Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Visit To Someone With Far Higher Standards Than My Own. Unfortunately.

We're off to stay with David and Susie for the rest of the weekend. Unless David tells me I'm the greatest waste of potential he's ever known, again - in which case, we'll be back much, much sooner than that. There's only so much you can forgive your best friend, after all.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Things For Newly-Weds To Take Into Account, And Probably For Judges, Too.

"So, Molly," says Dad, when he phones first thing this morning. "Got the day off to watch the Royal Wedding, have you, then?"

"Yes," I say. "Though I haven't decided whether to watch it or not, actually."

"Oh, for God's sake, I thought you'd grown out of all that left-wing nonsense," says Dad.

Honestly, just because I - very occasionally - agree with a Tory by accident, that doesn't mean that I have become one, does it? And I've never watched any Royal Weddings - or none so far, anyway.

It's not as if I've got anything better to do today, though - unless a gold star might be on the horizon. Max is looking pretty bored this week, after all.

"There goes Will and Kate's sex-life," he says, watching the preparations on BBC One. "Married life starts today."

He makes it sound as if sex is forbidden once you tie the knot, which rather puts paid to the star-earning idea. I may as well go and sit in the garden for the rest of the day and smoke myself to death. Even though I'm pretty sure it's going to rain.

I still haven't got over how fantastic it is to be able to go for a cigarette on my own again - without having to persuade a bunch of militant non-smoking jurors to join me outside, regardless of the weather. (That's when you really begin to understand how it must feel to suffer from leprosy.)

Who knew that jurors aren't allowed to go anywhere without all the other jurors in tow, once they've retired to consider their verdict? I bloody well didn't, and nor did Dan, the only other smoker on one of the juries upon which I sat, during the living hell also known as jury service.

"So," I said, on the first day, when we were huddled together attempting to light our cigarettes in the driving rain, while trying to pretend that ten virtual strangers weren't glaring at us with utter loathing. "D'you think she's guilty, or innocent?"

"Dunno," said Dan. "Whatever the majority think, then that's the decision that I'll go with."

"You can't do that," I said. "You have to weigh the evidence and come to your own decision. There are people's lives at stake, you know."

"There's my sanity at stake, too," he said. "And it won't take much more of this to make me as mad as a hatter. I just want to finish jury service, and get back to my normal life - so I can have a bloody fag whenever I like. Without the chorus of disapproval over there."

He paused, and then stared at me in horror.

"I can't believe I just said that," he said. "Can you?"

"No," I said. "Well, yes, I can, actually. But, seriously, how many trials do you think are decided by this sort of thing? You know, by jurors' nicotine addiction? It's a bit worrying, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Dan. "Especially when you factor in alcoholics, as well. I'm sure that juror called Linda - the one who works in the Silverhill dry-cleaners - has a bottle in her bag."

I wonder how the sex-addicts cope? Not by getting married, that's for sure. Though what time does the Wedding start?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

An All-Too-Brief Absence Of Lunacy, And Josh Discovers That Not Everything Is As Funny As He Thinks It Is.

Talk about tempting fate. I've finally caught up with the backlog - at last - and have just congratulated myself that I won't have to deal with any more nutters until next Tuesday, when Josh decides to send me a text:

"Mum, I'm at the Rajah Curry House. Can you come and pick me up? Now? I think I might be about to die."

"Why?" I text back. "What's wrong with you?"

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but, as for the the one that Josh sends me in reply, well - oh, my God. I have never seen a face as red as that in my life. And I'm positive that no-one's eyeballs should stick out that far.

I dial his number, while grabbing my coat, and hunting for the car keys in my bag.

"Umpf," says Josh, when he finally answers. He pauses for what feels like an hour, and then adds: "Inaloo."

The latter turns out to be a dual-purpose comment, designed for economy of effort, though I don't discover this until I arrive at the Rajah, having probably earned a million penalty points for speeding past every single camera along the way.

Once there, I find Robbie and two of Josh's other mates, all sitting comfortably at a table, laughing like fools, and incapable of explaining anything, except that Josh is "in the loo" due to the consumption of a "Vindaloo."

They think the whole thing is much funnier than I do, that's all I can say. And much, much funnier than does Josh, who still looks distinctly unamused when I finally get him out of the Rajah, and into the car.

"What the hell possessed you to order one of those?" I ask him, once I've managed to manoeuvre out of my parking space, without hitting the inconsiderate BMW that has boxed me in.

Josh doesn't answer - probably because his head is stuck so far out of the window that he can't hear a thing I'm saying over the sound of the air that's rushing past. He's gasping at it, like a panting dog, albeit one with unusually bright red ears.

"Josh!" I say again, much louder. "Why a Vindalooof all the bloody stupid things to have?"

Josh turns his face towards me. Despite the cool night air, it still has a very definite glow.

"I thought it was a joke curry. Kind of like a Korma," he says.

So much for an absence of nutters until I return to work. Though I suppose I should be grateful that Josh picked the Rajah, and not the Star of India instead. I'd never have been allowed back in there, teenage Vindaloo emergency or not.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sleeping Beauty: Minus The Beauty Part; And A Sobering Assessment Of The Value Of My Work.

Aargh. So much for a five-minute nap. I've only just woken up. That sofa's much more comfortable than it looks. No wonder The Boss always sleeps so well on it, after he's had a liquid lunch.

"What the hell are you doing, Molly?" says Max, when I answer the phone. "Are you coming home at all tonight?"

"Urghm, what?" I say, trying to unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth. It seems to have turned into cardboard, which is a very unpleasant feeling indeed. I must have been sleeping with my mouth wide open, probably dribbling like a lunatic while I was at it. I'd better check the cushions in a minute, for traces of drool.

"You sound really peculiar," says Max. "Were you asleep?"

"Don't be ridiculous," I say, which isn't - strictly speaking - a lie. It's just a political answer. I can do this stuff in my sleep. Or straight after waking up, anyway.

"It's late," says Max. "I'll come and pick you up in the car. Meet me outside in ten minutes."

I look at the piles of folders that are still on my desk, most of which bear the names of the usual suspects. Will another day's delay make any difference to Miss Chambers' latest complaint about the "rude Paki" who runs the Post Office? Or to Reg Beales, and his campaign to allow HGV drivers to accumulate double the usual number of penalty points before losing their licences? Or even to Miss Emms' psychotic guinea pigs?

I can't say I much like the answer to any of the above questions.

"Okay, then," I say. "Thanks. I haven't got anything really urgent left to do, I suppose."

"Well, that's good news, isn't it?" says Max. "There's no need to sound quite so fed up about it."

Easy for him to say. Seeing as it isn't his working life that has suddenly become meaningless.

Overworked And Underpaid; And Why Fathers Are Occasionally Much Less Amusing Than They Think They Are.

I'm still in the bloody office, and God knows what time I'm going to get home tonight. And, yes, this is due to the backlog; and, no, a dose of prune juice won't sort it out - just in case anyone is tempted to repeat Dad's supposedly witty comment: the one that he made when he phoned me ten minutes ago to ask me why I was still at work. He's even less funny than the usual suspects think they are. And they're really not very funny at all.

I think I'll just go and have a five-minute power nap on the sofa in the Oprah room, and then I shall wake up rejuvenated, and ready to throw myself back into the fray...I hope.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Free At Last, Thank God Almighty, I'm Free (From Jury Service) At Last - With Apologies To *Martin Luther King.

God, it's been such a relief to see the outside world again over the weekend, and I'm even looking forward to being back at work - until I actually arrive, that is.

"I'm not talking to you," says Greg, as I walk into the office.

"Why?" I say. "I thought you'd be pleased to see me, after I've been locked up on jury service for so long."

"Huh. Frustrating the democratic will of the majority, you mean," says Greg, glaring at me as if I have committed a cardinal sin. "With all that Henry Fonda nonsense. And hadn't you forgotten something rather important, when you decided you didn't agree with most of the bloody jurors?"

I have absolutely no idea what Greg's talking about. It's almost as bad as trying to work out what planet some of those other jurors were from.

"I don't know what you mean," I say. "What have I forgotten?"

"That it was bloody Recess," says Greg. "Which you managed to completely avoid, leaving me to deal with The Boss's wilder extravagances all by myself."

"Ah," I say, as the man himself walks in. Surely he should be on his way back to London by now?

"Molly!" says Andrew. "Decided to pop in and see you quickly, before I catch my train. Done your duty as a responsible citizen, have you? And how is our judicial system working, when viewed from the sharp end?"

"Not as well as one might hope," I say - which could be to understate the case.

Honestly, where do the Courts Service find some of these bloody jurors? I've never seen a more disparate bunch of lunatics in my life - and that's saying something, given the people I deal with on a daily basis. Thank God we don't hang people any more, that's all I can say. (Not that most of the usual suspects would share that view.)

If I ever get arrested for anything - by which I mean falsely accused, of course - the first thing I am going to do is to instruct all my family members to borrow or steal luxury cars, and then to park them in conspicuous spots in the court car park every morning throughout my trial.

Josh looks and sounds too much like a criminal, though, so he'll have to be left at home, writing letters to the media and to my MP instead: explaining that a miscarriage of justice is about to take place, and begging them all to intercede on my behalf. (Though, on second thoughts, the letter to the MP might not help, if I wasn't at work to deal with it myself. I wouldn't want to entrust my freedom to Greg, not with the mood that he's in this morning.)

"But why would your family need luxury cars?" says Andrew. "I don't think I'm following your argument, Molly."

"No change there, then," says Greg, under his breath - or so he thinks.

The Boss glares at him, while I try my best to explain:

"Well," I say. "One of the trials I was on was of two guys who were accused of dealing cocaine, and I was pretty sure that both of them were guilty. So was one of the other jurors, but the rest weren't having any of it. They were just desperate to get a verdict and go home, especially the ones who were self-employed, or who worked in the private sector and were worrying about their job security."

"Not everyone has a boss as understanding as me," says Andrew.

This outrageous statement doesn't deserve a reply, so neither Greg nor I make any attempt at one. Instead, we both rise above the provocation - Greg by stuffing a large handful of Haribos into his mouth, and me by trying to recapture my train of thought, which is easier said than done, after the events of the last few weeks.

"One of the jurors - a big fat guy with a red face - kept yelling at me that I was making a fuss about nothing when I said that I wanted to be sure I was making the right decision," I say. "He said it was screamingly-obvious that one of the two defendants was guilty, and that the other was completely innocent."

"Well, maybe it was," says Greg. "If you saw Mr Beales come up in court, you'd know he'd done whatever he was accused of, wouldn't you?"

"Yes," I say. "But that's not the point. This case was about coke dealing, and one of the defendants was a bit of a chav from Easemount, whereas the other one was 'a nice middle-class boy' according to Mr Red Face - who said that he knew that the kid from Easemount was 'as guilty as sin", but that the other boy just wouldn't have done it."

"How?" say Greg and The Boss, simultaneously.

"Because he was so nicely-spoken, and from such a well-off home, that he wouldn't have needed to make money by dealing in cocaine," I say. "Apparently. And then Red Face said that he could prove this by the evidence he'd seen on the very first day of the trial."

"What evidence?" say Greg and Andrew, again in unison. I have been back at work for five minutes, and I have already restored harmony. I am so undervalued and underpaid.

"He said that he'd seen the boy's parents getting out of a 'very nice Mercedes' when he was arriving at the court that morning," I say.

"Oh," say Greg and Andrew - in a verdict so unanimous as to gladden any judge's heart. I bet Mr Justice Fraser-Smythe would have killed for a similar result. He certainly looked as if he wanted to kill me - on several occasions.

*Martin Luther King - Freedom speech here, complete with its reference to the Negro Spiritual, Free At Last. Proof, if any were needed, that neither Ed Miliband nor I are in Dr King's league, nor that of the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Out Of Office Reply - Easter Office Closure, And Other Useful Information.

Thank you for contacting Andrew Sinclair, MP for Northwick East.

This office is now closed for the Easter break, and will re-open on Tuesday 26 April 2011, when (I am enormously relieved to report) Molly Bennett will also be returning to work after a long absence due to jury service.

I am sure that Molly will deal with your enquiry as quickly as she can, although she has asked me to point out that, due to the inconceivably vast number of issues raised while she has been away from the office, this may take some days to achieve.

However, Mr Sinclair would like me to assure you that Molly will be expected to work overtime to deal with the backlog of cases caused by her absence, and that he therefore expects service to return to its normal standard with almost immediate effect.

Molly herself is, as yet, unaware of this arrangement, but will, I am sure, be left with little option but to comply - particularly as I have no intention of helping her out. Not after she took so long to reach a verdict, while I had to deal with you lot single-handed. There is only so much that one man can be expected to cope with, after all.

Happy Easter, though if you could endeavour to stay out of trouble while celebrating it, I would be most grateful. This may involve exercising caution in terms of your alcohol intake; and your chocolate consumption (in case of incipient diabetes); and - in particular - with regard to the siting of any barbecues you may rashly decide to light too close to the boundary with your neighbour's garden.

Gregory Duke
Constituency Caseworker to Andrew Sinclair MP and unofficial secretary to Molly Bloody Bennett.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Message from Gregory Duke, Constituency Caseworker to Andrew Sinclair MP & Unfortunate Colleague of Molly Bloody Bennett

Dear Constituent (unless you are one of the numerous non-constituents whom The Boss insists upon helping, in direct contravention of Parliamentary protocol),

Thank you for your email/telephone call/letter/abusive verbal assault at the Pharmacy counter in Boots; and for your insistence that it should be Molly Bennett who deals with your case.

Please note that Molly remains sequestered in a hotel in the lap of taxpayer-funded luxury that is also known as jury service, thus leaving her entire workload of cases to me. This is most inconsiderate of her, as I am a busy man with far better things to do in the run-up to Nick Clegg's rather self-interested AV vote; not to mention that I have a new and somewhat demanding poet girlfriend.

Whilst we do indeed have an intern, as you correctly point out, her only talents appear to be looking vaguely pretty, and flicking her hair in a thoroughly annoying fashion. Thus I do not think you would be happy for her to attempt to deal with the (non) issue you have raised, which leaves me as your only hope until Molly's return to work.

As a result, I wish to remind constituents that, whatever Andrew Sinclair MP may promise you at supermarket surgeries, there is only so much that can actually be done to bring inventions intended to run the world's appliances on nothing more than water to world attention; nothing at all that mere humans can do about aliens and the often uncomfortable places into which they insert their probes; and very little that I personally wish to do about potholes and puddles.

The latter would be best dealt with by your local councillors, who have far too much time on their hands if you ask me; whilst the former two issues could be easily remedied by taking prescription medicines as prescribed by psychiatrists. Or by talking to your counsellor. (Please note the distinction between councillors and counsellors - hushed voices and sympathetic manners not being quite as common amongst members of Northwick Town Council as they are amongst the caring professions. Nor do councillors provide boxes of tissues as standard.)

I will continue to be happy to help those of you with genuine problems - probably no more than 20% of the total at a guess - and I shall endeavour to deal with your enquiries in strict order of priority. I am, contrary to public opinion, a caring individual who has no wish to see constituents suffer eviction from their homes; unfair deportation from the UK, or neglect while in hospital.

With reference to the above, I should clarify that I do not, however, consider it negligent for GPs and hospital consultants to insist that overweight constituents lose weight prior to gastric band surgery; nor do I accept that obesity is always genetic. Not unless those living in the third world have completely different DNA to the rest of us. Thus, the criteria I use for assessing whether a case is urgent or not will continue to be unaffected by how loud you shout while on the telephone to this office.

Like you, I hope that Molly will be back at work very soon but, in the meantime, it would be in all our interests to try to exert some telekinetic force, in order to persuade her to stop pretending to be Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men, and to accept that the defendant is not guilty; even if the basis for this assumption on the part of her fellow jurors appears to Molly to be fatally flawed.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

AARGH. Molly has been sequestered.

Expect uncharacteristic silence for the next few days, while she sits in judgement upon her peers. Well, not her peers, exactly - she certainly hopes that some of them aren't...