Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Literary Lawyers - a holiday reading treble


How coincidental to find myself with not just one fellow solicitor’s published writing for a holiday reading session, but three. All of which were well worth it.

First up, retired solicitor Richard Wrenn and “Trust Betrayed”. As the Law Society Gazette asked, “is it possible to write a highly readable novel in which the central premise is breach of the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules in 1982? Surprisingly, the answer is most certainly yes.” Just take an ambitious young law firm partner, his older colleague whose flexible financial practices are about to catch up with him in telling fashion, and the younger partner’s fiancée – coincidentally, the older partner’s daughter – and imagine the dynamics when the attempted cover up only makes the original deceit far worse and its repercussions worse still.  Never a dull moment, and the backwater setting only adds to the intrigue.

A completely different theme, however, for Geoff Steward’s “In Search of Nice Americans” – a US road trip with a musical undercurrent, enabled by a three month sabbatical from the law, and guaranteed to strike many right notes. The Nashville stretch brings back my own fond memories of the Opry, Lower Broadway and the Hermitage, alongside the author’s sadly fruitless trip to the Bluebird Café inspired by the characters of the Nashville TV drama including “that bitch Juliette Barnes” (hint: book online for the evening performances a week ahead – I managed it twice). So how many nice Americans did the search reveal? Read it and find out, and don’t miss out on a trip to Savannah just because the Forrest Gump bench is no longer in Chippewa Square – there’s a replica in the History Museum.

What about the dilemma that every solicitor in private practice may encounter at some stage in their career, namely whether to strive for partnership rather than settle for a lifetime of employee status? Well, Tom Vaughan MacAulay’s “Being Simon Haines” takes the former to extremes – the quest for that ultimate prize at the City boutique firm Fiennes & Plunkett takes the form of “The Campaign”, where the hope of the single glittering prize pitches rival candidates against each other in a remorseless grind of 24/7 client work. Quality of life? Short pause for laughter, please. Or more accurately, short pause for a long awaited break in Cuba for Simon as the partners assess his Campaign performance alongside the efforts of his rivals, despicable Angus Peterson and sensible Emma Morris. (Tom’s presumed happy personal experience of Cuba is in marked contrast to my own from 8 years ago, but that’s another story…)

So what made “Being Simon Haines” a particularly appealing read? In my own debut, “Hatred Ridicule & Contempt”, recently elevated law firm partner Alex Harris found himself with unexpected enemies – his own fellow partners – who were looking for convenient scapegoats when their law firm ran into difficulties. He had arrived at his destination. What would he, and indeed what would Simon Haines, think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous words of wisdom from Virginibus Puerisque in 1881, “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”? That is the question.

Before I forget, a resounding five stars for all three.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Marrakesh Express revisited: a song for Stop HS2

Well, fancy that. Having thought for many years that “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills & Nash was a song about indulging in Morocco’s finest (by which I do not mean tagine), I now find that Graham Nash was inspired by an actual train journey he made in 1966, southbound from Casablanca.

Fast forward by fifty years to the present day, and we find HS2 proceeding at full steam ahead in the UK. Or at least it was until Carillion collapsed yesterday. Might this be an opportunity for the political class to admit that HS2 is nothing but an unaffordable vanity project that ought to be derailed with all due alacrity? Time will tell.

Perhaps this is where Stop HS2 and any associated campaigns might find themselves in need of an inspiring song to help get the message through. With grateful acknowledgment to Crosby, Stills & Nash for the original, here’s a lyrical contribution in reverse parody style – from a joyful rail journey to a joyless rail project – that keeps as close as possible to the sound and structure of Marrakesh Express. And it works on solo acoustic guitar, if slowed down a touch and played in Nashville listening room style – at least it did for me.

Looking at England through patronising eyes
Plan to drive the train through unspoilt countryside
Ducks and pigs and chickens flee
Animal carnage plain to see
Equestrian ladies scatter, black and blue

Talking cobblers from the dark depths of our mind
Keen to get away with grand designs unkind
Hope our pack of lies ahead
Keeps you back and well misled
Listen not to what we’ve said to you

Don't you know we're riding on the HS2 Express
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Inflicting much unpleasantness
All on board the gravy train
All on board the gravy train

We’ll be squandering all your money just to take you there
We sell you garbage and despair

Plot the train from Manchester going south
Blowing smokescreens from the corners of my, my, my, my, my mouth
Noise pollution hangs in the air
Thundering locos shake the square
Country dwellers, we’ll knock down their homes (don’t want to hear you now)

Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
It’s burning money to excess
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Don’t you know we’re riding on the HS2 Express
Vanity project of distress
All on board the gravy train
All on board the gravy train