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Remain & Reform

Reluctant as I am to add to the endless pile of opinions about tomorrow’s referendum, I cannot resist a few words in an attempt to explain why I think that we should remain.

Sovereignty

We have not rescinded our sovereignty as so often claimed. We have, in fact delegated elements of it and it for us to rescind that delegation as and when we see fit. Doing so, however can only be done once.

Take Back Control

The mantra of the leave campaign, repeated, ad nauseam, like a badly trained parrot in last night’s TV debate is like an out of date attempt at search engine optimisation. It is an attempt to browbeat people into a frame of mind which is inward looking and feeds off the rose-tinted image of a Britain that never really existed and certainly will never exist in the future.

The Economy

The leave proponents do not deny that there is a very high liklihood of economic turbulence should they win the day. What they fail to do is to translate that turbulence into everyday language and in particular into the short term risk to the jobs of ordinary people. Long term vision and benefits are really important but the short term cost to individual, ordinary people is likely to be out of all proportion to the long term gains.

Immigration

This element of the debate has descended into brutish semi-racist soundbites. It is a serious issue and one which merits serious debate and reform. However, this reform will be far more effective if done from within the EU. It is becoming ever more clear that Britain does not stand alone in this regard and that our fears and concerns are increasingly shared by our ‘continental’ neighbours.

Remain & Reform

Successive British governments have proved ever more useless at using our globally famous powers of diplomacy and negotiation to proper effect. These last few weeks have proved how badly our own domestic political system needs to change but it has also pointed towards the need for EU reform and the increased appetite for such reform within the EU itself. If The EU resists reform then it will fail. The EU has failed to realise that it has entered a state of emergency in which even its most fundamental beliefs need to be varied to a certain extent. This variation may require short or medium term suspension or alteration of certain principles. No single government of any persuasion has proved particluarly competent in recent decades. Hoping to reform the EU in a few short weeks of meetings and discussions was never a realistic proposition.

I have little enough faith in our politicians’ ability to deal with a post-remain Britain. I fear that their ability to successfully steer us through a post Brexit lanscape is no-existant.

We should remain and without delay set a realistic agenda for reform. This is likely to need a five year time scale. If this plan were to be set on a cross party basis, it would fix it as a clear set of targets irrespective of which political party stays or comes into power.

 

I was asked by Clarissa’s nephew Edward to give an address at her memorial service. Ed gave me plenty of notice, but, as too often I left the actual writing until the day before. Each day during the time between being asked and the big day, as I woke up and as I fell asleep, another little memory entered my mind. Unusually for me, all those memories and many many more remained clearly in place when I came to write my notes. After the service, I was overwhelmed by the thanks and appreciation of so many people who had enjoyed my address. The reality, though, is that, although I wrote and ‘performed’ it, the spirit and the power, such as it was, came entirely from Clarissa.

St Bride’s
26th March 2015

‘Young man, it seems to me that you need a lesson in erection!’

These were some of the first words Clarissa ever said to me early one morning in a field somewhere in England when, as she put it, we were marching together in Henrietta’s Army.

The said lesson referred to the state of my poorly pitched tent and the Henrietta was, of course, Henrietta Green. The Army was the band of small artisan food producers, of which I was one, who followed in Henrietta’s redoubtable footsteps in her quest to reintroduce this country to proper food under the banner of her Food Lovers Fairs.

When I was asked to make this address Ed & I discussed me speaking for about three minutes. Apparently I said that I could talk about Clarissa for at least three days. I am sure that many of us feel the same. You’ll be glad to know that you won’t have to send out for sandwiches.

Clarissa formed several strong friendships among us which were to last the rest of her life. Clarissa’s passion during these years was for proper food produced by people who truly cared about their products. While the product always came first, and she championed many female producers, Clarissa made no secret of her fondness for what she regarded as a proper man, be he young, or not so young. If they happened to play rugby, so much the better, but she could even forgive one or two for playing with what she described as the ‘wrong shaped ball’.

Clarissa’s liking for Peter Gott’s well-turned calves, Les Salsbury’s sea dog air and Ian Hartland’s rugby hewn frame made for huge hilarity when we all sat around the camp fire long into the night.

As our friendship grew, Northfield Farm became a sort of haven for Clarissa. Somewhere she could come and stay for as long as she liked where she could write, talk when she wished, or just collapse in a heap if that was what was required. She had a few similar bolt holes around the country and I know they all meant a great deal to her.

Clarissa called one time to ask how far Northfield was from Sandringham as she had been invited to talk to the Sandringham WI. She was especially excited as the president of the Sandringham WI would be present. So excited was she at the prospect of meeting Her Majesty The Queen that she left Northfield at the crack of dawn, four hours earlier than needed and spent three hours once she arrived, sitting in her car waiting to be able to appear in a timely, calm fashion. When she got home that evening she was still riding high, full of child-like enthusiasm after what she described as one of the best days of her life.

Clarissa rarely cooked when she came to Northfield. A first night takeaway became a tradition as the years went by. The owners of our local Indian Restaurant loved it when she visited. Subsequent nights fell to me to be cook. Apart from being off duty, one of the reasons she disliked cooking at Northfield was that she loathed Agas and she especially loathed my ancient duck egg blue Aga which I always ran at as low a heat as possible. This became such a bone of contention that I saved her mobile number in my phone under the name of ‘Turn Up the Aga’. Whenever she was coming to stay, she would call me when she was about four hours away so that I would be reminded to Turn Up The Aga.

During the time that Clarissa was writing what became ‘Spilling The Beans’ we spent time on debating a title. A mutual friend of ours suggested simply ‘Game Bird’, which I felt covered so many meanings.

Clarissa telephoned me one day with the words,
‘I’ve just lost my dog’. ‘but Clarissa, you don’t own a dog’ I replied after a brain wracking pause.

She would occasionally start a call with a simple ‘its me’ but generally launched straight into whatever happened to be on her mind at the time. She explained that she was at a stage in writing the book where her dog had died and that the emotion had caught her unexpectedly and she needed to talk about it. That book cost her dearly, emotionally, which is, of course, one of the key reasons why it sold so well and spoke so eloquently to so many people.

Another time, Clarissa’s great friend Sally Merison was driving us around the Hampshire countryside, when Clarissa’s voice piped up from the back seat
‘I am twenty today’. ‘Here we go again’, I thought for a moment, until she explained that she had just realised that she had been sober for twenty years to that precise day. Clarissa’s sobriety was a source of great pride but also a source of humility in that it was a constant reminder of her own fragility.

Clarissa was extreme in her views. Her general damnation of vegetarians was a fair example, but she made exceptions and respected a robust defence of an opposing view, even if she was only rarely swayed from her own opinion. We very often agreed to disagree about our opposing views. Our evening debates often ended in a harrumph from her and a few moments of silence before we changed subject.

I went with Clarissa to The Scottish Grand National one year. Walking around with her was like accompanying Royalty. She was warmly greeted wherever we went. Clarissa never, to my knowledge, endorsed a food related product for direct gain. Indeed she stated many times that she had rejected huge sums of money offered by large businesses for her blessing. Many people just could not understand this and often asked me how much I had had to pay her for such ringing endorsements.

One such lady, the owner of a fish and Chip Shop, insisted on following us around that day at the Scottish National. She would try at every possible moment to engage Clarissa in conversation with the scarcely hidden aim of getting her to visit and endorse her establishment. Clarissa became more and more irritated while the lady seemed to become ever more determined, until after several hours she tried a different approach by pointing at me and complimenting Clarissa on her fine son who was walking everywhere with her. Clarissa stopped in her tracks,

‘My son? My dear lady, If he were my son, I would have had to have given birth to him at the age of eleven!’

Clarissa gave my elder son Leo the present of a fine fishing rod when he was about eight years old. I took all three of my children to stay with friends in the Scottish borders and we wandered down to the banks of the Tweed below Paxton House to watch one of the last of the old fishing boats, or cobbles, rowing out, paying out nets as they went to catch huge glittering salmon. We chatted to the men involved who were polite but frankly less interested in us than we were in them. I mentioned the gift and the giver and all changed.

We were invited back at dusk, providing we bought the rod, of course. Leo was given a lesson in fly fishing by the regional champion and all three children were taken out under the moonlight in the cobble to net the fish. Leo caught no more than a large tree, but again Clarissa’s fan club had proved its devotion.

Clarissa attended the Northfield Farm annual Christmas Fair for many years, signing books and chatting to visitors as only she could. Her last attendance was in December 2012 and coincided with a flurry of interest in her latest book, Clarissa’s England, and in particular the section in which she makes comments about multiculturalism and a visit to Leicester. Accusations of racism flew around in the national press, on local radio and online based largely on a very selective use of some of what she had written. Clarissa dealt with it all with great calm and cool debate.

That night we dined in my small restaurant on the farm which sadly no longer exists. I retired early. Clarissa stayed on for several hours chatting, having joined the tables of two Leicester based families of Asian origin who had bought the book, asked for her to sign them.

Clarissa had a true, deep love for the countryside which she attributed not only to her passion for food, but to having grown up in London. She loved dogs, cattle, British Lop and other pigs. She loved bombing around on a quad bike, the bigger engine the better. She would visit her many friends at Borough Market and revelled in time spent extolling the virtues of tripe and trotters to shoppers.

She would say things that I struggled to agree with, but I found over the years that actually, she was very rarely wrong, on any subject. She hated the misuse of the word ‘chef’, especially when applied to herself.
‘I am just a Fat Old Cook’ she would say. Children adored her and she could never understand why.

In the run up to her funeral I raised the issue that Clarissa had stated many times that she wanted her coffin to be carried by handsome young men. Three of whom would be my two boys and Will Rutherford. After much debate with the funeral directors a young guard of honour, including these three, was agreed upon. This was an elegant solution of which Clarissa would have approved.

As the coffin rolled out into the sunlight outside the Cathedral in Edinburgh, a man stood alone, clapping.

After a few moments he stopped clapping and walked up to my son Leo and shook him by the hand. He explained to Leo that he lived on the streets of Edinburgh.

Some years ago, in the gutter and in a pretty bad state he was set upon by a couple of youths who started to beat him as hard as they could.

Out of nowhere Clarissa appeared and launched herself at them, as only she could, until they ran away into the night. The man was certain that Clarissa had saved his life that night and when he heard of her passing, wished to say his own personal farewell.

Many of you will know that this was not the first episode of this kind.

This was Clarissa’s personification of Muscular Christianity.

For all our tears and fine words, this individual tribute was, I think, the greatest of all.

As Clarissa’s Mother used to say to her
‘Leave it to God, Clarissa, he has a far better imagination than you’

‘Would you do a pig butchery demo with Emily Watkins, chef patron of the Kingham Plough in the Borough Market hall?’
‘Yes’ I replied.

Being a bit ignorant, I googled Watkins and her ‘pub’. Emily trained first in Italy and then with Heston Blumenthal at his famous Fat Duck. After further varied experience in a wide range of kitchens and as a private chef, Emily opened the Kingham Plough, near Chipping Norton in the sublime Cotswolds in 2007. Last year, 2014, Emily competed in Great British Menu and won with her fish course. Emily cooked for war veterans at St Paul’s Cathedral in a banquet commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
By happy chance I had watched some of the episodes in which Emily had featured. So it was clear that I would be working with a serious talent. Emily emailed to say that she would like to cover true nose to tail cooking at the same time as I talked about and butchered half a pig.

The thing about cooking some of the more old fashioned cuts is that the recipes require the single most rare and valuable ingredient available anywhere. Time. I decided to sacrifice part of a day and drove across country to Kingham, with my two sons, via the ancient Fosse Way, with a car boot full of so-called lesser cuts of pork.

The Kingham Plough looks out upon the classic English village green of Kingham. The Extraordinary Daylesford Farm Shop is minutes away. This is what the rest of the world thinks all of England looks like and it is what we natives forget all too often to take the time to appreciate.

Emily unpacked the box of pork like it was Christmas, tucking away its contents neatly onto the shelves of her immaculate walk in fridge. She gave us a tour of her newly refurbished kitchen and, it being midday, and there being room, it seemed rude not to book in for lunch, especially as Emily was cooking.

Inside, the pub is all beams and gentle pastels, open fires, friendly staff and delightful quirky spaces. A large stone pig sits smiling in front of the open fire near the bar, his head impossible not to pat as you pass by. We chose to eat in the bar area rather than the restaurant.

Emily is a big fan of Slow Food and her cooking epitomises the Slow Food values of Good, Clean and Fair. She gives time, passion and as we were to discover, her extraordinary talent to every dish. We ordered swiftly and hungrily from the menu.

This is not a meal review. Potato bread, fragrant salami, sublime mini full-cooked breakfast, soused herring, diaphanous home cured pork loin, perfect blue and nearly blue hanger steaks, wild rabbit wellington. All faultless, no room for pud, a bar menu board definitely worth coming back to explore, many times. That must say it all. If you want more padding, see the huge pile of ecstatic reviews on Emily’s website.

Pre-dawn on Thursday 19th March I heaved half a pig and my wallet of simple but effective knives into my vehicle and pointed its nose south towards the big smoke and my figurative second home of Borough Market.

I met up with Emily, showed her around the market, introducing her to other traders and just before 11.00 I returned to the Market Hall next to the stage with my half pig. Our double act seemed to go well, our audience ebbed and flowed like a tide hitting a large beach. Mysteriously the tide was always in just as Emily set out another tray of amazingness to be tasted. The two hours flashed past and its highlights can be seen here on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4CpxOjAWBA&feature=youtu.be

I suppose that I should say that the pig was the hero, but in this case it really was the cook. If you get the chance, visit http://www.thekinghamplough.co.uk & watch out for other demos at Borough Market
http://boroughmarket.org.uk/events

Jan McCourt
www.northfieldfarm.com

I love cars, old cars that is. With a few exceptions, modern cars do nothing for me. They are mainly designed by committee, computer or focus group. Older cars have grace, beauty, quirky ugliness, individuality, seductive faults and personality that are all lacking in most modern vehicles. Well they don’t all have all of those qualities, but go back only twenty years or so and byond and generally you will find at least some of them.

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1930’s Racing glamour visits Northfield Farm

I remember my Father’s passion for cars. Huge, cavernous Austin Princesses used to drive brides to their weddings and collect movie stars from airports. Big black Ford Zodiacs, the earlier ones soft and rounded at the edges, later, I still have its number plate, sharper, more American in styling with aggressive fins, like upturned knives running forever back alongside the enormous boot so big that my brother and I used to lay out a picnic in it. They were all female, these cars, described as ‘she’, as was the way back then, a way that seems so old-fashioned, even patronising now.

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1970 Camaro 35 yrs in the same ownership

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What I marvel at is that those childhood memories were of a time when the motor car had only really been accessible to the masses for such a short time, maybe thirty years or so. Even now, thirty years further on, the motor car has only really been around for the briefest moment in time, and may not, in comparative historical terms be around for that much longer.
I attended the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of the P6 Rover at the glorious Waddesdon Manor a few weeks ago. The sight of a hundred and fifty or so gleaming examples of these cars that were so cutting edge in the earliest years of my childhood was unnerving in a way, as was the passion and intensity of the interest present in their owners. These people are the curators of one small part of our heritage, and on a larger scale the people who came here to Northfield Farm on Wednesday 4th September share that same role, just with a much morediverse collection of vehicles harking back to the early 1930’s.

 

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The best known car & bike meet for miles around was held on the second Tuesday of the month in the tiny Leicestershire village of Ashby Folville. Running for many years, this event attracted thousands of people on Sunny afternoons and evenings. I started going a few times a year and marvelled that so many people could gather so calmly and with so little trouble. Sadly the behaviour of a minority of drivers has now led to the decision to cease holding the event, as reported on in the following article in the Melton Times:
http://www.meltontimes.co.uk/news/local/popular-car-meet-scrapped-1-5454997

The demise of the Ashby Folville event was the main topic of conversation among the enthusiasts who attended Northfield’s event on Wednesday. All felt that it is sad that the behaviour of a small minority should stop an event which had such a long and positive history and contributed so much to the activity and economy of local rural life.
Northfield will continue to hold a meet on the first Weds of the month, the next one being 2nd October 2013 from 17-00hrs.

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I had been hoping for some follow-up from the ‘meeeja’ after The Independent wrote a very positive review of my little book ‘Crushed, My NHS Summer’.

The following simple email appeared in my inbox.

‘Dear Jan,
I wonder if you might consider doing an interview on ‘Saturday Live’, Radio 4’s weekly magazine programme broadcast on Saturday mornings,
kind regards,…’

I didn’t want to gush too much about how much I admired The Reverend Richard Coles for his gentle wit, Sian Williams for being, well, for being, both brilliant and gorgeous, there! I’ve said it… and Corrie Corfield for having one of the most sensuous voices on the planet, as well as being an accomplished Ipad daubette. J.P. Devlin’s voice carries the memories of my Irish influenced childhood. I first became hooked on Saturday Live in the days of Fi Glover, her unique quirkiness made me smile so much. Put simply, it is a truly great programme.

I was even more thrilled that my presence was actually required, live, in the studio. I have done a few radio interviews over the years, mainly BBC Radio Leicester with Ben Jackson, Tony Wadsworth, Jonathon Lampon, and Damien St John. I have done a fair bit of telly with my friend Clarissa Dickson Wright, Great British Food Revival on BBC2, and more recently Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner on BBC4. In 2001 I filmed a Foot & Mouth special with Tony Francis and before that had huge fun working with Aaron Patterson of Hambleton Hall on both series of Wild About Food. But, Radio 4 has a special place in my heart as it saved my business back in 1998 with its ‘On Your Farm’ broadcast with Oliver Walston. Six months or so after having started Northfield Farm Shop, following my redundancy from banking, and before the existence of the re-born Borough and Broadway Markets in London, the business was just not reaching enough customers. That Radio 4 broadcast, early one Sunday morning, had customers beating a path to our door within a couple of hours. Many of those customers are still with us today all these years later.

On the Saturday morning, December 2012, I walked the short distance from a nearby hotel to the bright new BBC Broadcasting House, and was redirected to the original building next door. Rookie error at the time. Already waiting in the reception area was Emma Kennedy, unknown to me then, but, I soon discovered, a superwoman for modern times. Emma writes, acts, amuses, entertains, tweets and is addicted to BBC 4’s ‘The Killing’. In fact, so addicted, that she has taken on the self-appointed role of official stalker to the series’ star character, Sarah Lund and written ‘The Killing Handbook’. As if that were not enough, she dropped into Masterchef in 2012, and won. Emma and I were quickly shown upstairs to meet Chris Wilson, the executive producer and shown into the studio where I was introduced to the two presenters. They, Richard and Sian, are really just as I had anticipated and have described above. The four of us sat in a slightly gloomy, but very atmospheric room, gathered around an octagonal desk kitted out with screens, microphones and headphones. My back was turned to a large plate glass window behind which the production team sat and weaved its magic. This was the BBC at its sparse best, think the retro newsroom feel of ‘The Hour’ , late and lamented, on BBC2, without the fishnet stockings, cigarettes or Single Malt. Some of the lights appeared to be held together with sticky tape and post it notes, definitely no over-spend here. The room exuded what the programme achieves namely, relaxed, refreshingly old-fashioned professionalism.

Listening again to the broadcast, I realise that I failed miserably at answering Sian William’s questions. I seem to be a master at answering part of the question and then rambling away in my own direction. I hope she forgave me.

It really was huge fun to have become even a tiny part of the history of this great show.

You can listen to it here about 18 minutes in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p027s

You can buy the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1908684194/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Available in Paperback or Ebook form

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Allow me first to set out my credentials for addressing this issue. Between 1983 and 1997 I worked at or around Director level in the Investment Banking Divisions of six different banks based in The City of London.

I have watched the latest banking crisis unfold over the last few years from my little farm on the Rutland-Leicestershire border where I have spent my time since 1997 building a small diversified farming business, and a farm shop with outlets at London’s Borough and Broadway markets.

On every single occasion on which a financial institution has made a negative announcement, I have felt it in my bones that there was far worse to come. I have listened to, watched and read the opinions of a wide range of pundits, some self-styled, some appointed; some, like Robert Peston, knowledgeable, many, if not most, woefully out of their depth.

The so-called ‘Banking Crisis’ has raised one simple question more than any other. That question is:

WHAT CAUSED THE BANKING CRISIS?

I have just read an anecdote which comes close to the answer. Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer of Sunday 1st July 2012 relates a tale told by Ed Balls, City Minister in the Brown Government. Balls was being shown around the trading floor of a financial institution by its Chairman. Balls pointed to a group of traders and asked his host what they did. The Chairman confessed that he did not know. Apparently at the time Balls thought little of the answer. It should, of course have alerted him to the fact that something was terribly wrong.

I moved from bank to bank during my fourteen years in the City for a variety of reasons. Such job-hopping was partly the ‘hired gun’ nature of my job. Moving was learning. Moving was a way of moving quickly up the pay scale. I was poor at playing the political game necessary to stay put and advance my career.

My first banking employer was Nomura International. Nomura was then the largest and fastest moving of the Japanese Investment Banks. I was very young, but fell quickly into a position of huge responsibility which involved underwriting substantial financial risks for my employer. Our Chairmen, however, during my time there, were regular visitors to the trading floor. I can still feel the force of their respective hands on my shoulders on the many times when they would come down and stand behind me as I sat at my desk managing positions of hundreds of millions of various currencies in the International Bond Markets. These Chairmen, in sharp contrast to the one remembered by Ed Balls, knew and understood what was going on. They may not have been experts in each and every of the products we were involved in, but they understood the principles involved and, most importantly, they understood the risks undertaken. They would appear without warning and quietly walk around the trading floor stopping at each department. If they had entered on the other side of the floor the earliest sign of their approach would be of a sea of people jumping to their feet and bowing. In the early days we normally had a Japanese head of department who worked along -side or nominally in seniority to a non-Japanese (Gaijin) head of department. The Chairman would normally talk first to the Japanese person and then to the Gaijin. In the case of the International Bond Syndication desk, that was me. Of the six banks I worked for, a major cause of my departure was my inability to stand by and play the political game when members of senior management put their organisation at unnecessary risk because they did not understand the business of which they were in charge.

I remember Nomura International’s Chairman speaking to a group of graduates early in their careers. The most important message of his presentation was for us to understand that despite our different jobs and titles we were essentially all doing the same job. That job was to represent the institution that employed us. We were all, in effect, salespeople.

At the heart of what I learned at the beginning of my time in Banking was an understanding of risk. The meaning of risk was taught like a religion, it underlined, underpinned and pervaded everything I did.

As I rose through the ranks, I took on more and more responsibility and with responsibility came more and more risk.  In time I became one of the key people who priced the risk which the bank took in certain areas. As I learned more, so the market took on what were viewed as greater and greater levels of sophistication in terms of the structuring of deals. I was never the greatest fan of the derivatives market as its products became more and more esoteric and complicated. In part this was because I found the structures proposed more and more difficult to understand. In many cases I simply could not see how the structure could possibly do what was claimed of it. Now we know that in many cases, the structures did not do, could not do, what had been intended. Ultimately I formulated a very simple rule based on an assessment of my own capabilities. I reckoned that I was in the middle of the stream of intellectual ability and so, where the decision was mine, If a deal was proposed that I could not understand, it did not get done unless it could be explained fully and properly to me.

That simple rule, call it the ‘rule of clarity’ began to be ignored by senior bankers in the late 1990s, and as Ed Balls’ tale demonstrates, a massive lack of contact between the top of these financial institutions and the shop floor, coupled with lack of understanding made for very, very bad decision making.

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I listened to the last of Mary Anne Sieghart’s excellent trio of One to One interviews recently on BBC Radio 4. This short, intense programme displayed Sieghart’s mastery of the art. A great interviewer guides the interviewee with a firm but gentle hand. Coaxing not bullying, so that ultimately the subject of the session moves up to a different plane, bypasses the interviewer,  and seems to open up directly to the listener. The questioner shrinks and the subject grows. Watch or listen to any great interviewer and you will see what I mean. It is the classic example of less is more. Parkinson, Desert Island Discs, and the great black and white TV interviews of the 50’s and 60’s. Dimblebys, Frost, Burgess to name but a few. Sieghart’s subject was Charles Hanson, a lifelong criminal whose darkest moment was when he killed his third wife with a knife following her affair with his own son who subsequently committed suicide. I highly recommend you listen to it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b01jqjl1

What makes the Hanson interview so remarkable is the way in which he recounts his journey from ignorant brute to repentant sinner. These words I use are so trite, but so apposite. This journey could be interpreted as a triumph for the prison system. Hanson seems to have been redeemed through his fifteen years of incarceration. Improved by kindness, matured by structure and enlightened by education. It is brilliant, extraordinary, a totally neat solution and rounded story.

In fact the story is anything but complete, because Hanson will suffer for ever, his dead ex-wife and son doomed to their sad fates. Like so many ways in which we live our lives in the wrong order, the listener realises that had Hanson been granted the benefits of structure and education which were afforded him in prison, earlier in his life, he might not have sinned, and most dramatically, almost certainly would not have murdered.

The interview encapsulated the lunacy of a world which shies away from the cost of giving people what they need most, when they need it. An education feeds the ability to tell right from wrong. An education gives perspective. An education does not guarantee any of these things, but it gives its recipient a chance of a balanced life.

I met a murderer once. In one of my previous lives I worked for a firm of solicitors based in South London who specialised in criminal defence law. In those days the system demanded that there should always be a representative of the solicitor’s office present in all meetings between the accused and his barrister. Legal aid payments were generous for these meetings, but did not specify any level of qualification on the part of the representative who might be an aged toothless pensioner who fell asleep in meetings and in court. Equally that person might be a young, keen law student such as me.

The case involved an alleged racist murder. A young man of non-native English origin went into a fish and chip shop one evening. Shortly after ordering, a group of white youths followed him in and started taunting and verbally abusing him. The white boys started to push and shove the young man while continuing the spoken insults. At one stage the victim made a break for the shop door. He very nearly made it out of the door. At the door stood a lad who moved to block the doorway, and pushed the victim back into the shop. The victim slipped on the floor and the gang kicked and beat him to death.

My client was the door-blocking youth.

The barrister collected me early on a Saturday morning and we drove down to the prison. Just like in the films we went through security checks, loudly banging steel gates and crashing locks.

I have never forgotten the face of our client. Look up a photograph of young Tony Curtis. That was his face. Not literally, of course, but he possessed that same movie star quality, beauty almost. What remains with me still though, more than thirty years on, are his eyes, his dark dead eyes. The more we talked, the more clear it became that he had no education, no real understanding of what he had done. He was totally lost, in every sense of the word. He was an animal in the basest sense.

The One to One interview makes me wonder what the prison system might have achieved for him.

 

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