Thursday, May 03, 2012

Invisible banjo? A likely story!

A bunch of my journo friends regularly amuse themselves towards the end of the week by sharing their pick of the most improbable headlines they've seen recently.

One of the most memorable they've ever turned up came from the UK's Daily Mirror a couple of months ago - I was just strumming a pretend banjo.

A middle-aged man on a morning commuter train had been accused of 'public indecency' after a female fellow passenger complained that he appeared to be masturbating under a newspaper that he'd placed across his lap.

His defence was that he had been playing air banjo... under the newspaper. And, well, yes, he might have scratched his balls a bit as well, but chaps do that, it's perfectly normal. And his laboured breathing was caused by a chest infection.

Apparently, evidence was produced to show that the man was indeed a banjo player, and thus might have been practising his musicianship without his, er, instrument. At the climax (ahem) of his defence, he performed an elaborate mime of the suspect conduct, which produced widespread sniggers in court, but was sufficient to persuade a majority of the jurors of his possible innocence.

This is one of the reasons why I never fancied practising criminal law. I couldn't motivate myself to go to such extraordinary lengths in concocting a defence. Or, if I had been able to come up with something like this, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to carry it off with a straight face.

As a sometime lawyer, the most intriguing aspect of this story for me is the judge's summing up. As reported, it would seem that the judge in effect offered supplementary evidence of his own (on the prevalence and naturalness of men "rearranging themselves") and virtually instructed the jury to acquit. This is very, very naughty. It's the most outrageously prejudicial summing up I've heard... since this one.


John said...

Your education and career history never fail to impress and at the same time completely baffle me Froog. There are those that would kill for some of your achievements but you've instead chosen to pass them all up preferring to remain a free spirit (in the sense of not being tied down). I have to admit to feeling a little jealous of such a position as yours but I can't be the only one flabbergasted that you've given up such large salaries that are typically offered for such positions that make up your employment history. I guess what I'm most envious of is that you have the ability, for want of a better word, to do so!

Froog said...

Well, my abandonment of the law wasn't exactly a free choice. More a case of it abandoning me!

Notions of how much lawyers make are much exaggerated. A few of the most successful ones can indeed become obscenely rich, but the majority, I would think, are only moderately well off, and a fair few struggle to make a decent living out of it at all.

The problem with being a barrister, you see, is that - unless you take an in-house job as counsel for some big corporation - there is no 'salary'. You are a self-employed independent practitioner, a one-man business. Your overheads are considerable (a huge amount of travelling, and all those silly clothes), the time-lag in actually getting paid can be pretty long (around six months on average, I'm told; but sometimes a year or two), and a surprisingly large number of clients never get around to paying in full at all. So, a nominal income of £100k a year is perhaps worth only about half of that in actual earnings/profit, and you may have to wait a very long time to receive it - and then there's tax.

Basically, you need at least a modest amount of private wealth and/or a bottomless overdraft to establish yourself in practice as a barrister. I had neither. The bank pulled the plug on me.

John said...

OK then, what about teaching? ;)

Froog said...

My thoughts on schoolteaching

Mothman said...

I too was reminded irresistibly of 'playing upon the pink oboe' when I saw this news article about the air banjoist. I'm glad that someone else saw the parallels. Where is Peter Cook when the world needs him? In the great Jojoba plantation in the sky, that's where!

I concur heartily with your analyses of 'proper' jobs and indeed schoolteaching (which straddles the cusp of respectability for those, like us, of a Paul Pennyfeather-esque persuasion), young Froog. The problem with 'proper' jobs is that they invariably involve a degree of supporting the notion of the Emperor's New Clothes that I find risible, depressing and regressive. Strange how so many of those 'professions' that enable one to sign passport applications appear to be riddled with perverts, kleptomaniacs, amoralists, narcissists and general See You Next Tuesdays who would sell their grandmothers for dog meat if it made a fast buck. It's utterly bizarre that this nexus of highly-paid 'professionals' has - despite its immense learning, dedication and elitist ladder-pulling - managed to eff up the world quite so comprehensively. Froog may, like me, be less well financially-endowed as a result of his rugged independence in the face of an Oxbridge degree (among other accolades), but as far as I am aware he has never screwed anyone... When the Great Maker calls the roll it's not whether you won or lost but How You Played The Game that counts.