Monday, 30 March 2009

Sex and the City lawyer

A FORMER City lawyer has launched a claim in the High Court that could set a very interesting precedent for all of us.
Patrick Raggett is suing the governors of his old school, and the Jesuit society which ran it, for £5million.
He claims his career was wrecked by sexual abuse at the hands of one priest during his time at Preston Catholic College in Lancashire.
The supposedly offending priest is now deceased, which gets one or other of them off the hook.
Mr Raggett says that after leaving school in 1976 he started to gamble, got into debt and underperformed at university. He had difficulty in forming relationships, drank excessively and took drugs.
All this I am prepared to believe. I know a lot of people you could say all that about. Some of it (the bit about "underperforming" anyway) you could say about me.
So who should we all sue?
Our old schools for failing to prepare us adequately to excel in later life?
Our parents ditto?
That old bloke who used to look at us funny when we got on the school bus?
What about the games teacher whose shortsightedness kept him from picking me for the school football team? He is obviously to blame for my failure to embark upon a playing career that might have led… well, anywhere.
A few starring games at left-back at the age of 14 and who knows – maybe, like Neil Warnock, I’d "still" be a Premier League manager now.
Perhaps I could also sue all those potential employers who unaccountably failed to see what a brilliant job I'd have done for them.
Then there's the question of how much we set our claim at. Why stop at a paltry £5m?
In my case, obviously, if I'd lived up to childhood promise and fulfilled my writing ambition, I'd be out-earning JK Rowling by now.
Of course, I doubt my old school (any or even all of them) could afford that much. But perhaps it's worth a try.
Now, all right, maybe I am getting silly now. But not as silly, it seems to me, as Mr Raggett. After all, I'm only indulging my fantasies in print – while he seems to think the world really does owe him a living. And a pretty decent one too.
I'm not denying that he may have been interfered with at school. I wouldn't know, would I?
And I'm certainly not saying it's OK for priests, teachers or anyone to do to children the sorts of things Mr Raggett apparently claims were done to him.
It's up to the High Court, with presumably a lot more evidence than I'll ever see, to decide what, if anything, that might have been.
But if he really wants to lay blame for all his own personal inadequacies at the door of one (conveniently dead) priest, he'll have to be pretty convincing. And there is one huge problem there.
He says himself he only realised he had been sexually abused three decades later "during a Sunday lunch with friends". Some Sunday lunch that must have been.
One does wonder what exactly his friends might have been telling him.
His whole claim is based on memories that have recently "surfaced". And you don't have to be an expert on Freud or psychoanalysis to know how dodgy "recovered memories" can be.
I once had a friend who blamed the breakdown of her already very bizarre marriage on having been abused by her father when she very young.
Yet she knew nothing of this supposed abuse until the memory was "recovered" with the help of a psychiatrist.
"Recovered" or "created", that is the question. A question neither I, the psychiatrist – nor my friend – will ever truly know the answer to, if we are honest.
In the meantime, has she been helped to "recover"? Or has her elderly dad been scurrilously smeared and her relationship with him ruined for the sake of a fashionable fiction?
As for Mr Raggett, is his recovered memory worth £5m – or should he, rather, be paying the school for enabling him to become a City lawyer at all?
He told the court: "My employment record is so far away from what it should have been. To know what one could have been and not be anything remotely approaching that is very painful."
I know the truth of that second sentence very well myself. I'm sure of lot of people reading this will have nodded at it too.
So should we all find someone to sue? Or should we learn to accept the blatant truth that life ain't fair? Count the blessings we do have.
And maybe, just maybe, take some responsibility ourselves for our own lives instead of playing victim and looking for someone to blame.

  • For legal reasons, this post did not appear as my column in the Ipswich Evening Star.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

A platform for the ravings of a faith-betraying saddo

I HAPPENED to pick up a copy of the Evening Standard on the train home from London the other night and was appalled. As of course I was meant to be.
The Standard is one of those papers (you can no doubt think of others) whose readers clearly like nothing better than to shake their heads and tut-tut a lot. If the editors themselves aren’t hooked on raised blood-pressure, then they know at least that’s what keeps their readers happy.
For such papers there’s nothing better these days to rouse the blood than a good Muslim. Or rather, a bad Muslim.
Someone, for example, like Anjem Choudary. Or Andy, as he apparently used to be known in his allegedly wild-living student days.
A couple of quotes should be enough to give you an idea of Choudary’s world-view.
He wants "to fly the flag of Allah above 10 Downing Street" and bring about "a pure Islamic state with Sharia law in Britain".
This would mean "every woman, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, would have to wear a traditional burkha and cover everything apart from her face and hands in public".
Oh, and "people who commit adultery would be stoned to death."
I’m appalled of course by Choudary’s barking-mad views, but also by the fact that a self-styled "quality newspaper" should choose to trumpet them as its main story.
If I spent enough time in the pubs of Ipswich, or maybe hung around the Cornhill, I could find people with a wide range of weird, maybe offensive opinions.
It wouldn’t take me long, I’m sure, to find someone to spout vile gibberish about some or all of the following: black people, white people, old people, young people, gay people, straight people, working people, non-working people, rich people, poor people, foreigners of any kind you can think of, atheists, Christians, Jews – and, yes, Muslims.
I could find all manner of mad viewpoints (and not just in Ipswich, of course – any town would do). I could get quotes reflecting all kinds of idiocy.
But I wouldn’t expect the Evening Star – or the Evening Standard – to put them on the front page.
By picking on one particular nutter and giving his ravings the big treatment, the Standard (and lots of other papers too) have given him exactly what he wanted. A big platform to rave from.
At the same time, it implies that his nasty, twisted outlook is shared by most British Muslims. Which it isn’t.
Now I’m not a Muslim, and neither are any of my close friends, so I can’t pretend to know exactly how they do all think and feel. But I can be pretty sure that like the rest of us, what most want most is a peaceful and secure life.
The one Muslim I’ve spoken to about it told me: "People like Anjem Choudary and the Luton protesters aren’t even proper Muslims. They betray the faith and they betray all of us by making our lives more difficult."
And this I do know: Choudary got his 15 minutes of fame by inviting many thousands of Muslims to join a "protest" at Luton Airport. A grand total of 20 individuals turned up. Presumably those who like a bit of a rumble.
Whatever he might like to think, and however some of the press may brand him, Choudary isn’t a leader. He’s a pathetic, mean-minded saddo – and should be treated as such.

AN EVENING Star reader branded me last week in the Letters page as a "bleeding heart left wing liberal". Some of which may be true, but the clearly insulting intention is strange because I agree with much of the letter.
I certainly couldn’t argue with the headline: "We don’t need religious nonsense." And I agree with the implication that all religion is to some extent nonsense.
The Bible, Koran etc are indeed "made up of myths" and "legends" – though I think I’d draw the line at "lies". Let’s say "stories" and accept that it’s not the writers’ fault if some deluded readers choose to take fiction literally.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Unnatural selection hurts our oldest and best friend

THROUGH the course of my adult life, some of my best friends have been dogs.
I have known years when my best company, my best support, came from dogs.
I wasn’t brought up to this. My parents were never “doggy people”. But the comfort with which I took to canine company suggests what I think many people with dogs know in their bones.
That it’s not only dogs whose breeding has been affected by centuries of living with people. It’s ours too. We have literally evolved together.
The history of our two species, human and dog, has been so intertwined for so many generations that it is a genuine symbiosis. We surely started out, several millennia ago, hunting together to our mutual advantage. Then came mutual warmth, mutual protection. Our two species long ago became literal best friends.
Of course, we like the cats we brought in to keep down the rats and mice. And they like the reliable sources of food and warmth we provide.
But the relationship is much shallower, probably much more recent, than is the case with dogs. Cats are our temporary guests, dogs our partner species.
Some people no doubt sentimentalise and exaggerate the extent of understanding and emotional involvement between people and dogs. But people who live without dogs generally under-estimate these things too.
Anyone who says – as some serious people do – that we are the only species capable of empathy has surely never lived with a dog.
As for those scientific researchers who recently announced their “discovery” that dogs experience emotions such as jealousy… For them I have just three words. The first is “no” and the third is “Sherlock”.
So yes, I love my dog. That’s “my” dog as in “my” friend, “my” family. I’m claiming a relationship of care, not of ownership.
You might have noticed I described myself as my dogs’ “guardian”, not their “owner”.
It may be a subtle difference, but it’s a nice distinction of attitude – one I’ve picked up from Peta.
I don’t subscribe to all the views or campaigns promoted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
For example, I’m not a vegetarian (not any more) and I don’t (totally) abhor zoos.
I think it’s better to accept the vital aspects of keeping animals for food or other purposes and concentrate on doing it ethically. Which means caring for the well-being of all animals, including us.
But I share much of Peta’s basic outlook. And I’m with them much of the way in their condemnation of the Kennel Club and its flagship show, Crufts.
I’ve been to the odd dog show, and enjoyed them – as I did TV coverage of Crufts before the BBC rightly pulled out of it. But the deformities and indignities inflicted on some dogs by wilful breeding have always appalled me.
Bulldogs that can’t give birth naturally. Pugs that can neither eat nor breathe easily. Prize-winning german shepherds whose sloping backs and weak legs would rule them out of police work. Spaniels with skulls too small for their brains. Other dogs with skins too big, ears too long, legs too short, a Pandora’s box of congenital diseases.
I wouldn’t want to accuse all dog-breeders of being uncaring – far from it. And of course breed characteristics, including to some extent aesthetic ones, come into consideration whenever anyone chooses a dog.
But humanity isn’t always a very good guardian to its best friend. The co-evolution of our species is horribly imbalanced.
Dog-breeding provides a textbook illustration of how evolution works. Trouble is, it has long since ceased to revolve around “natural” selection.
And since we started selecting for looks, rather than suitability for work, our selections have had dire effects on some dogs’ fitness for life.

Lahore attack – my portion of guilt

TERRORISM has become one of the defining characteristics of our age. Wherever you lay the blame, that fact in itself is a sign of terrorists’ success.
Their ultimate goals are various, often hard to determine, and probably often pretty vague. But one aim all terrorists have is to create public shock and fear out of all proportion to the actual threat they pose.
Their tools may include all sorts of weapons, but the most powerful, the one essential to their purpose, is publicity. The media. Press and TV.
Hundreds of people die every day in Lahore without us hearing anything about it. But an attack on an international cricket team, with a handful of deaths, is world news.
That simple fact makes Tuesday’s outrage a result for the perpetrators.
Does it make those of us who report or comment on such things in some way accessories? I have an uncomfortable, queasy feeling that it does.