A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME

Sadness indeed.  Stephen Hawking, one of the brightest stars in the Firmament for over 50 years, has died.

I confess I am not a cosmologist, and if the truth be told, I know no science whatsoever, as I had a classical education, and science didn’t even feature on the curriculum.  It didn’t really bother me at the time.  But then, out of the blue beyond, came Steven Hawking, and whether it was his immense fortitude in the face of a crippling disability, his immense intellect or just his eternal optimism, he was a media hit.

To most of us, Hawking’s greatest claim to fame was his book A Brief History of Time. It was a brave attempt to explain many of the great mysteries of life in layman terms, but for many, with only limited success. As one critic put it: “There are a lot of things easier than writing a book that nobody may understand in order to answer questions that most people weren’t even asking — and selling 10 million copies of it”.  This year is the thirtieth anniversary of its publication. In passing, when I embarked on writing my first book May it Please your Lordship, I was advised by my literary agent to aim for 90,000 words before a publisher would even look at it.  In the event, my mighty tome sold for £9.99. Hawking’s book ran to 60,000 words and sold for £14.99.  You do the math as the Americans might say, so where did I go wrong?

As Hawking was the first to admit, it doesn’t matter which way you square the circle, God in all his various manifestations is always with us, and according to the Jewish faith, He created the world in six days.  The creationist theory still holds sway amongst some sects of the orthodox Jewish tradition, and why not?  The answer to that is the overwhelming body of scientific evidence in support of the Big Bang theory, where creationism finds no support whatsoever.

On any view, time continues to hold a morbid fascination for each and every one of us.  We can save it, or borrow it, or lose it, or waste it.  As we know, time and tide wait for no man.  We have written about it, invented time travel in the Tardis, we have boldly gone where no man has gone before, and at the end of the day, it’s time gentlemen please.

Stephen Hawking’s death reminds me to finish his book, which I determined to do all those years ago when I first bought it.  I know I won’t understand it all, but I hope to add to my store of knowledge and build upon it.  As Hawking once said: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Whatever else, Hawking strode the stage of life, and strode it like a Colossus. Requiescat in Pace.

WHAT PRICE A PACKET OF SWEETS

Osvaldas Pagirys was born in Lithuania eighteen years ago.  He died whilst in custody at Wandsworth Prison following his arrest for the theft of sweets and whilst awaiting deportation.  He hanged himself in his cell, but was still alive when discovered by the prison service 37 minutes after the alarm had been raised.  No, this is not a misprint.

Following a recent inquest, the blame game has begun.  The prison officers on duty that fateful day did not see the alarm light flashing, nor did they hear the alarm bell ringing.  Something about the three wise monkeys springs to mind, but wisdom on that day was in very short supply.  The suggestion that they simply couldn’t give a monkey’s uncle springs easily to the lips. And it makes the lad’s slow strangulation all the more tragic when he was known to be a suicide risk.

Rory Stewart, the Prisons Minister, offered his apologies and said: “the safety and welfare of people in our custody is my top priority.”  So there’s a load off! If pigs could fly!

This sad and needless death is set against the background of a burgeoning prison population which is totally out of control, and which even the redoubtable Rory might struggle to manage.

The statistics are frightening.  The prison population has doubled in 20 years, and this against a falling crime rate.  When the Tories came into government back in 2010, it was described as a priority to reduce the prison population, which then stood at 80,000, and Michael ‘Oiky’ Gove was given that grave and weighty responsibility.  For a brief moment it seemed as if he might do something positive, but the moment passed, as did he, to another department.  Instead of reducing it, it now stands at 86,700, less one.

There are three fundamental issues that need to be addressed.  The first is the requirement that judges must follow national sentencing guidelines and must ignore what they instinctively feel is the right sentence regardless of the circumstances. So I advocate the abolition of these guidelines and trust the judges to do the right thing.  In so doing, I would remind them that since the abolition of capital punishment, imprisonment is now the sentence of last resort, regardless of its length. In this regard, I would abolish the right of the Attorney-General to refer ‘lenient’ sentences of imprisonment to the Court of Appeal, which in turn feels obliged to increase them.

The second is to remove imprisonment altogether from the myriad of petty offences, including the theft of sweets that brought Osvaldas into the prison system, and make much greater use of community penalties.  I would rather have a convicted shoplifter picking up litter, some of which may have been dropped by him in the first place, than sit in an airless cell in Wandsworth Prison at a cost in the region of £40,000 a year to the taxpayer.

The third and most important is to place much greater importance on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment and containment.  It is sad but true that 40% of prisoners reoffend.  They will tell you this is because the cause of their offending is not addressed whilst in custody, they are not taught any new skills, and on release, there is no meaningful support.

It may not sit well with the hang ’em high brigade, but that’s a consequence I am prepared to live with.  Let’s start behaving like civilised human beings, and this in my brave new world would be a fitting epitaph for Osvaldas, who would not have died in vain.

THE SUN NEVER SETS

I was at the barber’s the other day, I am of an age when barbers cut my hair and not hairdressers, hairdressers are for gals, or is that a sexist statement?  Let caution be my watchword, and like the Spanish Inquisition, the Thought Police are all around us, and you don’t know they’re there until they are.

I am also of an age when most of my hair is leaving without reference to me or my hairbrush, so the need to visit a barber is not exactly pressing, I reckon once every six weeks for a general tidy up.

Over the recent past, I have taken to patronising my local barber, and besides a reasonable haircut, I get the chance to read their well thumbed copy of the Sun newspaper.  I say ‘newspaper’ advisedly, as there are regular efforts to reclassify it as a comic.

I remember those halcyon days when I was first called to the Bar, ready to hit the ground running on my way to fame and fortune.  As I rattled along by Underground to my date with destiny, I hid the Sun inside my copy of The Times, so the casual observer would think I was actually reading the law reports, when in fact I was feasting my eyes on the Page 3 Babe of the Day.

It seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, to be perfectly acceptable, but sadly, the feministas and raddled harridans think otherwise, and whether because of, or in spite of, their persistent carping, the Page 3 Girls have now covered up.  They are still drop dead gorgeous, but no more titillation.  And it’s interesting to note that the wannabee Page 3 Babes who are now denied the chance to show off their wares were the most vociferous in opposing the cover up.

Fast forward to the madness that has permeated the media since Harvey Weinstein was hung out to dry, and somebody may wish to ask if the lunatics are running the asylum.  I do not condone sexual abuse in any form, but where do you draw the line?  Do you attend the BAFTAs as a female starlet dressed in black, knowing as you should that your career may be in danger of hitting the buffers over a point of principle.  That point of principle includes the simulated sexual act on celluloid, it happens, and make no mistake, it sells tickets and moviegoers enjoy watching it. And why not?

But some of the starlets who have decked themselves out in black don’t want to appear in movies that include a sex scene unless it is totally sanitised.  That resolve may weaken when the bank manager comes calling, but that remains to be seen.

I don’t wish to sound prudent, but some of the steamy sex scenes may have crossed the line.  Almost a daily treat and therefore unremarkable is an explicit sex scene leaving very little to the imagination, so there may be an argument for drawing in the horns.  But celluloid sex can sometimes be magnificent.  One obvious and memorable example, for me at least, was one of the most famous sex scenes in a movie, and I refer to “From here to Eternity” starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr.  It was filmed in 1953, and is as alive and passionate today as it was 65 years ago.  And who can forget the epic film “Last Tango in Paris”, when Marlon Brando mumbled his way through numerous sex acts with Maria Schneider and a packet of butter?

The worm has turned, and who can say what will happen as more and more allegations, real or imagined, are milked for all they are worth by the media. Hopefully, somewhere down the line, reason and common sense will prevail, and we can get back to a more balanced approach that does not compromise a woman’s right to say no, whilst at the same time allowing her to say yes without being pilloried by the raddled harridans.

OUR SICK SOCIETY

Sexual abuse continues to dominate the media as never before, it’s easy meat for editors and presenters, as those accused of sexual abuse in one shape or another are hounded day and night until something more salacious comes along, and the risks of a libel action are remote, given the difficulties of disproving the allegations.  Fair comment, the most popular defence for the media, embraces many evils, and by the time that ‘fair comment’ has been adjudged unfair, the damage has been done and we’ve all moved on.

The most prominent revelations of sexual abuse emanated from a deviant calling himself Nick, better known as Sick, who made a number of lurid sexual allegations against the high and mighty in Society that had no basis in truth or in fact.  But for years the media dragged us along this moral sewer created by Sick as if he were the Delphic Oracle, because it was prurient and made good press.  The names are well enough known by intense media speculation not to merit repetition, but it has now been intimated that Sick’s revelations are wholly without foundation, and there is talk of putting him on trial.  Watch this space!

This decision has been made in the face of various comments from Plod, and in case we lose sight of the fact that Plod, as before, have been monumentally incompetent, I remind myself of what they said. Operation Midland was launched on the back of some of Sick’s earliest revelations, and the lead detective, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, described Sick’s claims as “credible and true”. According to Matthew Parris for The Times, one does wonder what the expression “detective” in Mr McDonald’s job description is meant to signify. We struggle with his definition of “credible” and “true” rather as the little boy confronting the emperor must have struggled with the word “clothes”.

It gets worse. There were then “credible” and “true”  allegations aimed at Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister in case you’ve forgotten,  again with the mark of Sick upon them.  There was not a shred of evidence to support these allegations. This farce peaked in 2015 when Wiltshire police organised a televised press conference outside Sir Edward’s old home in Salisbury, appealing to his “victims” to come forward. Chief Constable Mike Veale was reported as saying later that he was “120 per cent” certain of Heath’s guilt, though he denied making the remark. What sort of a police officer was this incompetent jackass, who went on to be appointed Chief Constable of Cleveland?  Lucky Cleveland!  Just what they need.

But it doesn’t stop with Sick.  We are now assailed by a raft of allegations about aid workers having sex with local girls, some of whom, we are told, may have been underage, but there is no evidence to support it.  But our trusty newshounds are  on the case, sniffing in every nook and cranny to find a “credible” and “true”  witness to bolster the hype.

We live in a society where children are swapping pictures of their genitals with their classmates, and where most teenage girls lose their virginity before their sixteenth birthday.  It may be illegal, but who gives a fuck if you’ll pardon the expression.  After all, it’s what bicycle sheds were made for.

We are mired in dual standards.  It seems as if every starlet climbing the greasy pole to fame and fortune has been sexually exploited by some bloke in the business, promising fame and fortune for a quick shag.  I deplore the judgmental claptrap being peddled by the media, damaging and in some cases destroying hard-won reputations by truly talented artistes and not just girls with big tits. I name Kevin Stacey for one, and there are others who will suffer because of their sexual proclivities.

Time to grow up,  get a life, and take a long hard look at the sick society we have created for ourselves, and worse still, for our children.

It might be too late.

 

MARITAL SHAKE UP

The law, as ever on the front foot when serving the best interests of its users, is proposing to take a giant leap into the unknown and revisit the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.  It is only a proposal, and we have witnessed many false dawns in the ensuing 45 years, so don’t hold your breath.

The proposal, which has the backing of a number of legal luminaries, including myself, seeks to remove ‘fault’ from the divorce equation.  On any view, it is somewhat of an anomaly.  One of the divorcing parties must petition for divorce to get the ball rolling, and she [it usually is] must choose one of the five recognised reasons for uncoupling.  They are adultery, desertion, 2 years separation with consent, 5 years separation (no consent required) and unreasonable behaviour, and in that regard, how long is a piece of string?  According to my father, too short to be of any use, and too long to throw away.

The problem about choosing one of these grounds is that one size is meant to fit all, which may not always be the case, and anyway, and this is the point being made, it introduces a confrontational element into the divorce proceedings which is not necessary and may aggravate the already fraught situation and, more importantly, upset the kids.

If fault is removed, or so the thinking goes, this should enable the parties to uncouple amicably.  They are already obliged to agree to mediation in case there is a chance, no matter how small, of rowing back.  However, in my experience, once love flies out the window, so does reason, and all those nit picking irritations which have built up over the years through gritted teeth are brought to the surface and worried over like a dog with a bone. The two front runners are squeezing the toothpaste from the middle and breaking wind in bed.

It may make no difference, but it’s worth a try.