One out, one in
My brother has just had his electronic tag removed and is now a free man once again after serving approximately one year in Walton Gaol for common assault and three months wearing a tracking device that prevented him from leaving my parents’ house between the hours of seven at night and seven in the morning.
He had attacked the new partner of his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son with a plate, the skilful and unexpected deployment of which inflicted terrible injuries on the victim.
The tag posed complications at home because my mother would not let him smoke inside and he was obliged to prop one foot on a stool just within her patio doors while the rest of his body extended outward into the garden where he could puff on a horizontal but non-crafty fag.
The removal of the tag was a cause for celebration chez nous, not because my brother can return to his life of wayward crime but because my parents could finally boot him out and enjoy their retirement without an ex-con rolling up reefers in the kitchen.
The rejoicing was muted, however, because just as he was enjoying his first taste of liberation, my sister’s husband — they live next door to mum and dad — was being sentenced to two years in prison in France for attempting to smuggle what I can only assume – judging from the severity of his sentence — was an enormous quantity of cigarettes on the lorry he was driving back through Calais.
My brother-in-law does not speak French. In fact, originating from the Scottish Highlands he barely speaks English, and so he will not bear his incarceration lightly. The St Omer detention facility is not convenient for visiting relatives. Given his roots, reared almost exclusively on potatoes with just swedes and turnips for variety, his tolerance for la cuisine de la prisonniere will be limited.
He was given €20 for the prison shop, which covered some water, stamps and stationery and, regrettably, some cigarettes. He was unable to keep the contraband fags although the dimensions of his cell probably precluded its storage anyway. The whole business of being stopped, apprehended, locked up, tried, sentenced and imprisoned was a whirlwind four days. Whichever way we look at this, from a family perspective these developments are sub-optimal.
The person I feel sorry for is my mother for having to deal with the shame. Forget about a family of recidivists, how does she explain to someone that her eldest son is an emerging markets sales-trader in the City?
What are the chances?
High summer. Blazing sunshine. Le douce vivre in la France profonde. A large lake.
I like swimming but I don’t like rules so I pause for a moment at the edge of the tiny zone roped off for bathers in the corner of this immense stretch of water and then duck under.
I head for the distant shore, cutting long, clean strokes through the water, enjoying the novelty of not being obliged to stop every 25 metres and swim back in the other direction and not having to avoid human sandbags clogging up the fast lane. I feel the loneliness of the long-distance swimmer, slip into a rhythm and strike out for the lake’s belly.
A few minutes later the steady slosh and swish of water is interrupted by two maniacs on jet skis roaring straight for me.
They are shouting and gesticulating wildly, pointing first back to the swimming area (where a small crowd has gathered on the floating pontoon to watch the drama) and then to the sky. My French is not so bad, but I have no idea what they are saying, though it is clear from their unmistakably doom-laden deaf-and-dumb show that I must exit the water tout de suite.
I climb onto the back of a jet ski and am ridden back to the shore. Here, the lifeguard points to the large panneaux, several of them, which state, unequivocally “Interdit de baigner. Danger d’ecoupage par les Canadairs”.
I did what comes naturally, played stupid and a diplomatic incident was avoided, but afterwards we contemplated and chuckled about the ludicrous possibility of being scooped up by a fire-fighting plane and then being dropped onto a blazing forest to be incinerated.
I looked up Canadairs on the internet and, even though we know there is nothing new under the sun, I was still surprised to see that there was one reported incident of a scuba diver somewhere being swept up from the sea by a plane and then thrown onto a wildfire. Firefighters discovered his charred remains, his wetsuit and breathing apparatus strung up in a tree several days afterwards.
I regard myself as one of life’s unlucky people and the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law, but to be snorkeling one minute, then knocked unconscious, drowned, burned and finally impaled and barbecued on a burning branch struck me as a particularly unfortunate end and such a fantastical way to die, the odds against it happening must be infinite.
Tell me this though, gentle reader: is that improbable sequence of events more or less likely than your correspondent here being on the receiving end of a Large Unsolicited Discretionary Order on his first day back from holiday, after enduring a business drought since he joined Salvation Bank so severe that even Bob Geldof turned up looking concerned?
They say even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, but not many bother to point out that same squirrel must break his teeth chewing stones more often than not.
After six weeks of increasing desperation, though, an order fell upon me as they say love should, like an enormous ‘Yes’.
The head of trading, who is my friend and pretty much laid his credibility on the line to hire me, replaced his expression of grim scepticism with one of beatification as the commission came down like a flash flood in a dry creek. His bum steer was transformed into a prize bull and no one was more surprised than me.
The tale of the scuba diver is so much urban myth, however.
The planes suck up water via hoses about three inches in diameter apparently so what sounded impossible was, it transpired, exactly that.
I bet you, as I type this, that many of my colleagues who have been wondering about the seemingly useless overhead lately come into their midst are probably telling incredulous friends in bars across the City that the bloke who reeks of red wine and desperation finally landed a fish.
They shall extend their arms to measure an imaginary catch and insist, “it was this big” but you wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it with your own eyes. I did.