Thursday, September 30, 2010

9/30 - Happy Families, Agatha-Style

The more I read of people jumping down the throat of the "Grammar Police" LW from Monday, the more surprised I am that the commercial showing Mrs McMahon kicking a man in the privates was authorized by her primary opponent's campaign and not her own. Has it really become such a horrid thing to want to sound educated or at all refined? I wonder what would happen if someone were to update Eliza Doolittle. Would Enry Iggins have to learn to talk like a chimneysweep?

I don't recall seeing anyone mention that it seems highly probable that someone consistently saying, "I seen," would be committing assorted assaults upon standard grammar on a regular basis. This was just the only one sufficiently grating to annoy the LW in question. It does seem that there ought to be a way for him to ask about her idiosyncracy/cies without coming across as correcting her or appearing to assume she doesn't know standard grammar.

Personally, I know a handful of people who consistently say, "He don't." One of them was my last employer. Beyond perhaps responding, "Doesnt he?" once, I never felt inclined to correct anyone, but it might put me off dating someone. But in some situations it can be fun to play with grammar. It reminds me of a couple of role playing scenarios I've done in which a character started out sounding fairly erudite only for the grammar to disintegrate as the situation progressed. There's an interesting sort of allure in that when it's done well.

On to the Thursday lot, which for some reason all made me think of various Christie works.

L1: This is one of those situations in which I'm not entirely sure whom to cross-examine first. The obvious line is to discover how much proof if any Bob and Helen have of the swinging ever having actually occurred. Their behaviour has been so odd, I'm not sure I want to hazard a guess about anything they say, but it certainly suggests that the reason for the couples' falling out would not reflect credit upon them. What exactly they might have wanted now (assuming that there were more to the situation than just the tapes, if they existed) would probably be too much for my poor digestion if I were to hazard a guess, but it seems that LW1 and brother ought to be able to deal with anything that might be revealed.

But I can lob a question or two at LW1 as well. It is interesting that LW1 simply presents the revelation without any commentary. There are hints that LW1 took the revelation to be true, and that it seems to constitute a point of some sort of shame or other, but it would be nice to get things nailed down. And it is particularly interesting that it seems to be more the lifestyle than the (if true) choice of partners that is the problem, but we need not require that LW1 be completely fair or high-minded to feel for the situation.

I have a double comparison here. I might remind LW1 of Virginia Revel in *The Secret of Chimneys*. A young widow who returns home to find a caller asking for money in exchange for returning a packet of love letters signed with her name but which she never wrote (and inadvertently revealing that he presumed her husband still to be alive), she gives the blackmailer forty pounds on account in part because she'd wondered what it was like to be blackmailed and in part because she wants, if possible, to shield whoever the other Virginia Revel is and perhaps buy some time for the other woman. After all, the blackmailer won't go looking for the real writer once he thinks he's found his mark, and she can give him a nasty surprise at their subsequent interview. That the blackmailer turns up dead in her house shortly afterwards complicates the proceedings somewhat.

As for Bob and Helen, I am not nearly as convinced of the truth of their story as LW1 appears to be;. Could there be any motive for them to make it all up - say, the way Nick Buckley in *Peril at End House* admits that she is secretly engaged to a missing aviator? Of course, Nick, whose real name is Magdala, has an excellent motive - Michael's rich uncle had died shortly before. Nick appears to have had several escapes from death. Most dramatically, her cousin Maggie, wearing Nick's distinctive shawl, is shot and killed. We don't find out for some time that Maggie's real name was also Magdala, and that Nick shot Maggie and stole Michael's love letters because Michael and Nick had been friendly enough in the eyes of the world that his will, leaving everything to Magdala Buckley, would naturally be assumed to refer to her.

There may be some points of LW1's parents' conduct that conflict with this revelation or show them in a considerably more unflattering light than the mere selection of partners would suggest. In such a case, one can only advise LW1 to be as charitable as possible, and let as much as possible remain unspoiled of parental memories. The intruders can be dealt with by legal means and restrained from further contact. There doesn't seem much point in attempting a line of appeasement to prevent any spreading of rumours. Let us just hope that they don't claim parentage.

L2: Gracious - more blackmail. LW2's sister wno't attend her father's retirement party (merged into the company holiday party) unless there's an insertion of acknowledgment of her boyfriend's birthday when the vast majority of party guests will have no idea who he is and when there is a counter-offer of an event intended exclusively in his honour? These sisters must have been at it for decades. They are certainly a well-oiled machine. How important is the family business, one wonders? It can't hurt to get out of both of them whether this particular boyfriend or one of his predecessors has been a prominent accessory before now in their little power play. But I am most interested in the boyfriend. Is he fully participating in the silly demand and threat? If not, how aware is he of what is going on and being demanded on his behalf? While it's unlikely that he can succeed in telling the sister to behave herself, does he have any influence? And how does he take the sister's dealings with the family - with indifference? active support? muted opposition?

It would be nice if the boyfriend could be part of the solution, as otherwise there really isn't much of a satisfactory solution. In order to avoid hurting the feelings of the honouree of the day, the little blackmailing jerk gets her way. LW2 could perhaps put the case to her father, but I suspect that Daddy might have been a point of contention between the sisters on multiple occasions, and that his likely thinking appeasement not to be a big deal won't make LW2 feel any better. If there is anything LW2 might do, it might be to unearth any employee birthday(s) that might be sufficiently close to the party and just have a little Birthday Moment that naturally can include the sister's boyfriend. Alternatively, she can just wash her hands of it and let the sister do as she pleases if she really wants to cram in the extra bit, but I suspect things might have gone too far for that by now.

I am reminded of *Hercule Poirot's Christmas* in which Poirot goes to stay with Simeon Lee, an old man who has gathered all his surviving children round him for the holiday, much to their own discomfort, which he intends to make even more uncomfortable. That his granddaughter turns out to be an impostor and that a couple of his unacknowledged children turn up as well add considerably to the flavour of the holiday and his murder.

L3: Now here we have a letter very similar to one or two other letters we have had recently. There was the Jewish-agnostic LW whose fiancee's relations regularly made remarks that he knew would offend the more religious members of his family. There was the Grammar Cop mentioned earlier. And now we have LW3. Three men who suffer embarrassment in one way or another that can be traced back to the women of their choice.

There is one significant point of interest here. Both of the first two LWs described their own backgrounds in complimentary terms as liberal and well-educated, and their loved ones as having had upbringings that were backward in nature. LW3 does not, as they did, imply his own Better-than-Hers circumstances which some colleagues who go in for rewrites of What LWs are Really Saying might translate to snooty. LW3 actually comes out and calls his place of employment snooty. Very interesting.

In fact, LW3 seems, in this day and age of wild partisanship, one of the last of the Vanishing Moderates. He does not gush on about what a wonderful wife he has only to insert a BUT of gigantic proportions. He seems rather moderate about her choice of employment - not understanding but supportive. There might even be an outside possibility that this is a straightforward etiquette question about what to do when there is an embarrassing pause in the conversation because his snooty co-workers expect all the spouses of co-workers to be more or less prestigiously employed. Not that one really thinks that, but it's a possible interpretation.

One must have a bit of a go with LW3. How right is his assessment of his wife's employment history being due to her difficulties with authority figures? Why does he not understand her current choice of employer? Is it simply that, as a number of posters have observed, the food service industry might not exactly be all that low-stress, or does he rank with those annoying posters and the Prudecutor herself in thinking that She Ought to Be Doing Better and Should Be in Counseling? What exactly is snooty about the agency? And where does the awkwardness come in? Are his coworkers really so incapable of wrapping their heads around the concept that not every spouse will be a Credit to the Firm (ugh!), or is LW3's own shame about his wife rearing its head?

Of course, the practical thing would be to tell LW3 that he probably won't have this problem much longer. Once she finds food service less low-stress than she expects, she may well be on to something else, and then it will be Problem Solved. Perhaps he can persuade her to find employment that will be less controversial for him. It's a bit of a shame that Exotic Dancer is probably out of the question at her age. Or is it? (I know so little about women, at least in such areas.) But telling co-workers his wife is an exotic dancer seems to carry more of hint of ducking the question than saying she's in fast food. People may think it equally non-serious, but take it as a polite-but-humourous brush-off.

Then, of course, one might ask whether he should even give a truthful answer at all to such a question. If there's little chance of his wife ever meeting any of his co-workers, he doesn't seem particularly obligated to provide truthful answers. After all, he is not being cross-examined in a court of law. And by the time anyone might find out, chances are that his wife won't be employed at the same place anyway.

The weird thing about this letter is that there may well be a conflict within LW3 - he might genuinely be happier if he were to quit his job and take employment that matches hers. Perhaps they can't afford it. He doesn't seem enthusiastic about his line of work. He might be the sort of negative example his wife considered when she decided to opt out of the Rat Race.

I would commend to LW3's attention Aristide Leonides in *Crooked House*. A Greek from Smyrna, who always found ways to make tons of money by going around the law, he managed to make two successful marriages to vastly different women who never went over well with his business associates. The first was a woman definitely fitting the adjective County (they had eight children) and the second a waitress about as old as his granddaughter.

I'm not sure how long it will take me to get over the nasty comments from the Prudecutor and others about the wife doing better and needing therapy. Why on earth does everyone have to have challenging work or a career that utilizes as close to the full range of capacity as possible? What of those who put their real passion and energy into non-profitable pursuits and simply work enough to enable them to do what they find meaningful? Or what of those who would take something that fell into their laps but don't care for the dehumanizing and degrading process of playing the Corporate Game to get it? Oof.

L4: We finish with a case of impersonation. I'd ask LW4 if (s)he is at least getting a Vermeer out of the deal, as Miss Gilchrist did when she impersonated Cora Lansquenet at Cora's rich brother's funeral in *After the Funeral* and dropped the possibility of his having been murdered into the conversation to create a diversion from her subsequent murder of the real Cora - or ten thousand dollars, the fee agreed upon for Carlotta Adams to impersonate Jane Wilkinson at a dinner party in *Lord Edgware Dies*, although sadly, Jane's poisoning of Carlotta later that evening prevented Carlotta from enjoying the fee. As impersonation always leads to disaster, I'd advise LW4 to decline, the wise course even if the incentive involved is highly tempting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

9/23 - With a Special Guest Columnist

As we continue to get up to full speed after the recent change of internet, and as She Who Must Be Obeyed took exception to one of the letters, I have lined up a special guest this week who, I must admit, possesses considerable expertise on the subjects of being bullied at school, feminine attributes, daddies finding time to be at home and coping with difficult houseguests. As his wife, the Portia of our Chambers, has been away trying a long firm fraud in Hong Kong and has therefore been unable to approve this week's substitution, I shall introduce him by his initials, and ask you all to welcome to the column the inimitable C.E.B.:

Dear Readers,

I thank you all for your kind attention and crave your indulgence as one unaccustomed to column writing. Phylly, my wife, has always discouraged me from writing, but if Rumpole does it it really can't be all that difficult, can it? After all, he never took silk. And I must admit that Phylly has a tendency to underestimate my capacities, strange as it may seem. It would be rather nice being married to a judge if she weren't so inclined to be - well, judgemental. But enough of domestic bliss in Islington. I understand that the purpose of this column is to provide much needed guidance to four seriously lost letter writers, so let me begin:

L1: Dear LW1, so you were bullied at school by a teacher? It takes me right back to Bogshead, where we had to run three times around Tug's Patch before breakfast on saints' days and get up at 6:00 for early school on Saturdays. And it was a teacher who always had it in for me who gave me that nickname Collie that has stuck with me for the rest of my life. I completely sympathize with you. But you are looking at the situation the wrong way around. Naturally it's one thing as a child to hate school and all the teachers who aren't kind to us, but now you are on the other side. Seek out your former teacher, and see if she can recommend any particular students who occupy the same position you did, and now it's your turn to perform the same kind service that was done for you. After all, if it hadn't been for going to Bogshead and Winchester, I'm sure I'd never be where I am today, a successful Queen's Counsel. And if being bullied at school were really all that bad, we shouldn't keep sending our children to those schools - well, at least, our sons (but I'd rather not dwell on Phylly's adverse reaction to Tristan being sent to a boys' school where Isolde couldn't go with him).

L2: Dear LW2, I must admit that your letter interests me most of all. And it was this letter which induced my dear friend Rumpole to recruit me to substitute for him this week. Now, this is an area where I happen to have acquired considerable expertise. You may remember my picture appearing in the Daily Beacon when I was photographed in the Kitten-a-Go-Go Club at the very moment when, it just so happened, the young lady dancing had just removed her brassiere. Of course, I would never have entered such premises had it not been that I'd been sent a brief in a case of Actual Bodily Harm that had resulted from an affray that had occurred in the club. Rumpole, who takes cases of common assault far more often than I, had advised me to visit the locus in quo in order to cross-examine witnesses on the geography. While perhaps not in the class of an evening of Wagner at Covent Garden, the entertainment on offer was lively, and I did receive substantial damages when the Beacon was forced to admit that I visited the club solely in my legal capacity.

Now, as for your coworker's attributes, I shall take a page from Rumpole's book and cross-examine you about them. Are they firm? Are they large? Are they perky, like Liz Probert's? discreet, like Fiona Allways'? Exactly what size is the brassiere she isn't wearing? Perhaps it might be of an unusual size that makes it difficult for her to find appropriate undergarments. If your business failed, would she be able to support herself by dancing at the Kitten-a-Go-Go Club?

In fact, the more I consider the situation, the more inclined I am to cross-examine your friend in person - as long as she's not... well, fat, as my former pupil Wendy Crump was. Rumpole always called her a brilliant cross-examiner, but then, of course, Rumpole is so portly himself that he can't see clearly the advantages of having a slim pupil. If your concern is because your friend is overweight and your clients will find the view unappealing, I am entirely on your side. But otherwise, I think you might be missing an opportunity here. Doubtless your friend has been bringing in more business than the other two of you combined - you should all (provided, of course, that none of you are fat) follow her excellent example and watch business skyrocket.

L3: Dear LW3, I am entirely on your side. It is vitally important that a father spend as much time home with his child as possible. In fact, I don't think, after she got pregnant, that Phylly and I would even have gotten married at all if I hadn't been so determined to arrange my schedule so that I spent rather less time in court or Chambers and much more time at home with the baby. A father's influence cannot be overstated.

It strikes me as possible that the problem might be on your end. After all, while I was spending every afternoon and evening at home with Tristan, Phylly was always in court doing important cases. What you need is to have your clerk get you a few civil cases - perhaps even in the Chancery Division, if you're lucky, and then your husband will have to stay home more than he does. However, as it may take time to build up your practice, in the meantime you might call upon your husband's employers in person and see if you can convince them to see reason about making his hours more suitable. Phylly has always been a tremendous advocate, and I believe she even convinced our Head of Chambers, Sam Ballard, to tell the Lord Chancellor's office that I had been showing a great deal of gravitas and bottom the year I finally took silk. And Rumpole's wife Hilda has always been formidable in argument. Take the appropriate wifely role, LW3, and things should sort themselves.

L4: Dear LW4, I can relate to your situation as well. Tristan and Isolde do on occasion have friends over for meals during the holidays. Phylly and I have always been most generous in our offers to share our meusli, but quite a lot of our houseguests don't want to deprive us of our supply. They kindly insist on preparing their own meals, as Rumpole did when he put up with us after he and Hilda had a disagreement about an off-colour joke he told at the Scales of Justice Dinner at the Savoy. At any rate, we are quite at ease with our guests declining to share in our particular delectables.

Rumpole would doubtless enjoy himself cross-examining you on why your daughter has only one friend and such an unpleasant one at that, but I shall offer rather more practical counsel. Your problem is what to do when your visitor complains about the repast on offer. The solution is simple. Do as I do and simply stuff the buds of your Walkman into your ears and listen to a bit of Wagner. I find the Love Duet particularly enjoyable, especially when I can imagine Liz Probert or Luci Gribble... well, I'd better leave it there and, on that note, conclude my column. I have enjoyed filling in for Rumpole, and hope to do so again the next time any of the questions cause dissatisfaction to Hilda.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What I Did During My Enforced Holiday

In preparation for the resumption of regular service, I thought I might as well provide an account of the project I undertook during the lengthy period of internet overhaul. Wanting something useful to do, I thought I might compile a list of all the costumes in which the Daria characters appear during the running of the closing credits and select a group of the best of the approximately 300 overall. After unsuccessful attempts to narrow it down to a Top Ten, I have selected a Top Twenty and added five for duo/group selections.


5 - BRITTANY and KEVIN in ROLE REVERSAL with Brittany as QB and Kevin cheerleading.

4 - MS BARCH and MR O'NEIL playing TWISTER


2 - DARIA and TOM as Grant Wood's AMERICAN GOTHIC



20 - Exemplary African-American student JODY as JOAN CRAWFORD - a chance to be the perfectionist parent she suffers under

19 - Jody's boyfriend/Kevin's longsuffering teammate MAC as JAMES BOND - he gets to propel himself far away from Kevin

18 - Fashion Club doormat STACY as ALICE plying croquet - could go with her Baby Jane, Carrie or Coppertone Girl

17 - Sensitive English teacher MR O'NEIL as BRAVEHEART - as inappropriate for this as he is for the Incredible Hulk and a better costume

16 - Goth ANDREA as THAT GIRL - painful hair change for her

15 - One of Quinn's suitors JAMIE as the DUTCH BOY PAINT BOY - not really a stretch

14 - Hypervigiliant principal MS LI as EVA PERON - decent typecasting

13 - Trent's bandmate JESSE as a GAME SHOW HOST - it required a shirt

12 - Fashion Club's vacuous TIFFANY as CHER - just beating out her Pokemon

11 - Daria's sister QUINN as PIPPI LONGSTOCKING - the one look Quinn would never undertake

10 - Dim bulb QB KEVIN as the MAD HATTER - could have gone with his George Washington, Gilligan or Boy George, but bonus points for the Hatter's disproportionate head

9 - Aggressive feminist MS BARCH as MONICA LEWINSKI - complete with a back view of Bill Clinton

8 - Flirtatious but repulsive UPCHUCK as AUSTIN POWERS - excellent typecasting

7 - Dim cheerleader BRITTANY as Rodin's THE THINKER - too classic

6 - Irate history teacher MR DeMARTINO as LIBERACE - the smile is terrifying

5 - DARIA as MOTHER GOOSE - could have gone with her Scarlett O'Hara, Elmo, Sinead O'Connor or Aphrodite, but bonus points for the goose and her get-me-out-of-here expression.

4 - Jane's brother TRENT as DARIA - again, many alternatives, such as his figure skater, mime, PeeWee Herman or Peter Pan

3 - Daria's mother HELEN as LADY GODIVA - bonus points because the horse is carrying her briefcase in its mouth

2 - One of Quinn's suitors JEFFY as MARILYN MONROE with the skirt blowing up - suits his expression really well

1 - Daria's best friend JANE dancing the CAN-CAN - Jane probably deserves a Top Ten of her own with her geisha, Snow White, Rapunzel, Emma Peel, Shirley Temple, Frida Kahlo, Whistler's Mother, manyhanded goddess and David Bowie in some order or other.

That should give people a good idea of what I did on my enforced holiday when I was not watching the tennis or writing a very long poem. Speaking of the tennis, it was interesting that Rafael Nadal made the first unsolicited comment about 9/11 (after his semifinal) I've heard since Elena Dementieva made similar remarks six years ago, the last time the 11th was the second Saturday of the tournament.