Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Wish List

On se ment toujours. We are always telling ourselves lies. Such a powerful opening line. After reading Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, I wanted a quick read so I read the book   My Wish List in one sitting, the  English translation of the French novel La liste de mes envies written by GrĂ©goire Delacourt. The English translation  is by Anthea Bell.

We all have our wish lists. Some wishes will remain wishful thinking while some dreams can be achieved if we work hard and are determined  enough. There are always things we regret and wish we had not  got ourselves into some situations we are in or wish that we could have done things differently  but  would you really want to trade your life for the life of your dreams if you could  ? What if you won the lottery ?
In My Wish List, Jocelyne Guerbnette lives in Arras where she runs a fabric shop and a successful blog about knitting, embroidery and dressmaking. She is married to the same man for twenty-one years and has raised two children who are living their own lives now.  She is beginning to wonder what happened to those dreams she had when she was seventeen and whether her life could have been different.  It is a familiar theme. One chance in seventy-six million, and it happened to her. She has won the lottery. Yet the protagonist somehow has a sense of ambivalence when she finds out that she has won eighteen  million euros , 18,547,301 euros and 28 centimes to be exact .You would think that the answer is straightforward because with all those money, you could leave your mundane job, change your wardrobe, get the car and house you want, go places, dine in all the Michelin starred restaurants  and pursue whatever luxuries  that money can buy. Not Jocelyne. She tells nobody when she wins the lottery. She only tells her stroke afflicted father who lives in a present that lasts six minutes as he is suffering from dementia and every six minutes he will ask who she is and if her mom is coming to see him. The story is narrated in Jocelyne’s voice which is authentically female and the sensibility is quintessentially French.

In Jocelyne’s voice,
 ‘ Being rich means seeing all that’s ugly and having the arrogance to think you can change things. All you have to do is pay for it.’

Jocelyne makes her wish list. Her wishes are modest and she loves the life that she has had with her husband and in her hesitation,  things   spin  out of control. 

The charming fable seems to answer the perennial hypothetical question  that money changes everything yet nothing that really matters to you. It is thought provoking and melancholic. The novel had me hooked from its first line, a delightful read indeed.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Reading with Imagination

I used to be able to compartmentalize my time a little better amidst my errands and commitments. There were some bad days when I could not get my acts together but most days, between my work schedule and my domestic responsibilities, I was  able to fit in the work out, be it yoga, gym or tennis and also reading, watching movies and hanging out with friends. 

These days multi tasking seems to be a thing of the past, mind is feeling the weight of things and rising  sense of urgency makes it hard to  prioritize rationally. I must acknowledge that  with the onset of years, gone are the days when I could just pick up anything to read and plonk myself down without my reading glasses.  If I add up the time taken in  the past one year  when I  had to walk the steps to pick up my spectacles from wherever I  have left them, I could have  read a couple more books.

In this electronic age, if you think that things are getting more efficient due to computerization, in truth, it is not if you examine the overall scheme of things where the infrastructure is lacking. One thing that definitely takes up quite a bit of time in my daily life is looking for a park and spending time  on the road getting from one destination to another. 
Yesterday morning  after circling for some twenty minutes trying in vain to find a park around the court house , I  left my car  by the side of the road just across the street from the court house. I then felt terribly uneasy so I  told my opponent  that I needed to shift my car as it had been parked illegally. “ I should not chance it, ” I said to him. Instead of hurrying along, I  decided to use the washroom at the court house. On my way out, I met my client. After  a quick exchange with him, I suddenly felt the urgency. At the very moment when I was about to step onto the street, I caught a glimpse of the traffic officer who rode away from my car on his motorcycle. Too late. The  green sheet of paper  was  already tucked below the window wiper.  It was a mere delay of five  minutes all because I had been distracted. I was displeased primarily because I had not followed through my hunch. On reflection, the incident was  nonetheless a good way to jolt me  into focusing on the trial ahead and  feeling vengeful  might have  paved the way for merciless cross-examination of the witness.

While “Bring up the Bodies” is about the fall of Anne Boleyn , in telling a gripping story of terror during the Tudor age,  Hilary Mantel  focuses on portraying Thomas Cromwell as a ruthless, brutal and crafty minister. Cromwell was born a violent blacksmith’s son from Putney and he ran away from his hometown only to return 27 years later as a lawyer.  He is certainly not a sentimentalist and not a man with whom one can have inconsequential conversations. King Henry VIII  is getting disenchanted with Anne Boleyn as she has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. The King now has eyes for the demure Jane Seymour thus his loyal master secretary, Cromwell plots to bring Anne Boleyn down  after having failed in his attempts to negotiate a voluntary dissolution of the marriage between Henry and Anne. Although Cromwell is aware that not all the evidence against the Queen and those who are being tried are true, he has to protect his own position and do what is necessary to serve Henry the king. The novel also gives a ghastly account of how Cromwell seizes the opportunity to hound and kill all those privileged courtiers and aristocrats to  avenge the humiliating treatment of his beloved master, the late Cardinal Wolsey.

This is how Cromwell is described by  Mantel in her novel.
Thomas Cromwell is now about fifty years old. He has a labourer’s body, stocky, useful, running to fat. He has black hair, graying now, and because of his pale impermeable skin, which seem designed to resist rain as well as sun people sneer that his father was an Irishman, though really he was a brewer and a blacksmith at Putney, a shearsman too, a man with a finger in every pie, a scrapper and brawler, a drunk and a bully, a man often hauled before the justices for punching someone, for cheating someone. How the son of such a man has achieved his present eminence is a question all Europe asks. Some says he came up with the Boleyns, the queen’s family. Some say it was wholly through the late Cardinal Wolsley, his patron; Cromwell was in his confidence and made money for him and knew his secrets. Others say he haunts the company of sorcerers. He was out of the realm from boyhood, a hired soldier, a wood trader , a banker. No one knows where he has been and who he has met, and he is in no hurry to tell them. He never spares himself in the king’s service, he knows his worth and merits and makes sure of his reward: offices, perquisites and title deeds, manor houses and farms. He has a way of getting his way, he has a method;he will charm a man or bribe him, coax him or threaten him, he will explain to a man where his true interests lie, and he will introduce that same man to aspects of himself he didn’t know existed. Every day Master Secretary deals with grandees who, if they could, would destroy him with one vindictive swipe, as if he were a fly. Knowing this , he is distinguished by his courtesy, his calmness and his indefatigable attention to England’s business. He is not in the habit of explaining himself. He is not in the habit of discussing his successes. But whenever good fortune has called on him, he has been there, planted on the threshold, ready to fling open the door to her timid scratch on the wood.

At home in his city house at Austin Friars, his portrait broods on the wall; he is wrapped in wool and fur, his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it. Hans had pushed a table back to trap him and said, Thomas ,you mustn’t laugh; and they had proceeded on that basis, Hans humming as he worked and he staring ferociously into the middle distance. When he saw the portrait finished he had said, ‘Christ I look like a murderer; and his son, Gregory said, didn’t you know? ‘

Mantel wrote, ‘He has helped them to their new world, the world without Anne Boleyn, and now they will think they can do without Cromwell too. They have eaten his banquet and now they will want to sweep him out with the rushes and the bones. But this was his table: he runs on the top of it, among the broken meats. Let them try to pull him down. They will find him armoured, they will find him entrenched, they will find him stuck like a limper to the future. He has laws to write, measures to take, the good of the commonwealth to serve, and his king; he has titles and honours still to attain, houses to build, books to read, and who knows, perhaps children to father, and Gregory to dispose in marriage. It would be some compensation for the children lost, to have a grandchild. He imagines standing in a daze of light, holding up a small child so the dead can see it .’

 Once again history reminds us not to trust the  politicians and those at the helm. The novel has taken me much time to finish reading as Mantel’s prose needs concentration and a moment’s distraction, I have to start the page and re-read it again.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Law and Order

Two friends walking through a graveyard passed by a headstone inscribed : “ Here lies a lawyer and an honest man.” They say to each other, “ Times  are  so bad that two people have to share a plot of burial ground.”

With all the lawyer jokes being spun around, admittedly lawyers are  not one of the most beloved professionals.I still remember what my primary school English teacher said. Lawyers are liars. I was only nine years old then. Until today I wonder why he said what he said, he could not have thought that the words would rhyme and I do not think that was his intention. I do not know where he is and I  only remember that  my classmates had given him a nickname “King Kong” that sounded like his real name “Kim Kong” and I cannot recall his family name. As children, we were all very much in awe of him because he was stern. I was in standard four and once he had punished me for not knowing my tenses. Perhaps if not for him, I would not have paid attention to my grammar. I do not think it is a figment of my imagination that I have his words ingrained in my brains and despite hearing what he had said, I grew up and became a lawyer.

Like every other profession, there are always good and principled people and there are also unscrupulous and dishonest  ones. Should lawyers be judged more harsh than any other person by reason of the fact that they are lawyers ? Perhaps. By reason of  their legal training, lawyers are expected to uphold the rule of law and have a strong sense of propriety. Also lawyers are  in a fiduciary position where they are often  entrusted with the power to act on behalf of and for the benefit of their respective clients, thus they owe an utmost duty of care to their clients.  Law is a business like any other businesses. The public must understand that unless you qualify for some kind of legal aid, legal services must be adequately remunerated. All too often, clients may be willing to pay exorbitant sum to physically own some material goods, they do not want to pay for services that are intangible. Most consumers are willing to pay for  some services such as health and medical services as they want to get well and stay healthy but law is the kind of services that clients would engage only when it is  absolutely necessary.

Law and DisOrder  Confessions of a Pupil Barrister  and Law and Peace  are  written by Tim Kevan who has practised as a barrister for ten years and he first created the persona BabyBarista through a blog that was subsequently turned into the book Law and Order. BabyBarista faces competition  right from  his first day, he has to win ,by foul means or fair, the sought-after prize of a tenancy in chambers.  Law and Peace is the sequel when BabyB has made it and gained tenancy in a proper barristers’ chambers and yet  he is far from “You made it Baby B…You need never worry again.” Both novels are  fictional accounts of a pupil barrister at the English Bar. Since  his pupilage, BabyB encounters unscrupulous lawyers like his first pupil master  and  he also encounters senior lawyers with decency and integrity like the characters, OldRuin and TheBusker. The pupil barrister’s journal is hilarious and there is more than a kernel of truth in the stories.

In the epigraph of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee quoted Charles Lamb   : “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.”.
Tim Kevan  also quoted Charles Lamb:“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.”. in the epigraph of Law and DisOrder.

Being a lawyer is not an easy job. If only the general public could appreciate that lawyers were once children too. Hence they are just as human and flawed  as every one else on this planet. We also meet shifty characters, various kinds of individuals, financial institutions and corporations which definitely only have their own interest and profit margin in mind.  We have got to be even handed when dealing with these clients.
Supertrees, Singapore