Sunday, 21 June 2015

What it's like to do jury service

If you are on the electoral register, do not have a mental disorder and have not been convicted of a crime, you are eligible for jury service. I'm also pretty sure that you can be called up to three times between the ages of 18 and 70. As it is considered your civic duty, you'll need a pretty good reason to get out of it if summoned. I managed to defer mine as it was in term time, but it was rescheduled from November 2014 to June 2015.

My jury service was in Cardiff Crown Courts and only lasted for 6 working days.

Turning up for service

At Cardiff, there is a separate entrance for jurors which is around the back of the main building. Here, you will show your summons letter to the security guard, have your handbag checked and walk through a metal detector. This will happen each time you enter the building for the duration of your service.

On your first day, you will be taken to the Jury Assembly Room (or something similar) where you will find a small canteen, tea and coffee machines, shelves of books and a load of other people. There may be quite a few trials going on at any one time so they need lots of people to be there.

Here, you will be able to spot the 'week-two-ers', who seem to exude a 'done-it-all-before' confidence and remark loudly on 'all the new faces', whilst greeting each other in shouts across the room.

Then you will all watch a video about serving on a jury and how it all works. The week-tw-ers will definitely talk through this.

Then, you go off to get your IDs checked and shown inside a courtroom so you know where everything goes.

Then you go upstairs again and wait.

Being chosen for a jury 

I myself had taken two books with me and was quite happy to get a good start on them during all this 'waiting around' I had been told about. But that was not to be.

Every half hour or so in the morning, selections are made. A hushed silence descends as people anticipate their names being or not being called. Even the week-two-ers shut up for this. A voice then announces a list of 15 names over the loud speaker. I felt like I was one of the aliens in Toy Story, ready to be plucked out by 'the claw'.

I was called for the third court of my first morning. I had barely got through a chapter.

The jury selection

So, the 15 of you will be taken to the Juror's Room of whichever court you have been chosen. You will then be taken into the actual court where you will see the defendant, barristers, judge and everyone else.

At this points, the court clerk will read the names of anyone involved in the case. If you know anyone on this list, you are to tell the usher who will remove you from selection.

If no one knows anyone, the court clerk will pick 12 names at random from the 15. The three that have not been chosen will then return to the Assembly Room ready to be selected for another trial. This means that some people can get through two or three trials, and others do not get chosen for any.

So you're on the jury

Take a look around, you will be spending a lot of time with these other people and will be expected to come to a unanimous decision at the end of the trial on whether you will find the defendant guilty or not.

The clerk will then read the complete list of charges against the defendant and the 3 jurors who were not picked are removed from the court.

And then it begins.

The trial

Everyone really does wear wigs and gowns and refer to each other as, 'My learned friend'. It gets serious pretty quickly from then on in with the prosecution starting the proceedings and calling up their witnesses. The defence then does the same. Then, each barrister sums up their case, the judge sums up the trial and then the jury are sent off to deliberate.

You are not allowed to discuss the trial with anyone other than your fellow jurors while it is proceeding, and even then only when all 12 of you are present. You are also not allowed to Google the people involved or anything like that.

In court, you are supplied with pens and paper on which you are able to take notes which locked in a safe each night during the trial. I didn't actually take notes but some people took loads. It's completely up to you. The only time that you are allowed to take these notes out of the courtroom is when you go to deliberate your verdict.

The court would prefer unanimous decisions but if this cannot be reached, then they will accept a majority of 10-2. When you are deliberating your verdicts, you are closed in a room together and your mobile phones are taken away.

Then your elected foreman, who is in charge of keeping the deliberations on track, will be asked to state guilty or not guilty to each of the charges when read out by the clerk.

Here is a handy diagram which I lifted from the BBC website:

1. Judge
2. Jury
3. Prosecution barrister
4. Defence barrister
5. Press
6. Public
7. Defendant
8. Ushers
9. Witness

But what if I get a horrible case?

If it's in the crown court - chances are that it's not going to be a parking ticket violation or fire exit regulation. You can speak to the Samaritans during and after the trial if you feel that you need to. It's also nice to have 11 other people from all walks of life who are in the same boat as you. Juries are meant to be a cross-section of society and they really are - you'll come to learn each other's skills and weaknesses as well as forming a good support structure.
And also if helps to do what I did with my fellow jurors after our trial - go to the Pen and Wig and drink a load of cider. Seriously, you'll need to get it off your chest!


Friday, 6 March 2015

Death Writing - Grief and Memory

This is a piece that I wrote in a grief writing session headed by Christina Thatcher at the Made Gallery in Roath. It came out somewhat unexpectedly as I wasn't sure what I was going to write about before I went.

This is about someone I went to school with - those who know will know.

Club Metropolitan

We'd get a half on the bus into town in our baggy jeans, band hoodies and spiked belts. Queuing up outside, we'd check surreptitiously which bouncers were on that night hoping it wouldn't be Martin, the notorious ID-er. False birthdays and their accompanying fabricated star signs at the ready, we'd organise ourselves with the tallest and oldest-looking at the front and back with the others on their tiptoes in between. We'd try to look nonchalant.

Once downstairs, everyone from school would be there, the entire sixth form and some high-shooting year elevens. Herded into that subterranean place of pseudo-punk, suspicious drips and free toast, we'd gather at the bar downing our watered-down vodka and cokes and waiting for the music to improve (to something deemed acceptable by the group to like) so we could rush en-masse down to the dancefloor.  

On Wednesdays, your favourite, the night was called Take Warning, run by some cooler, older guys with dreads from a couple of years above. We'd pile onto the dance floor, hold our hands up when they unleashed the foam machine and jostle each other to the tunes of Rancid, The Dead Kennedys, Less than Jake and The Offspring (early albums only). Exhausted after a rousing bout of 'Bob' by NOFX or Catch 22's 'Keasbey Nights', we'd trip to the bar. The spent foam mixture, beer, sweat and spit soaked up to the knees of our jeans, the way the snow did on the day of your funeral.

We were young, untouchable, our GCSE's behind us and the world yet to come. We were going to be rock stars, we were going to make it big, we were going to be friends forever. You were part of it, part of us. United by a dubious taste in music, hidden yet infected piercings, and a questionable fashion sense which resulted in almost total social exclusion.

We were the underage drinkers, smokers, stoners, metalheads, moshers and acid-takers.

And we were perfect.

This one's for you:

Thursday, 22 January 2015

'Rufus Beady' video for Made in Roath's 'Dark, Dark Night Walk'.

So here's my first attempt at a video. It's almost painfully awkward to watch but I thought it might be fun to try it this way for once. Just for some context, I was asked to start with the words 'It was a dark, dark night...' inspired by this book:

And it was set here:

I was reading a little bit off this map, in the field on the bottom right, from a caravan:

Image by Dave Daggers

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Passion: Writing from a prompt and trying to word 'happy'.

At Roath Writer's last night we looked at the poem 'Happiness' by Raymond Carver


So early it's still almost dark out.

I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
 walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Which, the more you read, turns out to be not that happy at all (well, that's my interpretation of it anyway). We were then asked to write on a scrap of paper a word which is associated with positive feeling, be it an emotion of more abstract thought, and then pass it on five people to the left. I wrote 'sunshine' which then got passed to someone who hates sunshine - oops. So I got the word 'passion', which I can't say I've ever tackled in my writing before. But anyway, I wrote this:

Passion and fruits

Passion: a word usually connected with steamy, sweaty infernos or the content of the well-fingered pages of a charity shop Mills and Boon paperback.

However, I don't see my passion in that. I attach my passion to those with passions, those who love the bizarre, the hobbyists, the obsessors, the midnight ramblers and the specialist readers. To the ornithological variety perhaps, a man who can spot a goldfinch at 50 yards from its plume alone, or converse unashamedly with the song thrush.

But it doesn't have to be birds, it can be anything - an arachnid devotee, the Napoleonic era expert, the orchid enthusiast, the aficionado of narrow boat construction. A passion that takes you to distant lands and the dustiest corners of the book shop, that takes up every Sunday and most of your spare change – that is the passion I am drawn to.

I can bathe in your eccentricity and revel in the crackle of your energy to the point where I will meet you before dawn to watch for otters on a river bank or fumble in the dune grass on a stormy day for discarded World War Two bullets. I will feed from a passion, get swept up in it, if it is strong enough.

So tell me about steam engines or tree frogs or home brewing or Georgian furniture, and as you talk, I allow your passion to become mine, just for a while. I will read from your page and sing from your hymn sheet and I will feel that much more strongly than even the largest amount of Shades of Grey.  


Saturday, 3 January 2015

Home is wherever I'm with you.

This is something which I wrote when asked to write about 'home'. Surprisingly, it wasn't a place that I thought of, but rather a person - my mum. Although perhaps not so surprisingly considering I'm pretty sure I was still tipsy from the night before.

It was inspired by this song:

So anyway, I did a bit of editing and re-jigging and here we are (I have re-written it as a poem too, but I'm saving that to try and enter somewhere!). I printed this off for my mum for a Christmas, present I hope you like it.

You’d wrap me up in your fair-trade skirts that hung with beads. In there I felt invincible, sat in my castle of cotton. You’d pull your perfume around me, so familiar that if I caught it on the street in a country far away, I looked for you in the crowd.
The chime of your silver bracelets would let me know you were around, perhaps doing the washing up or hanging out the laundry. On holiday, you’d drop them to the bottom of the pool for me to dive down and bring up. I’d keep my eyes open to see your face through the water as I rose triumphantly to the surface, over and over again.
I’d brush my hand through your earring stand, listen to the wooden toucans and silver drops knock together as a musical instrument of you. A gemstone percussion of amethyst, rose-quartz and jade.
I’d run my fingers over your arms and count your many freckles, remnants of your childhood in Aden. Days spent sunbathing, lathered in oil, before you knew it was bad for you. You didn’t like them but I was jealous – I wanted to map out a life in pigment as you had, collect my travels on my skin.
I see traces of your pigment everywhere; your glow is on my own skin and your tones are in my voice. You hold so many colours and I’m proud to paint from your palette.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Time Travel 101: Huxley's Leap

So, here's the beginning of a time travel tourism idea that I have been playing around with lately. I've decided to rewrite it to be a lot darker (surprise, surprise) but enjoyed playing with the paradox problems!

Huxley’s Leap

“This way please for the Battle of Hastings Time Tour. Yes madam, this way. Please take a seat and secure any belongings. No sir, the Building of Stonehenge Spectacular is just down the corridor to your right, just after the 13.15 to The Shakespeare Experience. Yes, thank you. Please sit in your ticketed seats.”

Once the pod was full, Huxley went through the general safety procedures; customers must remain in their seats at all time, customers may take photos but please, no flash, customers are to use the supplied vomit-bags if affected by G-sickness during the leap.

“Are there any questions?”

An older lady in the middle row raised her hand. A virgin-leaper, he could tell.

“What if I faint, on account of all the blood?”

A fair question, admitted Huxley, and one that often came up.

“Well, you are strapped in so you won’t have to worry about falling. Other than that, we do keep supplies to revive people if they do lose consciousness. Most leapers are completely fine, if you do start to feel queasy, just pretend you’re watching a film or tubebox programme. That seems to help.”

There weren’t any more questions after that. He went round each leaper, sixteen in total, checking their straps, mouth compressors (which, as he explained, prevented a person biting on their tongue during the leap) and heart rates. Everything looked to be in order.

“Ok, as we’re all ready. Please remember to stay calm during the leap, everything is under control and you are completely safe.”

He nodded to the whitecoat who gave him the thumbs up. Huxley took his own seat, strapped himself in, and pressed the button in front of him. They leapt.

He had grown used to the sensation during his six years working at Time Tours™ but he was still left with a flutter in the lower stomach and a certain sparkling behind the eyes. Occasionally he’d open one eye, just a slit, to see what it looked like. He’d soon squeeze it shut again though, the sensation of looking out from behind a waterfall and up from the bottom of a well at the same time was too much to handle. He preferred to live the sensation inside his head.

 When the swirling came to an abrupt stop, Huxley knew they had arrived. He released his straps and pulled out his compressor. Below him, the shouting and clashing of metal rose up from the battlefield. He turned down the volume control in the pod and switched its walls to total clarity.

“Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see by the timer we have reached October 14th 1066, and are currently approximately seven miles north-west of modern-day Hastings,” Huxley announced, “Here you can see the army of Duke William II of Normandy, with the kite-shaped shields, advancing on the Anglo-Saxons, led by King Harold. There you can see Senlac Ridge...” He continued his narration without needing to refer to his notes, he had been on the Hastings tour four times this week alone.

He let the leapers gaze through the concave walls as he talked, the pod floating in its pre-ordained route over the field. A man in the front row jumped in his seat as an arrow whistled past, feet from his face.

“It’s ok sir,” said Huxley, “Researches have calculated a completely safe route for the pod to materialise, one which is safe for it to travel in, without a bird, missile or even arrow bouncing off it.” He treated the man to a reassuring smile.

The Past-Timers could not be given even the slightest clue that the pod was there so every precaution was taken to ensure that their presence remained a secret. The pods had been made semi-permeable which meant that vapour and gas, such as clouds, could pass right through. Without this, substances such as smoke would gather underneath and show their form, but it also gave the added advantage of experiencing the smells of the age. Leapers loved the clean, fresh air of pre-industrial revolution eras and the roasting scent of real meat at the Elizabethan banquets. The porous material could of course be closed up, an essential adaptation for visits to 60s Vietnam or gas battles, like the Somme.

 You don’t get that on the tubebox.

“Please, do take pictures.”

The pod slowly span in its seemingly erratic but computerised path. His favourite bit was coming up, when an Anglo-Saxon is run through (armour and all) by a Norman sword and falls to the ground, only to show unexpected strength by scrambling to his feet and jabbing his spear right through the neck of the Norman. Huxley did not draw the leaper’s attention to the happening, but chose to enjoy it privately. It was his special event, he had his moments on all his tours.

The highlight for many was the death of Harold, by an arrow to an eye. It was nice for the pioneering t-travellers to be able to confirm that, after so much speculation throughout the centuries. There was an optional add-on to the Hastings tour, which was the final few stitches of the Bayeux Tapestry, but it was proving to be unpopular. It turns out that watching embroidery in real-time was not that interesting, even if it was during the 1070s. Huxley had strongly suggested that Kristeva cut it from the package. She was considering it.

The Hastings tour took about three hours, from start to finish, encompassing the more dramatic parts of the battle, swooping in and out for perspective when the Past-time action would allow. They didn’t hang around for the clean-up.

“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the tour for today. Thank you so much for choosing to time travel with Time Tours. Don’t forget to check out our extensive catalogue of tours for you to pick and enjoy, if you book today you’ll receive a 25% discount. I can definitely recommend the ‘Wright Flight’ Special, it’s a perfect winter-warmer. I do hope you enjoyed your tour today, and we’ll see you again soon. Thanks.”

Huxley had one more Hastings before the end of his shift, which went off without any hitches. Apart from a vommer on the leap, but he was used to that. He turned off the lights behind him, securing the lab and leaving the machines humming quietly. He chatted with Security Simon on the front desk for a few minutes before registering his Time Tours™ ID card with the drone stationed at the door, then stepping out into the night. The doors hissed shut behind him, slicing in half the drone’s monotone, ‘Goodnight, Mr. Len’.

The neon colours reflected mutely in the frozen puddles which beaded the kerb. Huxley stuffed his hands into his pockets, turned up his jacket to 26° and crossed the road to the 25 hour shop to pick up the things he’d promised Sara he would. Once outside, bag in hand, he lit a cigabetter before heading down the street toward the nearest chute stop.

“Good evening sir or madam, what is your destination?”

“Huxley Len, 00624039, Home.”

“Very well, Mr Len.”

The chute veered off towards the Len residence. Huxley used the down time to think about ways to improve his tour sales. Kristeva had been going on at him about the low uptake numbers on the World War packages, previously their biggest. The problem with history, as he had explained, was that it didn’t change. There was only so many times you could go on a tour before you wanted to see something else. The World Wars had been popular at the beginning but now customers were becoming more eclectic, they wanted to see the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the first man on the moon, Beethoven live, the eruption of Krakatoa.

There had also been a significant rise in the number of personal, tailored tours; much more expensive and completely private. There were the usual; the wedding of the leaper’s parents, their first birthday, assorted happy times before death and disease had elbowed their way in. And also a worrying trend for older leaper’s travelling back to go and see their own birth. There was something weird about that, incestuous almost, Huxley thought. He could definitely be completely fine without ever seeing another greyish, slippery blob being wrenched out of a screaming woman. It was too old school, too graphic – he was glad technology had eradicated that inconvenience once and for all.

There was always the JFK assassination, Huxley thought as he pressed his eye to the cornea lock, that tour was still as popular as ever. It had been a massive breakthrough of course, whoever had suspected her?

“Sara, I’m home!”

“I’m in here, did you pick up those things?”

“Yeah, I’ve put them on the kitchen table.”

He stepped down in the living room to find Sara plugged into an audio book. Probably Austen, Huxley thought, she had gone on the Regency Romance tour more times then he cared to remember.

“Where are the kids?” he asked as he let himself fall onto the settee next to her.

She paused the audio, “Up in their room on their VR sets, there was some new pandemic game out, or something.” She tuned back to her book.

“You should be careful what they play on there, I’m not sure I like them being subjected to all that violence.”

“This coming from the man whose job entails taking gaggling tourists to see murders, genocide and terrorism in real time. I hardly think it’s going to have any effect on them, pandemics are as dead as the rhino. It’s the same as them playing at shooting up zombies or Nazis.”

Huxley acquiesced. She was probably right, she usually was.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Things to not do at a book launch

So, Wednesday (1st October 2014) was the day of my first official book launch. I mean a book which I'm actually in, rather than just knowing someone who wrote it.
The book is 'Furies: A Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors' and you can buy it here with all profits from sales (a minimum of £5 per book) going to Rape Crisis England and Wales.

So Plumb and I decided to head along to The Star of Kings in London, where the event took place.
However, I made some errors. Namely:

  1. I drank loads of red wine and didn't eat anything. Cue overly loud laughing and extreme chatterbox.
  2. I accidentally stole one of the other poet's books - she was handing it around for the poets to sign and it was left on my table. It was handed to me and I stuck it in my bag without even thinking. I discovered I had both copies later on that night. Luckily, she signed my book so I am currently in the process of trying to get hold of her contact details.
  3. I almost fell off a lock - don't try to cross canal locks in heels whilst drunk.
  4. I misspelt 'thanks' when signing the publisher's copy.
  5. I couldn't remember my own email address when asked for it.
  6. I may have danced along in the beer garden to some freestyle rap by 'Random Renee'.

However, I did do some things right too:

  1. Randomly bump into a friends of mine and Matt's from Glastonbury, who then came along to the launch and then let us hang out on her awesome house boat.
  2. Met lots of really cool people, including a few who know people that I know - thus reinforcing the 'small world-ness'.
  3. Went to bed as a reasonable time so, for once, I wasn't hungover. Huzzah!
But it was a really good night and such a good experience, it felt lovely to be involved in something which is raising money for such an amazing cause. I felt truly humbled.

Here are some photos from the night:

A representative from Rape Crisis made a moving speech

Becky (on the right) did her undergrad at Cardiff, where I am studying now
Jane Bradley from For Book's Sake introducing the poets and speakers
Amy and I with a copy of the collection (this is her picture which I totally stole).
The view from the canal bar.

The inside of my mind at the end of the night.
 My first publication is now out - I wonder where I'll be heading next.