Comment With….barry Speker

Issue 53

The current raised profile of the rule of law, and the need for it to be respected, has focussed on whether the Government needs to respect the Benn law and the spirit of the Supreme Court Judgment. It has also brought criticism of the excesses of the Extinction Rebellion protestors, as well as the demonstrators in Hong Kong and elsewhere. ‘Do the means justify the ends?’ is the frequent dilemma, depending on the cause espoused and one’s stance.

Law Society research confirms that the public values the rule of law as much as the NHS. Yet Judges are continually undermined by the press which shakes public confidence. Lawyers appreciate the need to balance freedom of expression with the right to peacefully protest, whilst insisting on respecting the law enforced by our independent and impartial judiciary.

In the meantime it seems that lawyers have equal concern about the difficulty of blockchain encryption and artificial intelligence, including the possibility of entirely automated legal services. Describing television, Ronald Dahl wrote: “It rots the sense in the head, It kills imagination dead, It clogs and clutters up the mind, It makes a child so dead and blind’.

However the suggestion that too much TV makes people stupider, has not been supported by any scientific verification – until now. The Norwegian Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research has mapped exposure of children in geographical areas to popular channels and performed IQ tests on reaching the age for national service.

The conclusions included that the earlier boys were exposed to trashy television, the lower would be their IQ and the more likely they would be to drop out of school. Therefore watching bad telly makes boys stupider. Girls it seems are more resistant to this type of mind-clogging. Dahl would have been pleased. His poem continues with a plea to parents instead to “install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall”. Particularly if stacked with tales of Charlie, Danny and Matilda.

Despair at inaccessibility of Newcastle City Centre increases with the springing up of more otiose and superfluous cycle and bus lanes. These always appear free of any cyclists. The latest cycle lane which is along St Nicholas St past the French Quarter, adds to the difficult of driving anywhere near the Central Station.

The day long queues must be part of the local authority ‘plan’, so well achieved by the constant queues up the Central Motorway to reach the former Cowgate roundabout. Now there is a proposal to add two bus lanes over the Tyne Bridge. Is this to discourage visitors? or to prevent escape?

My current film recommendation is ‘Judy’ featuring an extraordinary portrayal by Renée Zellweger who deserves to win an Oscar, something Judy Garland herself did not manage. The film is set in the late period of Garland’s career when, cash-strapped and addicted, she came to London in 1968 to give high paid performances at the Talk of the Town.

There were recollections of other ageing Hollywood stars deposited into a rainy and slightly seedy Britain encountering eccentric locals and discovering decency and self-respect. Similar to Stan and Ollie, My Week with Marilyn and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. At one stage a doctor asks if she has taken anything for depression, Judy replies “Yes, Four husbands – didn’t work “.

The tragic life of Garland, exploited and abused from childhood including diet pills and sleeping pills through her career with drug and alcohol problems – but to the end able to blast out a great song despite being haggard and emaciated. The cinema audience was left totally silent but clearly affected.

Evidence that retirement is much overrated is demonstrated by John Goodenough. The 97-yearold academic has become the oldest winner of a Nobel prize. He criticised Oxford University which forced him to retire at 65. He then went to the University of Texas in Austin. He continued his research for 33 years developing lithium-ion batteries which powered the portable electronics revolution.

He feels that Oxford was throwing away experience by maintaining the policy of compulsory retirement. This is still enforced by Oxford and Cambridge now at age 67 (to help younger academics and promote equality and diversity). The lithium-ion technology is worth millions. Did Professor Goodenough benefit from royalties? He said “I don’t really care about that. The lawyers always end up with the money”.

We always get the flak! Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s outgoing Chief Medical Officer proposes banning eating and drinking on public transport. This is not to discourage the bad manners demonstrated by guzzling smelly kebabs, hot dogs, pasties or tuna and onion sandwiches in buses, trains or tubes. It is not an assault on lack of etiquette but to address the obesity crisis as ‘part of the effort to shield children from temptations to eat unheathily’.

Dame Sally notes the sale of snacks invading public spaces, on billboards, TV and around supermarket checkouts.

Last year it was found that in primary schools six children in 30 are obese – fat children are vulnerable to health problems such as diabetes, asthma and depression and are more likely to become fat adults.

Libertarians complain about restrictions on personal freedom. Yet moves are afoot for calorie caps on servings and plain packaging for crisps and sweets.

There may be a ban on eating any sweets or snacks in public places – until then how about a special snack carriage on trains or munching only in an upstairs section on buses, which at least will make fatties climb the stairs?

Will groups of fat staff members be assembled in cordoned off areas outside office blocks to consume a full fat moccachino and a thousand calorie muffin? “Fancy coming outside for a quick Lion Bar?” (in plain white wrapping of course and with a Government health warning)?

Sign-up to our newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.