Gosh, it's been eons since I've made space for poor old Pink Tape. But I'm not apologising. This year I seem to have spent most of my time neglecting Pink Tape or apologising for neglecting it and promising I'll try harder.
But I'm not going to try harder. I WANT to find time for Pink Tape. And I will. But I'm not going to wring my hands, chase hit rates or make crappy apologetic posts for the sake of posting something. When I have something to say and the time to say it I'll say that thing.
2018 was a year of constant, somewhat frenetic juggling of impossible commitments and pressures. We spent six months living away from home due to building works (and even though we were lucky enough to be able to camp with fantastic extended family I have learnt that change is harder for some children to handle than others), I spent a significant portion of time fretting over 3 or 4 particularly demanding cases, and spending nights away from home with work - all whilst being constantly asked to make decisions about building materials, electrical works and decor in between witnesses - all whilst trying not to blow the budget whilst wondering when I might next get paid. I finished and published a book, and the demands of The Transparency Project have grown and grown. All good and exciting things - but exhausting nonetheless. And in amongst those balls hurtling through the air, each depending on being caught by me are my family and my mental health. When you sit down for just one moment and stop to think - it hits you that these balls are too precious to drop.
I've spent the best part of two weeks at home, with friends and family, scarcely switching on my laptop (just as well the poor thing needs a rest it is near burnout too!), and generally eating and laughing myself into a stupor. My family have needed it. I have needed it. And whilst I can't fit into any of my clothes I do feel refreshed and that my priorities have been reset. I may be about to launch back into the frenzy with a four day trial on 2 January (when did courts start sitting on 2nd January for goodness sakes?) but I am determined that 2019 is not going to eat me up and spit me out the way that 2018 has done - to me and to a number of others I love and respect. I LOVE my job, but 2018 has made me realise more than ever that if I want to keep doing it long term and want to keep doing it well I have to take time to breathe, and I have to do a bit less of it.
So, maybe fewer posts here - but hopefully posts worth waiting for...
Here is to a fabulous 2019 to all who read this blog. Look after yourselves in 2019 and do not let the system eat you up.
Before I leave you though, I thought I'd float a new year's resolution that myself and a mischievous friend thought up over the sloe gin when trying to work out how to make the many noble words spoken in 2018 about wellbeing into more than platitudinous crap - would it be next level trolling or a harmless yet symbolic reminder to ourselves and The Man of the "workload challenges" faced by advocates, if all orders drawn by advocates at the request of the court in 2019 were prepared and lodged in green comic sans font? Because we're worth it.... (after all I'm pretty sure *someone* was trolling us with the inclusion of multicoloured fonts in the order templates)...
This afternoon, in an interstitial moment of madness brought on by having become unaccustomed to having an actual weekend involving anything apart from paperwork, I have been engaging in impromptu and not altogether successful attempts to make Christmas decorations out of pink tape. I do not think I will be giving up the day job to promote my new line of products... For those wondering however, I can confirm that no, you can't make a pom pom out of pink tape... and although I have lashed bamboo into something approximating a star shape for a fetching naive style festive feature piece, I don't think you would want me on your desert island raft making team.
I'm approaching the end of a run of time consuming cases that have lingered pending and part heard over much of this year... they have come up and down in sequence like hills that you pass on the way down the M5 with scarcely a glimpse of sky in between. Now the draft judgments are dropping silently into my inbox one by one, and I feel that I am approaching the levels...I'm stopping for coffee and refuelling before the next mountain range. The sign reads : Moto Christmas 19 days
Apart from the coming together of several imminent endings in a number of cases that have become as familiar as old friends, this week has been unheimlich in other ways... just as one trial went short The Times published a leader about a woman survivor of the Rotherham grooming gangs and the invitation by the council to the father to have contact (Sammy Woodhouse). I saw Norfolk's piece on the train to Swansea, and by the time I arrived I'd written much of the blog post I published later that day. Much time and energy since then has been devoted to trying to unpick what the facts of the story really were, what campaigners were actually calling for by way of reform and explaining to numerous tv and radio producers what the law actually says. I've had Sky TV in my kitchen (all my wisdom was left on the cutting room floor and one disembodied line about adoption was left in making me sound slightly out there), and I've been green screened into the Victoria Derbyshire Show. (44 mins in) This afternoon, before the decoration making frenzy I was on Talk Radio with John Nicholson. I *think* I talked some sense but will never know because I don't think you can replay it. This issue has totally taken over life this week - I've written three lengthy blog posts about the story and the issues it raises - because although the original story was flawed, the debate it has given oxygen to IS so important to many people (see here and here in addition to the one linked above). I may not agree that the answer to these women's concerns is a reform to the law - I think it is more likely to be about better awareness of court rules and options and better understanding of the impacts of abuse and control when applying the law - but what has driven me to contribute so many hours this week to this debate is the sense that the debate can't be useful to anyone if people are calling for reform of laws they don't understand in the first place. I'm comfortable with the idea that people want reform of the law - and that that may be justified (I can't see it at the moment, but maybe I will once debate becomes more specific and more rooted in the actual law and practice) - but legislation borne of headlines and emotions rather than calm, meticulous consideration of different scenarios, will very likely cause problems at least as great as those the campaigners understandably wish to solve. If there is to be reform let it be focused and clear and thought through. It's upsetting to be called a rape apologist, a stooge for social services or cold and unfeeling for trying to inject a bit of calm into a debate being driven by (understandable) emotions - but such is the lot of a lawyer I suppose. Objectivity and analytical ability is our stock in trade and it is often undervalued. These things will be needed if any campaign group wants to move beyond outrage and into actually getting something done. Those who think lawyers lack passion are mistaken. Our passion is the fuel in the engine, even though you do not see it always on the outside.
Tomorrow I head to Leeds to take part in the Family Justice Council debate on covert recording. That should be interesting (I won't say fun). I am hoping that someone in the audience will live tweet it as I don't think the FJC 'do' live tweeting...
I am also hoping whilst I'm there to do a spot of legal blogging. Much though depends on how early I can drag myself from my pit and get my backside to the train station...
I might write a blog post on my 3 ½ hour train journey...on the other hand I might just snooze.....is that ok?
The Family Justice Council run a debate every December and it is usually excellent. Notwithstanding the fact that this year the line up will involve yours truly it should still be an interesting event to attend - the other panellists are the excellent Hannah Markham QC, Her Honour Judge Lazarus and Debbie Singleton - and the topic is the ever controversial covert recording.
The question for debate is :
‘Nothing to hide – what’s wrong with covert recordings?’
I'm told that Hannah and I have been allocated to team 'pro', but as ever with these things the debate topic sets up a false dichotomy. Things are always more complicated than the forced choice of yay or nay allows...
FJC events are by ticket only and the tickets are limited - you must apply by 21 November to have a chance of getting in.
Details here :
Family Justice Council – 12th Annual Debate: Covert recordings in family law