.

There are a lot of memories tied up in the thousand or so posts I’ve published. I’ve often found a lot of pleasure looking back through my archived posts; they stir up at least as many memories as a diary could have captured. And that’s pretty special.

So, thanks, Law Actually. In a bizarre sort of way, you’ve been a good, comforting friend over the years. And I’m really glad you’re here.

Have a great birthday. You deserve it.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Nissan Micra driver reconceptualises traffic laws

(By which I mean, the driver decided to drive on the left but on the wrong side of a dual carriageway.)  It’s easily done. 


From Cornwall Live 14/02/17:

Shocking footage has captured the moment a Nissan Micra driver was caught on camera driving the wrong way down the busy A30 at rush hour.

[Bus Driver Jimmers] Thomas told Cornwall Live: "This little car bumbled past obliviously. I was very lucky to meet it by a layby where the road was wider, it's unbelievable that nobody was hurt."

He added that the car had a chance to pull in, but didn't seem interest in stopping.

[Wannabe highway cameraman] Jason Griffiths also posted this scary video with some strong language from this morning to Facebook [.]

But my favourite response was from Tweeter Adrian Edwards who commented:

"OMG just had a near death expeireance we were driving up the A30 and suddenly there was a purple micra coming down the wrong way in the fast lane we only just missed it as there was a van in front of us had ivy in the car too shit me up big time I'm shaking !!!!!"

And just to prove it, here’s a screenshot of the tweet.

shit me up

Mr Edwards was left so ‘shit up’ (or should that be shat?), that his attention to punctuation deserted him. But that’s pretty much the norm for virtually all exchanges on social media these days. I think we were better off in the days of ‘textspeak’.

And what became the driver of the offending Micra, you ask.

Police said a 58-year-old woman from the St Merryn area, near Padstow, was taken into custody.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

We noticed you’re using an ad-blocker. Oh really?

block those ads
Like any self-respecting web user, I’ve used ad-blocking extensions for years now - since at least 2006. There are some sites so peppered with ads that browsing them without an ad-blocker just isn’t viable (I’m thinking in particular of some F1 sites I like to check frequently). Some sites are so bad that if it came to a choice between visiting them without an ad-blocker, or not visiting at all, I’d pick the latter, frankly.

Intrusive web adverts are annoying. There’s no getting around that. Equally, though, I’m not so away-with-the-fairies that I don’t recognise that a lot of this nice stuff we’re used to accessing freely on the net has to be paid for by someone, somewhere. Ads are the obvious way of doing that, but the dynamics of this model have changed hugely over the years and are becoming, by degrees, harder to sustain. (So I hear anyway.)

The use of paywalls is becoming worryingly commonplace – both across web content in general and streaming media in particular – and this approach flies directly in the face of some of the key founding principles of the web. And in this increasingly confused and scary world we live in, I think the need for the web to respect the principle of giving information freedom is more important than ever.

In the last couple of years, an increasing number of websites feature code to check whether visitors have ad-blockers installed. Where an ad-blocker is detected, the visitor sees a message of thinly veiled emotional blackmail or, increasingly, out-and-out pleading, asking the visitor to disable their ad-blocking functionality or to whitelist the relevant website. Some sites even prevent you from reading the article until you do one of these two things.

Most news agencies have used this tactic for some time, but other types of sites are now following suit. Even the ten-a-penny technology sites which regurgitate already regurgitated non-news, FUD and trite observations are doing it. I know. You wouldn’t think they’d have the nerve to try to guilt-trip visitors into viewing ads.

Almost invariably, I ignore all pleas of whitelisting. The one exception I made was for the Guardian’s website. Hey, I have to get my do-gooding, left-wing libertarian kicks somehow.

The bottom line is that web ads need to be more palatable and less intrusive. If there weren’t so many of them and if they weren’t so damned distracting and annoying, visitors would be less inclined to block ads in the first place. It’s a bit like the situation a decade ago when copyright holders were rightly lampooned for over-charging for their content, not doing enough to make it easily-accessible to customers in innovative ways, while struggling to understand why many users were choosing to download content unlawfully using peer-to-peer file sharing software. Thankfully, we’ve seen a lot of progress on that front (think: Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime, for example).

Back to web ads. The ones which get most on my thrupnies adopt the shock ‘n’ awe approach in which banner ads abseil down from the top of the screen, bumping the page content asunder in unnerving jolts, with the lower page content then being flanked by further ads. As these then load, the page content re-renders again so your eyes are bouncing around the page trying to catch up and you’re quickly reduced to a quivering nervous wreck. It’s a bit like expecting web users to browse the web high on crystal meth. It’s unacceptable and it’s disrespectful to the site’s visitors. And it’s no wonder use of ad-blockers has skyrocketed in recent years.

So, please, ad-makers and sites which feature them: try and be a bit more subtle and less annoying. Else the chances are your ads being unblocked are pretty much nil. And if that happens, we’ll all end up losing in the longer term.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Safer internet day

Yep - it’s here again.

I see I was cautiously positive when I mentioned SID in post back in 2008, but I think there was a distinct undertone of scepticism if I’m frank.

But, nine years on, far from slipping into oblivion, it seems safer internet day is well and truly ‘a thing’.

I guess that’s good news. It’s not going to work miracles, but it’s a start. It’s an opportunity to get people to stop and think about what they’re doing when they use the internet – which can only be a good thing. But let’s not kid ourselves: there’s a huge amount of work needed to help people help themselves when making decisions about their online conduct. And that’s by no means confined to children.

I had a butchers at the safer internet day quiz earlier.  Hopefully, the majority of kids will regard the ‘correct’ answers as blindingly obvious. Or is that being recklessly optimistic?

safer internet day quiz 1The theme with many of the answers seems to be: if in doubt, run and tell an adult. That’s not bad advice, but it’s crucial that young people are made to feel involved in the decisions behind safe online actions so they can understand the reasoning behind it and start putting that to use in the future.

There comes a point when telling kids to ask an adult isn’t going to cut it.

safer internet day - quiz 2

Getting kids to flip their perspective on a situation and appreciate that online conduct can have just as direct and serious ‘real world’ consequences as offline actions is central to successfully tackling the problem.  Sadly, on this latter point, people seem to be just as ill-informed now as there were when I dubbed it the fallacy of the virtual veil nearly ten years ago.  And that’s pretty depressing.