2022i4, Tuesday: Weight matters.

Weight isn’t just a matter of physics. It’s a matter of heart.

Anyone with a smattering of physics knows there’s a difference between weight and mass.

Mass is how much of something there is. It doesn’t change. A litre of distilled water masses a kilogram. Here, on the moon, in microgravity. Everywhere.

Weight, though, is something different. We routinely talk about that water “weighing” a kilogram, because here, on this Earth, it’s true. Six trillion trillion kg of planet under our feet make sure of it.

But not elsewhere. On the Moon, the same water “weighs” a sixth as much. A human being “weighs” 10 or 15 kilos. And in space? So little it isn’t worth talking about.

In a way, therefore, “weight” is context-dependent. One could almost say it’s subjective.

I know, I know. “Subjective” doesn’t mean that.

But what I’m trying to do here is lead up to the idea that for us humans, weight is about more than just a collection of molecules. How we feel, what we know, what we don’t – all these can imbue objects with a quality which makes them heavier or lighter, even when gravity stays at 1G.

Lift your work bag on two successive days, with the same contents, and it’ll feel different. A meeting you dread or a lunch you’ll love? A task that counts or drudgery that doesn’t? One day: light. The next: leaden.

But sometimes extra weight isn’t a burden. It’s a sign of how much something matters.

For most of us, there are things which define who we are. There are people, of course, thank goodness: those we love, those who love us. But there are things we do. Actions, activities, obsessions. The things which – if they were taken away from us – would leave us only partially there. Robbed. Even bereft.

I know what these are for me, because I spent years without them. No-one’s fault but my own. They weren’t taken away; I let them slip away from me. Told myself I was too busy. Family, work, no time for anything else.

And I paid. I became a smaller, sadder, sorrier person. More tired. More worn. Worst of all, someone with less of myself to give to others.

One is music. Long-term readers will recall I’m a piano player (never a pianist – nowhere near good enough to say that). I didn’t play for years. I don’t play every day now – but most days I do, and I know that I’m the better for having it back in my life.

The other, though, is capoeira. A martial art suffused with music. Born in Brazil, now worldwide. I first tried it almost 25 years ago. Then I played, solidly, for up to five or six hours a week, for several years around the year 2000. I loved it. It fed me. The physicality, the flexibility, the sense of energy and community and communication. Like nothing on earth. I took gradings. Became a senior student, with a blue belt.

Then, for years, I let it slip. Life. Work. Excuses.

Then, after we moved out of London, I discovered our new home had its own capoeira school, Brazilarte. I started training in 2019. Mestre Biscuim and Contra-mestra Sininha, its founders, became friends. They became family. And through the mad months of Covid, capoeira helped keep me sane. Kept me breathing.

In the two years I trained with Brazilarte – not always regularly, as work and family crises sometimes got in the way – I never wore a belt. It didn’t feel right, wearing one from so long ago. And thanks to the pandemic, there was no chance for a batizado (what we call a grading; literally, a “baptism”) at which I could earn one anew.

Not till last November. The Brazilarte Batizado was a celebration: of capoeira, of survival, of community. It was wonderful.

And at the end, Sininha tied this round my waist. A mark of family. Of belonging. Of faith and love. Of my return to capoeira as though I’d never left. Even of a kind of forgiveness for the times I’d let myself walk away.

And of an obligation – it being an instructor’s belt – to share the love with whoever I could.

And just for a moment, my knees sagged. My mind knew the belt massed a couple of hundred grams. My soul knew it weighed far, far more.

Today’s the first training session of 2022. This evening I hope I’ll feel my belt’s true weight. It may not be what I deserve. But I know it’s what I need.

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2021i7, Thursday: How to read.

Yes, I know. A staggeringly arrogant title. But we lawyers have to get through huge piles of stuff. And finding ways to curate the pile is a genuine bonus.

Shortish thought: I haven’t got time to write a long thing I was planning on curation of online content. Not with one multi-day hearing finishing today and another starting next Wednesday. But I can take a moment to preview it with one critical tool for reading stuff: RSS.

(For the uninitiated: many websites, particularly news and blogs, publish what are called RSS feeds – which a dedicated app or site can use to drag down headlines and either whole pieces or summaries for you to read at your leisure. My blog’s is at https://remoteaccessbar.com/feed/.)

I know, I know: with Twitter, Facebook, and the rest, who needs RSS?

Any sensible lawyer, that’s who. I’ve been curating feeds for about 15 years now. Originally, like almost everyone else, I used Google’s Reader site to do so. Then Google shut down Reader in 2013 and a world of alternatives blossomed. I use Feedbin as the back-end to manage and grab the feeds; it costs me a few bucks a month. And Reeder as my app of choice for Mac and iOS for actually reading them. Costs me about a tenner every couple of years; I have no problem paying for major updates for something I use a dozen times a day. (There are loads of alternatives – both backend and reading/processing. Honestly, we’re spoiled for choice. Just stick “RSS reader” into your search engine of choice.)

Why is it good? And why is it good for lawyers? Well, think of all the chambers, law firms, legal academics and bloggers whose stuff you see linked to on Twitter etc, or get emails from, or glance at from time to time. Now think of how much you probably miss as the firehose of the Twitter feeds and unread emails shoots by. Now imagine if you could get all that stuff in one big list. Then (and this is the really game-changing part) use your cursor keys to shoot down that list, scanning headlines and summaries before starring anything you want to read later and dumping the rest. Once you get into the habit, you can keep-or-dump a couple of hundred entries in a minute or two. And then read them. Often offline. Whenever you’ve time. On any device.

Now tell me that doesn’t sound fantastic.

Still need convincing? Check this. Yup: that’s feeds for BAILII. Thank me later. Those, as they say, are my submissions.

Someone is right on the internet: It’s been a weird 24 hours, hasn’t it? What with the quasi-putsch attempt in DC (David Frum suggested that word – a good one, better than coup) and all, maybe everyone needs a boost. Here you go: a work of breathtaking, glorious artistry. It made my day.

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2021i1, Friday: Start over.

A new year. Time to do better.

Short thought: Nothing much today. 2020, by common agreement, sucked. If we work together, and listen humbly to one another, we can make this year better. Let’s.

Someone is right on the internet: Hui Chen, former compliance counsel to the Department of Justice and now Chief Integrity Adviser to the Attorney-General of Hawaii, is an ex-boss and an old friend. She has a post talking about this past year. In which she lost her father – not to the Bug, but to an aneurysm. She writes wisely about what’s gone wrong, and where, even in the dark times, light can be found.

Hui became my boss in July 2014, as she became Standard Chartered Bank’s first ever global head of anti-bribery and corruption. I became her deputy. We hit it off in days. Less than three months later, I lost my dad. And she went from being a good boss to an amazing one. Her kindness and goodness to me – and my family – as we dealt with this were unparalleled, and her encouragement thereafter was a huge part of how I found the guts to take a risk and become a barrister. I can only hope, and pray, that she and her family have been surrounded by equal kindness and goodness as they’ve dealt with their loss.

Things I wrote: A new year is a chance to look back. So I thought it might be amusing to travel in time almost two decades to my reporting days at the BBC, and a piece I found in the archive describing my first experience with ADSL as opposed to dial-up, hooked up so far as I recall to my TiBook. Not sure it’s aged terribly well as a piece of writing, but oddly it brings back fond memories of the Series1 Tivo box I owned around the same time. Those were the days.

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Unbroken. At least for the moment.

I cannot, possibly, thank you enough.

Everyone who wrote to me, commented, or otherwise made contact following that thing I wrote a while ago. You are blessings, every single one.

Some said it helped them think about what they did, and how. Some, bravely, shared their own travails. Some simply offered a hand. A shoulder. A (digital) nod. Every little bit was wonderful, and generous, and human.

(Particular thanks to Max, who reminded me of a truism that we all should be saying to ourselves and those we care about, on a far more regular basis: that it’s ok not to be ok. It really is.)

It’s even possible I may have helped a person or two myself. If I have, then Lord knows every word was worth it.

And I’m OK. Even amid Tier 4 (let’s call it what it is – a renewed lockdown – even if our government remains too cowardly to do so) – late, again; inefficient, again; incompetent, again: why don’t they learn? – I feel surprisingly together. I’m sleeping more. I’m reading more. I’m running more. (Including, sometimes, in the rain and before sunup. The calm of being out running as dawn starts to break – wow.) I’m walking more. I’m playing the piano more. I’m spending more time with my wife and daughter.

More simply, I’m trying to make time just to breathe, and to see the small things that make life worth living. A cobweb with dewdrops. A bright green caterpillar on the front step. A huge full moon with an aurora of cloud around it. A street I’ve never walked down before. The always-renewed pattern of light on the estuary waves.

And we’ve got a cat. Ostensibly it’s for daughter. Honestly? It’s as much for me. The idea of reading papers while enveloped in an industrial-strength purr was enticing beyond belief, and has proved to be even better. I’m sure more experienced cat-owning barristers will attest to the benefits of that.

So things are better. There’s a vaccine. Early signs are good. Trump is on the way out, even if his party has descended into something genuinely alarming, full of believers in what amounts to a one-party theocracy. (As a person of faith, theocracies terrify me. Because people who are certain they’re right, and who have power, are even scarier if they’re convinced God agrees with them.) There’s a Brexit deal; it’s rubbish, and has gaping holes that’ll take years or decades to fill, and we’ll suffer for it. But not as badly as we would on a no-deal finish.

So I’m grateful. Because perhaps, having recognised and accepted my weakness, and having had people I respect say good and kind and thoughtful things about it, I can be stronger. As, God willing, can we all.



Yesterday, just for a while, I broke.

Without going into detail (others deserve their privacy), personal stuff has been unremitting and draining the past month and more. A bunch of work deadlines collided in September. The outcome: a relentless grind of sleeplessness and toil that never seemed to diminish, or leave space for thought or rest or peace.

And yesterday… well, for a while I just stopped being able to handle it. For several chunks of the day – even while trying to write a skeleton for a case later this week – the tears kept flowing. And the anger; at myself and at others who, wholly unfairly, I felt were leaving me to carry burdens alone. And the frustration. And a sense of hopelessness, that nothing would or could change.

Now, before I go further, a caveat or two. I’m OK, fundamentally. I know depression; I know too many people who have to live with it, and this isn’t it. I’m no danger to anyone, least of all myself. And it’s possible that yesterday was a particularly bad day to finish Jim Butcher’s latest, which was an emotional minefield and roller-coaster combined. (And no, Jim: you’re not forgiven yet. Not for that. Can’t say anything more – spoilers! – but you know what I’m talking about.)

And most importantly: I know a good chunk of this isn’t about me, but about these strange days we’re living through.

Because I think, like many people – including vast numbers who are hurting far more than I am, financially, physically or spiritually – I’ve found the past months and years have delivered some wounds that just can’t, for the moment, heal.

I’m not just talking about the pain of living through the time of Covid, watching people suffer and die as those whose responsibility it is to step up fail, dismally, over and over again, as others pay for their arrogance and incompetence and obsession with a Kulturkampf that, right now, should be relegated to irrelevance. Watching chickens from a decade or more of grasping short-termism come home to roost.

But about the change of the past four years, as many of the things I hold dear about how human beings can, at their best, relate to one another – summed up, perhaps, in the ability to say “I could be wrong” and mean it – are trampled underfoot in a wave of straw-man attacks and visceral ugliness.

At the enabling of our darker sides, the ones we all have, to speak out as though they’re the sole truth, as opposed to just being one element in the mixture of soul and sin that’s woven into all our psyches.

At the refusal to remember we’re all frail, all failing, and all – therefore – desperately in need of generosity, understanding and acceptance, of ourselves and of others.

We try to keep going. To ride through the chunks taken out of our well-being, of our yearning for this not to be all there is.

It’s hard. It’s sometimes too much. And yesterday, it was too much for me.

Again: I’m here. I’m OK. Today’s been far better. And I know my trials are but pinpricks compared with those of others.

But it’s a lesson. I mustn’t – we mustn’t – ignore that underlying pain. I don’t know quite how I’ll deal with it, except I know I need more exercise. More quiet. More solitude, but also more time with those I care about. More natural beauty. More things, like playing the piano, that salve and save my soul.

A better control on the work I take on, managing better that fear which all self-employed people know, of how to keep the cash flowing. (The Bar can be a terrible place for this, hardly helped by how its lingering machismo about stupid hours combines with the constant thud – literal or PDF-metaphorical – of bundles landing on one’s desk at the last minute.)

And I need to keep giving love, because that will feed me as it feeds those who receive it.

That way, I can preserve the things that, in my core, will keep me going. Love, certainly. Hope, that our better angels (call them what you will; I continue to believe we all have them) will one day prevail and that we’ll see the best, as well as the worst, in those around us. And also faith: that this chaos and disorder isn’t all we have, that this darkest timeline can change, that whatever our deserts we can rise to the challenge and remake this world so all can flourish.

Faith manages. Hope, somehow, survives. And most of all, love endures. As long as those three things are true – and thus far, God willing, they always have been – I’ll be OK.