The barbarians are well within the gates

These photographs show the sadly now closed Burley Library on Cardigan Road in Leeds.

Strangely enough, the disused building sits cheek by jowl with some very swanky new student accommodation and is situated within an area that has been term-time home to students from Leeds and Leeds Beckett Universities for years. Admittedly it’s some time ago now, but when I was a student we spent rather a lot of our time in libraries. Looks like things have moved on now, though. After all, Leeds has always liked to think its at the cutting edge of social change. I can remember when it proudly proclaimed itself ‘Motorway City of the 70s’ – and if you want to see how well that turned out, try circumnavigating the Inner Ring Road around 9.00am or 5.30pm. Perhaps the city worthies should have kept the libraries and found enough money for a tram system. You know, like they have in Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham.

Superior retail confectioner

I was put rather firmly in my place recently while buying a couple of cinnamon buns at a well-known mass outlet bakery operation that begins with a G. On entering, I noticed cinnamon buns placed in the display incorrectly identified on the card as Belgian buns.

In a moment of madness, as I now realise, the words ‘two Belgian buns, please’ tripped off my tongue, to which the shop assistant replied ‘we haven’t got any today’. Undeterred, I walked to the cinnamon/Belgian buns and pointed, at the same time asking for ‘two of those’. Sensing the need to educate, the assistant looked quizzically at me and then enunciated slowly and deliberately ‘those are cinnamon buns’ – with added emphasis on the last two words.

Suitably chastened, I paid and left the shop with the cinnamon buns in a paper bag. But then I remembered a similar incident many years ago in a Birmingham confectioners. I was attracted to a rectangular cake with cherries and a dusting of icing sugar, my request for ‘one of those, please’ was met with the decidedly superior reply ‘that, is a paradise slice‘.

Are confectioners trained in the overarching need to teach customers the correct name for each and every one of their products?

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, by Philippe Sands

This is a great book and a worthy winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford non-fiction prize, in which Philippe Sands traces the development of the international law terms ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’. But this is no dry legal treatise, largely due to his extensive research and highly engaging writing style, Philippe Sands shows how the lives of Hersch Lauterpacht, Rafael Lemkin and his maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz came to be intertwined in the now Ukrainian city of Lviv. While Lauterpacht and Lemkin studied there – with Lauterpacht going on to an academic career in Law at Cambridge, where he developed the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ in an attempt to protect the rights of individuals, Lemkin’s work was focused on the protection afforded to identifiable groups and races by calling for recognition of the crime of genocide. On the other hand, Leon Buchholz lived through the full horror of the Nazi invasion before escaping to Paris, where he was eventually joined by his infant daughter and later his wife. The crimes defined by Lauterpacht and Lemkin featured in the indictments used at the Nuremberg trials, where Lauterpacht’s ‘crimes against humanity’ gained wider support than Lemkin’s ‘genocide’. Although arguable that this has been reversed in the prosecution of post-WWII war crimes, Sands’ narrative has an edge-of-the-seat quality as legal argument and the preferring of charges show how the four prosecution authorities built their cases against the defendants. Hersch Lauterpacht looms large in the development of international law, but at Nuremberg his powerful intellect and professionalism are brought face-to-face with the accused – at a time when he did not yet know the fate of so many of his own family members. The last five years of his life were spent as the British judge to the International Court of Justice in the Hague; an appointment that was criticised by some in politics and the media on the dubious – and frankly worrying ground – that he was not ‘sufficiently British’. Sands’ work is a triumph of research and great writing, as a work of legal history it also stands as a salutary warning for today, perhaps best encapsulated in George Santayana’s telling observation that: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9780385350716 (print) ISBN 9780385350723 (e-book)

Royal prerogative – a lesson from the swinging 60s

Back in 1964 the BBC ended up in the Court of Appeal over a spat with the Inland Revenue, in which Auntie decided that it qualified to be treated in pretty much the same way as the rest of the establishment by using the Royal Prerogative (RP) to trump a tax claim. Now, the RP has a bit of a chequered history, mainly due to the activities of one Charles Stewart, or Charles I if you prefer (the only monarch to end their reign approx 10 inches shorter than at the start). The Beebs legal argument came to naught, largely thanks to the memorably pithy putdown from Lord Diplock, who said: it was “350 years and a civil war too late” to allow for a broadening of the RP. Strangely enough, the Daily Heil didn’t come out against the noble Lord as an “enemy of the people” on that occasion (probably because he was putting the Beeb in its place?). But today we’re faced with Paul Dacre and his band of scribblers busily casting themselves as the enemies of the Rule of Law, which is a far more dangerous place to be – and one that not even Art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Oh, irony of ironies: how wonderful if he ends up having to hide behind that to defend himself!) will stretch far enough to cover his twisting of fact and inflated, yet baseless, opinions.

Now let us praise the President-Elect…

As politicians – mainly on the right (or very-far-right) – line up to congratulate JD Trump, here’s a reminder from Auden where adulation for the abhorrent ends.

WH Auden Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after, And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

The prophetic voice from January 1939.

Royal Prerogative is a funny way of delivering democracy, isn’t it Mrs May?

Welcome news that the government can’t trigger Art 50 behind closed doors by claiming to use the pre-civil war powers of the sovereign. Back at my law school, we learned about the power of the courts in preventing the widening of prerogative powers, in the telling phrase of Lord Diplock in BBC v Johns that it is

350 years and a civil war too late for the Queen’s courts to broaden the royal prerogative

. A short, sharp reminder of the limits of the profoundly undemocratic power that the executive craves, but which judges can reign in as a defence against the untrammelled exercise of political power. The deluded Brexiters who rejoice that we’ve ‘taken back’ the country, now need to learn another lesson – that Parliament is the supreme law-maker and has the right to control the work of government ministers, particularly when they think it better to do shabby deals in closed rooms that will have a profound effect on our lives and the economy for years to come. An appeal would be most unwise, and a waste of public money.

55 – an age of wondrous new invitations…

Reaching 55 has led to an array of interesting offers and invitations: from hearing aid tests to pension drawdowns (Mr Osborne’s special gift to the middle-aged); not to mention Michael Parkinson and his free pen and ‘no questions’ life insurance policy. But of far more pressing need today is the invitation to attend my local NHS hospital for bowel scope screening.

Now, don’t get me wrong, colo-rectal cancer is a serious disease that affects a higher proportion of those 55 and older, but one particular aspect of it, as announced in the invitation, caused me to have a brief smile at a long-ago Viz cartoon strip.

The invitation, loving crafted on a standard NHS letterheading, came with a leaflet that explained the procedure before going on to tell me that I could watch the procedure on a monitor, if I so desired. And this is where Roger Mellie raised his head. In the late 80s cartoon, he was pitching an idea for a new TV programme – one that now seems oddly prescient. It was called <i>Up the Celebrity Arsehole</i>. Although he’s since reprised the concept for the X-Factor judges, in the original, Mellie’s idea is at first rejected as his producer tells him no celebrity would agree to be placed behind a curtain and given a stage-based colonoscopy that members of the public are then shown with the winner being first to guess the celeb’s identity. Mellie persists, however, and the final frame shows a man crouched on a table while Mellie urges ‘Mr Slattery’ to bend over further so they can get the camera in (reference to the ubiquitous TV personality Tony Slattery, although now TOWIE would probably provide a whole host of far keener ‘celebs’ willing to bend and pose.

So, this afternoon, I’m going to struggle to keep a straight face when asked if I want to see my ‘performance’ on screen: the revolution might not be televised, but the endoscopy very well might be – over to you Roger.

Tricky treats

Visited my local Specsavers branch this morning to collect my new specs. I was served by a dispensing optician dressed as a witch while her boss was swanning around in full Dracula-mode. Why has the daftness of trick or treat now started to infect the grown-ups at work?

Time in the Lakes

Got back last night from a couple of days in the Lakes. We stayed in Windermere, which I never used to like very much, mainly because of the traffic, but the hotel was clean and bright, with friendly staff.
Managed a couple of walks; on the first day the Coffin trail from Ambleside to Grasmere (where we had the obligatory afternoon tea – or coffee in my case).

Then yesterday, we took an Ullswater Steamer from Pooley Bridge to Howtown and walked back on the low level, mainly lake shore path.
From Pooley Bridge we went over to Penrith, not a town we’d visited before. A new shopping complex, the New Squares, was largely devoid of life, but home to a fair number of estate agents’ signs. For a town with a fair few rather imposing squares already, the new addition seemed rather bland – cream walls in place of the traditional stone; still, with a large Sainsbury as the obvious ‘anchor tenant’ the local worthies obviously expect great things of the development.
After the events of the past few weeks, the break was much needed and allowed me to recharge my batteries, and I also received an email from a prospective new client, which perked me up still further. Still, it’s a shame so much has been ‘monetised’ – 20p for a slash, with railway-style entry barriers standing sentinel at the entry to all public loos, and parking at £8.00 for anything over 4 hours, means spending time in the Lakes equates with spending a lot of money doing things that used to be free.