Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

I was in court last week, giving it large (as they say round here) to the barrister on the other side. I love the precision, or at least the logic-chopping, of the law: it appeals to the pedant in me. It also appeals to the sophist. Few pleasures are greater than that of conjuring a specious argument out of the blue, as the occasion requires.

The case was of the usual sordid kind, I need not go into detail. It took place in one of the many provincial towns in England that seem to consist of a bus station, a ring road and a crown court. A few people move about slowly in the desolate townscape like grasshoppers in a vivarium, with cars and lorries playing the part of predatory reptiles.

Of course, there are other, more dangerous predators in this townscape as well: British youths. You don't look them in their little ferret eyes as they slope past you in their tracksuits and hoods. They are not so much hunter-gatherers as muggeropportunists. You'd cross the road to get away from them, if the road were not the ring road, thundering constantly with large trucks delivering junk food.

Around the crown court, a new building with such dignity as modern British architects can manage, was a small fenced garden. This garden grew litter. The youths of the town, unable to control their appetites, had eaten in the streets nearby and had disposed of the wrappings, cartons and cans of what they had consumed in the little garden. It grew in little piles that were sometimes disturbed by gusts of wind, so that an empty packet of crisps blew across my face as I reached the entrance. …

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