Thursday, 18 December 2014

Thought Picnic: Keyed Off

Black Maria
As it rained behind the County Court, there was a man crouched at the door of a van, probably bigger depending on what your imagination allows to be the size of a van.
At a time, this type of van was known as a Black Maria and yet there is no clear etymology of this vehicle name, rather, it is slang that has become part of common usage, but let me take you on another ride with this Black Maria story.
The Black Maria nowadays is no more painted black, but white with tinted porthole windows at the standing height of whoever occupies the back of the van. Many times as the van leaves court, photographers raise their cameras to the windows to take pictures, I do not think I have ever seen one picture that shows the occupants of the Black Maria.
Broken key
Yet the story is stranger still because the man crouched at the driver's door was trying to get into the van, probably the driver and from what I could see him do, it appeared he was trying to tease or prise the key out of the keyhole.
I could only guess that some accident had resulted in the key to the van being broken in the lock, which made me wonder why Black Maria's were not equipped with wireless key fobs like you have for cars.
Then you realise that criminals might acquire the technology to control the locks of the Black Maria and in the process the State might lose the control they have over those they have decided to confine for the purposes of justice.
Locked in or locked out
Being locked out of your van gives you the freedom to walk away, then what if someone were locked in the back of the van and the keys happened to be broken in the lock, spare keys will be useless until a locksmith is asked to come and help out.
It might well be that those who were brought to court with the Black Maria will be going home if acquitted for using other means of transport to return to the comforts at Her Majesty's pleasure.
That is the dread of a key broken in the lock, with the keys you can keep people in prison and with the keys broken in the lock, perchance, you have kept people out of prison.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Rubbing the lamp of inspiration - Pain‏

The lamp
I sat before a computer and decided this was a time to rub the Aladdin’s lamp of writing and have the genie of the lamp rise to grant me a wish of inspiration.
I rubbed and scrubbed until the gleam gave way to the bland metal that had been electroplated with the promise of something more valuable and no genie came.
Then I thought the lamp had been given had no particular mystery to its existence apart from what the purpose of the lamp is, to light up my path so I could see the way and when in a dark room to light it up lest I dash my precious shins against sharp table edges that would leave me groaning in pain.
The knowledge of pain
Pain is something I know, or rather, something I once knew, it lived in my body and took a whole apartment in my mind. Its demands for my attention were extraneous and beyond what I could naturally handle that I needed analgesics and opium-based medication to give me comfort.
Yet, there are times when in my lonely corner, I have cried at the pain inflicted because of my ignorance or stupidity, I wept a little, sniffled a little and calmly bore my cross, the pain with its sudden appearance will with time wane away and my comfort will return with the increase of knowledge of a lesson learnt.
Wishing and hoping
So there, there is no Aladdin’s lamp with a genie of inspiration to guide you when you are compelled to write. Maybe however, if we allow our imagination to be excited that one little bit, there is indeed a genie and though I had a wish to write, what was granted as my wish was dark and scary.
When next I rub that lamp, I hope my wish to write is granted and whatever I write is something to make you smile, but I will have this thought at the back of my mind, be careful what you wish for.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

South Africa: How to Get Away With Murder - Violence Against Women continues

Never forget the issue – It is Violence Against Women [UN]
Reeva Steenkamp and Anni Dewani - names of women, real people who by reason of the cases brought against their partners have been relegated to the background.
The perception is that, based on the case pursued by the prosecution against Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani, these men have apparently walked off lightly from their involvement in the deaths of girlfriend and wife.
Reeva was the unfortunate victim of a killing, whether it was murder or homicide is up for discussion, Anni was the victim of a car-jacking murder in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme procured on her honeymoon by her husband. The fact is, two women are dead.
Not a crime until there is a victim
That Oscar was an irresponsible gun-nut prone to fits of rage was not in dispute and eventually we heard that Shrien was a closet hard-core homosexual who engaged in kinky sexual activity. None of this is by any means criminal, we have the right to pursue hobbies and fantasies to the limit as long as no one else comes to harm in the pursuit of such activities.
Where one this departs from the ordinary is when a man for whatever reason is terrified into thinking there is an intruder in his home and he fires 4 shots into an enclosed place unaware of who might be in there. In a cartoon, whoever might have been in the enclosed place will walk out as if the shots were just a shower of confetti, in real life, the consequence is grave, the person died, having been hit by three shots.
Where the prosecution failed
It was left to the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this act was intentional, failing that, at least prove irresponsibility, it failed and so Oscar Pistorius literally got a slap on the wrist for gun-toting wrist action that led to the death of an innocent woman who had the misfortune of being his girlfriend.
One cannot fault the case law from the perspective of the judge, it had on the balance of probabilities with a wily lawyer gotten the man off the hook for a more serious crime. However, the state has won the right to appeal the sentencing, we just have to watch this space for the new exegesis of the Latin descriptions of criminally causing the death of another.
A soap opera like a thriller
With hindsight, having learnt of the secret life of Shrien Dewani in England, Anni Hindocha of Sweden should never have been in any kind of matrimony with her husband.
One can assume that both were caught in the strictures of being third-culture kids; parents and relations from the Indian subcontinent, they being products of English and Swedish societies having to respect traditions.
It is probably why Shrien was in the closet living a double life of lascivious homosexual and eligible bachelor, a combustible mix of circumstances with Anni as the unfortunate collateral damage.
Where the prosecution failed again
According to the prosecution, having procured a false matrimony, the pull of the other life presented Shrien with situation that having fulfilled the cultural requirements demanded of him in the marriage ceremony now could terminate a union that should not proceed beyond the honeymoon.
Anni and Shrien made from South Africa for their honeymoon and there she was killed by people her husband presumably had interesting contacts with before the carjacking. Those people were prosecuted and jailed as Shrien returned to the UK and progressively played a grieving husband, a nervous wreck, an accused, a challenger to an extradition that lasted three years, an extradition to South Africa to face justice and now a free man.
Until proven broke, it seems
We are none the wiser about how the stories the other murder told against Shrien might have come about, the prosecution again having failed to raise its argument above the bar necessary to make Shrien face the charge of murder or at least the conspiracy to commit murder.
There are two immutable facts, the women are dead and the case law to test the allegations against boyfriend and husband who were lawyered up to well that it gives life to that thing that Alan Dershowitz once said on television. "Everyone is innocent until proven broke."
Can these failings continue?
More disturbingly is whether the prosecution has the nous, skill, empathy and conviction to make a convincing case against well-heeled men who purportedly have been involved in the deaths of their partners.
One cannot really put a finger on where it has gone completely awry, but 2014 cannot be said to have advanced the movement to stop Violence Against Women with these two high-profile cases in South Africa.
Though the prosecution will have a second bite of the cherry in revisiting the judgement against Oscar Pistorius, I do not think anyone is holding their breath about a radically different outcome.
In the case of Shrien Dewani, it is unlikely anyone would step forward with a hand in marriage lest they meet a similar fate, but having being conveniently outed, he might well get on with openly being a homosexual until some twist of fate allows for Anni Dewani to get some form of justice and her family some form of closure.
In both cases, I am saddened, Violence Against Women remains an everyday reality and it is unlikely victims of such violence will get a fair shake of the law in their favour.
C'est la vie.
Further Reading

A hospital run in the running

Here and there
The tale of the bloods that provided much excitement when I was a Netherlands resident hardly offers any such fun in the UK.
As I have noted before, the clinics are so hospital-like as to be almost in a hospital and dangerously inimical to health. But for the presence of my friend, the event would have been all the more depressing. I am so thankful for his warm company.
Rush crush
So, a month ago, having booked a day return to London, I overslept that I was in danger of missing the train I was supposed to travel on. The ticket stipulates such strict conditions and offers no refunds.
Half-running and half-halting, I made it to the station concourse and the platform appeared to be empty as I panted in agony and crestfallen pallor asking the conductor what had happened to the train.
Thankfully, it was running quite late and as she heard I was going for a hospital appointment, she cleared the way for me to get a seat on the concourse and said she will let me know when the train arrived.
Fecund refund
10 minutes behind schedule, the train arrived, passengers disembarked and then we got on, leaving 15 minutes later than planned and because of problems on the track, when we got to Nuneaton, the nuisance of Nuneaton would have crawled faster than the train and I was getting worried that the 90 minute cushion I had planned for my journey from London Euston to the hospital will leave me with little time to make it.
We arrived some 40 later than the usual journey duration and I had forewarned my friend to bring in his Oyster card because in my rush to leave home, I had forgotten mine.
Being over 30 minutes late, triggered a 50% refund of my outward ticket.
Clinic times
As I got to the clinic, I asked for the bloods to be taken for tests, then my blood pressure and finally, I was weighed, the numbers always lead to the covering of eyes, I am not succeeding in losing weight as fast as I will like to.
The consultation was brief, not many options to consider but a possible referral to another consultant. I left with 4 months’ supply of pills and we went into town.
We discovered there is now a third Vapiano restaurant in London, in Soho and went for a late lunch, a quick trip to Fortnum and Mason's to stock up on tea and then I wended my way back home.
And again
Once again, the train journey was over 30 minutes longer than scheduled, this triggered another 50% refund on the cost of the return ticket.
Applying for my refunds was easy on the Virgin Trains website and within a week I received vouchers covering the refunds.
Now that I reside in the UK, I am getting fed up of comparing the quality of healthcare between the Netherlands and the UK, but it is beyond doubt that there is room for great improvement on the UK side of things.
Communication, interaction and ease are essential to one's well-being, the absence of such comforts of concern, compassion and understanding at times makes the whole hospital an excursion of trepidation rather than hope. Yet, where I can, I tried to find the hope that helps me feel better.

Monday, 8 December 2014

11 Years of Blogging - The purist is dead, long live the pedant

How it started
I was in a hotel in Berlin on the 8th of December 2003, when I wrote my first blog and it was an introduction written in a style that was probably difficult to read.
Going back to pore over that blog today, I think I have stuck to one principle in the 11 years of blogging and it is caught in this excerpt.
I sometimes have to clarify what I mean when I write but there are two ways to it. One is the need to communicate, that is important, because you have to take cognisance of your audience; the other is the need to express the richness of the language.
When I have had to choose between cognisance and richness, I have gravitated towards the latter and I am not ashamed about it.
Keeping the standards up
On the train yesterday, as I was returning home, I was appalling to hear a mother use the word “chillaxing” which is a portmanteau of chill and relaxing. There was a time when chill mean to cool something down or it gave the impression of coolness and relax simply meant, to rest. Now the urban usage that I will not subscribe to or give credence to is unacceptable.
A parent should endeavour to impart the best they can in knowledge and expression when they have wards in their care, and as I opined in a tweet that I posted following that conversation I said, “The proper use of English should be a sign of good education worthy of impartation rather the fear of irrelevance.”
In another tweet as Twitter appears to complement my blogging and at times, it has upstaged my blogging, I said, “The purist is dead, long live the pedant.
I think I have made my point, but this is eleven years of blogging and arguably one of the activities I have consistently done for the longest period of time in my life apart from breathing.
Get on with it from today
I have chided myself over many things, I should have blogged more, I have only managed 2,453 blogs in all that time, I should have visited the gym more, I do not have that dream six-pack yet, I should have complete this or finished that and then after beating myself up for a while I return to the present and just do what I can do now.
Blogging has been the opportunity to tell stories, share thoughts, project opinion, speak my mind, crude and cathartic therapy and much else. I’ve made friends, met people, found help, railed, ranted, praised, excoriated, put down and elevated using my blog.
Time for stories
Many life stories have come into my blog, too many to reference in this piece apart from the opportunity to give thanks to all and everyone who has taken time to read, to comment, to share, to dispute, to recognise and to debunk things written here – you have all become friends after a fashion and I have been honoured to be accepted in your company.
Eleven years of blogging! I hope there is another eleven years to write more of the stories and maybe encourage others to tell their own stories too, in their own voices, on their own blogs, enriching all with the wonder of life and experience.
Thank you.