Complacency: Fairness v Justice #thoughtpiece

One of my ‘not sure where this is going’ pieces.

As a Cub Scout, back in the 1960s we were taken to a Police Station, one of those educational trips that I recall with a mix of fascination and horror (the gas works visit is memorable only for the appalling smell and the fact the Troop leader slipped all the way down a metal staircase using words I’d not heard before). One of the things that I remember was the Sergeant taking our fingerprints and telling us that these were unique to each of us: ‘so you’re all individuals, you’re all different’.

Two statements that have  very different consequences.

It’s so easy to focus on the differences. Language, culture, social mores, skin pigmentation, dress, diet… And that’s why we need some sort of social controls, to make sure that those differences don’t become inequalities. It’s part of a civilised society that it permits individualism and doesn’t abhor differences. But some rules are needed. Guidance, to ensure a balance.

But man-made rules have a habit of entrenching anomalies. Certainty begets uniformity which is anathema to individualism. And the human condition comes in an almost infinite variety of alternates. Binary gender distinctions cause difficulties when the expectations of gender definition explode into an almost myriad of options as it has recently.

‘We want to be treated fairly. We need rules.’

Another two statements with very different impacts because if I learnt anything as a lawyer, it is that justice (in the sense of the proper application of the rules) does not always mean fairness (as in achieving a balance between two positions).

Caster Semenya is currently before the Court of Arbitration in Sport. If you don’t know the case then in summary Semenya is a woman who generates freakishly high levels – ‘male’ levels – of testosterone. She won the Olympic 800 metre title and the first three in that race had a similar characteristic. The next three didn’t and one of them said, with a certain force ‘there were two races going on out there’.

For a period Semenya could only compete by artificially reducing – with chemicals – her testosterone. That requirement was suspended for research to be done and since then she has raced without ‘correction’.

Men and women have undertaken different competitions since sport was codified because of the hormones men generate enabling greater musculature and endurance. But even so both men and women have a range of testosterone levels, as well as other features: height, muscle bulk, metabolisms etc. You take your opponent as you find them. You have to accept those who are ‘freakishly’ endowed. Michael Phelps wouldn’t have had his success as a swimmer without his unusual frame and feet.

The rules after the Semenya case will be ‘unfair’ to someone, when they are settled. They cannot avoid that. But justice will be served by certainty. And eventually you just have to accept that, where you impose rules, sometimes there will be an anomalous result which will be categorised as unfair.

Difficult cases make bad law.

Another cliche from my legal career. If you make exceptions for the exceptional then that can undermine the basic premise.

Which brings me to Shemima Begum and the question of her citizenship. Should someone who left England for the caliphate in Syria and ISIS be allowed back when it collapses, even if she expresses no regrets, justifies egregious terrorist acts against innocent concert goers and challenges the authorities to find evidence against her?

The rules, to me are clear. She’s a British Citizen. The Bangladeshi antecedents of her parents are irrelevant. So if she turns up at a British consulate they should do what they would do for any other citizen. Help them get back here. It is also an international obligation.

The fear, as expressed by the Home Secretary, who has sought to strip her of her citizenship is that the law is inadequate to deal with her ‘crimes’and her threat. We cannot gather the sort of evidence that is needed to succeed against her in a British Court, he warns. She is a danger to our security.

Maybe. Very possibly. But bend the rules at your peril, Mr Home Secretary. And if she’s a danger? There are plenty of laws to control her if proved. And if not, as with other home  grown potential terrorists, use the security services to monitor her.No, it’s far from foolproof; yes it will be devastating is she manages to carry out an atrocity. But deny her the rights of citizenship? We are on the slippery slope that led the US to set up their holding camp in Guantanamo Bay, to justify ‘extraordinary rendition’, to condone torture on the spurious grounds that the US does not carry out torture so by definition what it does cannot be torture. Let’s face it we were complicit in all this behaviours and we need to be better than that.

We live in a Society where the rule of law is a paramount but delicate construct. It has often failed us; the lack of control over global social media companies is a disgrace to many but be careful what you wish for in imposing wide controls. Censorship benefits dictators and warlords, not democracies. But yes, some control is probably essential but treat lightly and accept that too little is always better than too much.

And Ms Begum? Is she a terrorist? A naive youngster who’s been indoctrinated? Victim or criminal or something of both? Justice says she must be allowed back. Fairness says she shouldn’t be tried and found guilty in either the press or the Home Secretary’s Office or the Court of Public Opinion but in a  properly constituted and rigorously run Court of Law. Humanity says we should always be careful before we demonise any individual.

We cannot complacently take the things that make living in the UK worthwhile and ignore them because it suits an agenda. I’ll give you an historic example.

In 1974 two bombs went off in Birmingham pubs killing 21 and injuring 182. The Provisional IRA never  claimed responsibility though later it was found likely to have been them and the outcry was rightly huge. The hunt for the guilty consumed the national agenda. Six Irishmen were soon arrested, found guilty and imprisoned for life. 15 years later their convictions were quashed as unsafe; the police fabricated evidence.

Had we had the death penalty and public hanging it would have been a spectacle championed by many. And it would have been wrong, so wrong. It is too easy to assume, to ignore factors that fail to support a particular narrative, particularity when the atmosphere is raw and at its most febrile. And when that happens, not only are innocent people  damaged, but the rule of law also takes a knock. And that is the real tragedy.

It has taken us centuries to get to this point. We cannot – must not – let the seductive and reductive arguments of opinion-formers and politicians – especially short leash politicians intent on creating a persona; yes, Mr Javid, I mean you – to undermine this.

Sometimes Justice and Fairness are incompatible but mostly they make for comfortable bedfellows. Like any good marriage, there will be falling out and disagreements but they survive with understanding and compromise. But most of all they thrive if we fight complacency.

That way we might just get the society we desire even if, often times, we don’t deserve it.

Four years ago yesterday the first post for 1000 Voices Speak For Compassion was put up. While this is possibly slightly off point the anniversary inspired me to put this up. Maybe you might go and have a look at the FB group here and see what else has emerged. 

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Sun, Sea, Sand And #holidays

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Dad, trusty pipe still in place and the Archaeologist take me for a stroll on the prom, circa 1959

Every holiday from my earliest memory meant a visit to my mother’s mother – my Gran – who lived in a tall Georgian terraced house on the sea front at Herne Bay in North Kent.

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I could wax lyrical describing it by saying, even then its best days were behind it. There was the pier, second in length to Southend and the promenade; the winter gardens and the clock tower and… lots and lots of pebbles. At low tide, sand – acres of it – appeared and we could go wandering but it wasn’t the yellow-orange-hued granulated stuff of beach holidays in pictures and films that lends itself to healthy beach volleyball and sandcastles Rather it was a grey-brown claggy sludge they use to fashion bricks in films like Bridge Over the River Kwai and which stuck to everything and occasionally became a sticky gripping pool that you did well to exit right sharpish before it sucked you in.

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Or I could tell you it had a finger post on the sea front pointing due north and indicating there was nothing between you and the North Pole. I’ve only ever seen icebergs once in my life around the English coast and that was in the bleak and dreadful winter of 1962/63 in the sea outside my Gran’s house.


Mum on the pier

I don’t have a distinctive earliest memory because I was always there for the holidays, in my mind’s eye, and all those early occasions have coalesced into one slideshow of sun-filled sepia images, wrapped in blankets.

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The Archaeologist sinking into the mud and Gran’s dog Shep probably summer 1956

My earliest memory is probably walking along the pier, mostly because it was so long. In two places the wooden boards rose to form arches, like small bridges. I recall being told this was done in the War to stop German planes landing on it.

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My mother and my uncle guarding the sea front at Herne Bay against the German invasion

Now that seems highly unlikely; back then, less than 15 years after the War ended it seemed glamorous and thrilling.

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We collected shell fish to eat: mussels off the breakwaters and cockles raked out of the mud at low tide. These gritty morsels, eaten with fresh crusty bread were a treat denied me today as a result of a late flowering allergy. At least the memory is sharp.

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Whitstable harbour, just along the coast where we ate winkles as a treat for being good visiting Aunt Rose and Uncle Jock

At some point we, the Archaeologist and me, graduated to a stage where we were trusted to be alone with Gran for two weeks at Easter. Gran loved us dearly but couldn’t be doing with any sort of hands on child care. We were fed breakfast – always our favourite choice of cereal – and pushed out of the front door. On sunny days we’d head for the cliffs towards Reculver in the hope of fossils. Clouds and drizzly days had us in the library where eventually the Archaeologist found me something I enjoyed reading; and on foul gale swept days we would be on the promenade, as huge waves crashed over us and terminally stupid seagulls tried to put out to sea – how we weren’t swept away has much to do with luck.

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Collecting butterflies on the cliffs towards Reculver with my Uncle Les and the Archaeologist

This being a coastal resort, albeit one with a faded glamour, there was a coffee bar playing the latest tunes – Macari’s – which had whirly whip ice cream and chocolate flakes. It also served its coffee in trendy glass cups – I didn’t drink coffee back then – I tried, like I did everything dad liked because I wanted to be like him (all his favourites – beer, coffee, tea wine, grapefruit  – made me gag, tasting as they did like the distilled essence of brother)  – but I loved those see through cups.

My favourite ice cream was a vanilla slab (Walls not Lyon’s Maid) in between two wafers. You were limited to vanilla or Neapolitan – vanilla, strawberry and chocolate in strips. I loathed the chocolate ice cream  as I recall, arguing it gave me a headache. Odd that I had the hypochondriac’s excuse off pat even aged seven.

I have too many memories really to do justice to this piece though as a selection:

  • Punch our boxer collecting enormous stones off the beach and grinding at them all day, possibly for the salt
  • the sea water swimming pools that were covered in slippery green seaweed that caused endless amusement and hurt as you fell over
  • cutting my feet on, variously: flint pebbles, glass, barnacles, mussels shells and rusty wire
  • being allowed to eat while walking, a pleasure denied at home
  • getting sunburnt and being covered in calamine lotion; the alternative of sun oil that stung my eyes to all buggery was avoided at all costs
  • Gran had the best TV in the family – 625 lines rather than 405 lines – meaningless to the pixilated generation, I know – but it meant we had 3 TV channels, BBC2 as well as BBC1 and ITV and with it more Test cricket to watch. Swoon!

Best of all, Gran’s house tended to fill with people. My youngest uncle lived at home in those early days and was a wild child – so inevitably hugely glamorous to the Archaeologist and me. There were battle going on behind the scenes of which I was blissfully unaware for many years.

Later, beach holidays lost their allure, well until I met a certain young lady who took me to great Yarmouth for the day. Clearly, if this picture is anything to go by, she had a way with words


Wait until I catch you…

And then it was the kids and their love of the beach  the circle of life, huh?


A lovely image though desperately poignant too as the young man next to the Lawyer tapping the Vet’s head, Sam H-B died running the Brighton marathon a couple of years ago. RIP Marco

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Finding A Way #flashfiction#microcosms

Delphine Tombola knew from Primary school that the faith she would embrace would need to provide her with a complete and comprehensive way of living.  She dabbled with the four major religions and dropped them once they revealed their inherent internal contradictions. Others came and went in clouds of controversy and complications. She explored the thoughts of Yogi and shaman without success. Jediism seemed the answer but when her mentor, a plumber offered to draw her away from the Dark Side through the inappropriate application of his light saber, she moved on.

That’s when she stumbled on the tenets of Veganism, a faith so simplistic yet so all-encompassing that a natural evangelist like Delphine knew she’d found her calling.

She created a new persona, including heraldic shield (turnips sinister entwined around a courgette rampant) and a hairdo best described as ‘distressed kale’.

Her pride was her allotment and her determination to ensure the purity of her vegetables. The compost was free of all animal waste, the power to her shed was vegan-certified and nothing leather was allowed on her little piece of heaven.

It came as something of a shock, therefore when she found out from her neighbour, something of a local historian, that prior to being allotments the site had been an overspill graveyard and while the neighbour assured her all the bodies had been removed she couldn’t shake the idea that some molecule from a decayed deceased might have found its way into one of her beloved potatoes.

It was all too much. She needed something certain, something simple, something that would give her a clear purpose in life. That is why, finally, she gave herself, body and soul to the Leave campaign. After all, she mused over her cocoa, what could be simpler than organizing Brexit?

I’m obviously subliminally affected by our local politics… sorry

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Fruit: The Ultimate Passion Killer #carrotranch

‘How did the date go, Morgan?’

‘It was what my old gran would have called a curate’s egg.’

‘What did you do, Morgan?’

‘Ate a banana.’

‘Come again?’

‘We went to the Peking Paradise…’


‘Shut up Logan. Then the Bricklayers…’

‘Ever the romantic…’

‘I’m going…’


‘Back to mine. Low lights, smoochy music…’

‘And the banana? Did you do something inappropriate with it?’

‘I made us drinks and felt peckish so I ate the banana. Then we kissed, she went all weird, couldn’t breathe. Turns out she’s highly allergic. I had to call an ambulance.’

‘Only you, mate.’

This was written in response to Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch prompt

February 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about valentines. It can be Valentine’s Day, the exchange, love for another, romance, or friendship. Have a heart and go where the prompt leads!


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Life in a Conversation And A Bit About Me

I have revealed a bit about what makes me write over at PJ’s blog. You might like to visit and see if it resonates. Oh, and I have a book coming out. Didn’t I say?

via Life in a Conversation

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The Five Things I Learned From Jigsaw Puzzles

I was in a garden centre today, acting as moral support and guard duty for the Textiliste. It’s not that she is regularly under threat, you understand but any trip out that involves her mother runs the risk of strangling and or some other form of justified homicide as the old lady proves that multitasking disappears with age.

So while we paused for the laborious, fourteen step process that aimed to wipe the Aged Beak I found myself distracted by a section that displayed nothing but jigsaw puzzles. There were cats and dogs, mountains and seas, cartoon and caricatures, countries and continents. They came in boxes and bags, tins and tubes. On wood and cardboard. From ten pieces for a mewling baby, to the factorial of all Prime numbers for Stephen Hawking.

How much distraction do we need in this time of Brexit? Loads, clearly.

As a child and into youthful adulthood I did countless jigsaws, 1000 pieces being the norm for those expert years as a Dissectologist Supreme.  I cast my mind back – there was going to be a significant pause, much like a Time Twister – we had reached stage six: the opening of the handbag, an important moment because, if planets align a tissue may, fossil-like, have shifted with some tectonic serendipity out of the bag’s Jurassic depths to sit, snow like, a’top the mountainous contents. Breaths are held and hopes spiral up only to be dashed as the first of many items is prised from within and handed to said stoic daughter – it is at moments like this when memory begins the process of re-imagining; what in reality was the scarring wrought on this trainee parent by the fortieth rendition of The  Wheel On The Bus before the sun rose becomes, through the prism of a pair of old lady’s battered sunglasses something akin to the exultation felt when I first heard Clapton live.

Where was I… dreaming. Yes, jigsaws and life lessons:

1. If you are doing a jigsaw and have an older sibling they will always steal a piece so they can complete the puzzle. It is one of the top ten Bastard-Sibling Laws, like them always getting the better chocolate from the box and them lying better than you. Throughout your life, someone will always be hiding the piece that you need to attain your goals and you will only realise it too late;

2. Completing the edge first is the perfect metaphor for negotiating a new relationship. Until you’ve sussed the boundaries, it really doesn’t matter how many ideas you may imagined as to what you might do with all the many interesting pieces that have been scattered in front of you;

3. If someone gives you a gift ‘because I know you like a challenge’ understand that it is merely another example of pre-emptive schadenfreude. They are already enjoying the idea that you will have to thank them even though you both know you will soon hate them. The jigsaw equivalent came when I was given a 1000 piece puzzle that comprised Brussels sprouts, each one almost identical to its neighbour and then, when I opened the box I realised the puzzle was double sided…;

4. When you’ve been  up to your neck in the detail for the last hour, there will always be someone who turns up at the last minute and finds the piece you’ve been struggling to see and that person will always be smug.  There is absolutely nothing meritorious in being the smart arse that can see the bigger picture; cutting through the crap merely lets more crap flow;

5. If you can find the patience to put back together something that has been deliberately mullered then see it broken up and start over again and still smile, then you’ll probably cope with whatever life will throw at you. Unless it’s covered in Brussels Sprouts.


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Getting The Job Done #flashfiction

John Plont scanned the cafe, before joining Harry Pettimoron. He fitted the iv line and sighed. ‘You well?’

Harry frowned. ‘Missus was a bit runky and the mutt had a touch of the dribblets. Busy day.’

‘Yeah? What’s on the job-sheet?’

‘A couple of underwibbling grommoids and another of those leaking photorombollons.’

‘More photorombollons? Nasty buggers. Last one nearly jellied my tooblocket. Helen was dead unimpressed.’

‘I bet. Hadn’t she just had her scroombottles reframbrigated?’

‘Yeah. And her nails done.’

Harry nodded. ‘Colin’s having a management hang-in, see if we can’t get double-wonders next time. Let’s do the photorombollons first, then we can warm our prantiles on Mrs Patterson’s froomdogle.’

‘You think she’ll have some of those refragranced zip-zoomers? I could murder a couple.’

Harry rubbed his stomach. ‘I’ll pass. My orifices are clagging. Come on.’

John released the line, burped and floated after Harry to their truck.

‘So holiday plans?’

‘Oh the usual. We’ve giving the Mother in law to medical research again – they’re taking some cuttings from her hippocampus – and the kids school has organised a Time Warp for their history project before they Build an Alien lifeform at the Other Species camp.’

‘What base material do they use these days? Silicone? Carbon?

‘Zinc-based ginger with a cardamom isotope. You get peace loving bipeds with low flatulence and good posture. We’re here.’

Once the scaffo-magnets were in place they set about sealing the light leak.

‘How did this happen?’ Harry wrestled with the parallel dimension.

‘Office party. Someone snagged the fabric of time with their party heels.’

John steadied the magnets while Harry stitched the hole shut. 


‘Doris said we should take a cruise. Jupiter’s good value since they reupholstered its Red Spot. ‘There. Time for a break.’


This was written in response to the latest Microcosms prompt: construction worker, cafe, comedy

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