Thursday, 7 May 2020

A wee short blog about how pissed off I am.

About a fortnight before the closedown, I received an email from a young, recently qualified, colleague working for another local firm. She had a client in the upper half of a semi villa who had required to instruct an emergency roof repair and was now looking to recover half of the cost from their uncooperative downstairs neighbour. Correspondence having failed to get a response, did I perhaps have a style for the writ to be issued?

I didn't. But I knew what it required to say, so I replied with a suggested crave (the remedy sought), a suggested condescendence (an essential narrative of the supporting facts) and the necessary plea in law (a, not suggested, justification of right to remedy). I would like to say I did that, from greater experience as a practitioner, to help her out, as I did, (a more common occurrence than you might think) but I also did it because I enjoyed the intellectual exercise involved.

Nobody does their job well without enjoying it as more than just a job.

I love my job and I can't currently do it.

And I really miss it. I miss saying that "There is no way a court will allow him to see your kids whenever he does, or doesn't, want. I don't care what he said".  "Your employers won't pay your wages after your accident? Take it from me, that will shortly be the least of their worries. I don't care what they said". "No matter what the kind Police Officer said to you on release. We are pleading to fuck all here. I don't care what she said"

I even miss the "You fell down your own stairs while drunk and want compensation? Who are you suggesting we sue here? The council whose stairs they were? The Monks of Buckfast Abbey? You yourself?"

I just really miss it.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

A tale of a body removed.

I sent this as a DM reply to a friend earlier but on reflection, wee Mo loved black comedy and she'd have loved this story. And she would have particularly liked the denoument.

On the day Mo died, the undertakers came about 7pm to take the body. I showed them upstairs to her bedroom and they suggested that I wait in the living room with the door closed while they went about their business, explaining that from experience that was less distressing.

They asked if I minded if the front door of the house was left open meantime to make things easier for them and I readily agreed.

20 minutes or so later they chapped the living room door and explain they are done. We discuss further arrangements and they depart. I see them to the door.

As I turn to go back to the living room I notice that on the kitchen worktop, in a Tupperware container, there is something that had not been there previously. On further investigation it is a lasagne. And it is hot.

The only possible initial explanation for this is that while all this has been going on, one of Andi’s two boys, who are both currently here and have typical teenage appetites, has decided it appropriate to heat up a lasagne from the freezer. I am, as you can imagine, furious at this supposed disrespect but they both deny all knowledge, protesting not unreasonably, that even if they had heated a lasagne, they’d have eaten it. Their mother further observes that she does not recognise the Tupperware as being from this house.

But the only possible alternative is that the undertakers have left the lasagne.

But why would  they do that? “Sorry for your loss. In case you’re hungry however we have brought you a wee lasagne.” And even if this was some sort of bizarrely misconceived wraparound service that had developed since I last organised a funeral, why would they not have mentioned this.... "gesture"?

By now however I was running out of options. The only other possibility was that the undertakers had left this by mistake! It was tea time after all and undertakers have to eat like anyone else.

But I mean how inappropriate would that have been! Formal complaint to the Undertakers Regulator: “ Dear sir, I wish to complain that while removing my wife’s body from the house, the undertakers accidentally left their dinner behind”

And would  they then come back for it? “We are sorry to bother you and still sorry for your loss, Mr Smart. It's just, when we were here earlier, did we accidentally leave something behind? It’s only that we’re starving.”

Just as that horrific prospect raised its head, the mystery was solved.

We have great neighbours, in every one of the other five houses in the street.

I didn’t want them to learn of Maureen’s death by seeing the hearse at the door. So I’d gone round earlier to advise them individually of her death.

And one, Yvonne, had had the foresight to think that cooking and eating would be the last thing on my mind. So, without telling us, she had made us a lasagne.

But the undertakers hadn’t come in a hearse, rather in an unmarked black transit van.

So, as Yvonne is toddling along with her lasagne, she suspects nothing. And as she finds our door wide open she just comes in and is about to shout my name when she looks up the stairs to the half landing, sees the undertakers bringing the body down, clocks the significance of the black van, panics and runs away. But not before thinking that she’ll just leave the lasagne!

The lasagne was brilliant, by the way.


Tuesday, 14 April 2020

A Personal blog for Aileen McHarg

As you may have noticed, my wife Maureen died last week and indeed was buried today. I had so many stories about our life that in the appreciation I wrote I had to omit much more than I included. But here is a tale that you might appreciate. I think I may have told Andrew Tickell it before.

In 1977 I ended up with a jurisprudence oral. To be honest, that was probably down to hubris.  I say with due modesty, I had cruised the class exams.

My principal lecturer had been Eslpeth Atwool but for the oral an external examiner was brought in. None other than Professor Neil McCormick.

"So" says the great man, "explain to me the difference between positive and negative rules." I waffle at length. "I see", says the prof. "Thus an example of a positive rule would be "X", while the example of a negative rule be "Y?" I readily agree."I see, although, personally, I would have thought it was the exact opposite of that". By some miracle I still passed the oral.

Anyway,  as I write in the longer blog about our life, ten years later, Maureen and I go on holiday together for the first time. When, at the encouragement of her older friend,  Charles McKay, we end up in the Alto Adige alongside him. Half way through the holiday, Charles announces that he has a pre-arranged meet up with an old university friend who is also on holiday locally and invites us along. That friend is none other than the self same Neil McCormick and his family.

We meet up on what could have passed off as the set of the "Tomorrow belongs to me" scene of Cabaret. Trestle tables, steins of beer, sausages and an oompah band dressed, literally, in lederhosen. I am so in awe of our fellow guest that I insist on addressing him as"Professor" throughout.To which, while I am not quite thirty at the time, he in turn reciprocates with a consistent "Mr Smart".

I am confident he will have no recollection of our previous encounter.

Until, beer and sausages finished and the band on a rest break, we fall in to one to one conversation.

"And what kind of lawyer are you exactly?"

"I'm a legal aid lawyer in Cumbernauld."

"And, tell me, Mr. Smart, do you still not understand the difference between positive and negative rules?"







Friday, 10 April 2020

A marriage

I first met Maureen O'Donovan when she joined the Labour Party in 1986.

I had probably known of her existence before that as, although for west of Scotland reasons we went to separate schools, her brothers were childhood friends of mine over the Summer months and had presumably mentioned they had a big sister. I am sure however we had never met.

Anyway, Party politics of any sort involves a fair bit of socialising after meetings, Maureen and I got on well in that context and, on one particular night, after a branch meeting and then the pub I ended up in her flat and, as they say in Mama Mia, "dot dot dot". We got married on the 19th of February 1988 in the Catholic Chaplaincy at Glasgow University.

Bella Ciao.

Maureen was an English teacher, then based at Trinity High in Renfrew but between 1975 and 1977 she had taught English as a foreign language at the Oxford Insitute in Piacenza . Only, I suspect, ever returning to Scotland at all because her father became terminally ill. She loved Italy and she passed on that love to me.

The Summer before we got married we travelled there for the first time together. We stayed with her friend and continuing Oxford Institute Headmaster, Charles McKay, for a couple of days. Charles however was on the point of departing on his own holiday to the Alto Adige/Sud Tirol and persuaded us to accompany him to the mountains. I loved it but Maureen kept insisting, beautiful though it was, that it wasn't "real Italy". Indeed,  the local lingua franca was mainly German and I now recognise that the culture was quite different and distinct.

Anyway, at the end of the holiday we had a few spare days so we travelled to Viareggio from where it was an easy day trip to Pisa. I say easy but for some bizarre Italian reason the twenty minute journey could only be undertaken on a long distance train. The outgoing journey was on a train ultimately destined for Reggio Calabria. It was as if, travelling from Largs to Glasgow, your only option was to do so on a train starting in Inverness and terminating in Penzance.

Anyway, on the way back, the train was going from Rome to Lourdes and was accordingly already full of pilgrims with others waiting to board at Pisa. It arrived, needless to say, more than an hour late and when some of the the pilgrims went to board they found their reserved seats already occupied. An argument ensued with those already seated refusing to budge, as the coaches with unreserved seats were apparently full of "Africans". During all of this the train remained motionless until it appeared the cavalry had arrived in the person of two young priests. It was their parishioners who remained seatless. I anticipated a calming resolution. What we got was nothing of the sort. Having checked that the members of their flock were in the right, the first priest demanded to know which of the suitcases belonged to the offending passengers. That having been done, he took them in turn down from the overhead rack and passed them to his colleague. Who promptly pulled down the train window and flung them on to the station platform.

This, I was to learn over the next thirty years, was the real Italy.

Paciano

Because we got married on what was then just a long weekend that the schools got in February, we had only a couple of days then before Maureen needed to get back to work, so our proper honeymoon was that Summer. Having consulted Professore McKay in Piacenza, who was, and indeed still is, a walking talking Baedeker, we resolved on Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, halfway between Florence and Rome, And on the small hillside town of Paciano.

Paciano in 1988 was stunningly beautiful if, to be honest, in the centro storico, a bit decrepit. (There was also a small modern sprawl). One trattoria, one bar, one Conad. We fell in love at first sight. We stayed inside the wall in a small flat, one storey up in the mysteriously named Via del Pozzo. (Well Street). On the only floor above there lived a very old man who was a retired baker and after a few days he started leaving small cakes or other fancies on the landing, possibly in the hope of luring Maureen from my affections. Which, to be honest, I feared he might.

And there was a bonus. You usually have to trade between being inside the town and having a pool but Paciano had a pool! Owned by Signore del Buono, a local entrepreneur, who was also the Mayor and, in that part of Italy, at that time, I suspect a stalwart of the Italian Communist Party. He had built the pool for the holiday flats that, with an astute eye for the future, he had also built. But they were as yet not commonly fully occupied so, for a few thousand lira a day to the pool boy, he was content for any other visitors to use it. They were few and far between anyway.

It was bliss.

We didn't have one of these stay in bed for days honeymoons, there were too many churches to see, galleries to visit and restaurants to eat in, but we had the very best times of our lives.

So much so that we went back the following year. When it was just as good, except that the old man was sadly no longer there and his flat was for sale. For the very modest price of £10,000 sterling. Except we didn't have £10,000. Or even £10. We talked about trying to borrow it but in the end never did. Worst mistake we ever made.

I wanted to go back for a third Summer but Maureen insisted we go somewhere else and we then travelled all over Italy before returning in (I think) in 1998. We were certainly there in 1998 because we saw the famous Argentina England game on the terrace of the trattoria. The locals loudly couldn't work out why, although we were speaking English, we were supporting Argentina, not realising that Maureen understood every word of what they were saying. They eventually settled on Irlandese. They were only half wrong.

Anyway, the place was transformed. A new sign on arriving announced it to be "One of the most beautiful towns in Italy" and the EU stars were everywhere. For, with a large injection of EU cash, the old town was in the process of being completely restored. New paving, new lighting and any number of formerly derelict houses refurbished and reopened. Most for accommodation but some as artisan shops. And the mystery of the Via del Pozzo was resolved. For, right outside our former front door, the ground having been opened up and a new enclosure built, was the old town well, also restored.

Today, Paciano has gone from strength to strength. Both the bar and trattoria have significant competition but it doesn't seem to have done them any harm. No less than Ed Sheeran now has a house there. Apparently he paid a fortune. I just hope it wasn't for a flat on the Via del Pozzo.

We are however not quite finished with Paciano but I now want to divert to another town that I love so well.

Kilsyth

Maureen was born in Kilbarchan but, apart from when she had been in Italy, she had lived almost all of her life in Paisley. When we met, I didn't even have an exception to that latter distinguished imprimatur.

When we married, we were neither of us in the very first flush of youth and so we both had our own flats. Thirty plus years ago buying somewhere together and moving in before you got married was still a bit of an issue for some of an older generation. Indeed, on our wedding day I was kicked out of Maureen's bed at 7.30 am as "My mother could arrive at any minute". I don't know if she feared the formidable Mrs O'Donovan might then have declared her daughters's life to be ruined. As she certainly did when Maureen's brother later had "a child out of wedlock" with someone who has since become his wife of more than twenty five years.

But, housing wise,  Maureen and I together could afford  somewhere larger and better, so, post nuptials, we moved into a flat in the Glasgow Road (Paisley, obviously).

Maureen loved that flat. It was far too big for us but she had all sorts of plans to knock down walls and create a gigantic kitchen. As a previous owner had already done to create a giant bathroom. In the meantime bedroom two was decorated for "guests", while bedroom three became a wholly delusional  dining room. Each served that purpose about three times in four years.

On the day we moved in we acquired, as you do in such circumstance, the latest home convenience, a CD player. And a CD, "Sunshine on Leith". I would like to say that when it was finished we listened to it again and again because it was so good but in truth it was also because it was the only CD we had.

In 1991 however I set up my own business in Cumbernauld. I was already working there but for a big firm who require you to move elsewhere in the cause of promotion. So the daily journey of about an hour (this was before the M80) just had to be tholed.

But when I was going to be based permanently in Cumbernauld, this made no sense. Not least because my then more criminal based business didn't just involve a daily commute but more than the occasional call back out for night time arrests.

So, in 1992, we resolved to move. Not to Cumbernauld itself, for I have never been the greatest fan of concrete, but to nearby Kilsyth.

We only ever saw one house there. As we later learned, built in 1868. On the Burngreen. With the Ebroch Burn running behind our garden wall to the rear and the Garrel  Burn a hundred yards to the front. The latter across Burngreen Park and looking out directly beyond its Victorian Bandstand to the Campsies in the distance.

I went to see it first. During the day and with my then business partner, Siobhan Kelly, who insisted she would bring a critical eye but was probably a bit nosy. I introduced Siobhan to then owner, without thinking to explain, as my partner. The same night I went back with Maureen, who I introduced as my wife. To this day I'm not sure the woman has worked out how you can have both a partner and a wife. Although, as you'll see, that turns out to be prophetic.

We decided we would (try to) buy it that very night. A closing date having been fixed.

We rarely rowed but we undoubtedly rowed about what to offer. Maureen thought it was too much. But on this one very, very rare occasion I was right. We got it by a few hundred pounds.

We moved in during the Summer of 1992. Not immediately as we wanted work done to the house.  But on the day of the actual move, it is the most glorious Summer's day. Maureen's Uncle George volunteers to help. So he arrives. Just as something is going on at the bandstand. It turns out that it is the Gala Week and that the Croy Silver band is about to play a concert. George announces that he loves a band and will just go out to listen to the band "for a bit". Which he does. For the entirety of the concert.

Meanwhile, others have been trying to get the telly working. Which they have. To find it is showing a football match from that year's European Championship. Russia against somebody. Which George, returning, now announces he will also watch. "For a bit".That bit turning out to be until the final whistle.

By which time, all our other helpers having departed and Mo and I being virtually in our pyjamas,  George inquires exactly what he might do to help.

Mo suggested he "just go home". If asked I would have also replied with three words. But the second would have started with an "f".

Intermezzo

Kilsyth turns out to be great. We arrive knowing virtually nobody but Mo goes to register us with a doctor and notices that one of the partners is a Doctor P. Dove. She inquires if this might be a Patricia Dove, with whom she had attended St Margaret's Convent School in Paisley but with whom she had since lost touch. By astonishing coincidence, it is. Tricia, and her husband, Jim Beattie, become firm friends. And through them we meet others with whom we share parties and barn dances and social events of every sort. Meanwhile, through Dennis Hackett of the Unemployed Workers Centre, prior to this a mere acquaintance, as I drift into middle age, I discover the joys of a pint (or possibly the occasional two) after work in the Miners' Welfare. Also meanwhile, Maureen relocates to her only ever non-denominational school, Cumbernauld High, and makes similar connections and long term friendships

And as it also turns out the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Labour Party turns out to have as many great people as the Paisley Labour Party. Albeit (Labour Party niche reference here) with fewer Trots.

And in between this, as Scottish Summers allow, we are sitting in our wonderful inherited wild flower garden and going on a series of  wonderful holidays and are just immensely happy.

We don't ever have kids. It is not for want of, not purposefully, trying. We just got to the point of thinking that if it happens, it happens. It just never did.

Doctors

In 2003 we did finally have some money. So we decided to spend it on the house. We had meantime acquired yet another largely unused dining room and yet another "too small" kitchen. So we decided to "get things done".

The dining room and a grossly under utilised room beyond were knocked through so that we had a kitchen/diner extending the length of the house back to front. And the old kitchen converted into a downstairs bathroom. In the space remaining, a laundry room. It is on that laundry room that this story turns.

When the work was done it was all finished except the self same laundry room. When they lifted the superficial flooring, the tiler announced that he couldn't lay tiles on what was exposed. It needed new floorboards and sheeting and that was beyond his expertise.

I was working full time but the best Maureen had been able to secure on relocating to Cumbernauld was a job share. So she was off two days a week. Accordingly, in a brief conversation, we agreed she'd sort this out. Only she didn't.

As months went by and 2004 arrived, I steadily became more and more annoyed about this. For you couldn't use the new super duper downstairs shower without donning slippers to go in and out.

"C'mon, surely you can find somebody"

Then one night Maureen announced that a tradesman had come and could do the whole thing: floorboards; sheeting; tiling but only at what seemed a ridiculous price. By that point I was so exasperated I told her just to get on with it.

It  never happened.

Yet another  month later, I "insisted" to know what was going on. "I can't find anybody to do it" "What about the guy at a cost of a million pounds?" "I don't know what you are talking about"

Initially I thought she'd been caught out lying and was quite annoyed. But soon she confessed that she was increasingly having trouble remembering things. She became very upset. As did I.

So we end up at the doctor. Not Tricia but one of her colleagues, Douglas Dick.While being entirely professional in his fact gathering, he is also entirely reassuring. There might be any number of reasons for this. The stress of Maureen's mother's own illness; the side effects of the menopause; who knows, let's do some bloods. Only there aren't any other reasons. So we end up with the psychiatrist, Dr Griffin. And lots of puzzles for her to solve, to see if things are getting worse or just a bit off normal. It proves to be the former.

Meanwhile, Mo is off her work. She has forgotten too many children's names; lost too many sets of keys; given too many classes the same lesson twice. It having been suggested she take some time off, on her voluntary return, she is quickly told that this is not a request but an instruction. She is 52.

And so on to Doctor Green. A neurologist. A guy I knew as we had previously worked together on brain damage personal injury cases, An MRI scan turns up nothing except a promise to renew the scan in a year. "Sometimes it doesn't show up on an early scan". But after the year there is a second scan. I take her to the Southern General for the consultation. I expect to wait outside for the announcement of the results but am in fact  invited in to hear them. "I'm afraid there is clear shrinkage of the brain. A conclusive demonstration of Alzheimer's disease. As you will know, there is nothing that can be done. I am very sorry." And with that it is done. It is 2006.

With the departure of Dr Green, we also had seen the last of Dr Griffin. It is now Dr Cable. Who is the early onset Alzheimer guy for the whole of the Lanarkshire Health Board. "Bedside manner" is a much abused phrase but this guy had it in spades. I fear he had plenty of practice.

We saw him a lot, although for no clearly defined purpose. Always together except on the very last occasion when, having summoned a nurse to make sure she wouldn't wander off, he invited Maureen to wait outside while he spoke to me alone. This is going to get really hard, he advised, but it is a terminal disease and one day it will be over. Your job is not to forget that. That was maybe twelve years ago but in an odd way it has kept me going ever since. Maybe that was his purpose and he was just working up to it.

Venice

Maureen and I first went to Venice in October 1990, an event somewhat spoiled by my spending a fair amount of time in phone boxes trying to get adopted as the Labour candidate for the forthcoming Paisley North by-election. To no avail.

But at new year 1991/2 we went back.

Having spent the previous six months seeing her little as I worked from dawn to dusk setting up my own business, the trip was Mo's surprise thank you and apology Christmas present. During my necessary absence from work, I left things otherwise in the charge of my then trainee, Alan Caskie. He may today be one of Scotland's most distinguished immigration lawyers, as  he undoubtedly is, but then it was a miracle that the business survived my absence.

We just had the most wonderful time. The first visit had taken in little beyond the most famous sites but this time we wandered the back streets, sought out relatively obscure churches, which would have been star attractions anywhere else, put to lie the suggestion that Venice only does "tourist food" and, again thanks to Professore McKay, got full value and more from our three day Carta Venezia pass for the vaporetti.

At the very end of a memorable trip, Mo and I went for a last dinner at which she surprised and not inconsiderably annoyed me by asking me to promise her that, if we ever split up, I would never come back to Venice with anybody else. Such a thing had never crossed my mind. Not the coming back to Venice bit, the other bit. Still hasn't to this day, It was one of those things that nagged on beyond the holiday. Why had she ever thought to say such a thing in the first place? Eventually however, like all such things, it fizzled out.

We did however go back. For another new year. And to welcome in a new decade, 2009/10.

We had previously stayed in hotels but Maureen's condition was by then such that it was better for us to be in a more controlled environment so we got a wee flat near the Rialto fish market. Where I over enthusiastically purchased a quantity of vongole that, freshness permitting, would have lasted us into 2011, never mind the immediate year ahead.

And on new year's eve we got tickets for La Fenice opera house, at a price not a lot less than that for which we could have bought that flat in Paciano all these years before.

But the whole thing ended on a slightly different note. Anybody else with experience of Alzheimer's will know that the short term memory is much more of a problem than the long term one. So, on the last night we are walking home and Mo suddenly refers to that earlier conversation. I'm giving it the old "don't be daft" response but she looks me in the eye and says that she wouldn't mind me coming back if she was no longer here. For all the medical consultations I talk about above, it was the first time that she personally acknowledged that that day might come.

Life goes on

As indeed it did. Maureen was given early retirement on the grounds of ill health and confined to the house although unfortunately that did not prevent her wandering off from time to time, on one famous occasion as far as Glasgow City centre where she had gone to get me a birthday present before realising she had no money and indeed didn't know exactly where she was. God knows how she got on and off the bus.

But people are great. Not just friends and neighbours (and occasionally the Polis) but sometimes complete strangers. Ultimately, as I will come on to narrate, we  had to do something about that but for the moment we could get by. And we could still go on holiday.

Sometimes you fall on your feet. By the most astonishing good fortune, in 2009 we tried to to find holiday accommodation on the other side of Lake Trasimeno. The place we first tried, run by ex pat Germans, was fully booked but the proprietress suggested that her friend might accommodate us, as she had a single flat in the grounds of her property that she sometimes rented out. We arrived far far up into the hills to be welcomed by a very politically correct German Lady, Angelika Ritter, who gave us a lengthy lecture on arrival about, amongst other things,  the exact protocols for recycling our garbage. The first time the bin was full however it disappeared. I spent hours looking for its contents, fearful Maureen had just dumped them somewhere. Eventually I went to explain the situation to Angelika who bemusedly explained that Maureen had presented them to her earlier in the day and she had worked out for herself that something wasn't right. It transpired she was a psychologist and understood the position perfectly. It was a perfect place in the circumstance, completely enclosed and with Angelika's dog on hand to bark if anyone as much as tried to open the one and only gate. It served us for two consecutive Summers.

By 2011 however it simply wasn't possible for us to holiday alone but friends and family stepped into the breach, coming out to accompany us and to assist me in looking after Maureen, At Easter 2012 we went to Rome with Maureen's (and my) favourite niece, Katie, on the same basis. And that Summer back for another holiday on the same basis. To an agriturismo. In Paciano.

I didn't think that would be our last holiday but while we were there Maureen became regularly incontinent of urine and it transpired that had to be that.

Carers.

The first and the last was Carol Neill. In 2008 I was getting worried Maureen couldn't entirely look after herself alone at home. Lisa Neill, now PA to one of my business partners, was then my office junior and she suggested her mother could assist. Carol had worked in a local care home but had had to give up after injuring her back lifting a patient. That wasn't required here of course (it was eventually but by then we had a hoist) so Carol was perfect for the job.

Initially she simply came in on mornings but as things developed Maureen really needed someone here all the time when I was at my work. So Carol recruited an old workmate, Liz Lowe, to assist.

In 2013 I had a couple of miserable holidays on my own and Maureen went into respite care, as indeed happened again in 2014 but, and here I make no criticism of the homes involved, she visibly declined when denied the one to one care she received at home. But then help arrived from North Lanarkshire Council. They assessed Maureen's need for care and agreed to fund daytime care initially for five and subsequently for seven days a week. We had enough money coming in that I could supplement that for the occasional night out and more importantly for 24 hour care if I was away. Two others, Anne Marie Bergen and Tricia McQueenie, who initially had assisted only with that holiday care, were added to the week to week rota as Liz, past retirement age herself, wanted to cut back on her hours. They were supported as first reserve for holidays or the like by Jean Meechan, another contact of Carol's. They all came to be not just carers but friends.

I can never thank these people enough. The progression of this disease is grim and relentless. Maureen slowly lost the power of speech; the ability to focus and then to see; the ability to comprehend and then to hear. Nothing daunted them. Special aids; handrails at the front and back of the house; a wet floor shower; a hospital bed; a hoist were all brought in, thanks, again, to the council and utilised to keep Maureen as well as possible. Special foods were identified and, when swallowing pills became a problem, liquid medications secured.  And all this time we had the most wonderful support from Kilsyth Health Centre, not just the doctors but the district nurses, the community dentist, the dietician. I genuinely could not find fault with a single aspect of her treatment there from start to finish.

I refused only one offer of help. When we'd been getting the building work done for the new kitchen, we discovered by accident that underneath the downstairs hall carpet was the original Victorian decorative tiled floor. It was however badly paint splattered and marked with many many years of carpet nails and rotted underlay. When Maureen was first at home with nothing to do all day she decided she was going to clean it up and for weeks she worked with wire wool and turpentine and special chemicals to do just that. She succeeded in doing so beyond our wildest expectations.

Maybe twelve years or so later, the council offered to put in a stairlift. The only thing was that this would need fixings which would have required this floor to be broken up. I sat with Maureen and "discussed" this, although she was well beyond comprehension. In the end we didn't get the stairlift.

Andrea

But here I have to say a very special thanks to somebody else.

The worst time of this whole thing was probably from about 2011 to 2015.Maureen still had some insight into her condition but was constantly restless and agitated. The full care package wasn't yet in place and I was feeling exceptionally sorry for myself.

I knew Andrea Carlyle as she had been a divorce client of mine many years before. At that time we had also bought and sold a house for her and then litigated a minor court case about one the appliances bought with the house. I thought she was lovely with an exotic Hungarian accent and a radiating smile. But I was very married and, anyway, she was my client.

But she worked in Tesco at Craigmarloch where I did the weekly shop and from time to time I'd bump into her there. She always had a cheery word and that smile. If I'm being honest, I perhaps started to seek out these encounters.

In 2012, I had joined twitter, mainly to rant about politics and among my early followers was a mysterious figure @andimecbandi with a disguised profile picture. One day, a single tweet about the exotic subject matter of....... Tesco at Craigmarloch, suddenly made me realise who this was. I sought from her an email address being absolutely clear about my circumstances from the outset but suggesting we might go to a concert or something. I waited with some trepidation for a knock back or, possibly worse still, an enthusiastic declaration that she had always wanted to see Rick Astley.

In fact we settled on the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Mozart's Jupiter. It was a Friday night, the seventh of March 2014, and started fairly disastrously as Andi turned up at Croy station just in time to miss the train. Partly because she was wearing a "gypsy" skirt that was far too long for her so that she kept tripping over it. We then proceeded to a fish restaurant I had booked near the City Halls only for her to declare that she didn't really like fish.

But she did like Mozart. And I liked her. Very much.

She could not temperamentally be more different from Maureen. She can be astonishingly moody and impetuous. But she is also funny and clever and moved to tears by the simplest of sights or experiences. We parted that night intending to do something the following weekend but I couldn't wait. I phoned her and suggested we go to the Burrell, chiefly to see their magnificent Bellini. Years later a print of that painting, a Christmas present from her, is now on the wall of the room we share.

That Easter, at her initiative, we went to Budapest to visit her parents and we've never really looked back. I felt that was an acknowledgement that, if I was in it for the long haul,so was she. Andi does share with Maureen a love of literature and enrolled in the Open University to study that and creative writing. She was due to graduate this Summer. Who knows about that now but in anticipation she had secured an additional job as an interpreter. She hopes in time to do the more complex job of literary translation.

At first we were conscious that Maureen must suspect nothing. Andrea moved to Kilsyth from Cumbernauld to be nearer at hand but as Maureen increasingly slipped away it became safe for Andi to come to the house and indeed to assist me in caring for her. In December 2017, she stayed here for the weekend but returned to her own home to find it badly flood damaged from a burst pipe. Of necessity she moved in here and by the time her house was finally repaired in March 2019 (yes, that's right) there was no point in her moving out again.

So, you see, I did eventually end up with a wife and a partner under the same roof. Although, after a decent time has passed, and if she'll have me, I would like it just to be a wife again. She has saved my life.

Endgame

In 2014, Maureen fell and broke her arm while out walking with Angela, one of the carers then being provided by Alzheimer's Scotland. The woman herself was mortified, insisting that while she genuinely couldn't work out how it happened she nonetheless blamed herself. I couldn't see why, but within weeks Maureen had a fairly major seizure and with the benefit of hindsight we concluded that this fall had been a pre warning of that, possibly obscured by the pain she was in from her arm.

Anyway, for the major seizure she was taken by ambulance to Glasgow Royal Infirmary,treated and discharged. Seizures were apparently a recognised feature of the progression of the disease. Afterwards she was still well enough to confide that she really didn't want to go back to hospital and I promised her I would do all I could to avoid that. Appropriate paperwork was completed with the health centre to emphasise that was her position which I signed under a power of attorney granted at the outset of the disease.

Two or three years later I broke that resolution just the once when it was felt that she could benefit from an intravenous antibiotic which could only be administered at (Monklands) hospital. I received, as best I could, assurances that she'd get better and get back home. In fact the whole episode proved a bit farcical. The hospital concluded that she didn't need the antibiotic but she couldn't get home as special lifting equipment would be needed to get her up the stairs. This situation continued for days until eventually Liz, I and an able bodied young friend just went and insisted in taking her out ourselves. On the way back I became quite emotional as I realised that would probably be the last time she would leave the house. That indeed proved to be the case.

Yeats

In addition to introducing me to Italy, Maureen introduced me to the poetry of W.B. Yeats. She loved so many of his poems: When you are old; He wishes for the cloths of heaven; The wild swans at Coole; In memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markewicz. She always wanted to go to Sligo but that was something else we never quite did.

When I first started thinking about the structure of this blog I toyed with the idea of a hypothetical desert island discs. I gave up because Maureen loved music in so many of its forms, choosing eight records would have been impossible.

But for the book there would have been no hesitation: Yeats collected works. Even in her final illness, friends would read to her from him..And if she had to choose but one poem, The Lake Isle of Inisfree. 

When we moved here we converted one of the rooms into a library and Maureen stuck up a scabby old A4 print of the poem on the wall. It was there for years, always with the intention of getting it framed but, again, we never quite did. Then, as these things happen in your life, for some reason it was gone. But Maureen could recite it by heart anyway.

I will arise and go now, and go to Inisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the purple cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

And as for her desert island luxury? A class to teach. She loved teaching. It broke her heart when she had to stop.

Requiem.

On the 23rd of March, the day the lockdown was announced, she began refusing food and drink. Loss of the swallow reflex is known to be an end stage of Alzheimer's although, to be honest, the carers and I thought she may just have decided she had had enough. Until the very end, she was in no pain while at rest but her decline was visible. We tried to make sure someone: a carer, Andi or me was with her. More than once, one or other of us thought she was away.

On Wednesday the 8th of April, two days ago, it was her first carer, Carol, who was on the daytime rota and for the first time Maureen became a little distressed and the district nurses were called in that morning to administer pain killing medication. It didn't completely work so one of them returned in the afternoon to increase the dose. She stayed for a while to check she was OK and went to leave at about ten to four. I showed her out and as I went into the kitchen Carol shouted on me to come urgently. She was gone. In her own bed and in the house that she loved. As she and I had always wanted.

Maureen was a Catholic. Never a particularly devout one but a faithful one. I never was. Far be it for me to disagree with St. Paul but......In his most famous passage from 1st Corinthians, which was indeed read at our wedding, when he talks about faith, hope and love but the greatest of these being love, I've always been able to do the second and third but I could never quite do the first. And that seemed to me to be essential.

I was conscious however that the friends who stayed to the end, when others just found it too distressing, were predominantly, although not exclusively, of the Catholic Faith.

So for them but above all for Maureen.

Eternal rest grant unto her o Lord,
And let eternal light shine upon her,
May she rest in peace.












Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Grope over fear. Part 3.

I've decided there is to be a part 3.

There has been a huge amount of nonsense talked in the last ten days but not the least of it has been that their might be immediate further legal proceedings.

Firstly, by the complainers. There have been a small number of cases in Scotland where victims of sexual assault, when the perpetrator has been found not guilty or not proven in the criminal courts, have successfully raised civil proceedings for damages. That won't be happening here for there is a three year time bar on such proceedings and, although that can be waived at the discretion of a court, none of the case law would support such a discretion being exercised here.

Secondly, by Mr Salmond for "malicious prosecution." That would certainly be a competent process but the idea that it would be a wise idea to voluntarily invite a court to opine on his guilt or innocence on the basis of the civil standard of proof "on the balance of probabilities"? Or even on the Crown's own set standard of "reasonable prospect of conviction". Even to posit it demonstrates its patent inadvisability.

Then there is the suggestion Mr Salmond might write a book exposing the "conspiracy" against him. That won't happen either. Because nobody would publish such a book. It is not possible to identify the complainers but it is in the public domain that most of them are women who hold prominent public positions in Scotland and thus people with significant reputations to defend, To state that they engaged in a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice would be a hugely defamatory one. If but one of them, on the publication of Mr Salmond's proposed opus, waived their anonymity and gave him 24 hours to retract his allegations then, on his failure to do so, the damages would be astronomical. Salmond himself, such is his hubris, might take that risk but no reputable publisher ever would.

To be honest, anyway, I have considerable doubt whether the anonymity will hold, not because some cybernat or other won't breach it, that will almost certainly happen but be dealt with the criminal justice system appropriately. If it weren't for the current civil emergency I suspect a few collars would already have been felt. Who knows, perhaps they have been and we are just not allowed to know about it.

No, rather, I think the anonymity won't hold because one or more of the women themselves will decide to waive it. These women are people of integrity and they may ultimately decide that the only way for the public to know who is and is not lying here is for the public to know who they are and then form their own view based on that knowledge.

I can't in any event see "jig saw" identification, buttressed with the full might of the criminal law, surviving the inevitable Holyrood investigation. They may also, regrettably, have to work that out for themselves.

Then we have the consequence ultimately for the SNP if Salmond tries to rejoin. I cannot model a circumstance in which that would be allowed to happen without a huge electoral price being paid and indeed a huge loss of membership following. Or preceding, dependent on the exact sequence of events. Which the current leadership would understand. 

One of the most annoying features of Scottish politics in the last ten years has been the ability of the SNP to portray themselves as morally superior to other Parties. It is annoying but it has to be acknowledged. The minute even contemplating letting sex pest Salmond back in is mooted that bubble would be burst. And burst bubbles can't be re-inflated. Anyway, if a lot of white late middle aged men leave "in disgust" that might suit them. At least until they work out that this is most of their activist base. Better still that however than admitting to those young idealists drawn to the "Yes Movement" that, when these guys were dancing with them in George Square, they weren't participating in a mutual "civic, joyous" moment. They were just looking at their arse. And were now officially excused to do so. Or indeed worse.


Sunday, 29 March 2020

Grope over fear (part 2)

Yesterday, when I wrote part 1 of this, it was my intention in Part 2 to go through the evidence of the Salmond trial in some detail, to demonstrate exactly what the defence case put was and to allow readers themselves to form a view of his guilt or innocence, not on the criminal test of "beyond a reasonable doubt" but the civil test of "balance of probability". I would also have invited you to form a view of the moral character of Mr Salmond in relation to the details of his conduct that he did admit and indeed moral character of those who had covered this up "for the cause".Others however have this morning done that for me in some excellent press coverage. The person who I think has achieved it best is Maurice Smith in the Scottish Review and I would commend his work to you here. https://www.scottishreview.net/MauriceSmith517a.html

I want instead therefor to make only a point that I have not seen considered elsewhere.

HMA v Salmond had, for months, been scheduled to start on 9th March and had, for months, been reported as being expected to last "three to four weeks." In fact it lasted just over two.

The reason for that shortened timescale was one word: Coronavirus.

Personally, I was a little surprised the trial started at all. By 9th March it was clear a storm was coming. By coincidence, I myself was at the High Court in Edinburgh for a criminal appeal on 12th March and I had never seen the Court, or indeed the city centre as a whole, so quiet on a week day.

By 17th March, day seven of the trial, it was announced that no new jury trials were to start in Scotland, even those scheduled only for a couple of days. Yet existing jury trials were to continue.

The verdict came in on 23rd March. On 24th March the Courts were effectively closed. I strongly suspect the Salmond case was the very last jury verdict delivered in Scotland before the country went in to lockdown.

Once a long jury trial starts the availability throughout of certain key players is essential.The judge, the lawyers, the witnesses and (by law) a minimum of twelve members of the jury. If something happens which prevents that, at least for more than a couple of days, then the trial has to be deserted "pro loco et tempore" and started again. Not from the point where it was abandoned, but from the very beginning. That involves any witnesses who have already given evidence having to do so again, a particularly difficult thing to require of them in a sex offence case.

This was nonetheless an ever likelier possibility as the trial proceeded, compounded latterly by the possibility that if anybody else who had been present in court showed Coronavirus symptoms, then all present would have needed to self isolate.

This undoubtedly impacted on the conduct of he case.

Almost invariably the Crown case forms the bulk of the evidence so when that "three to four week" estimate was put out it might have been reasonably though they'd take up at least two weeks of that. In fact they took less than six days.

Now, once they had started, the Crown faced a moral dilemma. Did they adduce every single piece of evidence in as much detail as possible, running the risk of the trial collapsing, or did they just make sure they, as quickly as possible,  had a sufficiency of evidence on each charge. It is clear they opted for the latter route. And, it should be noticed, they succeeded in that latter task. There was no suggestion by the defence at the close of the Crown case that, excepting the one charge the Crown withdrew owing to the unavailability of a witness, Mr Salmond had "no case to answer", a legal process whereby the judge can direct a finding of not guilty on basis of the evidence being insufficient in law.

But obviously some things went by the way in the process. For example, we heard nothing, to the best of my knowledge, as to the contents of Mr Salmond's Police interview. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that, on behalf of the Crown, we heard from no Police Officers at all.

I say all of that just by way of observation.

As I also say this.

On the morning of the verdict, two jurors were discharged for reasons known to the judge but not disclosed to the jury. Nonetheless, it would be reasonable to say, given external events, that this would have been a worrying and distracting development for the remaining jurors. I also note in passing that, given that eight votes were still required for a guilty verdict, this raised the barrier for the Crown from a simple majority to something approaching a two thirds one.

But that second point is not my main one. When a jury is routinely "sent out" to consider a verdict, they are told by the judge to "take as long as you like" Given these external events however that was surely counter-intuitive on this occasion? Had the jury not reached a verdict on the Monday, as far as they knew at the time, they'd have had to make a fresh journey into the largely deserted city centre the following day to spend that day in an enclosed space alongside twelve other people any one of whom might be carrying a deadly infectious disease.

Now, nobody knows, at least officially, what ever goes on in jury rooms but it is accepted practice that it is never a good idea to put a jury under pressure to reach a verdict. But pressure was inevitable here. And there is also lawyers folklore here that I'm sure would be corroborated by many colleagues. One of the reasons that it is accepted practice not to pressure a jury for a verdict is that there is a strong belief it makes them more likely to acquit. For the very reason that they, if they have not had enough time to consider all the evidence, then must be mindful of their obligation only to convict if satisfied "beyond a reasonable doubt",

That's all. There might be a part 3. I'm still thinking about it.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Grope over fear (Part 1)

I want to start with a personal anecdote.

Twenty or more years ago I represented a man charged before a sheriff and jury with multiple counts of indecently exposing himself to children. His MO was in each case that he jumped out from a concealed spot to primary school aged girls. He then ran off and was never caught at the scene.  Nonetheless, my guy had a record for similar and was local to these events, so the cops set up what is known as an emulator board of photographs of him and others and showed this to some of the victims. Their identification was sufficient for them to get a warrant requiring my client to stand in an identification parade where six out of nine witnesses picked him out. That warrant also allowed them to search his home. A point to which I will return.

Anyway, my guy protested his innocence so the case went to trial.

Now, I say with due modesty, I was a pretty experienced criminal defence lawyer at the time. I'd done at least a dozen jury trials with varying degrees of success but I certainly knew what I was doing.

For the procurator fiscal prosecuting, this proved to be her first ever jury trial.

Obviously, identification was key, and the Crown started with what proved a significant error.

The Crown can lead their witnesses in whatever order they like. In this case they chose simply chronologically. The problem was that the witnesses to the first incident were precisely the three who had not identified at the parade. There were entirely innocent reasons for this. They were children and they had had to wait longest for their chance to make their ID but my opponent thought she could rescue this. So she took her first witness, a wee girl of ten or so, through her recollection of the incident and then ended by asking if she saw the man who had exposed himself "in court today". With little hesitation she pointed out my client in the dock.

Now you are warned as a defence agent you should never ask a question to which you don't already know the answer but to a limited degree I broke that rule here. Although I was pretty sure of the answer.

The system has tried over the years to make it less of an ordeal for children to give evidence,. Things would be much better in such a case today with, at the very least, the use of a video link. But then, some bright spark had decided it would help if they were given a tour of the court in advance. As these kids had been. By the very Procurator Fiscal now prosecuting.

So I started by sympathising with the wee lassie over what had happened to her. It was never the position of the defence but that she had tried to tell anything but the truth about her ordeal. But, could I just ask her this?

Was this her first time in this courtroom? No

When had she been here before? Last week.

Was that just for a wee tour? Yes

And who had conducted that tour? Here she referred to the PF by her first name and smiled at her.

And did you tell you who'd be sitting on the other side from her? Yes, the defence lawyer. At this I gave her a smile of acknowledgement of the right answer.

And what about here (pointing to the bench)? The Sheriff.

And here? The jury

And finally here? "The man who did it".

I paused to make sure the jury got that point. They had.

From now on I will accelerate for the sake of brevity. It was lot more gentle in practice.

Can I just ask you about something else? Do you remember going to the Police station for an identification parade? It is a matter of agreement that this man was in that parade, not on his own as he is today but alongside nine others.  Did you pick him out then? So why did you pick him out today?

"Because [the PF] told me it was him".

Now,for the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting even that had happened. My opponent might have been inexperienced but that didn't mean that she had subjourned to perjury. Just that, with the best of (disastrous) intention, the Crown, in an attempt to be witness friendly, had given the girl the impression that this was what they wished her to say.

They never recovered. They ploughed on with the other two witnesses to charge one, who made no identification at all and, by the time they had got on to their other six witnesses, who had identified in perfectly controlled identity parade conditions, the jury had already concluded that their case was trash. My own  "are you absolutely sure" questions to them being entirely rebutted by the witnesses themselves, largely passing the jury by.

But before I came to the denouement, I come back to the search warrant. Even the grimmest, sleaziest, of cases have an element of dark humour. In this case it was a Rangers beeny hat.

On the occasion of every crime, whatever else he was (not) wearing, the perpetrator was wearing a Rangers beeny hat. Each and every witness spoke to that.

When the Police executed the search warrant, what did they find in my client's bedroom? Not one but several Rangers beeny hats. All lodged as Crown productions, some even individually identified by the witnesses.

But the fiscal didn't make the link! All the witnesses spoke to the hat but no witness linked the hat to my client. For reasons to this day unknown, evidence of the search was not introduced. So, as far as the jury was concerned, my client had never owned a single hat of any sort. Indeed he might have been a lifelong Celtic man. Hatless or otherwise.

We were found not proven by majority on every charge.

Now three afterthoughts.Two from then and one from today.

Then, first, the client's immediate reaction. Which was thanks with the expressed regret I hadn't been his lawyer "the first time". I would certainly be if he was ever prosecuted again. It is small consolation that, presumably, he never was.

Secondly, then, the client's parents, who had been in \Court throughout and who seemed the only people present sincerely convinced of his absolute innocence. How they rationalised the Rangers beeny hat is a matter for them. They gave me a bottle of whisky. Without telling them, I gave it to charity.

Thirdly, today. Being found not guilty (or not proven) proves nothing. Except that the Crown has failed to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt on the day.Why I think they failed on a different day, involving much better lawyers, and, crucially,  much fewer jurors, than feature here, will be the subject of part 2.