Goodbye Mr Stephens

Mr Jim Stephens was my lecturer and tutor in criminal law in my second year at UCL. Two years later, he would still smile and say hello whenever we happened to meet on the streets of Bloomsbury, or in the corridors of the law faculty. This would perhaps be understandable if I had been a good student of criminal law, but I wasn’t. Through no fault of his, I missed at least a third of the lectures, and was usually woefully unprepared for tutorials. But even though I certainly entered the doors of his room with very little in my mind, I always left with much more.

He bewildered and frustrated us at first. The robustness that cut through the dead air of lecture theatres and kept even sleepy me awake as he snarled “Hey, FATTY!” in lectures on provocation was almost too much to handle in his faculty room, where each of us in turn would be hemming and hawing at the end of his penetrating gaze as we racked our brains for the answer he was looking for. He insisted on a highly systematic approach to dissecting the many different elements of a problem question, and in my conceptual haziness I chafed as what I thought were reasonable answers were often not considered precise enough. Over time though, things got clearer, and everything started to make sense. I believe his rigour in those tutorials was behind my eventual First in criminal law.

It would be inaccurate to frame this post as a goodbye to a beloved teacher. The nature of my university life was that I engaged with my teachers as little as humanly possible, because I was acutely aware that I was quite possibly their laziest student, and if they didn’t already know that, I didn’t want them to find out. But when I heard the news today, memories of Mr Stephens were easy to find, easier to find than memories of most of the people who have only just lectured me in NUS. I remember a clear blue gaze, a ready smile, and pavement conversations where he seemed genuinely interested in what and how I was doing, and all this for a student who faltered on questions like “What is the leading case in defining recklessness?”

The next time I am in London, Bloomsbury, and the corridors of the UCL law faculty, will feel a little emptier.

Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK

Handy coincidence. I was sitting here trying to think of a way to start this entry, and was looking through my CDs to choose one to play, and hey presto.

So anyway, this entry will be all about how I had a tough exam yesterday, and then had to leave straight after it to go to uni to do a simulated arbitration which I had done zero preparation for and could therefore have really sucked at, and how the day could have gone really badly, but it didn’t at all, and I’m happy. If all that sounds boring to you, that’s probably because it is. Go read The Onion if you’d rather. Otherwise, read on.

Waking up was agony. I used to have to stay up the whole night before most of my O’level prelims, given that I only tended to start studying the entire year’s work at 3 or 4 that afternoon. In the first year of uni, I remember a delirious conversation around 5 am with Esther the morning of the property law exam, trying to work out what the fuck the case Re Vandervell was all about. Those days seem to be gone. Yesterday, I’d stayed up cramming till 4, and woke up at 9 feeling like I’d been hit by a bus.

Sitting jittery outside the exam room hoping that the questions really really wouldn’t require a sound understanding of hedging or forward markets (i.e. the introductory chapter I didn’t understand) or, actually, international trade law at all (i.e. the entire course), that familiar old internal refrain of “In all fairness, Michelle, you don’t really deserve to pass this exam anyway, given this sort of preparation” was seeming as pertinent as ever.

But then the lovely old retiree who’s been invigilating these exams handed me the question paper and oh joy, oh providence, there were questions I could do, although forgetting all my cases couldn’t have helped, and I think I might just have gotten away with this.

I left jubilant, grabbed a coffee, and got on the bus to uni. Prepared doggedly for the arbitration over the next hour or so, fuelled only by a char siew pau and fear of humiliation, and managed to deliver a credible performance despite being mentally dead and feeling somewhat intimidated by the formidable abilities of everyone else. After class, the professor took us all for a drink. I swigged a strangely headless Guinness, got to know my rather personable and engaging coursemates a little better, and generally had a grand time.

Today, in contrast, has been sedate. Woke up in time for lunch. For dessert my mum whipped out a gargantuan tub of chin chow (grass jelly, it’s much nicer than it sounds), and I gorged myself happily. Lazed on the couch. The Discovery travel channel was featuring the World’s Top Ten Seductive Beach Resorts, all of which looked samey and artificial. After a while I got tired of seeing gooey-eyed couples embracing in the sunset, mostly because of my current geographic inability to do the same.

Channel surfing revealed a Hallmark movie featuring an inordinate number of grizzled old men in flat caps and tweed gathered on a rugged beach for a horse and buggy race. It was immediately obvious to me where this movie was set even before anyone opened their mouth and sounded lilting, and the appearance of the prosthetic-eared leprechauns confirmed my suspicions. So anyway this touching love story unfolded between an American, who of course had gone to Ireland to find his roots, and a sassy Irish woman, and there was, like, this PARALLEL love story between a fairy and a leprechaun, and obviously the uniting factor between both love stories was that they come from DIFFERENT WORLDS, and there are all these OBSTACLES to their love, but of course their love TRIUMPHS over all, because doesn’t it always, and at some point I fell asleep.


Forgive me. I generally try avoid meaningless blog entries, and I promise I do have an entry about the last few days in the works, but I have just woken up from a bizarre, neither-sleep-nor-waking-dream at my library desk to find I have typed “Effect on the contract of carriage of the carrier deciding to stow the cargo on deck without first obtaininggggg beanbag ffor my room, but is there a spare kayak?” into my notes.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the law of carriage of goods by sea is boring.

Essays In Resentment

I’ve been reading and enjoying finestlittlespace every now and then for quite a while now, but somehow never got round to linking to it.

If, however, I manage to finally resign myself to getting a move on with that 5000 word comparative human rights paper, her blog will be a delightful source of schadenfreude in the midst of my misery, because she’s got to do a whole thesis! (Sorry, Nurul! Hang in there, and best of luck with it. You do really have all my sympathies!)

Like her, I too tried to make a list of tasks for this essay. It went something like:

  • Choose essay topic
  • Do the damn research
  • Photocopy the damn research
  • Read the bloody research
  • Make notes on the bloody research
  • Plan the fucking essay
  • Write the fucking essay
  • Shout “CHEE-BAI, it’s done!” and jet off to Venice

Perhaps the first seven items are overly negative, but the thought of the last one is keeping me going.

Fun With US Constitutional Case Names!

Fun fact for the day: in the American constitutional rights saga that began with the miraculous “creation” of a general right to privacy and eventually led to the legalizing of abortion, a case along the way that extended this right of privacy to activities relating to marriage was called Loving v. Virginia.

Okay, so maybe it’s a thoroughly boring factoid and would amuse only the puerile, but when trying to research a comparative human rights essay on judicial discovery of unenumerated rights, one must look for these little joys.

Distracted By Jesus

While ploughing through back issues of The Irish Jurist I was completely diverted from my quest for articles on unenumerated rights in Irish constitutional law (no prizes for guessing that Comparative Human Rights is my “fun but impractical” Masters course choice) by “The Trial Of Jesus As A Conflict Of Laws?” (1997 32 Ir. Jur. 398 for any similarly sad lawyer type who’s interested).

It tackles the three main areas of concern in the subject: jurisdiction, choice of law and enforcement of judgments, basically: who had the jurisdiction to put Jesus on trial, Pilate (as Roman governor of Judea), Herod (as tetrach of Galilee and a client-king of Rome), or the Sanhedrin (as highest Jewish court of law)? What law would be applied in the trial, Roman or Jewish? Lastly, if in answer to the first two questions we discover that the Sanhedrin decided, applying Jewish law, would Pilate be prepared or required to enforce the judgment?

It ultimately concludes that there was only one trial, before Pilate, who applied Roman law, which seemed a sensible if not revelatory stance, but it was a refreshing diversion none the less.

Dear Wankers

To certain unnamed but now viciously described users of the law library where I unfortunately spend my postgraduate days:

German guy with overly floppy hair and a weak face that somehow looks capable of cruelty (think Rolf from The Sound Of Music), you are not the life of the library party, and your need to let the whole room know you’re having a wonderfully entertaining conversation is really pathetic. Your lavender jumpers really don’t go with blindingly blond hair. Also, not only is eating in a library a bit out of order, eating loud food (apples, crisps) and punctuating your already loud conversations with crunches and lipsmacks truly takes the cake, pun not intended.

Girl who hangs adoringly around German guy, and has an accent distinctly from my part of the world (Singapore or Malaysia), you are obviously so blinded by his hair that you have forgotten the manners and library etiquette they most certainly teach us back home. Thankfully, you’re trying too hard to act demure and cute to add to his noise.

Thirtysomething-if-you’re-a-day woman who leisurely answers unsilenced mobile phone and jabbers away at top volume for prolonged conversations, I have no idea what planet you’re from, so I’m not even going to bother.

With utmost sincerity,
A fellow library user, who is hardly encouraged in researching her human rights essay by the fact that she keeps longing to bludgeon all of you to death, or at least chuck you in gulags.

[Just to clarify: the library I refer to in this post is not the UCL library where I was amused by graffitti. That one is largely populated by undergraduates, who may burble on a bit at times about how rat-arsed they got last Friday night, but generally focus their efforts on vandalism and falling asleep, which are silent preoccupations and therefore don’t annoy me. The one I use most of the time, and which I refer to in this post, is only for postgrads, academics and professionals, all of whom really should know better.]

Law Library Graffiti

Selected graffiti from the carrel I was using in the UCL library yesterday:

  • (On a white square sticker with rounded edges)
    I won’t deny the pain
    I won’t deny the change
    And should I fall from grace
    Here with you
    Would you leave me too?
    (Signed off mei3 nu3 du2 LAW, which roughly translates to beautiful girl law student)
    (this promptly put the song into my head for the rest of the day, where it is still.)
  • My pen is Better!! (with the dots in the exclamation mark replaced by circles)
  • Today is the first day of the rest of my life!
  • moo moo moo (in neat cursive, the person probably does very legible lecture notes)
  • shezad is an annoying fuck
  • (I think the following few constitute a continuous exchange, although various snippets were sprawled all over the surface wherever writing space was available)
  • Using a vibrator (this word underlined in red, with concentric “vibration” marks emanating from it) sometimes helps. Put it on your brain perhaps!
  • What has a VIBRATOR got to do with REVISION?
  • What little imagination you have!
  • I wouldn’t mind a vibrator. Will it hurt?

I Wasn’t Made For Diplomacy

The reading on cultural relativism I’ve been doing for my comparative human rights course has been boring me so far. This isn’t because it’s especially tough or dry, it’s because it’s just so earnest and civilized. Human rights are important. Social and political cultures are complex and diverse. It’s really, really difficult to figure out how best to protect everything and everyone, but we must keep trying. GROUP HUG!!!

In contrast, Voltaire once said he would rest in peace only when the last king was strangled in the entrails of the last priest. Philosophical discourse must have been so much more fun in those days.

One More Year

I went to Germany feeling extraordinarily low; protracted showers and sleeps over a too-brief weekend hadn’t been enough to combat the accumulated dust and disorientation of moving out of my comfort zone of 2 years, and remaining rebel elements in my lungs were still mounting the occasional tubercolotic (that’s probably not even a word, but you know what I’m getting at) revolution. I felt residually gritty and somehow off-kilter, like a bad photocopy of myself.

I returned from Germany yesterday and it feels like everything has changed. I had a pretty damn fabulous holiday with my pretty damn fabulous best friend, which will hopefully be written about soonish. I found out two wonderful pieces of news – one, that I got first class honours in my degree, two, that my scholarship organization will let me take advantage of this by sponsoring me for a Masters (which means another year before they have to pull me kicking and screaming from London back to Singapore).

For the first time in a while there is certainty, and optimism that can finally be more than just cautious. It’s sunny today. I’m feeling good in my skin.