"Now is the winter of our discontent ..."

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"Now is the winter of our discontent ..."

by Paul Singer - Paul Singer Consulting

When I was at school, Richard III meant one of two things:

Either, the most boring English Literature lesson in the world was about to take place, reading Shakespeare's Richard III, from which the famous line which forms the title of this blog was taken, or

Cockney rhyming slang for something a dog might leave on the pavement!

For the sake of the nation, let's assume we are dealing with the first meaning, for now.

Who could have imagined that my January 2013 blog entitled "A Horse, A Horse" (about horsemeat being discovered in burgers), where the line "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" is also taken from Shakespeare's Richard III, might be a premonition for the discovery of the good King, himself, less than a month later?

richard iii car park sign.JPG

A Car Park in Leicester - fit for a King.

Let's make no bones about it, the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III, who died in 1485, is quite miraculous. So was it a pure fluke that the archaeological team managed to locate the exact spot within the car park, over 500 years later, to dig their first trench?

According to Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist at the University of Leicester, they had carried out considerable research of historic city records but I wonder if they were just working on a hunch (boom-boom!) - the King allegedly had a hunch-back.



A Horse, A Horse!

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A Horse, A Horse ....

by Paul Singer - Paul Singer Consulting

The burger world was rocked today by the news that Horse DNA had been discovered in burgers being sold by Tesco (and other retailers).

Firstly, if there really was a "burger world", anywhere, I probably would have discovered it by now, bought shares in it, and moved in, as those of you who know my dietary inclinations will appreciate.

Secondly, the "horse" burger was hardly out of the starting gate, when the jokes began.

"Supermarket burgers - low in fat, high in Shergar", was probably the cleverest, but I also liked "The condition of a woman who ended up in hospital after eating a horsemeat burger, last night, was said to be stable".

My own view of people who criticise horse-meat burgers is that they are blinkered.

The tests where traces of horse DNA were found in burgers being sold by Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland, were actually carried out in Ireland ... and if I hear any more jokes about my Lidl Pony, someone's for the high jump.


Some resourceful individual has even discovered that the word Hamburgers is an anagram of Shergar's Bum, as if any more proof were needed.

Anyway, I promised to keep this brief, so I'm off for a late lunch now - I'll probably grab something on the hoof...


Everything Everywhere TM

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Everything Everywhere TM

by Paul Singer

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that in late October I was blogging from the relative comfort of our hotel room in Delhi when, suddenly, it all went very quiet.

This was not as a result of me having been swallowed by a tiger in the jungle, or bitten by a ferocious mosquito, as some might have imagined. It was not even the result of having eaten McDonalds in a strange land or, worse still, being admitted to hospital with Delhi Belly after eating street food.

No, the enforced interruption to blog transmissions was a result of there being no internet almost as soon as we stepped outside that hotel.

Despite the recent rebranding of Orange to "EE" - alleged to mean "Everything Everywhere", and my subscription, before I left the UK, to their latest animal-themed package (I forget if it was a Dolphin or Kangaroo, now), there was no sign of anything resembling phone signal, let alone 3G.

Instead of Everything Everywhere, perhaps they should have called it Nothing Anywhere as our experience was not unique when travelling across India. Local people with old Nokia phones costing less than a banana were merrily chatting away with one another on some local network whilst those of us with Blackberries or fancy iPhones, could not even dial 999 (or whatever the Indian equivalent was) even if we had wanted to.

To be fair, it may not all be the fault of EE, however, when you consider the local wiring situation (see photo below).


So what now follows is a very much condensed version of our amazing journey across one of the most fascinating and unique countries I have ever visited.

We travelled by Jeep, Car, Train, Boat, Plane and Elephant. We saw incredible wealth and even more incredible poverty. We ate food we would never have even touched, let alone eaten, in the UK - and lived to tell the tail (cheap joke about the mystery content of dishes in Indian restaurants!).

I took over 2,500 photographs which I fully intend to use to bore my friends and relatives into total submission if they ever threaten to bring out their holiday photos.

Most of what you see and experience, however, simply cannot be captured by photos or video alone. The tastes, smells, noises, the vibrancy and the warmth of the people is just not capable of being recorded.

That having been said, some of the sights are best illustrated by photos so I have decided to share with you all some of my photographs (not all 2,500, you will be pleased to hear!).

barber.jpgNot so much Vidal Sassoon as Vijay Monsoon!

A street barber in Old Delhi will shave you for 10 Rupees (about 15p). If you want the blade sharpened and cleaned, beforehand, it's 20 Rupees, apparently.  I passed on the experience fearing that my holiday insurance might be invalid if I voluntarily agreed to have my throat slit by a complete stranger with a rusty blade!



For the very brave, a swig of water from the Ganges!

We were treated to a boat ride on the Ganges in Varanasi, at dawn. Apart from people carrying out ad hoc cremations on the bank, and washing in the river, there were even people prepared to drink the holy water. We passed on that and stuck to Perrier, although we did dip our forefinger into the water and dab a drop of it on our forehead for good luck. I've not won the lottery yet so I'm thinking that maybe the good luck was not getting any serious infection from putting your finger in the filthy water, without protection.


Forget Colgate - try a twig from the Neem tree!

This man is brushing his teeth with a twig from a Neem tree. Reputed to have medicinal qualities, the local people prefer that to toothpaste and you don't even need water so it's totally portable - as long as you can find a Neem tree nearby, that is.



Be careful if you order Number 69 in a restaurant in India!

No, this is not Indian porn. It's part of a range of carvings depicting scenes from the Karma Sutra, to be found on the erotic temples in the village of Khajuraho. There are others involving children, elephants and horses but those have been censored to protect the more innocent readers of this blog (please email me for details!).


A wood spider prepares her lunch - a tasty dragonfly.

I did promise not to do a David Attenborough with photos of creatures from the jungle but this one begged to be included. Whilst we were happy to view this scene from the safety of a jeep, we weren't quite so thrilled to find a close cousin of this spider in the bedroom of our tree-house retreat that same evening!


The local restaurant

This restaurant doesn't have a door on which to display

"Scores on the Doors" which is probably just as well!


This restaurant in the jungle has air-conditioning, apparently, although I am not sure that gaps under the plastic bags which form the walls actually counts as air-conditioning! We passed on having a meal here despite the obvious attraction of the unusual local décor.


Still a bit more room BETWEEN the carriages!

 Plenty of room on top.

We hardly ever go by train in the UK so to go from zero to a 14 hour overnight train journey from the depths of the jungle to Agra was perhaps a little ambitious, in hindsight. We had an inside cabin with beds to sleep on - except the "bed" was more like an ironing board fixed on the wall about 6 feet off the floor, and another group of people had similar "beds" underneath us.  At least we weren't on the roof, hanging off the side or between the carriages - but we didn't get to sleep a single wink that night.


Scaffolding in Jaipur over the main road - just bamboo poles joined together with rags!

 "Scaffolding" made of bamboo held together with old rags.

Health and Safety doesn't mean that much in India. This makeshift scaffolding over a main road in Jaipur is barely held together with old rags and yet men work high above the ground balanced on nothing more than a bamboo stick.


I thought I'd finish with a (rare) Indian joke:


An elderly Indian man was on a flight to Bombay but, when everybody was given their in-flight meal, he began spreading out his own home-cooked meal. The man sitting next to him was an American who was curious about the food.

"Excuse me, what is that drink?" he asked.

The old man picked up the yogurt-based lassi drink and said, "Milk of India!"

Then the old man took out several pieces of chapattis and started feasting.

"And what is that dish?" asked the curious American.

"Wheat of India!" replied the old man, proudly.

Finally, the old man took out some dessert.

"What is that?" asked the American.

"Sweet of India!" replied the old man.

After the meal, just as everyone was settling down, the old man broke wind, violently.

"What on earth was that?" asked the American in disgust.

The old man replied, "That's Air India!"




Temples, Tigers and Tummy Ache!

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Temples, Tigers and Tummy Ache!

by Paul Singer - London Fine Dining Group

It's time for my monthly blog but I've decided to escape the onset of the Winter by venturing South - to India.

As most of my regular readers will know, my gastronomic adventures usually involve varying permutations of burgers so this trip presents a new challenge.

For most North-London Jewish people, the only "deli" they ever see is the one in Golders Green which sells smoked-salmon and cream-cheese bagels - not the real Delhi - and "deli belly" is that feeling you get when your stomach is so stuffed full of bagels and cakes that you can't move.

I'll try to post bulletins from the front line along the route over the next 2 weeks, but, for now, I'll just leave you with the image below, as a taster of what's in store!

Thumbnail image for Screen shot 2012-10-25 at 14.14.11.pngIt's McDonalds, Jim, but not as we know it!


So it's Day 1 in Delhi. Tomorrow it's some kind of religious festival where every family has to slaughter an animal. Dogs and cats are quaking in their baskets - but not so much as goats whose are being specially prepared for the ritual.

goat.jpgGet your Goat - you've pulled!

Goats are being treated like royalty, being ferried to their final slaughtering place by Tuk-Tuk.

By tomorrow night, they will be yesterday's Ewes (ok, I know that's a sheep joke but goat jokes are rare) and more than likely they will end up being a Sheep kebab (ok, I know sheek kebab is lamb not goat).

We are playing it safe. We took a Tuk-Tuk to the park. It cost 20 rupees - about 30p! I've already eaten the emergency Twiglets and one of the Snicker bars. Tomorrow - it's off to the market to sample the real Delhi street food.


Pumpkins and Pee

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Pumpkins and Pee

by Paul Singer - London Fine Dining Group

So the London Olympics all seemed to go without a hitch - except for the weather, that is.

If there was ever an Olympic event for umbrella handling, the British would surely be up for Gold!

But among the more unusual news stories to emerge from the Olympics was the admission that some of the swimmers had been peeing in the Olympic pool.


Michael Phelps demonstrates the "far away stare" method of distraction for secret pool-peeing

Yes, both US swimmers, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, admitted that the mere sight of a pool full of chlorinated water was likely to induce the need to pee and that all professional swimmers peed in the pool - although hopefully not during a race!  


Lochte puts on goggles and a pee-proof helmet with integral ear flaps

And whilst athletes were peeing in the pool, it was generally peeing down outside, too.

I was in Ireland, hoping to escape the Olympic madness, but the weather there was no better.

At least the Irish shops had some interesting, home-made signs.


Spelling optional - for everything else, there's Barclaycard

But the weather had been especially disastrous for one particular poor vegetable - a vegetable very close to my heart. The pumpkin. And why is that vegetable close to my heart, you might well ask? Well, it's associated with Hallowe'en and that just happens to be my birthday!

Yes, according to farmer David Bowman, whose Lincolnshire farm is Europe's largest pumpkin producer, his pumpkins had turned green because of the cold weather - which sounds very painful. His 500-acre farm, which normally produces two million pumpkins a year (three quarters of the British market), processes up to 100,000 pumpkins per day.

The Telegraph even ran an article about the pumpkin problem entitled "Pumpkins hit by a bad spell", obviously playing on the witchy connection.


Pumpkins are likely to be scarce as well as scary this year

When I was a boy, many full-moons ago, Hallowe'en didn't really exist as an event, except for some fringe pagans who danced round a fire naked in the woods (but they probably did that on most weekends anyway). Back then, it was just another day in the calendar. Then, and I'm not sure when exactly this happened, it suddenly went all American and supermarkets began selling fake blood, sawn off fingers, chocolate bloodshot eyes, broomsticks and other spooky paraphernalia to the degree that it soon became commercialised, just like Christmas. Small children roamed the streets carrying bags of inedible sweets and playing tricks on people who refused to hand over cash, and poor old Guy Fawkes (real name Guido, by the way), was relegated to the second division.

I had always wondered about the story of the gunpowder plot, anyway. Who in their right mind would grant a lease of the basement of the House of Lords?! Anyway, someone did, and Fawkes was found in there guarding the gunpowder one 5th November. Sentenced to be hanged, he decided to throw himself off the scaffolding instead and broke his neck on landing and died - thus avoiding the mutilation which would have followed his hanging. Nobody is really sure why we all effectively celebrate the man who tried to kill the king - although it's true that part of the "celebration" involves him being burned on a fire. In my youth, children would make a "Guy" out of old clothes and then parade him through the streets chanting "Penny for the Guy".

These days, inflation has pushed up the price of Guy-support to £1, and you still don't own the Guy for that. It's just a contribution towards his creator's time in painstakingly stuffing newspapers into dad's jacket and trousers and plopping the floppy creature onto baby brother's buggy for a swift spin around the block, before going off to buy sparklers or, more likely, cigarettes.

In my family, Hallowe'en is somewhat of a double celebration because both my sister and I were born on that same day - but 3 years apart - an occurrence called "Irish twins", apparently. Quite how my parents managed to engineer 2 births on the same day, but 3 years apart, is still not fully known, although there have been persistent rumours about that cauldron and broomstick in my mother's kitchen!

When we were young, we had to endure joint birthday parties with economically adaptable cakes (like when I was 9 and my sister was 6 - when the cake could just be revolved around 180 degrees to create either number). It was only when I reached about 19, and my sister was 16, that the thought of her friends appearing at my party began to gather some appeal.

So, it'll soon be that time of year again. The nights are drawing in. The pumpkins are turning green (or orange if you are lucky).  Central heating boilers everywhere are sputtering into action. Leaves (and other bits) are falling off trees (unfortunately for a poor woman who was minding her own business in Kew Gardens when part of a tree fell on her head and killed her).

And so here are some sensible warnings about Hallowe'en from the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children:

1.         Make sure that your child knows NEVER to enter an unknown home or apartment without a parent on Hallowe'en -- or at any other time. Children should ring the bell, step back, yell "trick or treat" and then let the adult come forward and put the candy in the bag. After a big "thank you," move along.

2.         Teach your child basic traffic safety rules before leaving home. They need to look both ways before crossing the street. Children should not be listening to music in headphones that can distract them or wearing masks that hamper their vision.

3.         Carry a cell phone and a flashlight. Write your child's name, address and phone number on a name tag and put it on their costume in case they get lost. Carry an EpiPen if your child has allergies.

So there you have it. Hallowe'en Health & Safety, NY style.

Here's wishing you all a very spooky Hallowe'en and a crackling Bonfire Night.


Are you ready for the (Boardroom) Olympics?

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Are you ready for the (Boardroom) Olympics?

by Paul Singer - Group Legal Counsel, London Fine Dining Group

I've begun my Summer fitness regime, this year, slightly later than usual, owing to the late onset of Summer itself.

To be honest, there seemed little point in going swimming when I could swim up and down Marylebone High Street most mornings.

This morning, I avoided being squished by 2 reversing refuse collection lorries, a silent electric UPS van, and stepping in 2 steaming piles of freshly deposited dog poo as I walked to the swimming pool.

I was also reassured to see that the nice people at Fruitdrop (a company which delivers fresh fruit to offices instead of pizza) have managed to keep their sense of humour, judging by the signwriting on their new white vans.


No bananas are left in this vehicle overnight.

Even though it's a year since I've been to the swimming pool, not much seems to have changed. The same old regulars are still there (the names below are not their real names).

Peg Leg - a man with 1¾ legs. You always know when he's there as he leaves his false leg (complete with trainer attached) in the changing room. He tends to do circuits, obviously.

Black Beard - with an eye patch and fetching black beard, his piratey looks are the perfect match for a watery environment.  And, presumably, he will be entitled to half-price goggles as he only needs one "goggle"?

The Snail - this man swims so slowly that even unattended floats pass him by. He seems to be swimming but I doubt that his particular stroke is likely to be featured in the Olympics any time soon.

Gadget Girl - she has a ponytail, a Rolex and an iPhone 4 (White) tethered to her arm in a waterproof case, and waterproof headphones so she doesn't risk missing that all important phone call, or going too long between an Adele or Coldplay track.

The Motor Boat - employs a strange over-arm stroke involving the palms of both hands making contact with the water which generates as much splash as a medium size paddle steamer. I don't know about you, but I think the lanes should be reclassified "No Splash", "Medium Splash" and "High Splash" rather than "Slow", "Medium" and "Fast" as, personally, I'm less bothered about how fast someone can pass me than how much water they are going to deposit on me in the process.

Mr Sporty - he cycled here on a carbon fibre bike which weighs less than my lunch. He's been looking at himself in the changing room mirror for ages as he gets his hair just right, after having consumed a huge Starbucks coffee on the way and 2 Lucozade Isotronic drinks for breakfast since he arrived. He's now totally wired and ready to dive in. But first he has to do that crazy poolside warm up routine in the tightest Speedos available. Not for the faint-hearted. Look away.

One thing that has changed is the signage. There are the usual silly Health & Safety warnings about Deep Water (at the deep end) and about not Diving in head-first (at the shallow end) but there's a new one which says "No Cameras". I wasn't actually thinking of dipping my Nikon in the pool but obviously someone has gone from Speedo to paedo and has been taking snaps of people in their costumes. Naughty.

Most of the swimmers are actually not very photographically appealing, with the possible exception of the new female Russian lifeguard. She could star in Marylebone's answer to Baywatch (Bonewatch?). A kind of Eva Anderson or Pamela Andernova, if you will.

She's wearing tight white shorts and an even tighter red lycra top through which you can clearly see her Gold and Silver medals, and I swear that when she bends over to pick up floats, you can almost see her Bronze, too.

All this recent publicity for the Olympics made me think about the Boardroom equivalent.

The High Jump - what you will be in for if you don't follow the instructions of the Chairman

The Pole Vault - first you set the bar too high, then you watch as people fail to meet the challenge

The Long Jump - this is what people do when you tell them some news and they then jump to a conclusion which is about as far away from reality as I am from competing in the London Marathon

Hurdles - placed in your way to slow you down - it's your job to jump over them for no purpose at all - just to get to the same place you were going all along

Sailing - close to the wind

Shooting  - the messenger

Wrestling - with colleagues over complex issues

Boxing - as above but with more force

And finally, I thought I would leave you with some Olympic trivia:

In 1966, Olympic judges began checking female athletes for such sexual abnormalities as overlarge clitorises, a penis and testicles. By 1968, chromosome testing replaced such "nude parades," and in 1992, more sophisticated genetic testing was adopted. Nonetheless confusion abounded: Of 2,406 women tested in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, five were deemed to be "male". By the 1996 Atlanta games, the number had risen to eight.

This would never have happened in the ancient Olympic Games which began in 776 BCE. At that time only free men (not slaves) who spoke Greek could compete ... and they did so naked!



I Swear! (Days 4 & 5 - The Trial)

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I Swear!

(Jury Service - The Trial - Days 4 & 5  - a Crown Court in London)

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

If you were thinking that the trial itself (or the blog version of it) might be juicy and full of sex, murder and intrigue, dream on. Not only wasn't it, but I am bound by some sort of law never to divulge the content of the trial upon pain of death (or worse).

I can't even tell you the name of the Defendant - although we could, I suppose, play a game of legal hangman, where you try to guess it, one letter at a time, until either you are correct or I get hanged.

So in place of all the juicy (or non-juicy) details of the trial, you will have to be content with another blog about the process of the trial, its (anonymous) participants and its (unspecified) outcome.

Firstly, we are now all locked in a jury deliberation room. And I do mean LOCKED. No escape, except in the case of a fire. There's a loo in our suite and a bell to summon the jury bailiff but not much else. We have had our phones and all other electronic devices taken away from us. We are totally cut off from the world - destined to spend as long as takes in here to reach a verdict. All we have is paper, pens, the exhibits and 12 good men (or women) - and some of them are very vocal - whereas some of them say practically nothing.

There are 2 lawyers on the jury - including me. Neither of us practise criminal law. And exactly as predicted by everyone I know, and despite me trying to look as unhelpful as possible, I have just been elected Jury Foreman. Oh, bliss.

We take a quick initial vote. We are not unanimous. I can't tell you the actual vote but let's just say that we are going to be here a while.

During the course of the deliberation, some of the jurors begin to look like they would happily murder some of the other jurors, which might be why they don't let you bring any sharp objects into court. A bunch of us contemplate committing murder with a plastic yoghurt spoon but it wouldn't be pretty or quick. The window only opens about 3cm so the "throwing the non-cooperative juror(s) out of the window" idea has gone out of the window - just.

It's hotter and sweatier in here than the defendant's collar.

The judge is obviously bored and far from pleased that things are taking this long.

It's an open and shut case, he says, looking over the top of his glasses, but he's not making eye contact with any of us so might be talking about his lunchbox, for all anyone listens.

Counsel for the Defence is tapping his/her fingers on a big black book which looks like the Hogwarts book of legal spells, as if trying to bewitch us into a not-guilty verdict.

Counsel for the Prosecution is gazing at his/her Macbook Pro (probably ordering tonight's dinner, downloading porn, or watching The Voice on catch-up, for all we know).

One lady juror is getting particularly agitated on account of the lack of smoking facilities in the deliberation room. She protests that it is her legal and constitutional right to smoke and that she should be let out for that purpose. The judge is not convinced. He says the jury has to remain together during their entire period of deliberation and that she can only be allowed outside to smoke if everyone goes outside! And so it came to pass that all 12 of us had to be herded like sheep and escorted from the building by a burly jury bailiff who watched over us like a hawk as the aforementioned nicotine addict got her fix (twice) in the space of about 3 minutes.

Then, later, much, much later, one of the other women began to fret that she would not be home in time to collect her children from school. The jury bailiff was summoned again and asked if she could phone a friend. The answer was no. She was ordered to write her message on a piece of paper for it to be handed to the judge for his permission for someone in the court office to call her children's school.

I began to visualise us all being locked in the Tower that evening or at least the Tower Hotel, if we weren't done.

jury2.JPGBut in the end, we did our duty and the Judge briefly looked up to bid us a fond farewell and thank us for our time and attention in a speech which he must have given thousands of times, and he sounded thoroughly fed up and insincere when he made it, reading from a card, like Ant and Dec reading from an autocue machine.

The "release" from jury service was a bit of an anti-climax compared to the initiation.

The ritual handing back of the iPhones, Blackberries and other confiscated electronic devices.

A final warning about not spilling the beans regarding any facts of the case, its verdict, the deliberation or any other matter of which we had knowledge as jurors - so presumably that included not spilling the beans about the beans in the canteen, too.

I wish I could say that the entire jury service experience had been spiritually rewarding or satisfying in terms of social responsibility but, in reality, most jurors would rather have just been at work or going about their normal business than being herded like cattle and treated like the criminals whose cases we were being asked to try.


I Swear! (Day 3)

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I Swear!

(Jury Service - Day 3  - A Crown Court in London)

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

I've been noticing a lot of numbers since I've been here. It's like someone had a number fetish when they designed this building.

Everything has a number; light switches, taps, toilets, plugs, doors and staircases, you name (or number) it.

The only things that don't have a number are - wait for it - the Courts!

Yes, believe it or not, the numbers of the Courts are printed on white A4 copier paper in Arial 100pt and stuck on each of the doors with Sellotape. Strange.

Being a potential juror involves a lot of waiting around.

Some enterprising jurors have started their own poker tournament.

They have plenty of time to build a roulette table, actually, if they like, but they will have to do it without screwdrivers or tools, which might present a challenge.

The clerk has just done another roll call. I am sure she has OCD and has to keep counting and numbering people (and doors).

There is a lady next to me who has interesting eyes. I say "interesting" in that they can look both ways ... at the same time.

I think they are called "home and away" eyes (because they can see both ends of a football pitch simultaneously).

She could be uniquely qualified for jury service as she will be able to see both the Judge and the Defendant at the same time, if we ever get anywhere near a trial, that is.

Speaking of which, we have had a slight technical hitch today. The public sector unions chose today to strike and have formed a neat picket line outside Court. I took no notice of it as I breezed through but I did notice that several other people stopped or refused to cross the line.

Now, we've just been told that some of those who refused to cross the line were jurors so the Judge has had to dust off his law books to see if there is a precedent for ordering them to attend and cross the line - or even if he can clap them in irons and lock them up for contempt. How exciting. We might get to try the other jurors.


Apparently, this is legal history, according to our judge, who has never seen this situation before.

He deliberated and guess what? We are all having another afternoon off.

Apparently he can't find any precedent allowing him to order the jurors who refused to cross the picket line to attend Court, so the trial has had to be postponed as there are only 8 of us here today and they need all 12 jurors to proceed.

So, assuming there is no strike tomorrow, we'll all be back in Court, bright and early, to start the trial.

In the meanwhile, the Defendant gets to see another episode of Britain's Got Talent, tonight, which some might say is punishment enough for almost any crime!

To be continued...

I Swear! (Day 2)

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I Swear!

(Jury Service - Day 2  - A Crown Court in London)

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

Today started better than yesterday - with a morning off. I'm getting to know what it feels like to be a Judge.

Start work at 2pm, a couple of hours wearing a wig and dispensing justice and then off for a round of golf at 4pm, before cocktails at the club.

If only I had not had to do a day's actual real work before coming to Court.

At least I got through the scanner without having anything confiscated today - although my belt did have to come off (not because of diet failure, oh ye of little faith - but because the scanner is so sensitive that even a gold tooth might set it off).

There seem to be a few more people here today than yesterday. Maybe they've heard about the excellent local cuisine and generous expense allowance (of £5.71 per day), not to mention the view of the river, which has to be one of the best in London - as long as there are no bars on your window, blocking the view.

It's interesting to see how the room seems to have naturally polarised into different social and sexually oriented classes. Lesbians, ladies with leggings, people with leather jackets, lesbians with leggings and leather jackets etc.

I am in a category which I would classify as "tie owners/potential jury foremen".

I've just been asked to hand in my travel expenses reclaim form. It's day 2 and I have no idea how many days I will be here, so you might wonder how I can complete a travel reclaim form. So did I. But that logic was totally wasted on the clerk who insisted on having my form fully completed, TODAY.

They've just done another roll call. A man has been sent to the toilet to check for anyone hiding in there.

It's worse than school. I am already looking forward to playtime (but not cross-country - as I never did see the point of running through a stream when there was a perfectly good bridge over it).

It's 2.30pm now and it's all gone quiet. There are a handful of us left in the room but nobody knows what's next.

There are flat screen TVs on the wall but we are not allowed to watch normal TV - only the video about how to be a good juror, which was less than thrilling the first time around and is not likely to be repeated on Dave or nominated for a BAFTA, any time soon, as it features what looks like a genuine Court clerk trying to act and seems to have been filmed mainly on location using an iPhone.

I've tried a few seats in an effort to get comfortable. I feel like Goldilocks, but without the porridge or bears. Some of the seats are really hard. Others are too soft. A man next to me is horizontal and snoring like Billy-O (< I had to Google how to spell that - I couldn't believe it wasn't spelled "bilio" or "billio" but apparently it's named after a man called Billy - so there you are - this blog can now claim to be educational) - so he must have hit the jackpot in the seating department.

At least I didn't have to sample the delights of the microwave in the canteen today, as I took the opportunity to eat before arrival - a bit like flying with Virgin, when you just know that what you are about to receive will be truly awful. (That's just reminded me of grace before meals at our school - we used to say "for what we are about to receive, may the pigs be truly thankful".)

-- 15 minute interval (radio silence) --

So I've just been up to Court 10 and am now officially sworn in as a juror. I can't tell you what the case is about or I will have to kill you (and then I'll be the one on trial!).

Another short day as the judge has to finish off another trial, apparently.

It just shows that the Judge was properly brought up having been taught that it's rude to start another trial before finishing the one you started, like mouthfuls of food - and I am pretty sure he doesn't wear leggings, either.

judge judy.JPG

Judge Judy demonstrates how to put on leggings with one hand!

To be continued...











I Swear! (Day 1)

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I Swear!

(Jury Service - Day 1 - A Crown Court in London)

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

Nobody tells you that you are going to be searched when you turn up for jury service.

So, there I was with my multi-tool dangling from my keyring - containing a screwdriver, knife and various other jail-escaping and judge-injuring implements - boldly walking through the scanner without a care in the world when every warning device known to man was triggered.

My prize possession was prized from my keyring and submitted into evidence as Exhibit A, complete with its own little plastic evidence bag. "You can have it back when you leave", said the guard with a been-there, seen-it-all sneer.

Remember your first day at school? Well, it's just like that, but with a few more criminals!

I was thrilled to learn that the Court had thoughtfully laid on special dining arrangements for us. Our own exclusive canteen, no less. We then learned that this was to protect us from coming into contact with the defendant, his lawyer or his family in the main canteen, which sounded slightly more ominous. Would ours have foie gras and fillet steak or just jacket spuds and baked beans? Our pre-charged dining card had been automatically credited with our daily allowance - of £5.71- so foie gras was looking unlikely.

There were magazines to keep us amused whilst waiting - but historic OK and Hello! magazines soon lose their appeal (no Court-related pun intended)!

Soon we would all be swearing (I had been practising during the journey to Court on the Jubilee Line when someone trod on my toe - and in the car, en route to the station, come to think of it).

I never knew that there were so many different oaths. Almighty God was still in with a chance but had rivals. Waheguru and The Gita seemed more popular but I had no idea who they were.

I am writing this blog on a Galaxy Tab which I fear is about to be confiscated. We've just been warned about not taking devices into Court which can communicate with the internet - but I should be fine as my Tab is on Vodafone which means it rarely connects to the Internet except in the Vodafone store where you first see it demonstrated (before you buy it)!

It's like an airport waiting lounge - but with no flight information. To pass the time, I decide to put my coat in the secure rack provided. I insert a £1 coin, and thread the wire through the sleeve and lock it with the key. I then try to get it out again but the key won't fit the lock it just came out of. Despite strenuous efforts, it won't budge. If only I still had my keyring multitool, I'm sure I could fix it.

I find a lady with a badge. She looks helpful. She wasn't. "Well you've lost your coat then" she tells me, with her best customer service foot forward, accompanied by a large helping of sarcasm.

Now it's time to watch a DVD. Oh, good. What will it be, I wonder? American Pie? Harry Potter? No. It's a DVD all about juries. Here is a picture of a judge. Here is the defendant. It was like the ABC of being on a jury, for special needs pupils.

I've given up on the coat for now as they are starting to call our names. It's like Argos, but without the merchandise. We are all eager and innocent (until proven guilty).

They call the register. Some naughty jurors don't say Yes when called or fail to switch off their phones and are told off. I fear I will end up doing lines or detention if they catch me writing this blog. I am trying to pretend this is a Kindle book reader and not a Tab. I am ready to explain all the tapping on the screen as a nervous tick, if necessary. I don't fancy jail (unless the food is better). Now I wish I'd kept that Get Out of Jail Free card from the Monopoly set handy.

I've just been up to Court 9 with 29 other jurors. Yes, 29. I always thought there were 12 in a jury so I was wondering if there was some kind of super-jury for really complex trials when the judge brought us all down to earth with a bump. There are trials which last 3 days, he explained, and trials which last 3 months. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those.  He then went on to explain that jury service was like national service and how it was our legal and public duty to serve. I swear I heard Land of Hope and Glory playing gently in the background but I could have been imagining that.

A woman next to me gasped and muttered "Oh my God!" in a loud whisper like he had just passed the death sentence on her. Or maybe she was just practising her Oath?

Then we were all asked if that was OK. If not, we had 30 minutes to write a note to the judge, in our best handwriting, with our reasons to be excused. My "note" ran to 2 pages of A4.

To take my mind off the thought of 3 months of jury service, the judge has just sent us all for lunch. And I was right - jacket potato and baked beans were on the menu.

jury.JPGI also managed to locate the Court appointed locksmith during his lunch hour who released my coat from its period of detention, with time off for good behaviour.

Lunch was delicious - and thanks for asking. My potato was microwaved to perfection and the beans were so delicately plonked in the slit, that even Raymond Blanc would have approved.

Yay! I have just been released from that long trial so my letter worked. Could it have been the threat of litigation at the end or just a sympathy vote for a fellow lawyer from the Judge?

I am sure that after the Judge read my detailed and lengthy submission, I might even expect a call to the Bar (and I don't mean the King's Head)!

A nice Hungarian lady next to me also got off. Her scribbled note just read "Hungary" so she either has a foreign holiday booked, can't speak a word of English or just fancied another jacket potato.

Now we are back in the transit lounge like outcast refugees waiting to be selected for another trial. And this time, could I please have the 3 day trial which was advertised in the brochure?!

There are people asleep. People crunching loud snacks. People on the phone. People reading old magazines (there is even a sign apologising for the lack of choice of magazines. Apparently, the rest were damaged in a recent flood).

I'm very bored, now. Not even my own blog is amusing me.

But wait - I have just had more good news.

I have just been told to go home (it's 2.30pm) and come back tomorrow.

A half-day on my first day. Things are looking up

To be continued ...