I had been excited for months about doing my jury service.
First off. It was a two week holiday from the job I hated.
On top of that. I had VIP access to a world where heterosexual well-to-do men wore wigs. For a living!
But most of all. When I was a nipper. I wanted to be a judge. To right the wrongs of the world. For all the obvious reasons. To eradicate crime. Immorality. Cheating at rounders.
I’ve just always had a thing about justice.
Which is why the irony didn’t escape me when – the week before my court date – my mum got diagnosed with terminal cancer. Lung cancer. Never smoked in her life.
That’s the thing about justice. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be much of it about.
It was a peculiar experience. Those two weeks. The news was still fresh and tacky. I was all over the place. Like a Jackson Pollock.
And here I was turning up at court every day. Being given the responsibility of deciding whether someone was guilty or not guilty. I couldn’t even decide what to have for breakfast.
The worst part was being papped.
Ha! I never thought I’d get to say that. Let me explain.
It was at Southwark Crown Court. London. A biggie. Around the same time as a lot of those high profile expense scandal trials. The building was surrounded by press. Snapping cameras. Flashing lights.
In this brave new world of mine, the whole thing felt unreal. Like some sort of test. (I’m still waiting to find out whether or not I passed).
The doors at Southwark Crown Court are tinted. Which means the press can’t see who’s about to come out. Those poor reporters. It’s a big problem for them. ‘How do we know when to snap?’ they bleat.
Fortunately for them they worked it out: Every time the door opens, simply go ballistic. Just in case it’s someone important.
A lot of times it wasn’t. It was only me.
Can I just say. I have quite big eyes. At the best of times I look like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I don’t need any help in that department. Not from oncologists telling me the unimaginable about my mum. And not from reporters trying to blind me with flashbulbs.
I never got used to those flashes. They were like distress flares. Flaring. My. Distress.
Then there was the disappointment to come to terms with. Theirs. Not mine.
Picture it. I come out of the door. The photographers leap to action. Lenses point at me. Like snipers. Lights explode in my face. There’s a rush of adrenalin.
And then they realise: I’m not an MP with a second home. Or an elite Scotland Yard DCI with an Amex problem.
I’m just some freckly bird. With big eyes. Who looks a bit like Richard Hammond.
And then they all stand down. Disappointed in me.
It’s a blow, I can tell you. To be set up like that. For such a fall. I thought I was there to do my civic duty. Talk about kick me when I’m down.
It’s a shame I can’t write about the trial which I was a juror on. In many ways it was more surreal than the being papped. Let’s just say that co-incidental links to my life cropped up in the evidence.
Don’t worry. Not enough that I shouldn’t have been involved. But enough to make the whole experience seem even more like just a feverish nightmare that my subconscious had concocted.
The judge was a scary looking man. I’m not sure if it’s a pre-requisite.
We were told not to communicate directly with him in any way. I wasn’t sure if that was a ‘judge’ thing or whether he was just being a diva.
For all I knew he could have had a mini-bar of only green Haribo back in his chambers or a thing about Dr Pepper.
Our mouthpiece to the judge was the court clerk. A sharp-faced woman. As my mum would have said – the type you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley.
On the first day of the case she caught me crying in the toilet (something that turned out to become quite the habit for me).
Maybe because she was the court clerk. Or maybe because Southwark Crown Court is the mothership of confessions. Or maybe just because she had one of those faces. The type you must never ever lie to. But I ended up spewing it all out to her. Mum’s diagnosis. Our shock. My terror.
Turned out to be yet another bloody co-incidence.
She’d lost her dad to the exact same type of lung cancer.
It had been at least 10 years before for her. A lot of water had passed under a lot of bridges.
Yet she stood with me in that little toilet in Southwark Crown Court crying her eyes out too.
What I enjoyed most was the other jurors’ faces when we both came out the toilet with red swollen eyes. Me. Their fellow member of the jury. And the stern court clerk. I could just imagine the work that was going on inside their heads. Trying to come up with an explanation.
After that. That lovely stern court clerk took me under her wing for the whole trial. She even managed to persuade the judge to suspend court on the days that mum had hospital appointments. So that I could go with her.
My mum was too disorientated with her diagnosis to really register the fact that this high profile trial was being planned around her oncology schedule.
But I know if she’d had a chance to let that sink in, she would have been well chuffed. It was the kind of thing she would have loved.
At the end of the trial, we – the jurors – found the defendant guilty.
Sometimes I still think about him. In my mind – for some reason – he will always be just another casualty of mum’s diagnosis. Just as I was. And just as the rest of my family were. I don’t know the man from Adam. But somehow I have a bond with him.
Oh. That makes me sound a bit stalkery.
One last thing. I should probably ‘fess up. I did want to be a judge when I was small. That’s true.
But I also wanted to be a greengrocer. It was the brown paper big ‘thing’ that did it for me. You know. The way they twisted the ends of the bag and then rolled it over to close. Tombola style.
As a kid it seemed to be the epitome of professionalism. Right up there with being a librarian and stamping all those books.
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