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Category Archives: stuff that isn’t law at all

Riddle me this, Batman

 

Ah, the joys of insomnia. I started thinking about this idly at 4.00am, and had to get up to write it.

This is a litle mindbending puzzle, not law related.  I have a collection of words here, which I have shuffled so that they aren’t in order. The words all have something in common. Sadly I don’t have a full set (it may be impossible to complete the full set, as I haven’t been able to think of the missing ones yet)

 

Can you work out what they have in common, and better yet, come up with some of the missing ones?  If you want to work on this without spoilers, probably avoid reading the comments – I have some very smart readers and I’m sure some of them will get there.

 

In random order then

 

Type, Bone, Movie, Sign, Spot, Cars, Line, Cloth, Ray, Zone, Section, Pad, Chromosome, Bomb, Notice, Word

 

And in case that is driving you to despair, can I recommend Seanbaby’s diatribe about the pointlessness of the Riddler as a bad guy

“What’s green and purple and commits lots of crime / Whose superpower is wasting your time?”

http://www.seanbaby.com/superfriends/riddler.htm

And if you develop a taste for Seanbaby’s humour, http://www.seanbaby.com/personal/americarules.htm

in which Sean decides to cook and prepare a meal, using his iron chef rules that he has to buy all of the ingredients in foreign food supermarkets and “I may only buy a food item or food-like item if it is NOT labelled in English and I have absolutely no idea what it is”

 

Standard letter

 

For the attention of His/Her Honour Judge _____________

 

 

RE: The  ______________ Children Case number ______________

 

I am writing to apply on behalf of the Local Authority for an extension of time for the filing of final evidence. This evidence was due to be filed by Friday 25th October at 4.00pm. It is possible that the Local Authority will not be able to file this evidence until 4.21pm on Friday 25th October, and as a result of the Court of Appeal decision in Re W, I now have to apply to the Court for an extension to that deadline before it expires.

In large part, the reason for the deadline potentially being missed as that as a result of the Court of Appeal decisions in Re G, Re B-S and Re W (no, a different one) all of which are attached, stringent new requirements on what must go into the Local Authority evidence have arrived in rapid succession, and therefore not only is it taking social workers longer to write statements incorporating a wholly different way of analysing the welfare checklist, comparing the various options for placement and having to devise five care plans instead of one, it is also taking me longer as a lawyer to check those statements against the various requirements of Court of Appeal decisions which are coming at the rate of one per week.

In order to make this application, I have prepared a C2 form, raised a cheque, drafted an order showing how the delay will affect the timetable (hint, I have broadly taken the existing timetable and every time it said “4.00pm” I have changed that to “4.21pm”.   I also had to contact the three other parties to share this with them, they all had to obtain instructions and then send me a signed copy of the draft order back.  Fortuitously, every single one of them was in when they got my message, and their clients answered the phone calls and gave them prompt instructions. How wonderful.

Despite this being a consent order, it is still subject to judicial scrutiny and the Court is of course not a rubber stamp, so I have made provision for an hour of consideration (taking into account that the file has to be brought up, the matter looked at and an order drawn up and sent out). The very latest moment the application could be lodged was therefore 3.00pm.

As the Court office is not responsive after 2.00pm due to staffing cuts and austerity, I had to ensure that the order was lodged with the Court by 1.00pm, however as that is the lunchhour, I moved that back to 12.00pm. I was then informed that the Judges all sit from 10.00 until 1.00 and cannot be disturbed, so I invented a time machine and went back in time so that the application was formally lodged with the Court by 9.00am on Friday. That meant knowing that it was needed by Thursday afternoon, to give me time to get consents from all the other parties. Luckily, with my time machine, I knew a day and a half before the document was due that it would be 21 minutes late.  [However, I also peeked into the future and read your judgment from the final hearing, so I had some more tweaks to make to the statement, so it will be 4.22 pm now. Shall we start over, or are we just going to be cool about the additional minute?]

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to seeing the draft order approving the extension, which will of course arrive at 3.59pm or before.

 

 

[Dear Suesspicious Minds, I hear you have been doing those Sarcasm Managment Courses with “Living Without Sarcasm”  – how are they working out?

Oh, they’re AMA-Z-ING ]

 

Apropos of absolutely nothing, here’s a beautiful painting of a roman emperor

 

lovely painting by Waterhouse, nothing to do with anything, it just looked nice

lovely painting by Waterhouse, nothing to do with anything, it just looked nice

Unreasonable behaviour – Weatherfield style

(No-TV-Neville, this one won’t be for you. Nor anyone else who doesn’t know who Leanne Tilsley nee Barlow nee Battersby is)

NOTE ON FILE  –  From District Judge Sharples to Her Honour Judge Tanner – unreasonable behaviour petition received, think you need to run your eye over it. A bit hard to call

I, Leanne Tilsey (The Petitioner) seek to divorce Nick Tilsley (the Respondent) on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. It is mostly adultery really, only it doesn’t count as adultery, because it happened before we got married.  It would have happened on our wedding night (25th December) only that wedding didn’t happen on account of how my mouthy sister Eva (who had previously slept with the Respondent) told the Respondent during the ceremony that that morning I had tried to engineer a reconciliation with my former husband, Peter Barlow, only to find that his new partner, Carla had got back together with him overnight.  Carla does not like me (probably because when I was working as a call-girl, her husband was a regular client of mine and when he kidnapped me and put me in the boot of his car, that accidentally led to his death)

Anyway, later on, I explained to the Respondent that I had not really wanted to get back together with Peter Barlow (having had an affair with the Respondent shortly before that first wedding to Mr Barlow, it was the Respondent that I really loved) and we therefore married on 31st December (there being no difficulty with licences or venues, that being such a quiet time of the year and so easy to get things organised)

What I had not known is that the Respondent, on the evening of the 25th December (that being the day that I had ruined his life in front of everyone who knows him by showing that on the day of our wedding he was second best to a man who smokes, is an alcoholic, ran off with another alcoholic and always looks like he could use a good bath – namely Mr Barlow) he got drunk on champagne and slept with his brother’s wife.  Whilst indupitably we were at that time ‘on a break’ having not gone through with our ceremony, it was his brother’s wife! That’s got to be unreasonable, right?

Well, if not that, then the fact that he never told me about it, and when his brother found out and tried to kill him, the Respondent was in a coma and I was by his bedside constantly, going through agonies.  And then it all came out at the christening of his brother’s baby (which does turn out to be the brother’s child, not the Respondents, although they didn’t know for sure till they did a DNA test). That MUST be unreasonable behaviour, even though it wasn’t his fault because he had agreed to keep it quiet and it was his brother’s wife who spilled the beans.

In case any of that is not unreasonable, I plead these two facts

1. Whilst in the coma the Respondent grew a beard and it absolutely doesn’t suit him.

2. He never laughs when I say to him “I just sold a car quick-quick” because he used to be in that advert.  (He’s the one with the ears who says “hee-hee” really badly)

Please give me a divorce, so that I can move on with my life and probably end up with Steve MacDonald at some stage in the future, everyone else I know has.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that I should have custody of Simon, who is a child I was stepmother to in my relationship with Peter Barlow – I am no birth relative, but I managed to keep custody of him anyway. Nobody really knows who Simon’s mother is, she’s almost certainly dead. I’d check under the Barlow’s patio, to be honest – the two women in that house have been to prison already and the bloke who lives there [removed on legal advice]

“The award-losing family law blog”

 

 

The Jordans Family Law Awards are Wednesday night (or tomorrow, at the time of writing). At this point, I don’t know which of the four people nominated for my category are going to win – so frankly, being nominated has helpfully confirmed that you don’t get told in advance whether you have won or lost.

 

There are many very good people, in multiple categories, nominated for awards, and at the end of the evening, seventy-five per cent of them are not going to have won an award.

 

The chances are high that I am going to be in that seventy-five per cent, just on pure maths. And I know that I am going to get asked over and over “how do you feel about not winning?”

 

 

So, in the spirit of a beleaguered England football manager, I’m going to get my excuses in early, just in case.  This is by way of being a “rejection speech” on losing the award.

 

[“Well, Gary, the plucky Lilliputians have come a long way in recent years. Yes, their big centre-half is only seven inches tall, yes their population is so small that they had a pool of twelve adult males to draw from, yes as a result their holding midfielder is eighty-two years old, but there are no easy games at this level – they’ll be tough to break down, and for them getting a result against England is their cup-final” ]

 

 

I’ve decided to break my advance excuses/ gallant loser speech into three categories, the first two being serious, the last very much tongue in cheek (I am honestly not genuinely placing myself on a par with the people I namecheck in this speech)

 

1.    It was amazing to be nominated

2.    The competition is fierce, and whoever wins is a deserving winner

3.    Huh, who wants to win an award anyway? Much cooler to NOT win.

 

 

 

  1. It is/was amazing to be nominated

 

It truly, truly is. I’ve never been up for an award for writing before (I won an award for tae-kwon-do back in my twenties, but that was much more about my prowess to kick people quite hard in the head with unerring accuracy than my brain).  I’ve never been to an award ceremony, still less one being held in a posh hotel in Mayfair, a place so expensive that I can’t help but think that landing in a hotel there is going to bankrupt me…

 

More importantly, it has brought people to the blog who might never have heard of it. Some of them have no doubt backed away nervously and never come back, but some have visited again and told friends. The visitors to the site have basically doubled since the nomination, and it is astonishing to me that anyone reads my stuff, let alone in the numbers I’m now getting.

 

Many thanks to Lucy Reed, not only for getting me on the shortlist but for inspiring me to blog in the first place. I kept reading her Pink Tape blog and drafting comments that I then never dared send, and then I sent some, and from there I realised I should get out and start writing my own blog. So it is all her fault, really.

 

And also to John Bolch over at Family Lore, for sending so much good information and visitors my way; and to the folks at Twitter without whom the site would be just me and the spambots inviting me to buy cheap Oakley sunglasses.

 

 

 

  1.  The competition is fierce, and whoever wins is a deserving winner

 

 

True in pretty much all the categories, and my piece here is for all of the seventy-five per cent. It is not as bad as being nominated for Best Actor Oscar in a year that Daniel Day-Lewis has made a film, it feels more to me like some very well-balanced nominations and that there are no overwhelming favourites (even the Lionel Messi of family silks, Jo Delahunty QC is up against Paul Storey QC, who is at the very least CR7) and no rank outsiders.   [With the exception of 4 Paper Buildings winning chambers of the year – with seven nominees in various categories, they look a shoe-in to me]

 

In my own category, any of the people nominated would be worthy winners and there’d be no shame in whichever of the three of us form the unlucky nominees.  

 

David Burrows is an amazing lawyer, who has a presence on the bookshelves of almost every family solicitor’s offices and is a name we all know. He’s the go-to guy for almost every difficult question that crops up in family law.

 

Vanessa Llloyd-Platt is someone who crosses over into a world outside of just law, and makes difficult legal concepts understandable to ordinary real people in her work in national television and newspapers. In a time when lawyers are regularly portrayed as fat cats, ambulance-chasers or rottweilers with lipstick, it is really important to have people like Vanessa being visible to show that lawyers can be helpful and approachable.

 

Jacqueline Renton is a great barrister, working at one of the best sets around and provides the best resource out there for international family law, a subject so complicated it makes my temples throb just thinking about it, never mind commenting on it.

 

All worthy winners, without a doubt.

 

 

 

 

  1. Huh, who wants to win an award anyway? Much cooler to NOT win.

 

 

[Tongue in cheek, remember – I don’t actually mean this]

 

 

How tiresome to win an award for which one is nominated, to be recognised by the Establishment and absorbed within it. Richie Cunningham from Happy Days would have been delighted to win an award, but Fonzie would not.  Woody Allen doesn’t even go to the Oscars. Better to be the outsider, cocking a snook at the Establishment and their recognition.

 

We remember very few people who won an MBE, but we remember John Lennon returning his. Is John Lennon not cooler than a hedge fund investment manager, or a Permanent Under Secretary to the Department of the Environment? Indupitably.

 

Way cooler.

 

The history of prizes and awards shows that things go wrong, and that the most deserving winner (like me, and the other 75% who didn’t win at the Family Law Awards) doesn’t end up with the trophy.  Just as Ecclesiastes 9.11  foretold (surely talking about “Disciple of the Year Award”  22AD, which was controversially bagged by Mr Iscariot

 

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

 

 

It is important to recall that Einstein never won the Nobel Prize for the Theory of Relativity – probably the most important piece of physics since Faraday, nor for the only physics formula that most people can recite – E = Mc2    

 

They finally gave him a Nobel Prize for discoveries in photo-electricity, work which hardly set the world alight.

 

Winston Churchill lost the General Election after winning World War II.

 

Goodfellas did not win the Best Picture, or Best Director Oscar, losing out to Dances with Wolves.  That’s right, Kevin Costner won Best Director over Martin Scorsese.

 

Taxi Driver lost to Rocky  (and I LOVE Rocky, but hell, it isn’t a better piece of film making than Taxi Driver).  Rocky, incidentally, lost to Apollo Creed in the first film. Plucky underdog loser for the win there, too.

 

Apocalypse Now didn’t win Best Picture or Best Director – losing out to Kramer versus Kramer (which I won’t slag off, because I’m sure many family lawyers watch it for light relief / illustration of a happy amicable residence and contact dispute in comparison to their own caseloads)

 

Citizen Kane, widely regarded as the best film of all time, didn’t win best Picture or Best Director, losing out to a film about Welsh coalminers, ffs.

 

The great Brazilian football team of 1982, containing Zico and Socrates, never won the World Cup. The Greek team who did nothing but valiantly defend and pray for a spawny goal, did however, win an international tournament.

 

And so, it is clear therefore, that in not winning this award, I (and the other 75%) are rubbing shoulders with some greats.

 

We are Zico, we are Scorsese, we are Citizen bloody Kane, we are Einstein.

 

Those people with the trophies – they are Kevin Costner, they are Titanic, they are Richie Cunningham, they are Greece, they are a film about Welsh coalminers.

 

Let us gallant losers revel in being Winston Churchill and John Lennon – wouldn’t we rather be “award losing”, with the connotations that we were just too dark, too edgy, too ahead of our time to be given the award, or even better to have had the award almost in our hands but then had it ripped away by those who feared we weren’t “mainstream enough” ? 

 

Long live Fonzie!

Some people think I’m conkers, but I just think I’m free

 

(No law at all, skip if you are busy)

 

I was walking my excitable (and occasionally rumbunctious) dog this morning and we came across our first conker of the year. It was nothing special, just a small brown sphere, but it took me back over twenty years (who am I kidding, nearly thirty) to a time when conkers were the most important thing in the world to me for a few short months.

I spent my autumns collecting conkers, getting out early at the weekends and spending hours either looking down at the leaves on the ground to see if amongst them lay the spikey green case that promised conkers, or up in the branches to see the ones gathered that offered promise of being a good one. I gently prised them open (if they are hard to open, they aren’t ready, so I would leave them) and hoped that they would open cleanly and produce a shiny glistening perfect conker, not the ones coated in sticky white goop. Then I would go home with my haul, usually a couple of carrier bags and sort through them, finding the best ones. By winter, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to have two hundred or more that had made it to the “keep” pile. Then they would harden and wizen like wooden balloons and my mum would throw them away.

I have never played a game of conkers in my life. Not once did I ever pierce one and hang it by a shoelace, or coat one in nail varnish, or bath one in vinegar or bake one in the oven.

Looking back now, I can recall the delight and sheer joy of finding the perfect conker – it has to be very round, a good size, the flat part has to be entirely on the bottom (I hated lop-sided conkers), no cracks along that base, the perfect deep shade of brown and the shiniest surface you could encounter. I remember that feeling very vividly, but I can’t find any recollection as to just why it brought me such joy – why I spent so many hours foraging for them and sorting through them every time I had a new batch to see if some of the previous “Keeps” were now overtaken by new ones.  Why did I do it? Why did I bother? I honestly have no idea now, years later.

I spend my professional life now, trying to understand and predict people who are strangers to me, but I can’t perfectly understand the person I lived as for many years. There are limits to what all of the knowledge and information and documents will ever give you about another human being – I don’t even think we really get to know ourselves totally.

The writer Neil Gaiman speaks about the perfect story in your mind, when you first imagine it, being like a bubble – perfect and spherical and shiny and ever so fragile, and that almost all writing is about trying to get farther away from the lumpy flawed version that comes from your mind onto paper and closer and closer to the perfection you imagined it might be.  That’s what I was searching for with my conkers, I suppose, the idyllic perfect one of my imagination.

 

Sorry for being all flowery and Pseud’s Corner on you, but the memories and recollections of what Chesterton called “numinous” – those times when you can just feel awe and wonder and delight in something which appears so simple are something dear to my heart. We get only flashes in adulthood of the wonder and delight that came to us so frequently when we were children.

 

(If you want to read a proper writer describing a numinous experience, G K Chesterton’s essay “On a Piece of Chalk” is linked here, and it is probably one of my favourite ever pieces of writing.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8092/8092-h/8092-h.htm#link2H_4_0003 )

May it please you – more legalese

 

Focussing on cross-examination this time.  

You’re not an accurate historian  (you are a liar)

 

Your recollection of those events doesn’t entirely accord with the documentary evidence (you’re a liar and I can prove it)

 

What I don’t understand about your account is how it fits with this entry in the records here  (you’re a liar, I AM proving it, but I am also a bit worried that you might hit me when we leave the Court room)

 

You’re a liar  (I am far enough away from you at the moment to be confident that you won’t hit me, but I wouldn’t say that to you at the coffee machine outside)

 

You’re wrong, aren’t you  (I am pretty confident in myself, but haven’t really got a good fallback plan when you say “no” to this…)

 I’d like to suggest to you, if I may   (I am myself a bit embarrassed at having to make this dumb point, and as a lawyer, I don’t embarrass that easily)

 Could it, in fact be the case that  (it isn’t, but please humour me)

 It’s right, isn’t it ?   (It’s not right, but it COULD be, in a world where slightly different laws of physics apply, surely)

 I put it to you  (Hello, this is my first case!)

 On the night in question  (Hello, this is my first case, and I watched Law and Order last night!)

 I put it to you that on the night in question   ( “I watched Matlock in a bar last night. The sound was off, but I think I got the gist of it”  © Lionel Hutz, Attorney at law)

 It’s possible, isn’t it?  (This is pretty fanciful, but I have to ask you… i.e a really big gust of wind blew the cot over? And then another one blew from the other side and blew it back, so nobody could tell by looking at it?)

 It’s not impossible, is it? (This is really fanciful, but I am running out of other options.  I may well be suggesting now that a dog, or a burglar caused these injuries)

 It’s not completely impossible, is it?  (So, the burglar HAD a dog… After this, my next best explanation is that “A wizard did it”)

 It’s not outside the realms of possibility  (So, a guy in a grey robe with a long beard appeared, and told my client “I’m going to do this bad thing, and then you will get the blame for it, bwah-ha-ha”)

 You couldn’t absolutely rule out, could you?  (So, basically, a wizard did it, and then turned invisible, leaving no trace that they were ever there)

 Are you sure?  ( Hey, I’m dumb enough to take a bad answer and allow you to emphasise it and make the point stronger)

 Are you quite sure ?  (Maybe the Judge didn’t hear your damaging evidence the first two times, so let me REALLY reinforce how bad this is for my client)

 Are you absolutely sure of that? (“I watched Matlock in a bar last night…”)

 I think I’ll move on to another topic (I thought I had some more questions on this, but I’ve lost that bit of paper)

 Moving on to another topic  (Your evidence on that bit has sunk me, so I need to get out of that area quickly.  BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP  – this barrister is reversing, this barrister is reversing)

Let’s leave that, shall we  (As above, but I am much much calmer and better at hiding my impending sense of panic. Hey, have you ever played poker? We have a friendly game once in a while…)

 

Setting aside x, y and z for a moment   ( Pretending that all of the possible bad bits of the case don’t exist, that would make my client look better than if all those bad bits were true, wouldn’t it? )

 

Without a shred of evidence   (If there wasn’t evidence, I wouldn’t have to make this point histrionically, would I?)

 Without a scintilla of evidence  (as above, but with the added risk that a Judge might ask me what a ‘scintilla’ actually is and I’ll have to bluff and say that it is Latin for a really, really really tiny piece; or that I mispronounce it and that if you went to the right schools the “c” isn’t really silent)

Whilst that may be mainstream thought on this issue at the time….    (On my ninth page of results on Google, I found this article that might help me)

 

There is a body of opinion that says   (Okay, it was on my twelfth page of Google results, and frankly this might be some lone nutjob saying this)

 

Our understanding of medical science develops and changes over the years, and it might be that things we think we understand fully now we will acknowledge in years to come that there were really huge gaps in our knowledge   (There MIGHT really be wizards  /  I am a High Court judge)

You shall NOT PASS  (I am a wizard)

Top Judge slams telly chef’s Quickie Divorce

 

 

I have grumbled from time to time on Twitter about how there only seem to be two sorts of Judges in England according to the Press  – “Top Judge” if they are saying something the newspaper agrees with / are involved in a saucy scandal, and “Out of Touch Judge” if they are saying something the newspaper doesn’t agree with.  I am also pretty regularly driven to ire by the formulation “Quickie Divorce” which newspapers routinely state celebrities are getting, as though there were some special Matrimonial Causes Act which applies only to celebrities and not to mere mortals – those people on television can get their “quickie divorce” whereas you ordinary folk have to make do with divorce at a snails pace, probably with the petition being carefully prepared by Dickensian lawyers with quill pens. For heaven’s sake, the Matrimonial Causes Act which let people divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour without having to prove adultery or wait two years is only forty years old.   It’s hardly some new-fangled initiative.

 

Having grumbled, I have now stumbled – upon this book which deals with “journalese” the strange mangling of the English language which feels the need to use the expression “innocent victims”  (as opposed to those ones who were asking for it), “slide rule pass” – using a metaphor for a type of mathematical calculating device that hasn’t been used in schools for 40 years, and the curious conceit by which hot temperatures are still expressed in Fahrenheit (which again, left common use thirty to forty years ago) whilst cold ones are expressed in centrigrade

 

Romps, Tots and Boffins

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Romps-Tots-Boffins-Strange-Language/dp/1909653438/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379960559&sr=1-1&keywords=romps+tots+and+boffins

 

It is very funny, and a rattlingly good read.

It did get me thinking of “legalese” – not the stuff like “Easements” and “Notwithstanding”, but the expressions that seem to only be used by lawyers, a job which after all is 50% communication (the remainder being paperwork and worrying) and which are fairly impenetrable.  The stock word “draconian” for example, I think only sees usage now in Court rooms and for most non-lawyers who hear it means either next to nothing or “A bit like that blonde nasty lad in Harry Potter”

 

Here are some of my legalese suggestions – others gladly received

 

On all fours with  (It’s quite similar to another case in precedent)

At first blush  (I originally thought X, and I bet you did too, but you’re wrong, and here’s why)

Not all my geese are swans (my client turns out to be a liar/wife-beater/back on heroin)

Getting my ducks in a row (I haven’t read much of this yet, and I need to sort things out)

I know not   (I do love this one, it is the only way to say “I don’t know” in a way that sort of makes you sound smart)

This debate has generated more heat than light  (This is a stupid argument, and I’m bored of it)

My client has yet to crystallise their position  (I did steal and use this myself – again, it sounds much better than “We haven’t made up our mind yet”)

My client is entitled to a fair hearing, you know  (I have already decided what I’m spending this brief fee on, so I’m not giving up)

The situation remains somewhat fluid  (Your Honour, if you had been outside court, you would have seen that all hell is breaking loose)

The Court has yet to get under the bonnet of this case (we haven’t so far been in front of a Judge who has read any of the papers)

That is of course, an option (are you mad?)

Perhaps the inherent jurisdiction offers a solution  (I can’t think of an order that will let the Court do what I’m asking for)

I hear what you’re saying  (no)

Let me get back to you on that (no)

Let me just run that past my client (no)

Having taken instructions on that issue (warning, forthcoming no)

There ain’t no sanity clause

 

I was just remembering this today, and it made me chuckle. There aren’t many people who could wring a laugh out of contract negotiations…

 

“I can read, but I can’t see it”

 

 

 

 

“Bechtel the Future”

A non-law discussion about the portrayal of women in fiction and the Bechtel Test.

Will try to keep this one short, to cater for those readers who prefer short blogs.

Some thoughts have been percolating in my head for a while, and they came together when I was reading an article on whether the new Doctor Who should be a woman. The two camps basically set out their stall this way – Stay a Man went with the fact that Dr Who is a strong male character who tackles problems by listening and thinking and talking and not by blowing things up or shooting them or punching them or shouting, and is actually a damn good role model for young boys. The Change to a Woman camp said that it was apparent as a woman watching television, particularly as a mother of young girls, how few shows there are where the females represented are anything other than love interests, shrews or helpless females there to push the plot along by being captured or needing to be saved or have the plot explained to them.

 And the latter struck a chord with me. I become increasingly exasperated when in film after film, there is one female character and her role is to look pretty, perhaps be a bit sassy, and then get put in jeopardy (often by her own foolish behaviour) so that the hero has to save her. It’s a real throwback to both the playground and the culture of the 1950s.  Or even way back to silent films with women getting tied to railway tracks by moustache-twirling villains. Haven’t we moved a bit beyond that?  Can’t films reflect a bit more of the reality that women are more than lipstick and getting captured? Even the shows where the female character is smart and independent and capable (think Lois Lane, Emilia Fox in Silent Witness,  Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man) they still invariably end up being captured and needing to be rescued. The two dominant characteristics of women in fiction are Sexy and Helpless.

 I work predominantly with women – it’s either 80-20 or even 90-10, and those woman have the spread and range of personalities, characteristics, features, interests, passions that you would expect of people. I wouldn’t describe a single one of the women that I know and work with as their dominant feature being that they are “helpless”.  

 And then, pondering this, I came across a nice little test, called the Bechtel test. It was coined in a comic strip in 1985.  The test is this

Take the piece of fiction – a film, a TV show, a book and ask these 3 questions

1.       1. Does it have at least two women in it?

2.       2. Do those two women have a conversation?

3.       3. Is that conversation about something other than men?

That’s SUCH a low test. Half of the world’s population is female, so unless your work of fiction has barely any characters in it, there should be two women, it would be natural for them to talk, and you’d have to be the most old-fashioned sexist jerk in the world (the sort of person who might speak to Jeremy Clarkson and have Clarkson say “God mate, that’s a bit sexist, the world isn’t like that”) to think that women can only have conversations about men.  It is almost impossible to concieve of any piece of fiction (unless set in an all girl’s school or a nunnery) failing that test if you swapped “women” and “men” over.

 If the answer to all three is yes, the fiction has passed the “Bechtel test” which is the most ludicrously low bar.

 The sad thing is (and it’s really the point of the test, to illustrate this) most of what we see and consume in terms of films, tv and books, don’t pass the Bechtel test.

 If  I was pulling out an episode of a tv show at random and being very confident that it would pass the Bechtel test, I’d be confident about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Coronation Street, probably Friends, probably Mad Men, probably Game of Thrones  and relatively little else that I can think of.  (Medical dramas being the exception, because the female doctors get the glory of asking female patients “Where does it hurt?” or “Have you had this happen to you before” thus passing the test, similiarly with cop shows, where a female officer says to a female suspect “What time did you leave the flat?” or such. Not really conversations though….)

Heck, take a show like Sex and the City – which is aimed at a female audience, and has four female leads and the show is 90% about those women talking, I think there are some episodes that would pass the Bechtel test, but I wouldn’t bet money that any one drawn out at random would.

Back to the Future, a film I absolutely love, doesn’t pass the Bechtel  test – women characters in it get to say about twenty words to each other, and none of it about anything other than men.

What fictional world are we consuming where either only one character gets to be a woman, the women in the world don’t talk to each other and on the rare occasions that they do, they don’t talk about anything other than men?

 Now you know about the test, just have a think about it for the next film you watch or tv show that’s on. How happy do you feel about a world in which fifty per cent of the population get shown in fiction in a way that doesn’t get past such a ludicrously low bar.

Coughs politely, looks down at floor

 

Well, says Suesspicious Minds with a blush, it is very nice to find myself nominated for one of the Jordans Family Law awards, as Family Law Commentary of the year.

You can find the awards here,

http://www.familylawawards.com/ShortlistedNominees2012

and a bit of information about each of the candidates.  I was feeling a bit happier about being nominated until I saw the other people I was up against. I think it would be fair to say that I am at best a dark horse amongst some proper thoroughbreds there.

The voting is online, so I’d urge you to have a look at the candidates and have a vote if you like. You aren’t obligated to vote for me, you may well think that one of the other nominees are much more deserving of your support *.

*Although don’t vote for them, for goodness sake, I am just trying to be fair-spirited and nice, I don’t MEAN that you should vote for the others, unless they are like a godparent to your children, or once gave you the Heimlich manouvre when you were choking on a mushroom vol-au-vent.

  I am totally available to be a godparent to your child if that’s what it takes….  The Heimlich thing slightly more difficult to organise – frankly, if that’s your only reason for voting against me, I think you’re being a bit unfair, it is just sheer luck whether I happen to be in your radius at the appropriate time. Rest assured, I totally would save your life if the opportunity arose. Trust me.

 

Anyway, the main thing is that it is nice to be nominated, and hopefully we may see a few new people coming to the site to check it out before backing away quietly and hurriedly.

As I am being shameless this afternoon (self-promotion is a bit awkward to me, so am just diving into it  hard and then we’ll forget it ever happened), if you do read the blog and think that you know someone else who might like it, please pass a link on to them.  And feel free to post a comment up on anything that takes your fancy, there’s some lively debate here from time to time.