Thursday, 17 November 2011

Legal reform: a report and a rant

Hello hello,

I'm a reporter for Exaro News now - which is brilliant. Here's some work:

Reforms lead to 'financial hardship' for barristers

And here's a supplementary rant ;)

This year has seen a lot of cuts to legal aid (with more to come) but the one most bothering me is a cut that financially penalises lawyers who defend a client that opts for Crown court before pleading guilty.

Late guilty pleas are commonplace - 70% of crown court cases end in a guilty plea, and 95% of Crown court criminal cases are legally aided - so that's quite a lot of Crown Court cases where a lawyer could now lose money, right?

I'm worried by the idea that a lawyer's pay should hinge on how a client pleads at all, as everybody is entitled to a defence, guilty or innocent.

The fixed fee seems punitive. It's just over £200 for advocacy, which barely covers a couple of days work, as chambers rent isn't cheap. Could this be a cynical attempt to stop lawyers working in criminal defence at all? If so, it's working. Criminal barristers are having to diversify.

So, how did this change come about?

The idea was slipped into a green paper (proposals for the reform of legal aid, etc etc), one year ago. Almost everybody objected to it. Judges were unitedly opposed. Young legal aid lawyers feared for the future...

The guilty plea fixed fee was nevertheless implemented last month - £203 for advocacy, £362 for litigation.

A QC told me that thanks to lawyers' and judges' objections having been ignored, he's concluded we live in a 'sham democracy'.

(On the note of sham democracies, I welcome VentnorBlog's report that last week the Isle of Wight Council have lost their High Court case regarding their Adult Social Care policy. I was writing about their failure to engage with service users in 2010).

I've not finished my rant yet. :)

The fixed fee is only waived if the lawyers have considered more than 10,000 pages of evidence.
One barrister told me: "There are up to four appearances in each court before a guilty plea. If you are served with 9,800 pages of evidence you will still be paid just over £200 in all. It's absolutely ludicrous and will kill the bar."

And, I could go on.... But instead of that, will show you the judges' and lawyers' objections for posterity. This cut has been wheeled in, anyhow.

But if you get into trouble and wonder why can't find a criminal barrister who'll go to Crown court with you - this might be why...

Young Legal Aid Lawyers warned:
There are two principal problems with [the fixed 'guilty plea' fee across both courts]. The first is a practical problem. Under the profession's Codes of Conduct and ethics in general, no lawyer should put pressure on their clients to stay in the Magistrates’ Court and to plead guilty early. It would be completely inappropriate if they did: lawyers should not be placing pressure on their clients to plead guilty to further their own financial interests.
The second problem is a constitutional one. Effectively the Government is using legal aid as a means to pressure defendants into choosing a trial in the Magistrates’ Court. However, the right of a person to elect trial by jury in the Crown Court is a fundamental and well-established part of our democracy. The previous Labour government controversially proposed to abolish a defendant's right to choose jury trial in 1998. This was later withdrawn following political opposition.
This government is effectively re-introducing the abolition of the right to choose jury trial by the backdoor, for financial reasons. The proposals disregard this important constitutional principal. If the government wishes to remove the right to trial by jury then this should be done openly after a proper debate rather than discouraging poorer citizens from exercising this right through the manipulation of legal aid funding.
 Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges (COCJ) said:

We do not agree with the proposals.
We agree that it is desirable that where possible a case should be dealt with in the Magistrates Courts rather than in the Crown Court. [...] We do not accept, however, that the proposals are based on sound propositions which will provide either a fair or an appropriate level of remuneration.
The proposals proceed upon the basis that the magistrates and lawyers representing an accused have the dominant roles in the decision as to which court will deal with the case. They do not. It must be remembered that the role of the defendant is fundamental to the determination of the venue of the case. The law provides for the defendant to have the right to be tried by a jury. If the Magistrates accept jurisdiction, it is only if he consents that he may be tried by the Magistrates. The accused is also advised of their power of committal for sentence.
[...] the lawyer has to base his advice on the information which is available to him at that time. In many cases this may be very limited. Recent procedures in the Magistrates’ Court system have improved disclosure of the case to be presented by the prosecution but the defendant’s instructions may indicate a clearly triable case. In those circumstances, it is proper to advise of the election for trial: that is the accused's constitutional right. If the government wish to alter that, it should be done openly and after proper consultation.
[...]We further consider that it is unacceptable to link remuneration to an early resolution of the case. We express concern that this may lead to undue pressure being imposed upon an accused person, especially the more vulnerable defendants to plead guilty without proper consideration of the case.

Further the COCJ argued that a guilty plea can result from work on behalf of the lawyers. If you stop remuneration for the work, then the result could be a vicious circle where you see less guilty pleas as lawyers put less effort into preparing a case. More delays; more costs; counterproductive. That's the theory - time will tell:

(BTW: if a client pleads guilty under pressure of Crown evidence, their trial is called a 'cracked trial')
It is often that the reason for the cracked trial is because of the work carried out in the preparation of the case for trial. With that work, it often becomes clear even to the most unwilling defendant, that his defence is flawed. If the value of that work is not properly recognised in the fees payable, there will be a tendency for that preparation not to be carried out or carried out inadequately so that either the trial has to be vacated or worse, a trial is unnecessarily pursued.
The guilty plea often comes as the result of a reassessment of the strengths of the case on both sides. Forensic evidence is often delayed. Transcripts of the recorded evidence of a complainant in a sex case are not prepared until after it becomes known that there is to be a trial. When they are, a proper assessment of the witness’ evidence becomes more readily available. These are examples of the features which may lead to a guilty plea.

*deep breath*...

That is why it worries me.

Over and out.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Displacement and good fortune.

Here's my latest piece for TotallyMoney - an interview:

Are squatters criminals? Ask a squatter

In other news… I've been offered a job in journalism.

"Can it be true?" (my mum, freaking out), YES. I can't tell you a huge amount about it yet, as the news platform is completely new, but when we are launched, I'll share my work here…

The timing couldn't be more fortunate! I was displaced recently: For those of you that don't know, I've been one of those dreadful unemployed graduates and a serial intern, trying to "make it" in the capital while crashing at different people's houses. My favourite haunt's been a lovely shed (more like a summerhouse) owned by a friend's parents, who are exactly like old-school heroes in children's novels. They've even got a cat, and a grandfather clock.

The idyll ended for a good long while at 4am last Thursday, when their 20-something son burst back onto the scene from Romania, with two friends. All of their rent had fallen through - the landlord put it up by 30%.

Needless to say I hadn't been expecting them at that hour…

"Argh, sorry," he said. "I didn't think anybody would be in here."

"It's fine it's fine it's fine…" I staggered out of bed, wide awake all of a sudden. He retreated back to the house, but the birds were already singing. I bundled everything into a beach-bag, preparing to head to my sister's sofa, feeling a bit homeless.

… But now I have a job. *Beams*. One of the side-effects of being happy is that more people talk to me, including a massive bloke who squashed in beside me on the bus yesterday with an iced drink. He sucked through a straw and the cup gurgled. We exchanged one of these 'well, this is awkward,' smiles.

"Want some?" he said

"I'm OK thank you."

"Are you sure? There are two straws…"

Ah no, no thankyou.

"Just making conversation. How are you?"

"I'm OK." I contemplated telling him all about my life, and why not… "I've got a job!"


"I've been unemployed for a year, so, it's pretty cool."

"And how are you feeling?"


He asked me if there's anything that I've written that he would've read. I said probably not, but told him about Tim Minchin anyway, (I tell everybody about Tim Minchin).

"And what do you do?"

It turns out that this guy is a youth worker, performer, and ex-offender.

"Wow! That's really interesting." I beamed, although I stopped short of asking him what he was inside for. I love traversing London with former criminals? This sort of thing should happen more often.

It could, actually, because he gave me his card and his youth work looks interesting. Check it out.

Also, Sleater-Kinney:

Sunday, 12 June 2011

slutwalk and other issues

For London's slutwalk yesterday I donned mondrian-inspired tights, boots and a skirt that was above the knee but probably wouldn't worry the elderly.

To make it clear to the woefully uninformed: Slutwalk is an international campaign to end 'slut-shaming' - the idea that women should be judged morally for the way that they dress, particularly in rape cases where the girl's dress or alcohol consumption continues to be a factor in the investigation.

In the festering depths of online "comment" boxes, I keep finding morons who conflate rape with sex, or imply abusive relationships don't exist, or argue that women should cover themselves up to avoid being targeted. This last view is quite insulting to rapists, I feel, by implying that rapists are passive objects with no ability to think or make decisions for themselves.

[*Deep breath*] The internet can be a hunting-ground for trolls, amplifying their views at the expense of sane people.

All this said, I like to think that most rape fears are irrational and I really can go out without worrying. 'Just a bit of liberation-affirming fun!' I thought, 'the objectification of women can't be that huge a problem in this day and age.'

So I left the house, and it was sod's law that before my skirt and I had reached the railway bridge a tall, middle-aged man got out of a van in front of me. The street was quiet.

'You came this way before.' he informed me, his face set. 'I'd recognise those tights anywhere.'

Wurgh. Look at the ground, walk faster.

Thank you, stranger, for shattering my happy illusions…

The march itself was a bit like a carnival. There were thousands of us, including a pleasing number of men. "Yes means yes and no means no" was the rallying-cry widely quoted in the press, but I was happiest shouting "Hey (hey!) / mister (mister!) / get your hands / off my sister!" like a loveable street urchin.

There were rousing speeches, rather too many in fact, some of which I recorded and might attempt to put online. The high point of my day was finding out about this organisation:

London Sex Workers Open University

It's simply comforting that it exists.

In other news…

I've been revisiting the subject of veterans in prison today, so phoned a contact who has been trying to support carers to those suffering from depression, PTSD and the like.

She estimates she's counseled 260 people in the past month, who are finding her by word of mouth as a (completely unpaid) line of support.

Her own son, when he got into the army, had learning difficulties - which made him much younger than his age, she said, but that wasn't fully acknowledged. He was sent to the front line, developed erratic behaviour and an alcohol problem. He still drinks a lot and is in and out of prison when he does.

"He changed completely. People try to comfort me by saying he's at the less serious end of offending. I would rather he wasn't offending at all," she says. "The things my son has to deal with from the police. Being tasered if he refuses to strip naked. Being put on suicide watch."

Ultimately she wants to launch a charity for soldiers with complex problems. "Alongside the red poppies I also want blue poppies, for the abandoned ones," she said. "Blue for depression."

A sombre note to end on, but some are.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Poppy; Perlin; print journalism

Hello there, it's been more than a month hasn't it…

First things first

Did you know the Poppy Project, which gives shelter to trafficked women, is under threat because its funding has been cut? This is almost as worrying to me as Mark Townsend's piece about the lack of protection for trafficked children.

As it happens, I know a woman who was trafficked. I didn't remotely suspect it, but one day she admitted to me that she couldn't read English - she looked upset. I offered her reading lessons and in the course of an evening she told me her history.

She'd been packed around the world from Thailand, confined for nine years with other domestics. It was bad in New Zealand, she said, but it was much worse in Britain.

Because once they were in England, they weren't allowed to do their own shopping - they were hidden in a house, forbidden from going out. Sometimes they were only given floor cleaning products to wash themselves with. The men in charge were cruel. They had her passport and her papers; they used these things to control her.

She escaped, eventually, when a woman befriended her from the outside, but she still feels trapped sometimes and she still knows when snake-head gangs are nearby - she can feel it.

She gave me two huge servings of roast chicken, a hug and showed me how to write words in Thai.

Save Poppy.

And as to me…

I'm up to my elbows in job applications, helping out Eat Me food and culture magazine and blogging for Totally Money dot com, a handy little part-timer. Here's one entry I'm particularly pleased with:

Tips on surviving unpaid internships.

I've picked up a copy of Jilted Generation and am looking forward to reading it… I've also become a fan of Ross Perlin having seen him speak at Hackney Pages on Tuesday.  Intern Nation's the obvious thing to check out by him, but I also rate this piece he did last year for Lapham's quarterly, Riding the Godless Express:
For the atheist pilgrim there are no shrines, no temples, and no holy relics. He might glimpse a godless Genesis in the suburbs of Geneva, where particles race and clash in the tunnels of the Hadron Collider. The Great Rift Valley might feel like coming home, if he knew where to look. Perhaps he could visit the shores of Libya, where Theodorus the Atheist first challenged Zeus—or the German town of Naumburg, where Nietzsche took the pulse of God and found it stopped…
Quite poetic, isn't it.

Time for a random picture:
(Mmm, chocolate)

Besides writing about internships, and how to have cheap fun in London, I've mostly been writing about food. :) See Issue 5 of Eat Me food and culture magazine. It's very good. You should buy it online or in WHSmith for £4:

I particularly enjoyed the cover interview with Ainsley Harriott, a man as warm as he is tall.

I would also like to thank these people for stellar work:

Alexander Missen, Reynaldo Ortiz, Lauren Mclean and Oscar May

Timothy Franklin, Sam Kinchin-Smith, Sam Bompas, Florence Hillier, Dominique Hopgood

Juliana Wang, Lydia Crook

On a final note

It's a strange, unsettling world. China's prisons are being used for MMO gold farming.

Here's something my dad spotted last month when he went out shopping:

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Food and folk

This blog has been quiet for a while, because I launched myself into work on Issue 5 of Eat Me magazine.

I took on Food and Culture editorship at the end of January, was deliciously deluged with tasks and the fruits of my labour will be on the shelves later this Spring. Until I actually see the magazine and have it in my hands, I don't think I will fully believe it, so am nervous about giving an exact date.

Incidentally, the new website mentioned on that link is in development currently. I am writing and commissioning articles and recipes for it! And it will launch again very soon.

Have I mentioned before that I love food? Before moving on with this blog post I should perhaps share tips, some gained on the magazine, others prior to it:

A mouthful of advice…

Avocados. Just, eat them, mash them up, use them as an ingredient; they're great.

Coconut milk is wasted uncooked but an excellent base for boiling pretty much anything.

An electronic spice-grinder can also be used for nuts, and this is good for devising gluten-free, milk-free, egg-free fruitcakes. I discovered this when I had a housemate allergic to wheat, milk and eggs…

Passion fruit with sugar is a good quick dip for drop scones. 

The Apple Charlotte recipe in this book is even better if you add raspberries.

This dessert wine is delicious.

Foodie aside satisfactory? Good. On to the next thing!

I have some music to recommend

Mid-February, I wrote but didn't publish a music review I wanted to submit to a wonderful blog called For Folk's Sake. My attempt at a deadline failed largely because I worked on it in a pub close to the venue. As I scrutinised which picture I should attach, a Man-U game started, a crowd of red-and-white-clad fans dislodged me from my seat and my article fell by the wayside. I will use artistic license and blame football hooliganism.

I hope you enjoy it though.

This is the Kit + Michael Wookey @ Union Chapel 12.02.2011

Union Chapel is my favourite folk venue. They sell delicious quiche and homemade brownies (on this particular day, the seller seems to make his mind up how much they cost on the spot), and they host some really interesting artists as part of the Arctic Circle gig events called ‘Daylight Music’.

Folk gigs can be tedious. I don’t have a lot of time for soppy, safe artists lacking a sense of humour or a willingness to subvert ye olde tradition.

I do however have time for Michael Wookey,whose banjo has a sticker on it politely stating ‘Yes, I am Mormon.

“Hello,” he says, shyly. “My name’s Michael…” The pews nod and smile back at him. His microphone emits a sudden BANG! And he jumps.

“Fu- I meaaaaan… Sh-ooooot… Sorry God… Sorry…” he whispers. “I feel really bad now.”

Michael’s first song alienates me slightly with its David Grayish aspect – how many boys these days can rattle out the same old romantic sentiments, grimacing slightly, with their eyes closed?

But I’m won over by his creative instrumentation and his slightly playful boyish demeanour (he has a rainbow pin badge and a military-style red jacket like you’d find in an antique fancy dress box). His charm is clearly amplified by a large collection of toys: A table harp, a calculator synthesiser, a toy piano that chimes to the touch, a large metal music box, which he’s made himself:

Most fascinating, however, is an antique Salvation Army pump organ that folds, delightfully, into an old battered suitcase:

The organ's woodwork creaks with genuine age, having been inherited from his grandfather when Michael was 15. It has a history in the fields of war.

Overall, though his set ranges freely across historic inventions and could be described as VINTAGE-FUSION. Cameos of aged toys are interspersed with synthesiser sonatas. He's even bodged together one of these synthesisers himself and a mess of wires extend from one end. What a polymath.

His unique blend of angst and wonderment is a hard act to follow for a comparatively kook-less band called The 99 Call. They are very nice, but I don't feel an urge to shout about them. Given that this is my blog, I won’t, but listen to them, by all means.

For me, the real treat of a set comes from This Is The Kit.

“This song is called waterproof,” Kate Stables says “and we will dedicate it to the roof.” Her gaze wanders between the stained glass windows as she sings in bell-like tones, at home in surroundings that yawn with numinous light.

These folk songs, with pared down melodies and a slightly Celtish aspect to the vocals, really fly in the reverent air of the chapel. They remind me, too, of solitary walks, the sound of the wind on a hillside, and the fact that the stones of this building were extracted from the Earth.

I don’t think you'll want me to blather on further about the poetry of the performance. This is the Kit are ethereally charming. Again, a clip of this performance is YouTubed, much as my camera doesn't do it justice… But if that doesn't satisfy your curiosity, this is their MySpace.  

Friday, 21 January 2011

Internship notes: Jools Holland's loves and hates

I first encountered Jools Holland when I was a small child and therefore perceived him as a tall man dressed in black, outside Blackheath Conservertoire of Music, accompanied by a little boy who shared my sisters' drum teacher. Our paths would occasionally cross.

My dad would say: "That's Jools Holland."

This meant nothing to me at the time, but when I got older I became a devotee of Later With Jools Holland, recognising that a great pianist was introducing a wider variety of artists than those I'd seen on other music shows.

His set-up has a relatively intimate feel, which might be why Later has featured some of the most affecting televised performances I've ever seen.

Adele, for example

I'm not usually a fan of ballads, as they aren't very socially responsible. What if Adele's sobbing, lonely, pyjama-clad fans followed her example and loomed at the object of their heartbreak suddenly out of the darkness?

Why are you here
out of the blue, uninvited 
in your pyjamas 
in the night
outside my window 
with gin?

 I couldn't stay away
I couldn't fight it.
I thought you'd see my face
and that you'd be reminded
that for me, it isn't over.

What would happen next? Please try it and tell me. The internet needs to know.

Adele singing on Later is amazing, though, and makes me cry. If it doesn't move you, then your soul is gone, man. So gone, that it will create an anti-soul black hole and soon, you are going to turn inside out under the pressure and become an ethereal hoover, blasting noise out of one end and sucking the whole fabric of meaningful existence into the other.

Divas and crooners would no longer exist. Lovers would have to make do with DJ Otzi, circa 2002. Remember him?

[The Anti-Jools?]

What I'm basically saying is if Adele's voice leaves you cold, it's a serious matter and you need to get an exorcist. ’Nuff said?

My review of me interviewing Jools Holland

The conversation proceeded briskly. The words 'brisk' and 'proceed' and also 'hootenanny' capture Jools I think. His answers were off-kilter (I laughed a lot) and he speaks much, much faster than eighty words a minute, as I realised when I transcribed the interview.

He was effusive and witty discussing his Loves and noticeably uncomfortable when I got to the tail end of his 'Hates', insisting that he didn't hate anything really, so trying to come up with a fifth, unique thing that annoyed him was tricky.

Were there any places he didn't like?

No… in fact he likes most places, most objects, most animals, most kinds of clothing, all kinds of music and most experiences…

'Nose pokers,' he announced triumphantly. 'People who poke their noses into other people's business.'

'Can you be more specific?' I needed something that could be illustrated…

He ummed and ahhed. 'They know who they are.'

Did he mean journalists? I asked, being a total nose-poker at this juncture, so he narrowed it down.

I was most pleased to be recommended some music. I've since checked out the Unthanks Sisters and Imelda May and will leave you with Imelda appearing for the first time on his show:

Also, the finished article:

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Yay, Tim Minchin

If you don't know who Tim Minchin is, it's about time I introduced you:

This was my favourite phone interview as an intern at Seven, where we'd got Tim lined up for a 'perfect Sunday' piece to promote his DVD, his musical (Matilda at the RSC) and tour.

Since interviewing him, I've trawled dreamily through YouTube clips, watched two hours of 'Tim Minchin: Live' on New Year's Eve and despite my lack of fun-funds, considered buying a ticket to one of his shows, without really having been aware of him before. He was charming.

Here is an abridged version of my transcript, as a bonus feature for you lovely people, because the conversation was actually five pages long. I had a hand in editing most of my interviews, but not this one and there was a lot of good material that couldn't fit in the column.

(Only some of my words are there, in purple, as a street map to wordy wit)

Tim Minchin

(on family life, sexual fantasies, stargazing, and wicked soirées

It’s complicated when you’ve got children, because your ideal Sunday would involve waking up without them… But, assuming that it’s taken as given that I want my children in my life, my ideal Sunday would be to wake up late, and alone with my wife.

Although… probably…

People talk about their ideal Sundays in a very suburban way.

My ideal Sunday would probably begin with me waking up surrounded by beautiful naked women, but that’s not what people want to hear is it? We’re meant to lie about that stuff.

So it's going to be complicated. I want to wake up:
With beautiful women of every race, nationality and creed throughout history.
And: just my wife.
And: with my children.
And: not with my children.


Denmark, West Australia, is that really boring? ’Cos it’s my home. Well, it’s not my actual home, I come from Perth; but the next sort-of city from Perth of any size is about the distance to London from frickin’ Rome.

We happen to have a family home in Denmark, which is sort-of embedded Karri forest ocean-side, right on the bottom of West Australia. It’s beautiful, with the best beaches in the world. It’s full of hippies – Reiki healers and shit – but that's only in town. We have a Round Earth house, on ten acres of karri forest near this ridiculous, naturally protected bay with rock formations that stop the ocean coming in.

What would you have for breakfast?

Croissants and a glass of champagne. You have to start the drinking really early for it to be a good Sunday.

And, then what?

Go back to bed…

For how long?

For however long it takes to have sex with beautiful women of each nationality, race and creed throughout history. I reckon an hour?

(*Giggles*) Where would you go, with this horde of women?

Haha! We’d have a bus. No, we wouldn’t have a bus. We’d all have individual hovercrafts and I guess we’d go to the beach, but it’d be simultaneously sunny and shady so that the flies don’t come. If you could arrange that for me, that’d be good. I think it might cause some sort of terrible wormhole flux, but we should try it if we’re going to have a perfect Sunday.

I'll do my best to sort that out for you.

Thanks. My horde of women can go away now because it’s starting to sound a bit stressful. The trouble is, if you buy the Antarctic lady an ice cream, the Japanese lady would want an ice cream and then before you know it, everyone would want an ice cream.

We should dump the horde of women because that’s all so superficial. Maybe I’d start feeling guilty about all the women, and inadequate. So they’d have to go away on their hovercrafts, and then maybe I could just have my wife back again. That’d be good.

And, maybe my children could come for a visit and go away again – with somebody to carry my son, who’s so fat he can’t walk. That way I don’t have to have a sore back. They could bring him to me, and I could say: ‘hello, fat son'.

What would you do?

We'd go swimming. I’d be a really good swimmer, like a dolphin. Not like Ian Thorpe, like a dolphin. It’d be good if it was effortless so that you could go underwater for an hour.

We’d have a really long lunch, a basic Italian ploughmansy salad-based lunch, but it’s the wine that matters and I don’t know if it’s Pinot Grigio, but it’d be dry and summery… Maybe Rosé? Maybe both.

I like playing sports, so we could play volleyball. All the beautiful women could come back to play volleyball, in just enough clothes that it’s scintillating but not so few that it’s pornographic.

Then what?

Then bed.

How long for?

Two hours. I think.


To sleep. None of this perverted stuff you keep encouraging. Because, after all this morning booze, and swimming and volleyball, you’d be shattered… maybe just an hour and a half, because otherwise we’re not going to have time for whatever else we’re going to do.

What do you like doing in the evenings?

I don't know, performing live comedy in front of large crowds? It is quite fun, my job, although the trouble with my job is that I actually like doing it more than anything else. But it'd mean I was stressed for the whole day beforehand, so I don't want to do a gig.

I think, having my twelve best friends for dinner on a long table, starting at five with bubbles, and then…

That’s what I like best: dinner parties.

It should be a round table. I have a great frustration with dinner parties because people are always inclined to pair off, and that shits me. I like parties where it’s all-in and there’s a conversation that everyone’s contributing to.

Although… Some of the best parties in my life have been with about twenty people, in shearing sheds. Shearing shed parties.

I've never heard of one of those. What's a shearing shed?

A shearing shed’s where you shear sheep! My granddad had a farm in Chittering, which is near the Swan Valley in West Australia. He had this shearing shed that he and my dad built with their bare hands in the sixties – huge shed.

And, when the century clocked over, we had a party. All my friends had loads of gear and we had a huge PA and strings of party lights.

You walk about fifty metres out, away from the shed, out into the night, out into the darkness and you look back. There’s glowing lights and your friends are all there dancing on bales of wool…

You can see stars. If you come from the UK, especially London, stars like you would never have seen in your life. It’s ridiculous.


Yeah. They’re wicked. Your friends need to be close friends and you need to be isolated from urban areas. You need to put yourself out in space, because you want to get in that sort-of reflective, semi-morose at the passing of time, semi-elated by the passing of time, mood.

And I’m not a drug-taker myself, so, just a couple of beers and cool music that’s iconic.

What's your favourite band?

My favourite band? Well it’s complicated because I don’t listen to music, ever. I probably listen to ten hours of music in a year. I don't know why. That’s probably just a weird thing about people like me who spend eight hours a day writing music.

What kind of music would you have, then?

You need a gay DJ, otherwise it’s not going to work. I’ve just written a song called "If the Pope owned a disco", and it’s about how if the Pope owned a disco, no-one’d come to the Pope’s disco ’cos there wouldn’t be any gays to start the dancing. I don’t even know if that’s offensive, I can’t tell any more, I’ve stopped worrying. If I start offending the wrong people, please let me know. I think I’m offending the baddies. Am I?

Um, I think so?

Good. If I start offending the wrong people, let me know.

I'll give you a bell.

Haha yeah drop me a text: 'Tim… Tim… You’ve lost your way. Why that orphan song?'

I have got a song called In Defence of the Fence, it’s an anthem for ambivalence. It’s a little bit about outrage at the cat bin lady, and Russell Brand, and people dividing the world into black and white instead of having a considered viewpoint. I go pretty hard at Che Guevara and the Dalai Lama.

Where do you see yourself at this party? Do you like to be the centre of attention?

Nobody’s going to say yes to that question, because you sound like a fuck-head. I’m perfectly happy holding court if I’m in a funny mood, but I’m not often in a funny mood. I’d rather be listening to other people and laughing. I get plenty of attention at the moment if I’m honest.

Anything else?

I really believe in lighting. You should light every moment of your life, with discretion.

So yeah there would be cool lighting and, err, what else? Booze…

And, a bit of nude soccer. It’s good getting drunk and playing nude soccer in the night under a floodlight – not a very good floodlight.

I spent a lot of time getting nude in my youth. That’s something that doesn’t really happen so much in the UK. We had another party, in a different country setting on a different New Year’s, where we all ended up nude on a rock. It was like a scene from Hair, but slightly less twee… no it was about as twee. About the same twee.

Where was the rock?

Ha! The rock was in York, another Western Australian town named after a European place.

You could get fans going on pilgrimages.

To my parents? To the rock? See, I’m going to start sounding like landed gentry. My parents have a house in York, on a rock. It’s made of corrugated iron and glass. It's just like a shed, on a rock, but it’s fuckin' wicked. More stars. It’s about stars.

Coming from country Australia, having experiences in your youth of desert stars. You get pretty attached to that, as the source of a sense of self.

Is there anywhere you’d recommend?

For scouting for stars?


Everyone should drive across the Nullarbor Plain. You drive across the desert in Australia, from Perth to Adelaide, and stop on the Great Australian. Pull off the highway on the Nullarbor Plain, into a car park. It's just a car park, but there’s a sheer drop of a hundred metres or so into the southern ocean.

There’s no lights or electricity or anyone there. It feels a bit
murdery, which I don’t think happens as often as [indistinct] has you believe, but it’s pretty wicked.

You spend the night there, and get up when the sun comes up. It’d take two days to get there so we’d have to have more magic transport.

Would you end the day there?

I think a day, ending with friends, sitting outside under the stars with wine is good. It’s not quite as stupid or interesting as waking up with a menagerie of beautiful women but if we’re going to start sexist we might as well end sentimental eh.

Where would you go to bed?

If we could just be magically transported back to my London house because I just moved house four days ago and now I’m in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I really want to be back in my bed in my new house, so…

That’s boring. I’d like to go to bed in… I like… It’d be quite good to go to bed under a mosquito net in aforementioned outdoor setting. Have you ever slept on a beach?

No, I'd really like to.

Maybe we should go down to the beach and go to sleep there, but you’ve got to get it right. It’s a romantic idea but it’s just shit and sandy, so you’d want a sort of raised platform. Logistics always get in the way.

There’s a place called Woody Island off the south coast of Australia that the seals go to. They have quite a lot of eco, semi-camping experiences you can do, and lots in the dead centre of Australia as well, where you can stay in luxury tents: permanent tents on wooden platforms with mosquito nets.

It’s pretty cool. If you like the idea of camping but don’t like the logistics of camping – blow your money on one of those things.

So, I don’t know! Just stick me somewhere in bed, Alex. As long as I can wake up magically with no hangover and do it all again.

(*Nervous laugh*)

Did I pass?

Well, I thought that was brilliant.

Good. I hope you have fun writing that up.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Internship notes: Pam Ferris interview

I have just finished a three month internship at the Sunday Telegraph's Seven magazine, and am uploading my interviews here.

First up, Pam Ferris…

She stormed into my childhood as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, and I recall the mixture of glee and horror with which I watched her sniff out children and devour chocolates in their wrappers. A character actress, she told me she had been acting since she was fourteen when she was simply 'driven' to do it.

Pam was stonkingly direct. On answering the phone I'd suppressed a panic, because I hadn't been told to expect the call that day, but she seemed unruffled and waited while I flapped around for a dictaphone.

The 'loves and hates' interviews are often frivolous but Pam's was quite political. One hate that didn't make the final edit was 'organised religion'. She came across as a woman of conviction - her love for carers was founded in empathy, and struck a chord. What couldn't be conveyed on paper is how warm the timbre of her voice is, and how often she laughs.