Friday, 22 March 2013


I expected to be mess at 84. I did not expect to be a laughing stock. Other people get nice, sensible diseases which inspire sympathy. I fall for the ones which verge on the downright comic.

I ask you, Wandering Leg Syndrome?  I have known enough thieves to be familiar with the phrase 'having it away on your toes' but this is altogether too much.

Every night I gather up my kindle and trot peaceably up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire. Ablutions done, the legs and I settle down with The Barchester Chronicles, every limb in peaceful accord. But the moment I fall asleep, off they go. I wake to find they have literally 'had it off on their toes'. Sometimes I catch them halfway to the door. If they weren't attached to the knees I wouldn't be able to follow them.

Still there is hope on the horizon, even if the legs haven't made it there yet. The last thing I wish to do is quarrel with Shakespeare but by the same token I can live without eyes, teeth, almost everything, but I will not have him bad mouthing second childhood. I am having a ball in this strange eventful history, second childishness.

Last week a fairy godmother called Mrs Merry flew in, made a few passes with her magic wand and by Budget Day the house was transformed into a luxury convalescent home. Hand rails abound, front step raised, armchair perpetually levitated, heat reflectors behind the radiators, sexy night light and dimmer switches all round. A Grand Pris Zimmer Frame with shelves which makes a bespoke drinks trolley; handles on the bed that forty years ago would have put the sparkle into bedtime; and finally a magic necklace with a button like Aladdin's lamp which I press to summon genies. All free courtesy of Age UK.

The help I have had since the body started to crumble makes me very cross at criticism of the National Health Service. I get a carer's allowance and a key to the cripples' lavatories. I have an excused seat belts chit, a disabled pass which means I can park pretty well anywhere, I watch TV free of charge and when I travel on buses others pay the bills. When I was ill I had 24-hour home nursing and my GP has twice saved my life. All that is needed for perfection is to get rid of the hospitals. 

The first time I was swinging from death's door I went to our old hospital and it was four star. Unfortunately we have a massive new hospital that has put the city in debt for the foreseeable future. It boasts new wards which are being closed down as an economy measure and since it opened there have been endless front-line redundancies. The ambulance risks million of pounds in fines because of slow pick-ups. Fines that will come from the Health budgets which are already under pressure to cut down staff they cannot afford to pay. I was rushed into hospital for an emergency transfusion because I hadn't enough blood left for a nose bleed. I got it two days later.

My old chum Herodotus  said we should be like the Medes and the Persians who made every decision twice. Once when drunk and again when sober. I assume the same formula applies to the European Empire (EU). Not that I'm knocking the idea. Presumably when you get the answer,  repeat the ritual.

For her final appearance on this septic Skidmoresisland, Kattyan Lachoo extends her view of the law.

Lawyer: “Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his
sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?’’

That is a true question asked by a real lawyer in a real American courtroom. So says Charles M. Sevilla who wrote Disorder in the Courts: great fractured moments in courtroom history. His anecdotes have been stolen and circulated online everywhere and friends are always sending me these real-life jokes because they know I love nonsense.

Sevilla developed an eye and ear for the ludicrous to get him through his legal education and practice because the law can be as exciting as the study of dirt. His cockeyed interest developed into magazine columns about the howlers in the halls of justice and the columns were appropriately gathered into two funny collections.

But as much as I respect a fellow discombobulator, this guy is an amateur of the absurd. He hasn’t heard a thing until he consults my specialist archive of true exchanges in real courts in Trinidad and Tobago. I am making up none of this. What you are about to read is all true, true, true. Proceed at your own risk of splitting the seams of your pants and spurting your morning cup of tea through your nose.

Lawyer: “Did you check for fever?’’
Pathologist: “You trying to insult me now? You asking me if I take the temperature of a dead man?’’

Lawyer: “How were you able to see the man?’’
Witness: “Because I have two eyes in my head.’’

Lawyer: “Are you able to continue? Look you sleeping on yourself.’’
Witness: “You doh worry about me. Ask your question.’’

Lawyer: “You said there was faeces on the body. Is there an explanation for that?’’
Doctor: “The explanation is that the body came in contact with faeces.’’

Lawyer: “You ever did recitation in school?’’
Witness: “Yes.’’
Lawyer: “You know what recitation is?’’
Witness: “Er, er, like mouth to mouth?’’

Lawyer: “I am putting to you that you are mistaken.’’
Witness: “You cyar put nutten to me, you wasn’t dey.’’

Lawyer: “I put to you your evidence is a pigment of your imagination.’’
Judge: “A what?’’
Lawyer: “A pigment, My Lord.’’

Lawyer: “How tall are you?’’
Defendant: “I never measure.’’

Lawyer: “My Lord, please instruct the witness to answer the question. He is oscillating.’’
Judge: “Only fans do that. I think you mean vacillating.’’

Defendant: “The cell was damp and cold. I had to sleep standing up whole night.’’
Judge: “I thought only horses did that.’’

Lawyer: “You’re a sweet man?’’
Witness: “Well, my perspiration not too strong.’’

Police prosecutor Sgt John Constable (name changed to protect the poor fella from fatigue from his colleagues): “Ma’am, I am not ready in this matter. Put it to next week, please.’’
Magistrate: “I thought my name was Mary Jones, not Mrs John Constable.’’

Judge: “Madam, you knew you were coming to court today? I don’t want to see your belly."
Woman, in midriff top: “Whey she say?’’
Judge: “You have a hearing problem?
Woman: “Eh?’’


The Spaniards, by yielding Falkland's island, have admitted a precedent of what they think encroachment; have suffered a breach to be made in the outworks of their empire; and, notwithstanding the reserve of prior right, have suffered a dangerous exception to the prescriptive tenure of their American territories.
   Such is the loss of Spain; let us now compute the profit of Britain. We have, by obtaining a disavowal of Buccarreli's expedition, and a restitution of our settlement, maintained the honour of the crown, and the superiority of our influence. Beyond this what have we acquired? What, but a bleak and gloomy solitude, an island, thrown aside from human use, stormy in winter, and barren in summer; an island, which not the southern savages have dignified with habitation; where a garrison must be kept in a state that contemplates with envy the exiles of Siberia; of which the expense will be perpetual, and the use only occasional; and which, if fortune smile upon our labours, may become a nest of smugglers in peace, and in war the refuge of future bucaniers. To all this the government has now given ample attestation, for the island has been since abandoned, and, perhaps, was kept only to quiet clamours, with an intention, not then wholly concealed, of quitting it in a short time.
   This is the country of which we have now possession, and of which a numerous party pretends to wish that we had murdered thousands for the titular sovereignty. To charge any men with such madness approaches to an accusation defeated by its own incredibility. As they have been long accumulating falsehoods, it is possible that they are now only adding another to the heap, and that they do not mean all that they profess. But of this faction what evil may not be credited? They have hitherto shown no virtue, and very little wit, beyond that mischievous cunning for which it is held, by Hale, that children may be hanged!
   As war is the last of remedies, "cuncta prius tentanda," all lawful expedients must be used to avoid it. As war is the extremity of evil, it is, surely, the duty of those, whose station intrusts them with the care of nations, to avert it from their charge. There are diseases of animal nature, which nothing but amputation can remove; so there may, by the depravation of human passions, be sometimes a gangrene in collective life, for which fire and the sword are necessary remedies; but in what can skill or caution be better shown, than preventing such dreadful operations, while there is yet room for gentler methods!
   It is wonderful with what coolness and indifference the greater part of mankind see war commenced. Those that hear of it at a distance, or read of it in books, but have never presented its evils to their minds, consider it as little more than a splend id game, a proclamation, an army, a battle, and a triumph. Some, indeed, must perish in the most successful field, but they die upon the bed of ho nour, "resign their lives amidst the joys of conquest, and, filled with England's glory, smile in death."
   The life of a modern soldier is ill represented by heroick fiction. War has means of destruction more formidable than the cannon and the sword. Of the thousands and ten thousands, that perished in our late contests with France and Spain, a very small part ever felt the stroke of an enemy; the rest languished in tents and ships, amidst damps and putrefaction; pale, torpid, spiritless, and helpless ; gasping and groaning, unpitied among men, made obdurate by long continuance of hopeless misery; and were, at last, whelm ed in pits, or heaved into the ocean, without notice and without remembrance................