I have never been a clubber, beyond it being something I felt you did between your late teens and early 20s; after that I thought of it as being more of a choice and not one that ever appealed to me.  Once past the Saturday night highlights of television and/or sleepovers and trying to have a midnight snack session, it all became about alcohol and meeting boys.  Nowadays, I stay in on Saturday nights perhaps a little more than I would like, but the things that interest me have changed a lot.

At the risk of sounding a bit of a middle class bore, I like going to friends’ houses, having friends round and staying in.  I have written that and I am cringing, it really does sound dull.  How did that happen?   It just sort of crept up on me!  I would now rather go to a restaurant than a pub, but in part there are fewer traditional pubs around, which is what I like, and I baulk at the prices and too often of late I’ve heard myself saying, standing outside a pub, “Oh, shall we just get some beer/wine and drink it at home?”  I really am not liking how this is making me sound in terms of excitement levels!

However, last night Chris and I went out and had a fantastic night.  We went to another house gig.  You bring your own food and nibbles and everyone (c30+ people) sits around on all seats the hosts can rustle up.  We talked to a few people, which is more than I do when I go to a pub or restaurant, and we could take our shoes off and curl up on the armchair.  And we got to listen to two fantastic guitarists, one of whom was also the singer.  They sounded great and we had a lovely evening.  We were there from about 7.15 pm until shortly before 11.15 pm.  A night of good music, the company of people with similar interests (I would say people ranged in age from about 16 to 60s) and as you could bring whatever food and drinks you wanted, you could be as posh or cheap as you wanted.  We somehow ended up with me on decent wine, Chris on Pepsi Max and an array of crisps and a big bag of chocolate buttons.  In future, I will go for something more nourishing, substantial and tasty, say a cheese and ham selection.  Listen to me, I’m so middle class!

I guess in some respects, my interests and priorities have changed where spending my free time is concerned.  I want to be around friends, if there’s music it should be music I want to hear, I want food and drink of decent quality and I want to be in an environment I find comfortable in.  House gigs are so the way forward for me!  Sadly, I’m away for the next gig and then they won’t host one again until late autumn, in part because their house looks so good and creates such a great atmosphere when it’s dark outside.

Yes, I feel a bit boring, or at least that’s what I would have thought looking at me from my 18 year old eyes, but so what, I had a really good evening and I was out on a Saturday night, I was listening to music, I was socialising, I was with somebody I wanted to spend time with and I did have good wine and, ahem, good food (or at least I could have done had I made a proper effort – I bought crisps in a moment of “ooo, let’s have snacks” giddiness).


{01/12/2012}   Evenings without a TV

I have a TV but don’t that often watch it for something specific, other than on for the news in the mornings, but staying with my friend in London at the moment there is no TV.  Well, there was one but now it’s all fancy digital, it doesn’t work!  So I’ve spent the last two weeks without any TV.  I didn’t have a TV of my own for years and it doesn’t bother me not having a TV, not least because they take over a living room and any likelihood of conversation.  These two weeks have been fine, but I realise that I haven’t seen or heard any news.  I don’t often read a paper or look at online news but I do listen to the morning TV news and I like it.  But as for the evenings, it’s quite refreshing being TV-less.

When I’ve been home, we’ve sat and chatted, taken longer over dinner and sat at the table to eat, we’ve read and/or emailed and there’s been no TV noise.  Nice.  But I do annoy myself that every now and then I think how nice it would be to sit in front of the telly like a zombie and watch mindless drivel.  Sometimes escapism in the form of rubbish telly is just what you fancy.  Ideally with, in my case, a lap tray and dinner.

I can stay up far too late sometimes absorbed in rubbish TV and it’s very unsatisfying.  I rarely switch on the TV to watch something specific, though I was obsessed with the first series of Homeland (almost completely lost interest in series two, and indeed have missed the last three episodes) and quite enjoyed the telly being turned on for 9pm on a Sunday night.

I know there are some people who watch hours and hours of TV.  I don’t get it because I think so much of it isn’t properly absorbed, it just seems like a way of killing time and I spend far too much time complaining I don’t have enough time to then waste hours staring numbly at a screen.  I went through a few phases of playing Scrabble of an evening, which sounds strangely middle class c1985.  It felt almost like a luxury to be doing an activity like that of an evening.  The more I think about it, the more I think how easy and wasteful it can be to watch TV for the sake of sitting down and convincing yourself you’re actually doing something, when in reality the odds are high you’re watching drivel, often interspersed with dreadful adverts which are both noisy and intrusive.

Also, with the advent of digital TV stations and 24-hour TV, there needs to be more repeats and cheaply made programmes (don’t start me off on reality TV … again!) to keep the stations going .  But, really, I wish I could turn a TV on and find choices of decent, well-made programmes, then I wouldn’t mind so much turning the TV on in the evening and watching a few programmes just for the sake of watching a bit of television.

As for my return to life with a telly, I may intend to fully appreciate the quietness of the evenings, maybe enjoy some music and chatting and, well, just appreciate that there is life without TV, but I know with certainty it will be on at some point every day!

I have found an old notebook starting in August 2000 in which I stuck the job adverts for the jobs I applied for at that time, having just got back from two and a half years in Japan.  Among them: publications assistant, European research and sales for business to business services (like I knew what that would entail!), something in newsdesk production, conference producer, editorial assistant, new media sales, reservations/retail travel and website design sales.  I didn’t get or do any of those jobs but it has reminded me of a lot of other jobs I applied for and how completely unprepared I was for a career at that age.

Two jobs I applied for that I wish I’d got were as a writer on Top Gear magazine (I had an interview and then went there for a week’s work experience, which I loved, but to my dismay didn’t get the job) and as a trainee tea taster for, as I recall, Tetley.  The years when I “should” have been searching for a career were punctuated by bouts of time working abroad and it wasn’t until I was 26 that I stopped travelling/living abroad and had made a conscious decision to look for “a proper job”, still none the wiser as to what I wanted to do.

Interestingly now I think about it, it was then that I got interviews (maybe TEFL and travels did make me more employable, I’ve always thought of it as a hindrance as the only other work experience I had was looking after horses, waitressing, fruit picking, credit control and basic office temping) and for the first time in my life (it so wasn’t a recession then!) I was even being offered jobs that I turned down (I can think of three off the top of my head but I think there were more).  It was during this laborious round of job searching that I applied for a job as an editor (with training beforehand) but got interviewed for the training to be a stenographer (at that time I had never even seen a stenotype machine and was not remotely interested in doing a year of training – I wanted to get on with working and earning money) and that is what I’m still doing, a staggering ten years later.  I never, ever thought I’d do a job for longer than about four years and when I first started I was still lamenting a perceived missed opportunity to be travelling to tea plantations or driving supercars!

I also found what is probably a copy of the first post-education CV I ever wrote.  It’s made me feel a much more rounded, interesting and experienced person and it makes me wonder how new graduates will find jobs this summer and into their early working years; I guess for graduates/school-leavers it’s all about getting training, ideally on-the-job training, and I can see how or why that would appeal to big employers.

What worries me though is that when I want to find a different career (when my fingers finally do seize up, among other reasons), applying for jobs as random as those I’ve mentioned above is unlikely to result in interview, let alone a job, because … well, I have my theories.  But what really irks is that I am convinced I would be a far more productive, enthusiastic and confident employee now than I would have been at 22 or 26, my two main job-application ages, but employers might not see that or that my ten more unconventional years of work do have transferable skills.

{19/07/2012}   Clubbing

In my rose-tinted heyday I went clubbing most Saturday nights and on a fair few Tuesdays and Thursdays while at university (student club nights with ludicrously cheap alcohol!).  Despite having had some fantastic nights out, it was at some point during the rose-tinted years that I realised I didn’t usually enjoy clubbing, it was just something you kind of did, a rite of passage if you like.  Now, seeing people going into or leaving clubs (the stuff of early morning airport runs!), I am reminded that I would have nothing to wear that wouldn’t make me lamby mutton or frump, I hate dance music and being out past midnight renders me defective for at least the duration of the following day.  Plus, I struggle with the price of drinks and am prone to disapproving looks at scantily clad girls.

I read an article recently about Ibiza and how it’s transformed (-ing?) from lager and alcopops to vintage champagne and classy cocktails.  That’s all fine.  Then I read a list of celebrities and millionaires who now partied in Ibiza and a load of them were older than me.  I am in danger of sounding like a fuddy duddy but for me clubbing was something I did up to my mid-20s before I realised I was no longer interested in a potential snog in an alleyway, getting staggery, slurred drunk, having your bum fondled and feeling rough the next day as you try to piece together what exactly happened the night before.  Or maybe I just went to the wrong clubs?!  I still drink and go out, I just prefer to go out places where I can chat to friends and have a decent meal rather than a belated, “Ooops, I didn’t have dinner.  Kebabs, anyone?”

Apparently, it costs about £55 to get into one of Ibiza’s posh clubs.  To get my money’s worth, I would feel a need to get there at opening time and leave at closing time.  To stay awake, I would need to keep up vigorous dancing for most of the night, which I am too unfit to do, and I would consequently dehydrate and end up drinking too much, feeling dreadful as a result.  I would then get alcohol-induced moroseness at all the rich, beautiful people dancing lithely without having broken out into a sweat, make-up intact.  At some point, I would probably piss off someone influential with my sweaty flailing and get myself chucked out.  I would at least, if I could remember much, have good material for a blog post/club review!

All that said, to dance like a maniac to poppy, sing/shout-along music is something I don’t often do enough these days and something which at times is just so, so much fun.  I find myself wondering what it’d be like to rub shoulders with the likes of Naomi Campbell in Ibiza … oh, hold on, that doesn’t solve my outfit issue!  Or the expense issue … maybe I should just officially retire from clubbing and save my windmill moves and shakes to weddings!

{06/07/2012}   Oh how my body changes

I ate Indian food last night and, as usual, it gave me a stomach ache (garlic and/or chili related).  I used to have a cast iron stomach and could eat anything.  My food intolerances and general body slump started about eight or nine years ago in my late 20s.  I might be rose-tinting slightly but I could eat pretty much anything without repercussions and I was quite slim and more fresh-faced than I ever appreciated.  I am not going to lament and whine about the cruelty of ageing … though as I write that I do wonder what positives I will be highlighting!

If I eat too much of the following, things happen that aren’t enjoyable or desirable: garlic, onions, bread, cucumbers, cabbage, peas, apple juice, strawberries … the list goes on.  I still eat all of the above but with a degree of trepidation.

As for the rest of my ageing body, being unfit doesn’t help.  But I find it cruel that weight is easier to gain but harder to shift, that gravity can be cruel, that most people in the pages of fashion magazines are younger and airbrushed, thus emphasising my perceived imperfections.  Despite my diminished memory functions, I at least am happier with my mind and how that works.  Why is it that as you get older, things generally get bigger, but when you get a fair few decades ahead of me now, while your ears and chubby bits increase in size, your height and hair decrease.  It’s cruel.

I very much believe in growing old gracefully and being fully accepting of your changing body, but it’s hard when it stops functioning as well, from illnesses to food intolerances.  Sometimes though I see women in their 60s and 70s and think how amazing they look (even including my neighbour in her 80s who looks distressingly good in her skinny jeans and knee-high boots – I believe she was blessed with a skinny gene).  Sometimes I look at myself and see someone a bit frumpy who doesn’t care about their appearance enough.

I guess it’s easy to feel a bit sorry for yourself because your body isn’t how it was or how you feel it should be, but I don’t think it’s that difficult to dress your age, dress to suit your body and behave however you want (!).  I think I get too hung up on appearances and on labels, in particular your age.  I sometimes dress like a chubby 24 year old, sometimes like a 50 year old.  I have possibly become a little bogged down with what I perceive to be the cruelty of getting older, but one day I will look back at, say, photos of me now and think how young I looked.  But then I will look at some of the clothes I wear or how I do my hair or whatever and think, “Oh, what a waste”.

So while my food intolerances sometimes cause me a bit of embarrassment or discomfort and I moan about being somewhat too rotund and wobbly, I really should just get on with appreciating that I largely function and I do have enough money to make a bit more effort to buy clothes that suit me rather than that sort of fit me.  There is a lot to be said for confidence and positive thinking.  And would I have been happier without a bit of a tummy ache and no fantastic food last night? No.  Instead of feeling fretful about being 37 and my graduation being 15 years ago (agh, that still shocks me, I need to get over that!), I need to just get on and enjoy things that are happening to me now, because really life is much better as I get older, it’s just the packaging that’s a bit crumpled.

This started off with no point, I am now feeling unexpectedly positive and perky!  Long may that last!

                As soon as a friend (I am writing this about female friends) has a baby, I believe your friendship is changed forever.  I am a friend without children and I have a mixture of friends with and without children.  My relationship with those without is, inevitably, different to my relationship with friends with children.  I think it is difficult for withs and withouts to re-establish post-baby relationships but it can and should be possible.  But I find it sad that there are some friends who seem to fall by the wayside once a baby is added to the equation.

                It has been known for people with children to tell (or imply unsubtly) people without children that they can’t possibly understand their lives because they don’t understand what it is like to have children.  I can see that is true, though it doesn’t need to be said.  But I think it is less commonly accepted that those with children no longer know what it’s like to be without them.  I am occasionally told I’m a jet setter or I’m busy or I go out a lot, purely because I am without children.  That is not a reflection of my life; it is not one big party.  It never really has been.  But, yes, the odds are high that I will go out more and do more impulsive things, from having a quiet cup of coffee on my own in a café to going away with friends for the weekend on a last minute whim (though I am struggling to think of a recent example when this has happened!).

There are some people who have had children and who you continue to have a lovely friendship with.  Yes, it’s impossible you will see each other as often or be in touch as much, but there are compromises that, once all is a little settled, fall into place.  Fortunately for me, it is like that with all my good friends, though there is a big difference between friends.  But I have known and known of people you don’t see or keep in touch with once a baby is born.

I feel I am walking on eggshells by writing this because it is a very sensitive subject.  There are a few people I know of who, to an outsider’s eyes, have a baby and suddenly drop all their non-baby friends for those they meet at various baby and pre- and post-natal groups.  It is always good to have friends you can talk to about certain things, eg work or children, knowing they can empathise with you.  But to exclude or distance yourself from friends who have been part of your life up until that point is to abandon a part of you, almost to disown the person that friend grew up with, whether from childhood or more recently.  I believe that women have a variety of potential roles, mainly friend, mother, wife, sister, lover.  To devote yourself (as sometimes seems to be the case) to one, say, mother, is almost tantamount to disowning your friend self, for example.  I think it’s good for children to see their mum in all her potential roles, for knowing how to be a friend is a necessity for everyone, particularly as you’re growing up.

I hope none of my friends are reading this and think I am writing about them, I’m not, though there are some of you I would like to see more often, though that is also my fault and a tangent, largely to do with geography.

My point is that there should always be a place for friends in all phases of your life.  Those friendships have to change as we move away, have busier or quieter jobs, have relationships, have children, etc.  Sometimes a few fall by the wayside for good reason, but essentially ending a friendship because one of you has a baby is not a healthy or happy option.  It may take a while to get used to the changed situation/priorities/dynamic, from both sides, but it’s always worth working at.  And, yes, I am writing this as someone who has lost a friend or two for these reasons.  And, no, they’re not even Facebook friends.  I am also writing this having spent a lovely day yesterday with a good friend who has two young children.

{27/06/2012}   Memory

My memory’s not what it used to be.  Or maybe I’ve forgotten how it used to be?  Or maybe I don’t challenge it.  From birth until you get to the end of your academic life, your memory is probably your biggest asset in terms of your development, most of the rest comes from how you use this incredible resource.

Since leaving university at 22, the only studies I have done are to learn stenography, a year of, essentially, learning a new language.  I know that if I did a further degree now, I would struggle, but I can see this would largely be as a result of being out of the habit of studying.  I would also blame my, as I perceive it, poor memory on probably more than would be justified.

I think the decline of my memory started when I was about 24/25 and teaching English in Japan.  Actually, it wasn’t so much my memory, more my use of “big words”, which was a bit of a slippery slope.  When you live abroad, and particularly when your language skills appropriate to that country are lacking, you learn to *new word alert* thesaurusise your vocabulary to make it both less colloquial and easier to understand.  I then feel I kind of forgot how to use some words correctly and I’m sure my vocabulary has narrowed, though I do have some niche vocabulary as a result of my job!

I very often hear myself saying, “Oh, what’s that word”; is that because because my memory is on the slide or that I’m not challenging my vocabulary on a day to day basis?  Likewise spellings, there are words I can no longer spell.  But it’s ok, I don’t have to use a dictionary, because most writing I do is using a keyboard and all things keyboard have a spell checker!

So is technology to blame?  Mobile phones and computers can do the remembering for you, and we let them.  Technological advances are wonderful but they are, in my mind, taking over jobs our brains used to do, indeed are designed to do.  Phones and computers are one thing but now there are more automatic cars around and more functions in cars, things we used to be able to do ourselves, like engaging in the process of parking rather than having bippers and even video cameras to assist.  Technology is helping us to allow ourselves to become brain and body lazy.

Years ago, I read a story about a teacher in a US school who, on the day, or perhaps day after, JFK was shot asked everyone in his class (all pre-teen) what they were doing when they found out.  The memory was fresh and lengthy descriptions were given.  He asked them to write down their memory, saying he would return their descriptions when they graduated high school.  Everyone was adamant they would remember.  Correct, they did all remember, because the teacher, maybe ten years later, asked them what they were doing when JFK died.  But all of their recollections deviated from what they had written, the smaller details had changed with time.

I worry that a lot of my memories are enhanced, altered perhaps, by photographs.  Sometimes I think I recall an event because I have recently seen a photo and have merely embellished that.  Some of my friends can remember amazing detail of our primary school years.  I think they are probably largely correct.  I struggle to think what my first memory is and I’m pretty sure my first big memories are from my school years between seven and eleven, though I can remember snippets.  For example, I can sort of picture the dining hall of my primary school and the tables and benches.  I also have a feeling of repulsion at having to drink milk.  But I don’t remember if I forced it down or got excused from drinking it.  I can also picture a water fountain and my friend punching me in the stomach and winding me.  I also remember the toilets were portacabins and that the roll towels were dirty and I hated drying my hands.  Ha, funny, I don’t dry my hands after washing them as a general rule!

Perhaps what annoys me most about my “failing” memory is that I can’t remember things I’ve read or seen.  I know if I’ve seen a film or read a book and I can tell you whether I liked it and how it made me feel.  But I can’t tell you what happened.  People can “spoil” a story by telling me the ending, I will then read or see it and won’t know the spoiler until I see if for myself.  What’s that about?  Maybe that’s a lack of concentration when it comes to reading or watching things.  I can watch, say, the news and be staring at the TV and hearing what’s going on, then someone watching with me can comment on it and I won’t know that they’re talking about something I’ve just heard.  I think my problem with reading or watching a film/TV is that I am usually thinking about other things I should be doing or that are on my mind.  All the above, infuriatingly, also applies to things people tell me.  I’m great at keeping secrets, because I don’t chuffing remember them, other than bits.

I find the brain and its memory function absolutely incredible and utterly fascinating.  Maybe writing and thinking about this will set me on a path to learning in an attempt to re-engage my memory.  It would be wonderful to remember the interesting things people tell me!

                There are a lot of things I associate with being middle-aged (precise age range unknown, maybe 40s as that is mid way to 80-98- but in my 40s it will be 50s!).  At 37 I feel I am in the transitory age between being “young” and “middle-aged”.  I don’t think it’s too bad a place to be as I feel I can get away with both.  But while I snigger at a friend “doing something middle-aged”, in reality the odds are it’s something I too do or quietly aspire to!

                Recently, a lot of friends have moved out of London, me included.  Ignoring marriage and children, there seem to be a lot of “middle-aged” things that go with leaving London, for example.  For the past few years, I have collected elderflowers and made cordial and/or alcoholic lemonade.  This is not something my much younger self would have considered acceptable.  But boo hoo to my younger self, you were missing out!

Along with baking, cooking and foraging (sloes, elderflowers, blackberries … actually I think that’s as far reaching as my foraging has gone), I have also discovered gardening.  This to me, showing my age here, was all a bit Percy Thrower, something parents and “oldies” did.  But now, not that I have a garden (though I have had a terrace with lots of pots and an allotment), I really enjoy gardening, particularly vegetables and herbs.  It is enormously satisfying to go from seed to plant to plate.

I now also have a pet, a cat called Izzy.  It took me years to decide to get a cat.  I’d really wanted a cat for years but the thought of not being able to go away for impromptu weekends, etc, and the general responsibility were huge issues.  I got her about four years ago, can’t imagine not having her, but do feel a tie.  But the reality is that I am more responsible and I enjoy being at home more than I ever used to.  But maybe the latter is also because I’m more settled than I ever used to be and I have furniture and other proper grown up stuff.  I even have a car, though for some reason I still think of that as being a luxury, something I’m far too young to have.  I don’t know where that thought came from because, on and off, I’ve had a car since I was 17, I just feel incredibly grown up to have a car, especially now I have a vaguely sporty BMW!

I earn more, eat out more, have more clothes, shoes, bags, accessories – materialistic, I know – but I also have more friends, more importantly more good, long-term friends, and my social life is much more about spending time with them than in pursuit of meeting new people.  For quite some years I felt boring for not really wanting to go out to clubs or even clubby pubs.  Now I feel happy about preferring a quieter pub or going to friends’ houses or a nice restaurant.

I have also joined the National Trust and, a few years back, English Heritage.  And, do you know what, I’ve had some really cool days out as a result!  I definitely day trip and picnic a lot more, and those are things I would no longer turn my nose up at.  I am much more open to suggestions and willing to do new things now.  Well, not in the more reckless, carefree sense but in a more open minded and less obviously mind broadening way, ie traveling and living abroad without much planning, packing or sorting out defined my younger interpretation of broadening the mind!

The biggest downside other than the steady decline in my memory and physique (but that’s a whole different issue, worthy of its own misery post!), in some respects, is that I am a lot less tolerant of other people and poor service.  Maybe this is a good thing but I do rant and moan about such things with a little more enthusiasm and repetition than is perhaps necessary.  I put that down to being more confident about my sense of self, more appreciative of money, ie that I worked for every penny of the money I spend, and to having had time, years of adulthood now, to gain experience.

So in conclusion, my “youth” was fun and experimental but my years of being between young and middle-aged are all about getting to know myself and abandoning hang ups about what I should and shouldn’t do, enjoy and behave like.  It is also about accepting that in your 20s, for example, you knew sweet F A about pretty much everything, but probably had a great time not caring about that!

{20/06/2012}   Repetitive Strain Injury

                I appear to have increasingly bad RSI.  A doctor has suggested I change jobs, indeed I will in the not-too-distant future, but what’s become of us all?  So many of us work at computers, operate machinery or vehicles and generally lift/carry things far heavier than we are designed for.  I’ve spoken to quite a lot of friends recently about RSI and it seems that most people have at the very least twinges.

                So when do you listen to your body and make changes in the hope of easing your aches and pains, when you know they’re caused by RSI?  I spoke to someone who said that when she failed to pick up a frying pan, she realised her RSI was a lot worse than she’d acknowledged so made big changes to her lifestyle.  As for me, my hands ache when I drive for more than about 30 minutes.  Maybe when they ache as soon as my hands clasp the wheel I’ll stop?  I should stop my work now really, shouldn’t I?  But I have friends with no jobs at the moment and they are all struggling to get work.  Being “out there” right now doesn’t seem like a good idea.  But neither does restricting the use of my hands.

For the past ten years I have usually worked in courts or in meeting rooms.  Neither workplace, about 95% of the time, is suitably equipped for seating comfort.  This is an ongoing issue.  I guess if you work in an office you can make a plea to have a proper supportive chair, a desktop PC (or iMac if you must!) and any wrist supports/pads that help.  But when you essentially work in hot desk type environments, there’s nothing you can do about chair choice.  I know there are a lot of stenographers and editors out there who would have a thing or two to say about seating in courts; generally, a good day is one where you’re not cramped in a corner with a defective chair.

I have always had bad posture, even worse since doing steno and using laptops, but my concern is more about my hands and wrists.  I have pains in specific places in my hands, eg my left index finger and right baby finger.  I fear I have ruined my chances of being a surgeon!  As is often the case with my blogs, there isn’t really a point.  Maybe writing this is my way of beginning to address the potential impact of continuing with work that gives me RSI, in fact has given me RSI, for I fear it will not just go away if I stop stenoing.  But typing, texting, writing, driving, in fact most hobbies I dabble in, all require use of your hands.  So, any job suggestions where hand usage is kept to a minimum?  But isn’t it stupid that we tend to persist in doing things that we know are giving us RSI?  I wonder if, let’s say 20 years from now, I will wish I had paid more attention to getting a comfortable work space, to changing sooner to a job that didn’t knacker my hands (and shoulder and back) and generally looking after myself better.  Maybe I’ll update this blog every ten years on the matter!

{16/06/2012}   Judges

Are judges out of touch?  Should they know about popular culture?  Should there be an age limit?  Why are there not more female judges?  Why are there not more non-white judges?   How many, if any, judges went to state schools?  What makes a good judge?  Would a judge make a good Head of State?  Is it possible to be impartial?

I work in courts and have encountered more than my fair share of judges.  I find them strangely fascinating, a little bit intimidating and I always wonder what they’re really like and how much they understand of what’s going on outside their spheres of expertise and knowledge.  I know it’s unfair to refer to “all judges” as there are so many different characters, but the odds are that everyone will encounter at least one judge at some point in their life, most likely sitting on a jury.

If someone says “judge”, I picture an elderly man wearing a ridiculous wig who mumbles as he speaks.  As it happens, the case I’m sitting on now (admittedly a Deputy Master not a judge) has a fairly sparky female in her 50s presiding.  I needed to speak to her so had asked the clerk to ask her, but instead I was called into the back corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, Rolls Building, to ask her myself.  I was ridiculously terrified and resorted to my meeting-a-celebrity-trying-to-be-witty-and-cool gabble.  She was very calm and eventually got out of me my simple question.  But it did make me think how people in such a position of authority have a certain air about them

There are times when judges ask about popular culture things they don’t understand, I find it sniggerable.  They also lose a degree of respect, though at least they are not embarrassed to ask.  I’d like to have the internet available so I could Google Atomic Kitten rather than have to ask, in open court, what “it” means.

Many years ago I worked quite a lot in the Admiralty Court.  There was a long-running and tedious case that was presided over by a rather elderly judge.  The court’s air conditioning was set to deep freeze.  I mean really, really painful-nose, hands-freezing-up cold.  It got increasingly cold and unbearable as the day progressed.  In the morning there was usually live witness evidence, with the odd interjection by the judge.  In the afternoon, it was usually legal matters, no interjections by the judge.  The judge was behind me.  While counsel made submissions and addressed the judge, occasionally they would share a look, a sense of camaraderie unusual between counsel during a court session.  It took me some time to realise what was happening.  It transpires (or so I was told) that the judge was known to enjoy the odd tipple, to put it mildly.  The arctic court temperature was an attempt to keep him awake.  He could just about function in the mornings, but by the afternoon was largely asleep, having had a longer than necessary (liquid?)  luncheon adjournment!  Hence the less important matters dealt with in the afternoons.

I asked lots of questions at the start of this, I hadn’t intended to address them, they are just questions that seem to repeatedly spring to mind when I think about all things judgy.  But as for impartiality and their being a potential head of state, I think for the latter to be achieved, you must possess a brilliant mind, and I do believe that some, actually quite a few, judges do.  Though I do believe there should be some sort of age limit.  A judge becoming Head of State?  I think the right judge could make a brilliant Head of State, though it would have to be one, in my mind, who had a grasp on the modern world, common sense and an understanding, ideally from personal experience, of your average Joe Bloggs.  These skills I don’t encounter as often as I’d like, maybe even expect.

et cetera