A letter to my mum

Hey Mum,

It’s been three years. Three years since you left us and, hopefully, moved on to a better place. Three years since that morning Dad and Dan came in to wake me up and tell me you were gone. Just over three years since we had our last conversation and I told you I loved you for the last time.

It breaks my heart to type those sentences. It still doesn’t feel entirely real. How have 3 years already passed by yet it still feel so raw, as if it only just happened? How can it already have been 3 years since I last saw you?

We all miss you like crazy. Truth is none of us have gotten any better at talking about what happened. I occasionally write about it, Dan doesn’t talk about it much, and dad finds it too hard to as well.

So much has happened the past three years. I wish you’d been there to see it all. I graduated from university, the one thing you wanted me to truly chase and go for. Truth be told I hated my graduation. The barber sabotaged me and I spent the day sweating like hell. Plus my graduation photo is the definition of horrific (picture Sloth from Goonies but wearing a cap and gown).

But it would have all been worth it to see the smile on your face as I collected my degree. That same, beautiful smile I saw the day I collected my A-Level results and told you and dad I’d changed my mind and wanted to go to university and not take a gap year.

Dan finished his A-levels and left for university too. He’s already in his final year! I still remember when he turned around and told us he was going to university to do drama and we were all surprised at his decision. I know you were worried about him but so far he’s smashing it and doing you proud. The boy even managed to find himself a girlfriend! You’d love her, and no doubt she’d have loved you too. His older brother however has had no such luck! I know you always said I was a handsome guy and deserved a great girl but so far that hasn’t happened. It’s a travesty. He turns 21 tomorrow can you believe that? The boy’s all grown up. You’d be so proud of him.

Dad’s doing well; he continues to be the absolute rock he was during your illness but I know deep down it still kills him. I don’t think he’ll ever really be ready to truly talk about it and I don’t blame him truth be told. Today’s not a day he really likes to acknowledge, but it’s one he can never forget. It still kills all of us but we’re gonna do what we do best: keep going.

Hollie and Dan finally tied the knot too! The weather may not have been great but it was such a nice day; Hollie looked absolutely beautiful and Dan scrubbed up fairly well too! I know you’d have loved nothing more than to be there, and she’d have loved to have you there too.

The kid’s are all growing up so fast too! Don’t get me wrong; they’re still the loveable rat bags they always were but taller and older now. Finley’s developed quite a singing voice too. No doubt you’d have loved watching him belt out Bohemian Rhapsody at Hollie and Dan’s wedding – the boy stole the show!

I swanned off to Nepal and Thailand, and more recently Amsterdam (where I did nothing but visit museums). The views in Nepal and Thailand were unreal. I wish I could show you all the photos I took and tell you about it all. I went and got a job too! Took me long enough and 15 odd interviews with jobs I had no interest in but I finally found a job that I love. I wish you had been there at Nan’s that day when I got the job. Everyone was so happy, myself included, but it wasn’t the same without you being there to hear it. I wish you had been. Three years of law (that you encouraged and motivated me to do) paid off and it kills me I didn’t get to celebrate it with you there by my side.

I’m finally growing a beard too. Well, trying to. It’s a work in progress but I’ll finally achieve my goal of having a beard one day. I know you used to take the piss out of my sideburns when I first started growing facial hair but it’s finally starting to spread out and means I look less like Abraham Lincoln. Maybe that’ll be the key to finding the good girl you were adamant I deserved to be with!

I still have dark thoughts. They’re not as frequent as they were when you first passed but they’re still there. I’m gradually coming to terms with them but it’s a struggle. I still picture the day you died and your funeral. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those two days. Truth be told I still picture my own death. Not me taking my own life, just me dying. I wish I could tell you why I do, but truth be told I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if it’s because some part of me thinks it’ll mean I’m with you or just my warped sense of thinking but the thoughts are there. I still haven’t made my peace with losing you. I try and tell myself I have. I try and be this peaceful person who’s made his peace with what happened but I haven’t. I’m still angry. I’m still broken. Why did it have to be you? You didn’t deserve any of this, none of us did. No one does yet it happened, and it happened to you.

We all miss you so much. Three years later and it still feels kinda surreal that it’s been that long since you left us. I tried to convince myself after you’d gone that I’d made the most of those final years with you. Truth be told, I don’t think I did. There’s so much about it I’d change. I wish I’d spent more time with you. I know you wanted us to carry on as normal but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have spent more time with you. I wish I’d taken more photos with you. Someone told me I should so I had something to look back on and remember the better times when you were gone. At the time I said I would, but I never did. I was never good at photos anyway as you’re well aware and I let my own insecurities get the better of me but I wish I’d forced myself to just do it. I hate how few photos I have with you. One of the last photos I have of us is from Hollies’ birthday where I look like what I can only describe as someone who had just taken a shit load of drugs. Surprised I didn’t chew through my lower jaw the way it looks like I’m gurning in the picture.

I was ignorant/scared to truly face what you were going through and instead threw myself into anything else in a bid to do what you wanted us to do: be normal. But it wasn’t normal though. Not really. Nothing about what you went through was normal. I spent over 2 years watching you slowly die and it killed me every day. It still does. Truth be told I think me trying to act normal came back to haunt me. I knew the day was coming but I never truly prepared myself for it. Maybe if I’d spent more time with you and done more with you I’d have been in a better position to say goodbye and be at peace with you finally passing. But I didn’t, and I haven’t made my peace with it. I’m not sure I ever will. How can I? You were my best friend, and more importantly: my mum. I shouldn’t have had to fucking lose you at 19 years old and you didn’t deserve to die so young.

There aren’t words to describe how much I love and miss you. How much we all love and miss you. You were, and still are, my best friend. I miss you so much. I miss you being there when I get in from university and nights out. I miss being able to talk to you about anything and everything – I don’t think I’ve truly opened up to anyone since you died. I can’t. I also miss disgusting you with my crude jokes (you always tried to hide your laughter but you never could).

I know I fell out of religion as I got older and you became ill but I know you stayed religious and believed in God. I hope that belief was repaid and you truly are in a better place. It’s the least you deserve after all you did for us and all you went through. I’m sure you’re sat up there watching over us with Charlie by your side. He always was your angel, as you’d constantly tell Kevin!

Rest easy, mum.

Three years gone. Forever in our hearts.

I love you.

Joe

xxx

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Grief & Mortality

With this week being mental health awareness week I wanted to write another blog post on some of my experiences. The love and feedback I received on my last post was incredible and only served to further highlight the importance of talking. Just simply talking about something makes a huge difference. It isn’t easy, I struggle with it on an everyday basis and when it comes to writing too but the outcome is always worth those moments of self-doubt and insecurity over being open.

This time I wanted to write about grief and mortality and how it is something that I have become painfully more aware of since my mum was first diagnosed with cancer and particularly in the 2 and a bit years since she passed.

Our mortality is something we cannot escape. It is what it is. Life will end at some point and it is always a matter of when rather than if. However, that doesn’t mean we should live a sheltered life in some possibly misguided view that this will keep us alive longer and therefore mean a better life. We owe it to ourselves to go out there and make the most of our lives be it if we’re on this earth for 20 years or 100 it applies to us all.

But it is something that also smacks you full on when you lose someone, especially at a relatively young age. My mum was a little over 50 when she passed, an age which in the modern day is still fairly young yet I lost her. She didn’t get to live to 100 and see me and my brother grow up and give her grandchildren and one day great grandchildren. Instead she didn’t even get to see my brother finish sixth form or me graduate which is something I’ve touched upon before, she was one of my main motivations for going to university and pushing myself but didn’t get to share in my success.

Part of the reason grief and mortality hits so hard, especially for me is because as I have said before, when you are younger your parents are superheroes, they’re invincible and nothing can defeat them. As you grow up and learn more about life you of course learn that’s not the case and they can be but you nevertheless deep down still hold some of that childlike belief that they can’t be and then it happens, something comes along and does just that, it defeats them and suddenly one of your heroes are gone. How do you truly cope with or process something like that? I was 19 when my mum died so I was old enough to have a grasp on how life and the world worked but none of that mattered when she died, I was finally faced with the stark reality that they could be beaten. I didn’t matter than I was now almost 20 years old, she was still my hero and nothing could beat her. She fought it for as long as she could and that was what a hero does, fight till the end but the end still came eventually and I’ll never get over that.

Suddenly every little achievement or milestone you reach in life is soured because of it. I’ve spoken about it before, events such as my graduation weren’t quite as joyous as they should have been because the woman who really pushed for me to go for it wasn’t there. Whilst everyone was surrounded by their families and loved ones, as was I I still could not escape the fact that the one person I wanted there more than anything wasn’t. It was the same when I finally got a job, a job I love and a job I think she’d be truly proud of. I remember walking into my nan and granddads house and telling the family the good news and in the middle of receiving the standard congratulations, hugs, kisses etc. I couldn’t help but wish that my mum was one of them, if not the only one. I’d have given anything just to sit down with her and tell her everything and see the same look in her eyes as she had when she found out I was going to university. That is not to say I wasn’t and am not extremely thankful for my family, they are my world and I love them to bits but my mum was more than that, she was my best friend too and the woman I would go to with everything and yet now I couldn’t, I didn’t have that kind of relationship with anyone else because you cannot replicate it.

That’s something I still have gotten over and never will. It is a catch 22, it drives me to succeed because I want to make her proud yet when I finally achieve some modicum of that success it is also tinged with sadness at the fact that she isn’t there to see it. I know people will say she’s watching over you and she’d be so proud but it isn’t the same is it? I don’t want my mum to be watching over me, I want her there next to me when I’m sharing my news and to tell me she’s proud herself. To see her beautiful face light up again is something I will always wish for and is always in my mind when I achieve something I set out for.

I’ve said before about how important it is to speak and open up, it’s partly why I write these blogs but I’m still no better at it, I still haven’t just sat and had a real conversation about it face to face with someone, I had a brief one with my nan but still deep down was hoping the conversation would end before I really had to get into it.  That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to encourage it and push for conversation because the times when I have opened up have been a major help and will continue to be, I’m slowly getting there and I hope anyone else struggling is too. I still haven’t properly grieved, work if anything, like uni has simply provided me another escape from facing my true grief and getting it out. Things have been going much better since I started working though and for the first time in years I can probably say the happiest I’ve ever been but how wholesome that happiness is I truly don’t know. I still have times where I’m plagued by thoughts, thoughts of the day mum died, imaginary scenarios in my head where she’s still here and darker thoughts, which is again where mortality really comes into it.

Since my mum died as I said mortality has become far more apparent and there, staring you right in the face. I have become painfully more aware of mortality, not just my own but everybody’s close to me and at times it becomes crippling. Every little thing has me on edge, thinking the worst. I have always been an over thinker but now it is far worse. If my dad is out and comes home late my mind instantly goes to the worst and the same for my brother. If the phone rings in the evening I automatically assume the worst because I cannot think of any other reason why someone would possibly be phoning the house at that time.

The thing that really puts into context how bad it is is how I spend my evenings and early morning before I go to work. If i have to get up and go to the toilet or get a drink in the middle of the night I cannot stop checking in on my dad and brother when they’re here and as odd as it may sound, making sure that they’re breathing. Literally standing there, basically holding my own breath to reduce any background noise as best I can so I can hear them breathing. It’s the same in the mornings, before I go to work I have to make sure my dad is snoring away but I can’t just stick my head in and hear him snore once, it has to be multiple times. I literally stand there, holding my breath so I can make sure i can hear him and reassure myself things are good before I go to work. That is a fucking crazy way to live but I can’t help it, to me that is now my life, living in fear that something could happen at any point and i have to be ready.

One part of it goes back to when my mum died. I spoke to her just hours earlier as she was lying in bed and then by the early morning she was gone meaning that is something I do not want to go through again, waking up to that news. So instead I now spend my early mornings and time in the middle of the night making sure that they are still breathing, so I don’t have to wake up to that devastating news ever again. It really isn’t a way to live life but again it is something that i snow constantly there with me.

Another part of it goes back to what I said earlier about your parents being superheroes when you were a child. Now that the childlike illusion that part of us likely clings onto was gone for me I was now much more aware of the painful reality – I have lost one hero, I dread losing my other at any given moment. That’s something that constantly pages my thoughts and it is a horrible thing – the day that finally comes.

As I said we cannot escape death, we’re all going to succumb to it one day but I now live in fear that that day will come at any moment. Not for me, whilst I have pictured and imagined the day I die again and again and how it will all unfold I am not in fear of that day so much as I am for my loved ones. It goes to the quite dark notion that once my time comes, whilst it may be somewhat scary thinking of what happens after death I am nevertheless gone and with that so are my fears. If I lose a loved one though I again go through what I went through with my mum and that to me is much scarier and devastating.

It is not to say there isn’t some hope, some light appearing through the darkness. Things have gotten better, as I said I am no doing a job I love and I am looking to go ravelling again, be it with people or myself again just so I can have another break from it all. I cannot escape my thoughts, my situation but it doesn’t mean that every so often I won’t take the opportunity to get out of the environment that these thoughts and feelings were born in. As I said in my previous post travelling is something I really would recommend, be it because you are going through stuff like I am or simply to broaden your horizons. As I said we all have a duty to ourselves to live life to the fullest and travelling is a fantastic opportunity to do just that.

For people reading this who are going through shit, or just people in general who aren’t the fact remains the same – talking is such an important thing, be it through writing, drawing, music, conversations we have to do it, get it out there in the world. Opening it up to the world makes a major difference. My last blog post did that, not just for me it I hope other people and hopefully this blog post does that too.

Again, if you do want to talk about it with someone new, someone who can relate or maybe someone who just has more experience of these things then please do. As I’ve said before I am always here if you decide I’m that person. You can find me one Facebook under the name Joe Brindley and my Twitter is @Joe_Brindley95.

It will get better.

Mental health and why talking about it can be so important

Given it was World Mental Health Day yesterday, along with Kid Cudi recently speaking out on his struggles and various people on Twitter discussing their experiences I wanted to share my story regarding mental health and just my general views on the issue of mental health.

To be honest in some sense I’m a typical guy in that I’m not very open about my issues. In fact for any of you who read this blog and know me will know my last blog post was the first time I’d really opened up about my issues and my mum’s death, over a year after it happened. Since then, I can admit I’ve made the mistake of reverting back to that exact kind of attitude about my issues, which is partly why I’m now writing this blog.

Most people who know me know I’m the kind of person who encourages people to open up, if you ever come to me with a problem or I see you’re going through something I will encourage you to open up and get it off your chest. However, if the shoe is on the other foot, I can never take my own advice. I cannot remember the last time I answered the question ‘how are you?’ entirely truthfully or with any reply other than ‘yeah not bad.’ That’s because, like I said in my last post, truthfully I’m nothing other than ‘not bad.’ I’m not good, nor am I bad, so I guess I’m somewhere just in the middle. I’m surviving may be the best way to put it as I did last time. It’s not that things are going bad, but for whatever reason I just don’t feel settled or content, even happy. Me being me though I just do the typical thing, smile and crack on, partly because I’m scared to fully acknowledge my issues.

It’s a scary thing acknowledging and addressing your own personal issues, something pretty much everyone will relate to because everyone has their own demons and their own battles that they’re facing. Most of which are done behind closed doors and few people get a real insight into. There are going to be things I acknowledge in my blog that even my closest friends probably haven’t heard. It’s not because I don’t trust them or anything like that, it’s just me not being great at opening up, and again, scared to fully open up and acknowledge the shit I have going on, even though I encourage them to do it all the time and will sit there happily giving them my opinion and advice.

When my mum died, truthfully I never fully grieved or took the time to, something which has ultimately plagued me over 2 years on from her death. Whilst I do encourage you to find yourself a distraction, something to take your mind off of it, equally, take the necessary time to grieve. It will vary of course, some people may take a little bit of time, others a while but it is crucial to do it. For me, I never did. My mum passed away just before the start of second year and I threw myself into it. The level of work was the perfect distraction for me but ultimately blinded me to the issues I had going on as a result of what had happened. Issues that would hit home, particularly over holidays or time off when I had little to do and was at home most of the time rather than being out of the house everyday. University kept me occupied for these past 2 years but this summer I found myself without that distraction. For the first time in years I had reached summer where, come September, I had no plans. After 3 years of uni it was obviously the best time of my life, at first, but after a while it began to sink in and I realised that I had lost my main distraction and was now faced with more thoughts than ever on what had happened. I could find myself sitting there doing nothing and suddenly be plagued with dark thoughts and just end up in a shitty mood and not want to talk to anybody. Even if it is just 5 minutes in a busy day, take them to yourself and just acknowledge you’re in a bad place. It’s ok to be and is sometimes unavoidable but the key is acknowledging it and confronting it. By doing so you’re at least making yourself aware of the position you’re in and can try combat the thoughts as best your can as they begin to appear. I never truly did, I was so focused on work to realise that what was initially sad thoughts and grief was in fact spiralling into things far worse, far darker and spreading throughout my brain. It was only when I was free most of the time I was truly faced with how bad my mental state really was.

To put it bluntly, I’ve been in a dark place for well over 2 years but it was manageable, because I had something to do. When my mum was first diagnosed I was still in Sixth Form and was in university and focused on that when she passed but now I was cooped up at home doing nothing and it was becoming worse. Rather than open up to somebody about it though, I did the typical thing of keeping quiet and going about my day as usual and in fact had days where I just did not want to speak to anybody. Doing that only allowed the bad thoughts to grow and spiral out of control because I was not truly acknowledging their presence and therefore addressing them in any real way.

It was ultimately the main reason for me deciding to go to Nepal for 3 weeks and volunteer. People would ask me what made me want to do it and I would respond with ‘I had nothing else to do so why not’ or ‘it’s a great opportunity’, both of which were true but also I needed an escape from everything, from everyone, and time to focus on myself. Over the past 2 years especially I’d taken no time to just truly be by myself and with my thoughts, doing my own thing and Nepal offered me the perfect opportunity to basically cut myself off from everything. Of course I couldn’t escape the bad thoughts, I’ve come to accept I won’t, but it provided me an opportunity to truly be alone with them and try to deal with them.

Ultimately it was one of the best things I did, I’m still struggling of course, but that 3 week escape has done a hell of a lot for me and I would encourage anyone going through similar struggles, for whatever reason, to look into doing something like that, embracing being by yourself and helping yourself.

I still have other issues of course, things not related to my mum and things that a lot of people can relate to which I also want to talk about, anxiety being a major one of them. My university friends, and even my school friends from way back when will be able to testify to me being, at best socially awkward, especially around new people and it flared up a lot when I first started university and took me weeks to truly settle and get to know people, people I now class amongst some of my closest friends. It wasn’t just awkwardness though, it was a lot more than that. I’ve struggled with my confidence for as long as I can remember, especially in public places too which is where my anxiety is at its worst. I don’t know how to explain it other than my brain essentially freezing and me panicking over the smallest thing or interaction. Every single thing will be over analysed or overplayed in my head and always the worse case scenario.

For those of you reading this who know me, know that clubbing has never ever been my thing. Partly because when it comes to dancing I have the rhythm of a donkey, and even that is putting it kindly. But it was more than just me not having rhythm and enjoying that kind of scene, it was something that genuinely put me on edge and would make me panic. I’ve never felt truly comfortable in that type of setting or around strangers. For whatever reason, in my head, everyone is looking at me and judging me, even if I was just stood at the bar ordering a drink I’d feel like someone was watching me and taking the piss out of me. Of course, probably 99.99% of the time no one is even looking in my direction or paying a blind bit of attention to what I’m doing but in my head it’s the other way around and I can’t settle. I overthink it and my head feels like it’s tightening or my chest is and I immediately have to move, just to, at least, in my head, break the line of sight between me and the people supposedly looking at me and mocking me.

People have on countless occasions told me I just need to relax and not focus on that, instead get drunk and just go with it, something I’m sure most of you who experience something similar have heard countless times. Being drunk undoubtedly helps but even then there’s always just that little part of me that’s on edge, it just isn’t as loud and is drowned out by drunken thoughts. That’s only a temporary solution though, if I was completely sober I’d be a mess on the inside and far more focused on everyone around me watching me as opposed to actually having a good time. I always walk away from them experiences thinking I’d wasted an opportunity to have an amazing time, but truthfully, my mind just does not let me and it’s something I need to work on and I am.

Meeting new people, although I’m now largely better at is also a massive issue for me and there have been countless times where I’d bail on an occasion or keep myself to myself just because the number of strangers outnumbered people I knew and therefore I didn’t feel remotely comfortable and again, paranoid that I was standing out and being judged whatever I did, whatever I wore. It’s the case sometimes even amongst friends, I can feel on edge, having these random spurts of doubt internally over myself, my appearance etc. for no reason. It’s nothing to do with them, I can be myself around them far more than anyone else but it is still the same issue. My brain simply does not acknowledge that and will continue to make me thing negative thoughts about myself. It doesn’t take anybody making a comment to trigger them, it’s just my mind triggering it. If there’s something I’m unsure on such as a piece of clothing or how bad a spot looked it can consume me for the night and I would largely end up sitting there internally comparing myself to my friends or other people who were out and looked like they had no cares in the world. Making conversation can do the same thing; especially with people I don’t know well or for long and therefore would not entirely know what I was like. I can be having a a conversation with someone whilst internally on edge about what they would be thinking of me after every sentence or any jokes I made.

If I had a telltale sign, and its one many people suffering from the same thing have too I’m sure it’s my hands. If i’m talking, be it to a close friend or stranger I cannot keep my hands still. I’m either scratching an imaginary itch, messing with my hair or making random hand gestures not relevant to what I’m saying because my mind is screaming at me to essentially do something and not sit still. If I’m not fidgeting while talking then my mind starts to panic yet at the same time I’m painfully aware of my fidgeting and how weird it may seem so it is a lose lose battle on that front.

Even texting, as mundane an activity as it is can be a major issue for me. If it’s a text that requires a long reply or a detailed one I panic over every little detail, every phrase and how it may come across. What could just be a standard sentence to most people, in my head, ends up becoming something that is the complete opposite and will definitely be taken the wrong way and fuck everything up meaning I have to go back through it all, and make as many changes as possible until I’m comfortable that there’s nothing which can be taken wrong and even then I’m not 100% comfortable with it. Sometimes even responding to the  simple ‘what you up to’ question is a struggle simply because, if I’m having a rough day or anxious about potential plans I never truly know what to say, which is stupid because the answer will likely be something mundane such as watching tv. If I know the follow up is going to be suggesting a plan though i.e. clubbing for example then my mind goes into overdrive over what is just a simple question. I can’t control it, I’m sure anyone reading this who has a similar issue cannot neither. It is just the way our brains work, everything becomes over analysed, overthought and a massive issue.

Basic social interactions for me can be an issue as stupid as it may sound. If I’m out with good friends for example, do I hug them? do I just say hey an start conversation? If I hug them how do I initiate it naturally without it being painfully fucking awkward? These are probably questions most people ask themselves, even if they do not suffer from anxiety but the difference for me is it will linger long after the fact. If I meet up wth someone and the first exchange feels slightly awkward to me, such as I go to hug and they don’t, or vice versa and you’re then hugging them at some sort of awkward angle that will stick with me and bug me, like an internal itch for hours until I have the chance to rectify it when saying goodbye.

No matter what the situation essentially, I am never truly comfortable and it’s horrible because it will always play a part on how good a time I have and it shouldn’t. If it’s something anyone else reading this is going through then you will know how hard it is and the struggle just to feel truly comfortable and fixated on having a good time as opposed to my mind panicking and leaving me more stressed than comfortable.

If it’s something you’re going through, as hard as it is, all we can do is try and test ourselves and gently ease ourselves into things, be it making the first move regarding a conversation or even something as little as wearing a piece of clothing you typically thought would draw too much attention to you. As cliche as it is it’s learning to love yourself and accepting the way we are, as well as the way our minds work and learning to talk about it, which in turn helps, if we put it out there, it of course doesn’t make the issues go away but it in turn helps us feel more comfortable hopefully, knowing other people are at least aware that we are struggling, but ultimately trying, which is all we can do. Truthfully, I don’t know what you’d call my condition, be it high functioning anxiety, body dysmorphia or whatever and maybe in your scenario you don’t know it’s name neither but the key thing is addressing the fact there is an issue we are struggling with and in turn letting people know about it and hopefully sparking a conversation on the topic of mental health, which is exactly what World Mental Health Day was all about.

I was speaking to someone who runs a Mental Health social media page about getting this blog shared late last night (you can find them on Instagram @mentalillnesstaughtme), and the person in charge of it asked me if I had a quote to sum up my experiences and what my mental illness has taught me. It took me a while to come up with a reply, I wanted to find something deep and powerful, and whether or not it is I don’t know but in the end I went with this -‘mental illness has taught me to just keep moving forward, no matter how hard it may be or the weight of the issues you’re carrying on that journey. No matter how dark a place you are in there is always beauty in the world and the battle to find it is always worth it.’

If anyone reading this has similar struggles or even ones entirely different ones but wants to talk about it please do not hesitate to contact me on Facebook or Twitter. Opening up is never easy, I debated deleting this entire post a dozen times but ultimately it’s something I needed to get off my chest and hopefully encourage other people to do so.

If you do decide to get in touch, I’d absolutely love to hear from you. You can find me on Facebook by searching Joe Brindley or on Twitter with the name @AFriendlyHonkey (don’t ask).

Cancer’s aftermath

So for a while I’ve been trying to think of a way I guess to try and convey my feelings in terms of cancer and my experience. It’s also I hope something which for anyone reading who’s in a similar situation or facing such a situation may find helpful and accurate to them. I’ve noticed in my experience there’s very few blogs, articles etc. that deal with the aftermath of a loved one’s battle with cancer as well as the battle itself aimed at young people in particular. Instead, and understandably so they lean more towards those going through the battle but for someone who was 17 when their mum was first diagnosed I felt like there needed to be something aimed more directly at the people involved affected by a loved ones battle. I don’t want to sugarcoat any of it neither; this won’t be a post preaching nothing but smiles and positive thinking because I can’t. Instead it’s going to be explaining how exactly I felt, the things I tried to do to get by and how I feel today which hopefully helps in some way.

I was 17 and in the middle of my AS level exams when I first heard those words everyone dreads, ‘It’s cancer.’ First breast cancer, which could be battled, and a matter of weeks later it breast, liver and bone cancer with no chance of survival.

Now for those of you have heard them words you’ll know what I mean when I say it hits you like a train yet at the same time doesn’t quite sink in. Cancer? It can’t be, not my mum, it must be a mistake. It’s something you see on TV all the time, the various statistics about the number of people diagnosed and the mortality rate but it never enters your mind that your loved one could be one of them people. When you’re younger your parents are superheroes and while as you’re older you come to realise this isn’t the case there is still that part of you that maintains that childlike idea that they’re unbeatable and will always be there for you no matter what so how do you react when all of a sudden for the first time in your life, you’re presented with the suddenly very real notion that they’re not unbeatable and will be gone in a matter of time.

It was news that brought the whole world crashing down around me, this was my mum, the woman who had brought me into this world and without me realising, was my best friend. The woman who tolerated all my bullshit when I first hit puberty and was constantly moody, the woman who was there to pick me up when I was feeling shit about everything and considering swapping schools, who stood up for me anytime someone had an issue with me (one time she half chased a man down the street screaming at him after he run me over on his bike and actually made him come back and apologise). How do you deal with the prospect they’re going to be gone sooner rather than later? I never made my peace with it and still haven’t. No child should have to bury their mum at such a young age and it’s as simple as that.

She meant everything to me, for a dad their daughter is their princess, for a mum their son is a prince who they want the world for and yet I was now facing the possibility of losing the woman who was responsible for where I was at that moment in my life and where I am today. It was her who motivated me to not take a year out and instead dive straight into university and chase what I wanted to do which is what motivated me to do it, not just to get my degree but to see that look on her face when I achieved it and stood there with her at graduation more happy at the fact I’d done all I’d ever wanted to do; make her proud and put a smile on her face even bigger than the one she had when we found out I’d been accepted into university.

Yet she wouldn’t be there and it was something which was on my mind the moment I started university, in three years time I’d walk out with my degree and my cap and gown celebrating with my friends and close ones but she wouldn’t be there to see me pick it up. She wouldn’t be there for any of it, my wedding day, her first grandchild etc. All the big moments from now on in my life she would be painfully absent and it eats away at you and continues to do so for me to this day.

Those thoughts, as silly as it sounds gave rise to extreme I guess jealousy and anger towards other people. Not because they’d done anything wrong but because they got to enjoy their lives with their parents. What did I do to deserve losing my mum at 19? What did my mum do to deserve losing her life in such a cruel manner? The woman was a fucking Saint, the best woman, mother, friend I could ask for so why her?

It was those thoughts and her illness which pushed me away from religion altogether despite my mum being a Catholic. Now for anyone reading this who is religious, I will never dispute your reasons for believing in a God because that would be wrong and you have every right to believe what you believe and practice it in accordance with your faith. But for me personally how could I believe in this all powerful person who was willing to stand by and let my mum suffer like this? I don’t care if it was part of some ‘bigger plan’ for me later in life. I’d give up any future success that plan brings me to have my mum back because there is nothing in this world worth more to me than her so what gives someone the right to make that decision for me and then receive my worship? My views personally are summed up perfectly by 2 quotes, one by Stephen Fry who, when asked what he would say to God replied, ‘How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right; it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain.’ The second quote is from an Auschwitz prisoner carved into his cell, which read ‘if there is a God, he will have to beg my forgiveness.’

Something I was consistently told throughout my mum’s battle was ‘stay positive’. Now it’s something you hear everyday in any situation but for me they were 2 of the most infuriating words I could hear. What did I have to stay positive about? This wasn’t a case of she has a chance of beating it, so stay positive and hope. That all disappeared the moment we found out it had spread and the only option was to prolong her life for at most 2 years. 2 fucking years left with the most important woman in my life. What’s positive about that? Of course 2 years is a decent amount of time and I made the most I could out of those 2 years I had left with my mum I’d like to think but that doesn’t change the fact it was just 2 years. I know nothing in life is guaranteed, but to be told exactly how long you have left and wondering how much longer you could have had were she not ill can break you and did me.

Now, for anyone reading this who is in this situation or has been there, I’m not saying don’t try stay positive, it’s a key factor in any aspect of life, but in that moment it’s the hardest thing in the world. It isn’t as easy as changing your mindset and just thinking positive.  For me it wasn’t a case of having a completely positive outlook on life because that could never happen, it became a case of putting on a brave face for my mum and those around me and then trying my best not to let that darkness I guess consume me and becoming lost in it when I was alone.

My mum finally lost her battle September 11th 2014, a week before I started my second year of University and that moment I heard, at 7 in the morning when dad woke me up with the words ‘she’s gone’ will forever haunt and kill me. I’d been out the night before and when I got home walked into my mum’s room to say goodnight like any other night. By this stage in her battle, the proud, strong woman I knew and loved was barely recognisable, she was a shell of her former self, confined to her bed and in need of full time care which me, my dad and brother gave her, along with an absolutely wonderful nurse at MacMillan named Martina who I cannot thank enough. As I walked in to say goodnight and asked if she needed anything, she didn’t recognise me. Not as in a case of unaware if it was me or my brother, she didn’t recognise her own son such was the extent of her illness at this point, which was heartbreaking in itself. Had I known that would be the last time I had a conversation with her I’d have never walked out of that room and stayed with her. Despite knowing this moment would come from the beginning nothing can prepare you for when it finally comes. It will still crush you and stick with you for the rest of your life and nothing will change that and nor should it.

My biggest regret was not having more photos with her. I was one of those people who either smiled so hard they looked like they’d taken drugs just moments before or so straight faced and moody I wouldn’t have been out of place on a Crime Watch lineup. It was something a friend said I should make sure I have plenty of yet I never truly appreciated that when she passed they would be all I had to look back on and bring back the memories of when times were good. I have my memories of course but my lasting image is of a beautiful woman ravaged by cancer who couldn’t recognise me which will forever haunt me and breaks my heart all over again every time I think of it because I remember that far more often than the times before she was ill where everything was perfect because she was there. Regardless of any problems I had, she was there and that was all that mattered. So my advice to anyone reading this would be just that, take as many photos as you can be it nice photos or selfies pulling silly faces because they’ll be some of your most cherished possessions for the rest of your life.

I constantly have dreams as well, not the kind of dreams that seem illogical and you wake up thinking what the hell was that about. The dreams which seem so real you wake up thinking they were real before reality sets in. I have dreams where my mum is alive and everything is fine and I sit there and tell her everything that’s new in my life and wake up with a smile on my face or laughing thinking ‘I can’t believe I told mum that yesterday’ before it sets in… I didn’t tell her that. I can’t tell her any of that because she isn’t here. She isn’t home waiting for me to come home from uni or a night out and tell her all about it and what’s going on and it’s something which crushes me anytime I wake up and realise that truth because I’d give anything to cling onto that dream like reality for even just a few more precious moments than I do.

It’s easier said than done, but talking to people is a massive help and it’s easier said than done because a lot of people you know may not be able to truly relate to your situation so how can you truly open up and be understood? For me I saw it as some sort of cruel blessing, I couldn’t truly open up but that also meant I didn’t know many people who had to go through the pain I went through. But the truth is, no one will ever truly understand, even those who have been there and that’s something that got put into real perspective for me following my mum’s funeral. A friend of mine had lost his mum to cancer just a few years ago and he didn’t do the typical ‘how are you? or are you alright?’ comment because he knew it was a question that couldn’t be answered. Instead, he just said on a scale of 1-10 how angry does that question make you? And the answer was 20, I knew they didn’t know what to say so that was the standard question by which they meant no harm but it nevertheless drove me mad. It was a question I’d heard a million times throughout my mum’s battle and since she passed but I couldn’t answer it. How could I be alright? There were no words to describe how I truly felt at anytime in those 2 years she battled cancer and the time following her death and up until this day. Because truthfully I wasn’t alright and I’m still not; I’m broken but I’m surviving and that’s still the case today, over a year after she passed because it’s all I can do, I won’t be alright because my mum is gone, long before her time should have come.                                                                                                                          There’s no shame in admitting you’re not alright, it should be applauded that you have the humility to admit it. There’s only so long you can put a brave face on and act like you’re ok while dying on the inside. You’re human. It’s as simple as that. You’re human, not unbreakable and should have those moments for the sake of your own sanity.

To try and deal with it you’ll chuck yourself into anything to try and distract you and give you some sort of normality. For me it was university and anything that got me out of the house because truthfully, it didn’t feel like home anymore; all the childhood memories I had of being raised here with my family and everything else became overshadowed by the fact that this was where my mum passed. Whilst it was a massive comfort knowing she at last died in her own bed with her family near her it didn’t change the fact I no longer saw it as a home and wanted to be out as much as I could.  It’s a horrible thing to feel but that’s just the truth and there’s nothing I could do to change it except with time gradually coming to terms with being in the house and learning to enjoy being there again which is what I’m doing.

But I had to go back, not so much because it was my home but because that’s where my younger brother and dad were and I had to be there for them. My nan summed it up perfectly by saying you’re in the horrible but also wonderful position of being the oldest child, it’s a chance for you to step up for both your dad and brother and really make your mum proud which I hope I have done. It was something that had never truly dawned on me, I’d always seen it more as a crushing burden, having to try and be the best big brother I could when he was probably handling it better than me, likewise my Dad who never let it faze him and yet it did, because they were doing exactly what I was doing; putting on a brave face while all the while slowly dying on the inside. Except as bleak as it sounds, our pain couldn’t end, there was no time range for our pain to come to an end like mum’s and it was something we would continuously carry with us and have to find a way of dealing with it.

I cannot stress enough you don’t have to constantly be brave, you’re human, you’re allowed those moments of absolute meltdown, rage, heartbreak and in fact thy should be encouraged. Keeping it inside yourself will allow the darkness to consume you and beat you. Do what you have to do to keep going, there’s no shame in breaking down, nobody expects anything less which was something I had to tell myself when I finally let it reach that point of having an absolute meltdown out of nowhere on a night out with my friends. Find some outlet, whatever it is, be it talking to someone, writing, exercising just find something to unleash your feelings on to stop yourself being consumed by it all.

No matter how dark it gets, the sun is always going to rise again. For any of you going through it I know that right now will seem meaningless or not true, or even just a shit quote but it always will eventually and it’s something I’ve gradually come to terms with. Nothing I can do, as heartbreaking as it is can change what’s happened. If I could, I’d give it all up to have her back but I can’t. We just have to keep going, surviving, living because at the end of the day that’s all we can do. It’s what they’d want us to do and if ever there was a way to honour them it’s that.

If this reaches anyone going through this situation, be it the battle or the aftermath who wants to talk please don’t hesitate to look me up and message me on Facebook. I hope this has helped in anyway, even if it shows you you’re not alone in feeling how you do because you’re not and you never will be no matter how dark things seems.

Rest in perfect peace mum.

Joe

The media and ethics – What are those?

So the time has finally come people, my final blog post on media law. Please, please try and contain your despair, I know it’s emotional but we all knew this day was coming.

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So what better way to end it than with a discussion on the media and their ethics or lack thereof?

As you all know, I did a riveting blog post on the Leveson enquiry and I think its safe to say the findings of that investigation show that the media largely doesn’t give much of a toss about ethics. I mean, they hacked a dead schoolgirls phone after all and deleted the messages…what a charming group of people! That isn’t to say all of the media are soulless leeches but I think there’s more than a few in the industry.

Now, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) along with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) provides a code of conduct for all journalists who are part of the union which lists some fairly obvious rules for journalists to abide by yet these can be seen to clearly be breached on a dozen occasions.

For example, ‘does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by consideration of public interest.’ The IPSO Code expands upon this in some sense by stating ‘The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.’

I mean, if you ask me, and this may just be me going against the grain here but I’m pretty sure HACKING A DEAD GIRLS PHONE AND DELETING MESSAGES AMOUNTS TO AN INTRUSION. What on earth was the public interest in doing something like that? She was a young schoolgirl, what kind of juicy story exactly were they hoping to find?

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Another glaring example all the more relevant in today’s current climate is rule 9 of the NUJ code which states ‘produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.’  Now, as many of you will know, the Daily Mail shows an almost blatant disregard for this rule in my opinion on most days with their constant slating of immigration, which has been ramped up even more recently given the situation in Syria.

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‘Avoid plagiarism’. Now, you think this would be a given in the media considering everyone’s desire to have the exclusive before everyone else yet this is not always the case. Another example comes from our wonderful friends at the Daily Mail. A couple of weeks ago, following the horrific attacks in Paris, Gatwick Airport had to be evacuated following a man suspiciously chucking something in the bin which as usual sparked mass frenzy on social media with everyone debating what the actual situation was. Step up the Daily Mail who didn’t miss a beat and soon published a story that the man had in fact placed a grenade in the bin.

This of course, turned out to be complete nonsense (surprise surprise) but it then transpired that the Daily Mail had in fact copied the story from a BBC News Report on an identical incident over a decade ago! Can always count on the good old Daily Mail to incite fear wherever possible and not even do that good a job of it.

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Children are something frequently commented upon in the media, particularly those whose parents are celebrities. A prime example is north West, daughter of the love of my life Kim Kardashian and the almighty Kanye West (all praise his name), who is almost constantly splashed across magazines and newspapers with there more often than not being comments made on North’s clothing, sometimes even criticising her dress sense… SHE’S A LITTLE GIRL! I mean I used to have a bright yellow GAP hoodie and light up trainers (no I don’t have a photo, sorry not sorry) but I was allowed to get away with it because I WAS A CHILD! Obviously my dress sense has improved significantly but that’s a different subject.

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Harassment is also something which comes part and parcel with the media, and another prime example of this involves Kanye West (all praise his name). The IPSO code of conduct in regards to harassment states ‘They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.’ Now this seems fairly straightforward yet almost all of you will be aware of Kanye West’s constant run ins with the media and the paparazzi in particular with some of them even waiting outside his hours in the early hours of the morning just to get photos.

Now if you ask me, that’s harassment. I know Kanye loves the limelight but I don’t doubt he’s told them to do one and stop taking pictures on more than one occasion. Also, what kind of scoop were they hoping to achieve by getting photos of him taking the rubbish out in the morning!?

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So I think it’s safe to say the media pretty much lacks any form of morals with almost every rule for the media being broken on more than one occasion.

And that’s about it people, the end is finally here… I mean I may be back one day if I find something worth blogging on but until then it’s been a pleasure people. Have a good christmas everyone!

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The wonderful world of reporting part 2

I mean I guess I can only apologise in advance for the fact this blog is going to be on more reporting and this time, local council meetings but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do for a good grade.

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So, the fundamental question- Can you report on these?

The answer to that is a big fat yes!

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This wasn’t always the case however; local council meetings could be held in private with the public excluded… I mean really? It’s a local council meeting not a top secret MI5 meeting. Talk about transparency!

This however, is a thing of the past thanks to the new rules surrounding council meetings which were introduced with the aim of bringing in a more transparent government! Hooray!

The new rules have narrowed down the times a meeting can be private to just 2 occasions:

  1. A lawful power is used to exclude the public in order to maintain orderly conduct or prevent misbehaviour at a meeting.
  2. Where the presence of the public is likely to result in the council breaching a legal obligation to third parties about the keeping of confidential information.

So that gives us access, the next issue is, what can we do whilst we’re in there? The answer is, essentially anything. Within reason of course, that is to say you can’t sit there screaming your head off for no apparent reason but you can sit in there, take notes, film it, Facebook/tweet it etc. according to the Secretary of state for communities and local government. You can also therefore give your opinion on the meeting, no matter how harsh all in the name of transparency.

For me, although I personally have no major interest in local council meetings I believe having access to them and the ability to report in what is being said in them is crucial for a transparent government which I touched upon in my enthralling blog last week on the Official Secrets Act. Go read it if you already haven’t!

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I know I used this last week but it seems wildly appropriate this week also so deal with it.

I should also touch upon reporting elections, even more enthralling hey! Here’s an interesting fact, it’s actually a criminal offence to make a false statement of fact about the personal character/conduct of an election candidate with a purpose to effect the election. Therefore, lets take the Cameron and pig scenario I discussed a few weeks back to put this into some sort of perspective. If, say it wasn’t true (I’ve already given my views on this) and someone ‘falsely’ made the statement during the recent election campaign in a bid to sway opinion from Cameron then this would in fact be a criminal offence.

Now of course if you made this claim now you could be open to a slander lawsuit but during an election time it becomes a whole different ball game. This isn’t to say you can’t give your opinion on candidates i.e. Nick Clegg was useless and David Cameron is a knob but they must not be false statements of fact i.e. so and so did this in an attempt to cost them the election.

Broadcasters must also be impartial in their reporting, meaning the complete opposite of Fox News and must report the news as it appears, with no agenda on show to sway the electorate and are also not allowed to give their own opinions on matters for this to amounts to a breach of the rules regarding reporting. This is partly because of the power of the media, whilst it is crucial they report on the stories as they are and allow us to form our own opinions they cannot be seen to be influencing the masses for their own personal agendas.

And finally, media and reporting on children. The end is in sight just stick with this people.

Now I’ve touched upon reporting on minors a few weeks ago in another enthralling blog post (read that too) and discussed how the law prevents the names and identities of minors being revealed in order to protect them, which is again, completely understandable.

Children must also be protected in the media and a clear example of this will be the watershed on TV programmes which is in place till 9pm with the belief that a child will be in bed by this time and therefore avoid any explicit programmes. I mean, lets be honest, it’s a pretty ineffective tool, how many of us didn’t just whack the TV on in our rooms when we went to bed and watched half the programmes we supposedly shouldn’t watch and then realised how scary the world actually was?

Children under 16 cannot be interviewed for photographed without the consent of their parents and cannot be approached at school by the media without the schools permission which is again understandable because they may not be entirely aware of what they’re discussing or the ramifications of any of it and should therefore be protected as best as possible.

That’s about it on reporting, we made it people, no more blog posts on reporting!

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The Official Secrets Act -A Cold War relic?

Before I give you the sheer pleasure of reading my blog post on the Official Secrets Act and my views on it I need to do some shameless promoting, it’s for a good cause I promise. I recently signed up to participate in the GameChangers 24 hour gaming marathon in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and it would mean a lot to me if any of you guys reading this could spare a few seconds and donate. I mean it’s the last you can do after all the joy I’ve provided you through these blogs – https://www.justgiving.com/J-BRINDLEY

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Now, lets get down to business; the Official Secrets Act 1989 and the title question; is it a Cold War relic?

The Act, which replaced its 1911 predecessor (well almost) was enacted during the height of the Cold War, where much of Western Europe feared a communist attack and subsequent World War 3 although by 1989 the fear was slowly evaporating. The primary aim of the Act was essentially to ensure that there was no general public interest defence to the disclosure of information which was deemed official secrets. The only defences actually listed, are under section 3 (4) which states ‘It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that at the time of the alleged offence he did not know, and had no reasonable cause to believe, that the information, document or article in question was such as is mentioned in subsection (1) above or that its disclosure would be damaging within the meaning of that subsection.’

This to me, quite frankly is beyond ridiculous. In most cases the information being revealed is going to be by whistleblowers or investigators etc. so how can a defence of essentially ‘oh I didn’t know it was information relating to international relations or from a State other than the UK, my bad guys’ be of any use!? As stated, the information is likely to be leaked or used by those specifically looking in that topic, as opposed to someone who has somehow got their hands on it and has no clue what it pertains to so why not provide the defence of public interest for these whistleblowers and reporters? There already exists one for whistleblowers in employment law so why not for whistleblowers in regards to government behaviour? Because the government wouldn’t want every shady detail and embracing detail exposed, which to some degree is justified, but in many cases it is used in a ridiculous manner and as Alex Bailin pointed out, the Act is rarely used for disclosures which genuinely harm national security, is not used consistently, and not sued fairly and Alex Bailin is a man who knows his stuff people (he defended Katharine Gun so I mean, there you go.

Section 7 also provides a defence which states if the person is a Crown servant/government contractor who is lawfully authorised to publish the information and has done so in accordance with his duty. This is in my opinion, and to quote Alex Bailin’s Guardian article discussing the act, ‘draconian’. We live in an age where transparency, more than ever is vital to our right to freedom of speech on various issues, including our government. How can this transparency thrive if our government is constantly operating in the shadows and protected by this Act? If it is something which the Government does not wish to be revealed, for any number of reasons then it is illegal to disclose it and this is a fundamentally flawed system. Whilst understandable in some circumstances, the Act is to open ended and can be easily bent to the Government’s will in a way which should not be allowed.

There does however, seem to be the common law defence of where the publish of information is related to something illegal. For example, Katharine Gun was a GCHQ employee who leaked a request from the US government to the UK to bug members of the UN in the run up to the Iraq war. That’s right, shock horror, the USA were engaging in illegal activities involving the illegal war! I’m as shocked as you all are I’m sure. Rather sensationally however, despite having no defence under the Statute, Katharine was acquitted using the defence of necessity, in the sense that it was a desire to prevent illegal war and therefore justified. The prosecution, obviously keen to avoid the leak spreading any further or remaining in the public eye for any longer than it already had, swiftly dropped the case. Again, shock horror, the government didn’t want people paying any more attention to the details of the Iraq war and the lead up to it than necessary!

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Public interest therefore, while not a defence is nevertheless a key element in determining whether any disclosure which is prohibited is damaging and is of major significance when the government claims the disclosure of the information is of such an embarrassing nature that it might damage international relations, that’s right, not endangering state secrets or national security, but solely international relations which to me is perplexing; should take a note out of Putin’s book and just give no f***s the government messes up that often.

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Ok he didn’t actually say that but we can all imagine him saying it.

An example of the issue regarding public relations can be found in the prosecution of the Foreign Office official Derek Pasquill, who was accused of leaking details of UK involvement in rendition and interaction with extremist groups. Now for those of you who aren’t clear on what rendition is, it’s essentially state kidnapping; the state will snatch someone they wish to interrogate, but rather than do it themselves, send them to a country where the laws on torture are less strict and therefore more brutal measures can be used. Isn’t the government just delightful?  The prosecution however, was abandoned because it could not be proven that the disclosures were damaging to international relations, partly because almost all States probably participates in some form of rendition but as the Guardian pointed out, this raised the possibility that the Act was being used ash an ’embarrassment shield’ by the government.This is hardly a surprising revelation, given the number of blunders that can be made and often are it is not surprising that a government will seek to cower behind an Act as opposed to coming out and being held accountable.

Now, this is not to say the Act is not an unreasonable instrument in terms of its ideas, but it is fundamentally outdated. It is crying out for a statutory public interest defence because public interest is a crucial element and it is clearly a defence needed to allow freedom of speech to thrive and society to thrive as a fair democracy. As Lord Goff said in the Spycatcher case,”In a free society, there is a continuing public interest that the workings of government should be open to scrutiny and criticism.”We no longer live in a Cold War era where it was no secret that the Act deliberately acted to ensure there was no defence and information could not be revealed which may strengthen the Soviet Union. It’s time to move into the 21st Century and have our government transparent and the ability to hold them truly accountable where necessary and in the true interest of the public!

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Final note to end on; There also needs to be one Act and one alone. In 2010, Daniel James was convicted under the 1911 Act! There’s been two Acts since the 1911 one, why is it still in force!? Come on people, get it together!

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So that’s about it for my rant this week, I know you’ll be thoroughly disappointed it’s come to an end but all good things do unfortunately. Nice cheery thought to leave you all with. Till next time people!

Court reporting

That’s right people, this weeks blog post will be on the thrilling area of court reporting!

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To try and make this blog post more bearable I’m going to write it with the aim of solving a number of scenarios presented to us in class rather than going through all the legal jargon and not applying it. Don’t say I don’t have your best interests at heart in my blogs!

The first scenario involved Barry Bright, a shop assistant, of Elm Avenue, Lower Denton who was charged with voyeurism, to which he pleaded not guilty and was therefore facing a trial in the magistrates court the following week. Now the issue in this scenario is can the parties involved in the case be named by the press? Now, section 8 of the Magistrates Court Act lists the matters that may be contained in court reporting and the list includes name, address and job of the defendants and witnesses along with the charges they are facing. However, in the present case, given the nature of the charge it is subject to different rules. The relevant legislation here is the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992. Section 1 (1) of the Act states: ‘Where an allegation has been made that an offence to which this Act applies has been committed against a person, neither the name nor address, and no still or moving picture, of that person shall during that person’s lifetime—

  • (a) be published in England and Wales in a written publication available to the public; or
  • (b) be included in a relevant programme for reception in England and Wales,

if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify that person as the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed.

This therefore, means that the victims, in this case Brenda Shafi and Sharon Jones cannot be named or have any information regarding them disclosed which may lead to their identity being revealed.

In regards to the defendant in the case, Barry Bright, section 1 (2) of the Act states:                                                                                                                 ‘Where a person is accused of an offence to which this Act applies, no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify a person as the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed (“the complainant”) shall during the complainant’s lifetime—

  • (a) be published in England and Wales in a written publication available to the public; or
  • (b) be included in a relevant programme for reception in England and Wales.’

This also means that the defendant also cannot be identified meaning the which in my opinion is completely understandable given the damage it could do to someone’s reputation, even if they are subsequently found innocent it is a hell of an image and stigma to shake off. Not only can his name not be revealed but it also means the information given about him i.e. a 20 year old shop assistant of Elm Avenue, Lower Denton must also be kept secret because this is enough information to enable someone to identify the claimant. Even if the allegation was subsequently withdrawn, his identity cannot be revealed because it could still be extremely damaging to him.

So, in the second question presented to us, the defendant, appearing in youth court denied taking a car without the owner’s consent and subsequently doing 50mph in a 40mph zone (what a rebel).

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Now at the time of his arrest, the defendant was just 17 years old and Section 49 of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act states that youngsters under the age of 18 cannot be named by the press in its reports. Now this is fairly straightforward but the issue arises in this scenario with the fact that the defendant, at the time of his hearing, is now 18. So does he still fall under section 49 regarding anonymity? The answer is no according to the High Court in a case involving an 18 year old who was charged with grievous bodily harm and was 17 at the time of his arrest. Mr Justice Sullivan, in dismissing the arguments put forward by the legal team for the appellant stated ‘once a person…becomes an adult there is no reason to retain that restriction’ which in my opinion is valid reasoning. Yes, at the time of the offence they were under 18 but when it came to trial they were now an adult and should be treated like one meaning the press should be entitled to report their name to the press. Now in the present case, the chairman of the magistrates stated ‘we wish to remind the press that the defendant cannot be identified.’. This in my opinion, as discussed above is incorrect given the judgement by the high court. If he had been 17 at the time of the hearing then this would be a justified statement but he is now 18 and therefore classed as an adult. Whilst the case may still be heard in the youth court, he is no longer subject to the right of anonymity granted to those below 18 because as stated, he is now an adult and should thus be treated as one.

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The third scenario we were presented with involved 14 year old twins, Sally and Susie who were set to appear before Denton magistrates’ court, where the local council would apply for Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) against them, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Given their age, the case would be heard in the youth courts and the same restrictions would apply in regards to their identity as mentioned above; they are under 18 and therefore cannot be named in the newspapers. This is again, understandable because a the end of the day they are simply children and having their name splashed across newspapers could be extremely detrimental to their development and possibly future careers. They are only young and could well grow out of this phase of rebelliousness. We were all young and stupid once right? Except me of course, mature and wise beyond my years. Now, if Sally and Susie decided to continue with their wild and rebellious streak, they could be facing a detention order of up to 12 months, usually served in a Young Offenders Institute, but this will depend on the severity of their second offence. In the present case, being loud would not likely carry any time to be served with it if and the outcome would likely be a fine for breaching the ASBO with detention orders usually a last resort and again, confined to more serious breaches.

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Onto the final scenario, we’re almost done people!

This scenario involved a young girl, banned from driving by Calisota Youth Court after it was revealed they had drank several glasses of wine and two cans of lager at an 18th birthday party before taking her father’s jeep without his permission and using it to drive home. Really!? This is what the youth get up to nowadays? Back in my day I got in trouble just for stealing sips of my cousin’s beer and now the youth are joyriding and drink driving, what a time to be alive.

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Now, the reason I’m not including the name of the defendant in this case is because i have been specifically asked to re-write the scenario so it conforms with contempt law and it would be contempt of court for me to revel the name of the defendant, her address or anything which could lead to her identification. It is law which I have briefly touched upon throughout this blog, although I have revealed the names of the defendants in the other scenarios and details relating to them, if this was to actually be done in say the press or even a blog then this would be a contempt of court. Thankfully however these scenarios are fictional and I’m therefore not guilty of any contempt, except for my contempt towards Spurs and their fans obviously. image

Now the reason the Contempt of Court Act exists is primarily to prevent this kind of careless reporting which can infringe a case and its outcome. To let the press have free reign and report every single detail of a case, especially the names of youths involved can be highly damaging and draw unwanted press attention and it is therefore in the best interests of all those involved, especially in youth cases to keep this information secret. It of course also applies to cases involving sexual offences and applies here for life due to the highly sensitive nature of the case and the extremely personal and damaging information that can come out in these cases. It would be reckless to let a newspaper report the name of a man accused of a sexual offence as discussed above. The court can of course in any case decide that a name or any other matter may be withheld from the public but it automatically applies to cases of sexual offences and those involving persons under the age of 18.

So there you have it, the thrilling world of court reporting. The law and material on court reporting is of course extremely extensive but this blog an the scenarios mainly focused on youths and sexual offences crimes meaning you’ve been spared somewhat. No need to thank me guys.

Till next week losers.

Hey he stole my work!

That’s right, this weeks blog post is once again on copyright. Because, lets be honest, who wasn’t secretly screaming for another blog post on that? I know my number one fan Tracy was, happy birthday by the way!

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So this week, I thought i’d go into a bit more depth on the area and cover a couple of the things I didn’t last week. Like i said, this area of law is extensive and to be honest a pain in the arse but anyway.

I’m going to start with ‘artistic works’. This is divided into 3 categories under Section 4 of the Copyrights, Designs & Patents Act 1998; graphics works, photographs, sculptures or collage. It cannot be definitively stated what ‘art’ is because art is subjective, one man’s art is another man’s trash i.e. Spurs’ style of play. HA! It really is too easy. There has however been some effort to prevent any random sign being passed as art. For example, a circle or line would be defined as too simple to constitute art because it has not taken a certain amount of skill or effort to design in order to constitute a work of art. Unless you’re me who has zero skill when it comes to drawing and a circle is classed as a masterpiece.

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Works of architecture or works of artistic craftsmanship also fall under this section of the statute and require an element of ‘artistic quality’ to be protected by copyright but of course nobody has been able to agree upon a definition of ‘artistic quality’. In the case of Merlet v Mothercare plc [1986] RPC 115 a mother designed a cape to keep her daughter warm (What a sweetheart) which was then used by Mothercare and she sued for beach of copyright. The court held it was not a work of artistic craftsmanship and looked at the intention of the creator which was solely to keep her daughter warm, it was not supposed to be a work of art and therefore not protected. This to me is a baffling decision, even if it was not ‘artistic’ this should not negate it necessarily from copyright protection.

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I’m not even sorry for that.

The case of Shelley v Rex features [1994] EMLR 135 criticised the rationale in the Mothercare case with the judge stating you had to consider the working context. The case involved the makeup used in the Frankenstein film. Was it a sculpture because of the use of prosthetics or was it a work of art? The decision was made to grant artistic craftsmanship to the sets used in the film along with the prosthetics but not the makeup meaning this could be copied freely. The criticism and change of rationale point to the courts not being in sync/agreement when it comes to ‘artistic quality.’

Sound recordings, films, or broadcasts come under section 5(1) of the act and are called ‘derivative works’ because they are usually based on existing literary, dramatic, artistic or musical works so there is therefore no need for these to be original since they are based on something else. Finally something straightforward!

Section 11 of the Act relates to the ownership of copyright. Typically, ownership will belong to the author of the work but in some cases this is not the case. For example, unless specifically stated otherwise, work created in the course of employment will in fact belong to the employer which is a rather genius way for an employer to capitalise on potential innovative ideas worth an absolute fortune.

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Copyright can be assigned to future works also. This may sound a bit crazy, how can you copyright a work that does not exist yet? Well the answer is simple, because they can. For example, the Harry Potter books. If J.K. Rowling could not copyright her future Harry Potter books then she could never receive her advance for the next books and someone else could simply take the idea. In my opinion though someone should have taken her ideas and binned them since she clearly wouldn’t and we’ve now been cursed with the Harry Potter franchise. That’s right, Harry Potter sucks. Fight me.

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Just a photo of me in my typical fight pose so you know what you’ll be up against.

Licensing was something I did not discuss in detail last week but shall do a bit more this week. Licensing is permission given by the owner of the copyright to another, to allow acts which would not otherwise be allowed i.e. performance of a song or the use of that song for say a film.Licensing may not necessarily be granted everywhere. For example, they may have licensing rights solely in the UK to possibly stop them capitalising on a certain market. A licence will also be binding on every successor except for ‘equity’s darling.’ Now I know what you’re thinking. How on earth can equity have a darling since it’s such a bastard of a subject but stick with it. ‘Equity’s darling’ is a purchaser in good faith, someone who buys without knowing of there being reason why somebody else would have an interest in that title i.e. a product and are therefore not bound by the licensing regulations. Make sense? Good.

The causal connection is something which must be proven when claiming your work has been copied. In the case of Francis Day & Hunter v Bron [1963] LJ Wilmer stated that there must be sufficient objective similarity between the two works and causal connection between the two works. Lord Diplock added to this saying that even if the 2 works are identical this is not necessarily proof of copying because the alleged infringer may have access to the same work and it therefore merely coincidence no matter how improbable it may seem. To rely on this the alleged infringer would have to prove he had access to the same work, but what if it was on a private computer? He may have gained access to this and is it therefore coincidence no matter how improbable that the work is the same?

Infringement falls into two categories; Primary and secondary. Primary infringement can be outright copying whilst s.17 (4) states copying in relation to a film or television broadcast includes making a photograph of the whole or any substantial part of any image forming part of the film or broadcast. So technically, recording part of a film on snapchat is technically primary copyright infringement. But you know, who cares? F**k the system and all that right?

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Now secondary infringement relates to things such as offering the product for sale, exhibiting it in a public place in the course of a business, selling the product etc. All of you will have experienced this with your local DVD salesman who pops up outside the pub offering ‘good quality DVD’ and darts off anytime a siren is heard nearby. And by good quality, he means the sound is poor and a bloke sits in front of the camera for half the film.

Now the defences to infringement are the following:

  • The owner consented
  • In the public interest
  • Fair dealing

Now fair dealing, rather helpfully once again, isn’t defined in the statute. But, where you are using it for the purpose of research or private study, criticism or reporting current events these are considered fair dealing meaning your local DVD salesman couldn’t argue giving you a copy of the new Bond film months before it was due for release was fair dealing, or in fact any of the defences for that matter.

The remedies for copyright breach are set out in chapter VI of the act and are;

  • Damages i.e. some monetary compensation,
  • Injunctions (to stop publication etc.)
  • Delivery up of infringing articles which can then be dealt with as the copyright owner sees fit i.e. destruction. (give up the DVDs man!)
  • Forfeiture – Usually used in criminal cases
  • Prevention of importation i.e. preventing a CD being imported if the copyright owner fears this will occur and can apply to have them treated as prohibited material.

Finally, moral rights. We’re nearly at the end people! A person has the right to be identified as the author or director, the right to object to the derogatory treatment of the work and not to have work falsely attributed to him/her (unless the work is good, in which case, yes of course I’m responsible for it) which all seem fairly logical.

And there you have it people, copyright, a long winded, pain in the backside but we did it, we survived!

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Until next week guys.

The Law of Copyright

That’s right, 2 blog posts in 24 hours! Never let it be said I don’t spoil you lucky people. The fact I’m even writing this blog post during the Bosnia match shows just how much you, my beloved readers mean to me but I apologise in advance if I end up commentating randomly on the football. That being said they are losing and will have probably lost by the time I’m done here so probably best I keep my rage inside and don’t express it.

So today I’m going to talk about the wonderful area of law that is copyright.Now, this area, is extensive and a minefield so I’m going to delve into every little bit of it but instead I’m going to focus on what I believe are the general/key areas.

Copyright law is in place to prevent parties from exploiting the results created by the hard work of other parties. It’s not only in place to protect their work but also the money that can come from the work and is enshrined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which protects everything ranging from books and sound recordings to art and architecture. S.9 of the Act states the author of a work is the person who creates it i.e. the author of a book.

The copyright owner is given exclusive rights on his idea for a certain period of time, usually around 70 years and can use this time to exploit his idea for his benefit. The reason for this is to ensure that at least for the vast majority of his lifetime, the creator can enjoy these exclusive privileges. It would hardly make sense to only be granted these for a few years and then just have someone come and take the idea themselves.

But, you have to write the idea down or record it and if it doesn’t have a date it cannot be copyrighted because you can’t prove you came up with it before the supposed thief and since theirs is dated the decision will fall in favour of them. Being pedantic is key people!

In the case of Interlego AG v Tyco Industries Inc [1989] a dispute arose concerning Duplo blocks, which Lego had designed and made 4 times bigger so that babies would not choke on them (aren’t they sweethearts). This idea however was copied and lego sued them for breach of copyright. The issue however was that the Duplo blocks were simply copied from the original Lego designs but made bigger, they were not bore from a new drawing and therefore could not be original. What Lego should have instead done, was sue for infringement on the original drawing since this is what they had used but their lawyer it appears did not think of this. Good job pal!

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The idea must of course be original but ‘original’ is not defined in the statute. Yeah, real helpful guys, way to go!

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It is therefore down to the courts to decide on what constitutes ‘original’ and they did so in the case of University of London Press Ltd v University Tutorial Press Ltd [1916] in which it was stated the word original does not mean it must be an expression of original or inventive thought. It is concerned with the expression of thought and in the case of literary work expression in print or writing. This will tie in somewhat with the music examples I discuss below.

Interestingly, tattoos and facepaint are not subject to copy right because the body does not qualify as a surface which was decided in the case of Merchandising Corp of America v Harpbond [1983].

Now to infringe on copyright you must either:

  • Copy the work
  • Issue copies of the work to the public
  • Perform, play or show the work in public
  • Broadcast it
  • Make an adaptation of the work or do any of the aforementioned in regards to an adaptation
  • Without permission of the owner

Again, rather helpfully ‘Work’, isn’t defined in the act so it is down to the courts to come up with a definition of what a ‘work’ is. For something to amount to work, there has to be more than a minimal amount of work, skill, labour and judgement. A song title therefore, would not amount to work because very little work goes into it whilst the case of Cramp & Sons Ltd v Frank Smythson Ltd [1944] held that a diary containing the dates of sunsets, religious festivals, Inland Postal Rates and a host of other pieces of information was not subject to copyright because this was all information readily available and not their original information.

Now of course, most of the scenarios mentioned above can simply be avoided by obtaining consent of the owner to use the work i.e. permission to perform a song live or use it but if they say no and you subsequently use it, you’re in breach of copyright. Issues can arise however, with making a copy of work and adapting it. For example, the coldplay song ‘Viva la Vida’ contains a piece of music sampled by another half dozen songs and if you get the chance, search ‘4 chords’ on Youtube and you’ll see just how many songs use those exact 4 chords (its surprisingly many). I’d upload it to here but WordPress has suddenly decided not to support Youtube links which is helpful (Can you sense my sarcasm throughout this blog post so far?).

So surely these songs all breach copyright?

WRONG! The courts seeks to prevent the floodgates from bursting open by stating a party will not be guilty of copyright infringement if their adaptation is sufficiently a result of skill and labour so that it is an original work of copyright. Therefore, all the songs mentioned in the video ‘4 chords’, whilst using the same 4 chords also have a sufficient amount of skill and labour in terms of the rest of the song production to make it an original work subject tot its own copyright. It would be absurd to find someone guilty of copyright infringement if the rest of the work was completely their own work bar from one small piece of it.

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It is however, an infringement of copyright to illegally download a piece of work (take note everyone) or distribute it i.e. if you were to buy a CD, burn it onto your laptop and pass it on. But I mean, if you still buy CDs rather than just use something like Apple Music then you should be arrested for being so behind on the times!

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Yes I know that isn’t actually a crime.

So that’s it for this week, as i said, the law concerning copyright can be extensive and mind boggling so I thought I’d keep it as simple and focused on the key areas as possible because I’m such a nice guy.

Till next week losers.