Marry in haste, repent at leisure!

running-pic-close-up weddinMarriage is an institution with a long history. Not so divorce, which is a very recent development in historical terms. Hence the expression “marry in haste, repent at leisure”.

Analysis of more than 5 million divorce cases has shown major changes to the grounds cited for divorce over the last 40 years. Citing adultery has fallen whilst unreasonable behavior has dramatically increased.

The analysis by co-operative legal services found that during the 1970s that 28% of divorces were ended on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour in comparison to 47% of recent divorce cases. Whilst 29% of cases cited adultery as a ground for divorce in 1970, this figure has fallen to only 15% now.

The grounds

Aside from the effects of Facebook aka ‘the modern basis of irretrievable breakdown’ the law still applies guidelines which serve as an indication to the court that the marriage is really over.

There are five grounds for divorce in the UK;

  • Adultery,
  • Unreasonable behaviour,
  • Desertion,
  • The parties have lived apart for two or more years and agree to the divorce,
  • The parties have lived apart for five or more years.

It is interesting to note that adultery cannot be cited as a ground for divorce if the infidelity was with a member of the same sex or if the couple has continued to live together 6 months after the other partner found out about the adultery.

Unreasonable behavior is listed as your husband or wife has behaved so badly that you can no longer bear to live with them which could include physical and verbal abuse, nonpayment of housekeeping, drug or alcohol abuse.

Now that’s unreasonable!

One example of unreasonable behaviour given as grounds for divorce was a spouse withdrawing all £40,000 of the family’s savings and burning it in the bedroom!

In another case an irate husband rolled a large oil drum into the family living room and threatened to set it alight and this not surprisingly was regarded by the Courts as unreasonable behaviour!

The grounds for divorce have legally remained the same over the years even though society’s attitude towards divorce has changed quite dramatically, with fewer stigmas attached to divorce.

There was also a belief that divorces were granted generally because of unreasonable behaviour of the husband, however this has changed with men now 5 times more likely to be granted a divorce because of unreasonable actions of their wives than in the 1970s.

The amount of divorce has also changed over the 40 years. In the 1950s there were only around 275,000 divorces in comparison to the 1990s where there were 1.5m divorces.

The current law in the United Kingdom dates from the Divorce Law Reform Act of 1969 which introduced the idea of the undefended divorce. A divorce with a speedy nature, seen today, virtually as a paper exercise with many thousands being granted a Decree of Divorce in this way.

These days of course very many people do not marry at all but if they do obtaining divorce is much more straightforward with all of the arguments these days revolving principally around property and money (and Facebook)!

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The Journey of the condemned

london noose smallAs a crime fiction author, I spend much of my time untangling the stories in my head into tales and finding an appropriate abode. This story, however, seems to warrant some coverage of its own.

The venue

The London gallows moved from the site at Tyburn (modern day Marble Arch) in 1783 and relocated to Newgate where public executions continued outside the prison until 1868.  These were great crowd pullers with people in Charles Dickens’ time even hiring seats at a public house opposite the prison called The Magpie and Stump, so they could get a better view than those in the crowd in the street below.

The Old Bailey now stands on the site of the former Newgate Prison and to this day part of the old prison, known as “Dead Man’s Walk” can still be seen.  This was the route along a gradually narrowing passageway, from the condemned cell to the gallows situated just outside the prison walls.

The last journey

As the ill-fated soul neared the end of the walk they entered “The Bird Cage” which was a space between the walls of the prison and the gallows with netting overhead, from which the prisoner stepped out onto the gallows and faced the crowd assembled to watch him or her die.

The night before an execution a verse would be read outside the door of their cell;

All ye that in the condemned hold do lie,

Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die,

Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near

That you before the almighty must appear;

Examine well yourselves in time repent,

That you may not to eternal flames be sent.

And when St Sephulcres’ bell in the morning tolls

The Lord above have mercy on your soul.

At the nearby church of St Sephulcres the Execution Bell was rung the night before a hanging.

A prayer of preparation

In earlier times, carts carrying the condemned from Newgate to the gallows that were then situated at Tyburn would stop briefly outside the church whilst a short sermon was delivered, although whether this fortified them as much as the drink they consumed on their last journey is an open question.

The last person to be hanged in public outside Newgate Prison and indeed Great Britain was Michael Barrett in May 1868. A member of the political movement the Fenians . Michael was the last man to be publicly hanged in England, for his part in the Clerkenwell bombing in December 1867.

Executions then took place inside the prison and continued until 1964, When Peter Anthony Allen was hung for his part in the murder of John Alan West.  Although the penalty was not applied thereafter, it was not actually abolished finally until 1998!

My author fuel and fire part II

Book inspiration smallI don’t get a great deal of time for reading what with work and trying to find time to scribble my own stories, so I tend to have any number of books lying around waiting to be read at any one time.

These are often books about historical subjects that interest me such as the early civilisations of Greece, Egypt or Rome, or I may be researching topics that have a bearing on what I myself am trying to write about, such as for example the Korean War or, more recently, the war in Vietnam.

When I do get a chance to read fiction for pure relaxation then I enjoy Bernard Cornwell’s novels, particularly the warrior chronicles.  He is in my opinion a worthy successor to Rosemary Sutcliffe who wrote amongst others Warrior Scarlet and The Shield Ring and also Henry Treece author of a trilogy, namely Vikings Dawn, The Road to Miklagard and Viking Sunset.

I have read too some of the Nordic Noir, for example The girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but for sheer escapism I find the American crime writers like John Grisham and James Lee-Burke second to none.  I just started one by Lee-Burke called Feastday of Fools.

Let’s also not forget the golden oldies.  I have just bought to re-read The Murders in the Rue Morgue, by Edgar Alan Poe in which Paris is terrorised by two horrible murders until the culprit is discovered and turns out **spoiler alert** to be an Orangutan with a razor.

The important thing as far as I am concerned is not the sometimes gruesome details.  In my view the quality of the story itself is paramount.  It is that that gives, what might otherwise be an over-long and over-detailed book, the reader an anchor.

A writer has to be a good story teller. The reason we feel so engaged when we hear a story, read a novel or see a play – whenever we experience a narrative – is quite simple. When we are being told a story, our brain experiences it as if it was really happening to us.

Of course this may seem obvious to some but in the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne “Easy reading is damn hard writing”