I’d say it was a chance discovery but then I firmly believe you make your own luck and I never pass a skip without even a casual glance. This one yielded a bunch of 1950s hardbacks, including one that’s right up my, somewhat voyeuristic, partially academic, slightly scientific, sort of historical, street – The Murder and The Trial by Edgar Lustgarten. Fine name, and I love reading earlier true crime books as so much is different about not just the ways of life and death, but also jurisprudence and those who wrote about it.

Mr Lustgarten is no disappointment, writing in the late 1950s he looks back at several high-profile murder trials where he feels, with significant justification, there has been a miscarriage of justice due a lack of cultural communication between the stuffy world of the law and lawyers and the real world of normal people, their drives and urges. He takes a psychological, but common sense, approach to everyone involved – the accused, witnesses, juries, police, advocates and judges and whilst his argument has been pretty much accepted and incorporated by now, it is interesting to see him put forth his points at a time when they were not. I enjoy his sympathetic,  no-nonsense, approach to the realities of human life and behaviour and whilst his writing style is definitely situated in his time, there is not so much of the casual class or colonial bias you find in some writers of pre-1960s England. Instead, he seems to have an understanding of people and their natural responses to the slings and arrows of undoubtedly outrageous fortune.

The preface, by Lord Birkett, is essentially two excellently written pages of, “this man needs no introduction” which rather piqued my interest as the situation, if ever true, has changed, at least where I am concerned. So, as so often, my friend Google led me to Wikipedia…

A quick glance and it turns out Edgar Lustgarten was well known in the 1950s though hardly remembered now. That said, I bet most of you know of one affectionate parody, without even realising it is one…
As president of the Oxford Union, he seems to have always admired a good speaker and presumably put that interest to good use in his first calling as a barrister. Which may have been the end of the story were it not for WW2 but, being unfit for military service, he turned his talents to propaganda, working for BBC radio. After the war, his interests in broadcasting, debating and crime came together and he never returned to the bar, working on several TV series, the most popular of which was Scotland Yard, running from 1953 to 1961, each one featuring a dramatisation of a case solved by the detective department of the Metropolitan Police.

Edgar Lustgarten

Edgar Lustgarten

I’m astonished I’d never heard of this before as it’s exactly the sort of thing I love – murder mysteries in black and white, with fabulous views of London in the 1950s behind the action. Each episode was introduced by Edgar Lustgarten, in the same erudite oratorial style of his books, which may seem a little stuffy to some modern ears but has a wonderful structure and balance not always found in current speakers.
After several episodes I can’t help the feeling that I’ve seen him before somewhere so off we go back to Wikipedia….

Yup, the chappie behind the desk telling the tale in the Rocky Horror Picture Show is indeed an affectionate mimicry of Edgar Lustgarten…

He died in 1978, in Marylebone Library whilst reading The Spectator.

Wikipedia – Edgar Lustgarten
Goodreads – Edgar Lustgarten
Wikipedia – Scotland Yard short film series

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Dreaming perchance to sleep…

To say history is all around us somehow invokes ideas of the past; things which are done with. But lives, events and places are not quite finished so long as memories and interest interplay and seeking out these histories is one of the things that gives me pleasure.
I glory in the magnificent glass achievements of today, resplendent in their LED rainbows but I find there’s still plenty room for the little things, the fragments of journeys that have brought us to where we are now and still point us to wherever we will go, whether or not we are aware of it. Things that live on long after their perceived purpose has been concluded, overlooked and forgotten in plain sight whist the ephemeral present whizzes on by, concerned only with its own trivial immortalities.
Today’s journey off the London paths I have previously beaten through took me to a spot I’m pretty sure I’ve never visited before and, being between two rather exciting places it is a little dull corner that most people seem to want to rush through as fast as possible.
But something caught my eye.
First of all, even a tiny bit of unused space in Central London is worthy of comment but these alcoves quietly minding their own business piqued my interest. Exactly what they are is still unclear though they may, just may, be the last remnants of the C18th houses of Blews Mews, currently the middle section of Orange Street WC2, which runs behind the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, to the south of Leicester Square.
Arches in Orange St
They are an ongoing mystery but they draw my eye to this rather odd construction and the subject of much random guessing on facebook.

Leicester Square Theatre: rear elevation
Seems like a strange thing to find in such a prestigious location but this is the back and fly tower of the Leicester Square Theatre, built in 1930 as a combined live stage and cinema with a seating capacity of 1760.
Despite high hopes and many grand plans, it never quite hit the big time, and was already  a little sad the one time I ventured in to see And Justice For All with Al Pacino, and my mum, as it were. We loved it though, it was large but cosy and we enjoyed the film, as least partially due to unusually comfortable seats, never realising the beautiful 1930’s facade was behind the ugly mid-1970’s hoardings or the lovely gold ceiling that slumbered just feet above the dull fake one.
It finally closed in 2009, with the entire block now being up for redevelopment despite vehement opposition from several conservation societies and English Heritage. A sad loss to the area and I fervently hope the planned glass palace, completely out of keeping with the area, does not go ahead.

Why isn't this going instead?

Why isn’t this going instead?

In the meantime I count myself lucky to have found this in time as I think the brickwork is rather beautiful and, looking at it, I can still hear the scene shifters hauling the heavy scenery through the scene door, marked by the large white rectangle or casting it high in the sky with the fly mechanisms situated in the tower, whilst Tony Hancock, Galton and Simpson, Gracie Fields and Tommy Cooper play hide and seek in the pub on the corner, 80 years of artists each trying to escape buying their round.
She was determined...

elegant brickwork, for a back wall in a back street

elegant brickwork, for a back wall in a back street

Hand and Racquet Pub, and scene door of theatre Hand and Racquet Pub Hand and Racquet Pub
Also up on the roof is a film safe – for storing the extremely inflammable, even explosive, nitrate film stock well away from the audience and the exits.

Maybe it’s true? Cinema going just isn’t as exciting as it used to be…

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Learning from History

One thing we learn from history is that humanity is, on the whole, not very nice.
The message I take from this is that compassion, understanding and all things positive are not necessarily innate, they are learned and must be taught, otherwise negative things will hold sway.
I always try to find outcomes from situations where all parties benefit, to find the positive even in the apparently negative and to move myself, and others whenever possible, forward.
Most of all, when I meet children I try to show them how to find the good in life and how this always brings more benefits to all than focussing on the bad, no matter what, or how bad. I wasn’t bring like this, I learned through much trial, error, pain and hardship and I’m still learning. If I can help anyone skip a couple of miserable chapters then it’s been a good day.


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Brunel Tunnel, Rotherhithe

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Out and About in London

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LIfe Skills: Take Time Out

cherry blossom

Cherry Blossom never fails to lift the spirits

Never be afraid to just stop everything.

You may have built up a network of contacts, a circle of friends, a career, a whole pile of commitments and sometimes it’s just all too much but it also seems like it’s all too much to stop too. It’s a juggernaut pulling and pushing you ever forward, ever faster.

Running you over.

So, when a dozen more things suddenly come on top and you can’t cope you just struggle on under an unbearable load with knees buckling and everything spiralling out of control. So let’s just look at that last sentence again – “can’t cope” – this is one of those odd things we say but don’t think about too much, like “unsustainable”. It’s an absolute, either you can cope or you can’t; either it’s sustainable or it isn’t. When one gets to that point, one has to pause and say, “What? Can I really not cope with this?” and if the answer is “Yes” then stopping is the only answer. Carrying on is basically just as stupid as walking happily off a cliff whilst saying, “I’ve run out of road”.

Yet we all do it; on a global scale and on a personal scale.

I kept on going long after it was perfectly clear that there was too much stacked against me and then… yup, I eventually crashed totally. I spent several months in bed. Followed by several months where getting up and making toast was counted a major achievement. Compared to my former life this was nothing but I learned to readjust my metrics – last week I couldn’t get out of bed, this week I made tea, washed up and had a bath – hooray. Maybe next week I’ll prune the roses. Maybe I won’t but that doesn’t matter.
I’ve learnt that nothing that important will go away if you just take a break from everything. On the contrary, I have my mind back and that’s the only thing that I really can’t do without. My income has dropped by 95% but most of it was being wasted on maintaining the momentum and I still have the knowledge and intelligence that created it before, and now I have the strength to start rebuilding, as much as I want to.

The most important thing I’ve learnt is that I must do this in my time, at my speed, according to my plan.

Too many people try to fit into other people’s schedules and sometimes the worst pressure can come from friends and family who are still caught up in our society’s mania of racing ever forward without pausing to see what they’ve achieved, whether it was worth it and whether they even wanted it in the first place. They see you slow down, stop, fall and they worry for you and try to speed you up again, filling you with fear and guilt in an attempt to help. All with the best intentions but they’re not the best qualified to know the extent of your injuries or the necessary recovery time. If you jump straight back into that rat race before you are ready, you’ll just crash out even harder sometime soon. We all have different talents, skills, interests and abilities and we all have different reserves of energy and breaking points – only you can be the judge of what you can and can’t do, and when you are ready to do it – be guided by that and you can’t go wrong.

I’ve lost some so-called friends but seen the gloriously true rainbow colours of others and found space in my mind to make new, more suitable, ones.
I’ve abandoned some promising career paths but I wasn’t up to coping with them at that time anyway; I still have the knowledge I acquired investigating them and can choose to take up some of these threads or apply the knowledge elsewhere
I’ve let all sorts of things slide but I now have the strength to deal with them properly.

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my life running away from what I don’t want and terrified to stop in case it catches me – like a dog with tin cans tied to its tail.

I stopped, figured out what the cans were and untied them.

Now, let’s try striving for what I do want – sounds much more fun!

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How to Run a Country: The Importance of Being Seen to Do the Right Thing

So… in the current economic climate £1.3M a year of your hard-earned tax money is spent every year on housing seized dogs that have done no harm but simply look like pit bulls according some whacked idea of what a pit bull looks like and a rough assessment by an un-trained police officer. IN LONDON ALONE. This is just the housing cost; it’s not the prosecution costs for those cases where families refuse to just meekly agree to the destruction of their beloved pet; it’s not the vet fees for those cases where people do, and not the police man-hours wasted bothering these people and writing up reams of reports and whatever back at the station, when they could be out on the the streets. It also doesn’t cover the money spent on actually dealing with dogs of any breed, or dog owners, that have actually done something untoward.

I repeat, this is just in London!

Perhaps we might remember this next time the library has to shut through lack of funding or a hospital ward has to be mothballed or the police can’t follow up our burglary or mugging because they can’t afford enough officers. As many people are learning in these straightened times, it’s not so much about how much money you have but about how you use it. Prioritising is part of that and surely this money would be far better spent dealing the the people who, along with their dogs, make others’ lives hell and leaving ordinary folks to get on with their lives.

Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the impact a number of issues are having on the next generation and this one is an important one – in order to raise children well they need to learn right from wrong, fair from unfair, responsibility and that doing the right thing will not necessarily pay off but also won’t get you into trouble. Having a dog is a very beneficial thing for a family helping children to learn to express their love in a giving way, helping them learn responsibility for their actions and to put their own desires second sometimes. It can range from as little as choosing to spend pocket money on a dog treat to regular grooming or sitting up all night with a sick puppy, and many other things besides.

A dog is not essential for a good upbringing but it is a great mechanism and a valuable tool in the parental toolbox. How often have you heard, “Every child should have a dog”? As a behaviourist I would have to add the parental responsibility of deciding that your family circumstances are right for the wellbeing of one, and you can of course do without a dog, but what if you take in this living creature, feed and nurture him; attend dog training classes with him; teach him to “paw” and fetch the newspaper; diligently walk him to the park even though it’s raining and you’d rather be playing on the computer in the warm but learn to take pleasure instead in his pleasure at bouncing in the puddles; take him to the vet for his shots even though it’s expensive and he doesn’t like it but you know it’s for his own good – and others’; care for him when he is sick and save up your pocket money to buy him a special fancy collar – virtuously ignoring the sweets in the corner shop for weeks, only to have police in riot gear charge at you and wrench him, terrified, away from you and tell you he is dangerous and must be killed immediately, unless you want to spend a fortune that you may not have fighting through the courts whilst he languishes in kennels with you unable to see him and unable even to get a cuddle from kennel hands because he’s been labelled vicious by people who don’t know him. What if you are ten years old and you now witness the fact that nothing you can say, nothing your parents can say, no witnesses you can bring – however expert, no photos you can show will change that person’s mind and that nothing will save the life of a creature you know to be entirely innocent of all crimes save fitting some random set of measurements which turn out to have been cobbled together by inexpert people based on some show standard designed for a foreign country where, and this really hits home, the dogs are legal anyway?

What if you overhear your parents, the people who’ve always had the answers for you, crying at night because they can’t save him and don’t know how to tell you? What does this do to your young mind? How does it affect your attitude to responsible behaviour if your best friend can be killed just because of their bone structure despite overwhelming scientific and social evidence that this has nothing to do with their behaviour?

There’s always been prejudice and probably always will in some way, idiotic and state-sanctioned, but hitherto our society has been moving forward and attempting to eliminate such things, as professional women, jews, black, disabled and gay people can attest. Of course things could be better but I think most people can agree that social exclusion has moved to social acceptance and thence to social inclusion for many and many more are somewhere along that route.

“But it’s a dog” I hear and, as an animal behaviourist my first response would be, “So what?” but sadly not everyone is interested in getting to know the wonders that are the dog’s emotional, intelligent and rational brain so how about this for size – it’s not just about the dog, it’s about the family, the humans, who own the dog and it wouldn’t be happening if they owned a poodle or, for that matter, a dachshund which has just been crowned the most vicious in terms of attacks by one study or the Yorkshire Terrier, which has held that title on many past occasions. And no, I’m not saying they should be included, I’m saying, as everyone who works in animal (including human) behaviour knows, behaviour is driven by experience, environment and circumstance much more than any tenuous genetic link (that science has so far failed to find by the way) in all but a very very tiny selection of cases where some medical problem can be diagnosed and, usually, treated. This is known to all psychologists and ethologists and backed up in copious scientific works not to mention enough anecdotal evidence to sink a fleet of battleships, but still the job of assessing what is and what is not a dangerous dog is left to council workers and police wholly unfamiliar with the field, or even the animal in question, and working from a crib sheet produced by others with no more knowledge than they, all trying to fit in with a law that was produced by people with even less knowledge and, in my not-so-humble opinion, an agenda based entirely on being seen to do something rather than being seen to do the right thing. A very worrying trend in modern society, not just in the Dangerous Dogs Act. Children are learning that being good and responsible and considerate gets you punished, and the authorities don’t care.

“Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” is an aphorism generally credited to Gordon Hewart, [in Rex v. Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy (1924)], but coming from a much deeper tradition of natural justice on which the English legal system is based, and many others around the world which have been based on ours. Maybe it seems obvious and maybe it doesn’t but my first question would be, “Ok, so what if the opposite were true; that justice were not done and were seen to be not done” I think the results of this are far more obvious – a gradual breakdown of any trust in the authorities in any shape or form – police, judiciary, parliament, even local councillors and finally school teachers, bosses and parents. Whilst I applaud a healthy questioning mind, this is not the same thing, this is the flip side of the closed mind that automatically trusts authority, and leads directly to… well what do you think? Anything sound familiar here?

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