Justice, Jobsworth and the banning of Passion in Oxford

April 22, 2014

Months have passed since I last wrote anything here, mainly because I am usually either writing thousands of words a week elsewhere or am travelling. It has been a week of interest and oddities, in the press and in real life, and I thought I would capture some of it here. It is a kind of palate-cleanser for me, not an alternative to writing about eDiscovery / eDisclosure but a relief from the weekend spent largely doing just that.

The Ritz, the Tower and the Thames

RitzPhoneBox_250I gave a day-job talk on Tuesday for HP Autonomy at the Ritz. My subjects were twofold: the first was a reminder that the purpose of eDiscovery is to find evidence and improve one’s understanding of the case, not merely to find documents; the second was to suggest that whilst civil justice seemed to be going fast down the pan thanks to a combination of an ignorant Justice Secretary, a useless Ministry of Justice and some Court of Appeal judges whose idea of real-life bears no relation to real life, there were nevertheless opportunities for those ready and willing to take them.

My next meeting was close to the Tower of London, and I came out of it into the beginnings of a glorious evening with time on my hands before my train. It was an opportunity to merge two of my passions – walking city streets and photography – and I have some new camera kit to get used to. I entirely buy Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that you need hours of practice to be good at anything and I need to practice in the same way as soldiers learn to dismantle and reassemble their guns so that it became second nature. Equipment includes a tripod, the camera, a wi-fi trigger and an iPhone, all of which takes some assembly even before you get to the controls and settings. It is also slightly cumbersome to carry amidst the tourist throngs of Tower Hill

You don’t need all this kit to take decent photographs of the Tower and the Thames on a sunny evening. What I do find, and it is one of the reasons why I carry a camera, is that I become much more observant if I have a camera with me. I am not sure, for example, if I would have noticed this arrangement of two Wren churches and the Monument if I had not been equipped to photograph it. Read the rest of this entry »


The Times iPad app drives out my 40 year imperative to read the paper every day

September 6, 2013

You have a few spare moments over breakfast, so you pick up your paper copy of the Times, hoping to skim a few pages of it. The pages, however, seem stuck together and it takes you several attempts to move between them. The struggle to turn the pages means that you barely get to read anything.


Suddenly, your newsagent bursts in. He has a later edition to give you and won’t take No for an answer, interposing himself between you and the edition you actually wanted to read. As if that were not annoying enough, he won’t actually let go of the new edition, clinging onto it as you try to take it – you do that because that seems to be your only hope of getting rid of him. By the time you have got the new edition, you have run out of reading time for the copy you actually want to read.

You give up, and hope to catch up while you are on the Tube. But here is that bloody newsagent again – there is an update, he says, but he can’t let you have it just now. Meanwhile, he just stands in the way, again preventing you from reading the old one. Read the rest of this entry »

Coalition seeks Olympics credit whilst selling off school playing fields and cutting sports funding

August 7, 2012

The draft of a recent article of mine talked about the Olympics and made reference to the sale of school playing fields and to cuts in funding for school sports.

When I read through the article, the references seemed out of touch with the general enthusiasm for the Olympics which I by then shared, and I removed the rather sour side-reference, although I brought up the same subject in a subsequent tweet. As a secondary factor, I had no statistics to back the references and no time to look them up.

The Guardian has now provided us with the figures in two articles:

The title of the first tells its own story. School playing fields: 21 sell-offs have been approved by coalition. This has happened despite the coalition’s express commitment to protecting playing fields and their criticism of Labour when it was in government for its parallel hypocrisy.

The second article, Michael Gove’s political own goal on school sports, tells of the axing of £162 million a year funding for the School Sports Partnerships which provides money to fund staff involvement in after-school sport and for arranging inter-school matches. Read the rest of this entry »

Tripping down memory lane as we scatter ashes on Exmoor

April 8, 2012

My late father had spent 18 months or so in a plastic box on the mantelpiece, and it seemed about time that he was liberated.  Exmoor was the obvious place, and that is where we went last week to find a suitable spot to scatter his ashes.

He was at school at West Buckland during the war, and our childhood holidays with him were spent down there, usually at Barnstaple. From there we could easily get to the wide sandy beach at Saunton Sands;  we would take the dogs to the dunes at Braunton Burrows where the sandy track, still called the American Road, showed traces of the metal strips laid by the US military when they trained there for D-Day, not so many years earlier; and we went up on to Exmoor. Thinking back, the Exmoor trips were for rainy days, because if the sun shone we went to the sea, and my recollection that it always rains on Exmoor was probably based on distorted premises.

Jaguar 3.8The early 1960s were  a good time for driving – petrol was cheap, roads were well maintained, cars had reached a stage of technical excellence and comfort, and relatively few people had them. My father had a dark grey Jaguar 3.8 with red leather seats, one of the finest cars of its time and much loved by bank robbers and others with an urgent need to be somewhere else. Read the rest of this entry »

Driving the police up the wall at Fortnums

April 4, 2011

I am late catching up with last week’s Sunday Times and its description of the scene at Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly during the recent disturbances:

Thirty police in riot gear went into the store to drag out protesters but others scaled the building and chalked “Tax the rich” and “Tory scum” on its walls. One played…a clarinet on the roof

So, thirty police did this, but others did that, is that the sense of it?  The only thing I am unsure about is whether the police who scaled the walls were wearing riot gear or whether that was only for those who went into the store. I reckon that shinning up walls, writing things and playing musical instruments is probably impossible in riot gear, so I conclude that the qualifying description “in riot gear” applies only to those who went into the store.What were the protesters doing meanwhile?

Let’s bring back Latin in schools, to make sure that serious newspapers keep their subjects distinct from their objects.

It was later rumoured on Twitter that a group of tweed-clad Old Etonians had trashed the Slough branch of Lidl in a reprisal raid.


Well how much is porn on the Internet, Jacqui?

February 28, 2011

Everyone is a bit puzzled as to why former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith chose to tell us about her ignorance of the porn industry. One would have thought that she would try and avoid headlines which included her name and the word “porn”, given that her disgrace was based in part on the fact that she claimed her husband’s X-rated videos on expenses.

Most of the comment, in fact, has been about the photograph with which the Times illustrated its article, showing Smith in a rather louche leather coat standing in a Soho Street, like a Madame on her way to inspect a new batch of recruits for her brothel. What caught my eye was the headline in the iPad version of the article. Where the print version was headed “I never knew the Internet was so full of porn, admits Jacqui Smith” the iPad version read “I never realised how much porn was on the Internet, admits Jacqui Smith”. The ambiguity in this subtly different version brings with it a clear reminder of that previous occasion when the cost of porn escaped her notice. Was the sub-editor having a laugh at her expense, I wonder.

Jacqui Smith in Soho

For myself, I do not particularly blame Smith for not noticing that entry on her domestic Internet bill. She was a busy woman and, as with Baroness Scotland’s unfortunate oversight in respect of her illegal immigrant cleaner, it is something easily done. They share a collective responsibility in that they were members of a government which was particularly unforgiving of our daily oversights, burdening businesses and individuals with a mass of petty compliance obligations and hordes of petty little runts-in-office to catch us out and punish us. Indeed, one of the best results of the Parliamentary expenses scandal in which Smith was the star turn has been that MPs now know what it feels like to be caught out for every trivial infringement of the rules. Read the rest of this entry »

Discipline for Bristol Jobsworths – not likely

August 9, 2010

Times columnist Matthew Parris was amongst those who commented on the story of the council jobsworths who made a family take down their windbreak whilst eating their picnic on Clifton Downs in Bristol (see Putting petty officials back in their box). Like the rest of us, Parris fears the unchecked power of small people with authority unsupported by thought or brain. He wonders if the council officials have been disciplined.

I think this is unlikely for various reasons. Employment law is weighted heavily in favour of employees and is unlikely to appreciate the distinction between being an official and being officious. Very few public servants are actually dismissed, for incompetence or anything else. Besides, unless Bristol city council is very different from other local authorities, it is probable that the senior staff share the general bureaucrats’ view that theirs is the earth and everything in it. They may call us “customers” and describe themselves as “public servants”, but the reality is the rather paradoxical one that they have come to think of themselves as our masters. The contradictions inherent in this reach their apogee with signs erected by highways officers telling us to “think”. They don’t see themselves as others see them, which is probably as well for their self-esteem.

I suspect that Bristol’s apology was inspired by a quick-witted PR person. Bristol did not apologise because anyone thought that the officers’ heavy-handed conduct was wrong, but because someone rather brighter than the general run of council officers spotted a PR disaster looming. Another of Matthew Parris’s long-time battles is with people who cannot say “sorry”; it does not matter what inspired Bristol’s apology, they did at least make one.

Their apology was not accompanied by the usual empty assertions that “lessons have been learnt”. Perhaps the PR person was clever enough to realise that this phrase has been discredited with over-use by officials whose capacity to learn anything is pretty slim.