one for sorrow, two for joy (i)…

Pierro della Francesca - Nativity

Pierro della Francesca – Nativity

There’s a dinner party game that any Psychology majors will already be familiar with; it runs as follows & couldn’t be simpler if you tried…

You ask your unsuspecting friend/s to quite quickly (without too much navel gazing) to name their three favourite animals; now if you have never played this before I might suggest you read no further and do exactly as I have asked you… perhaps even write them down so there is no last minute temptation to ever so slightly alter the outcome (as if you would!!!).

OK, so here goes (& you can be sure I won’t in this post be revealing my three choices); the first animal represents how you wish to be seen, the second how others actually see you and the third and final is actually the closest approximation to who you really are. Now there are very sound reasons why in fact this is slightly more than a game and has some sound psychological basis but I will leave that to a footnote (ii) so as not to get in the way of the primary drive of today’s post; suffice to say when I played the same game with birds as opposed to animals my third choice (& a very fair and representative choice I think it was too) was a magpie.

So today’s piece is dedicated to my #magpiemind and just how some of the attributes of this bird may be very helpful as one ‘picks’ one’s way through the intellectual minefield that the LLB undoubtedly represents.

Essentially a modified crow, the Eurasian Magpie, aside from being one of the few birds that can recognise itself in a mirror is also an avid collector; it’s nest often being littered with objects of all shapes and size, glittering and/or otherwise. Well I touched in my previous post on the idea that “all that glitters may just be gold” and today I hope to develop that idea and go on to suggest that a rampant intellectual curiosity with a healthy dose of the magpie’s penchant for collecting en route, may be a great starting point for any study programme; regardless of subject matter.

Ever since I can remember I have enjoyed getting lost; it may be in a local woodland with a fishing rod, it may be on a road trip when you take that unexpected diversion it may be in a heady conversation with friends over dinner… and part of that joy is the artefacts, curios (both literal and/or metaphorical) and stories that one picks up on the way; and indeed so deeply ingrained is this pattern that as I sit at my desk here on a warm, humid Shanghai Sunday morning it is nigh on impossible for me to resist that temptation as I face my unfolding day of study; but far be it from me to detract from such a study style I’m even going so far as to recommend it’s strengths, certainly at this pre-revision stage of one’s studies.

Unlocking Criminal Law – Jacqueline Martin/Tony Storey 4th edition

I believe that by allowing oneself to roam free, to explore if you will all the academic (and indeed non/academic resources) that are available to any student in this age of the world wide web we maximise our chances of “finding gold” and making the kind of original connections and discoveries that I can only imagine might be refreshing to a tired/just-read-500 scripts LLB examiner come next May/June 2015.

Let me illustrate with a practical example or two.

Late one afternoon, a rather dry afternoon if i recall, of trying to get to grips with statute interpretation prove to be punctuated by a well deserved cup of coffee and a quick smartphone browse. I dipped into the Thomson Reuters Law Student Podcasts and was moments later hearing an interview with Daniel Greenberg (ex-Parliamentary Counsel) on his recent work Laying Down The Law in an interview called “who really shapes new law”; 14 minutes later I was awake again and more importantly curious. A five minute Kindle download and my reading for the week was underway; Askey & McLeod visited with renewed vigour I came across this link: and I was rapidly able to download nearly four hours of prime beef University of Oxford educational material as high court judge Phillip Sales guides you through the complex yet fascinating process of drafting and implementing statutes; conducting interviews with everyone from the Parliamentary officials through to Lord Falconer and ultimately the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Law Commission.

Belle (2013)

The second example concerns William Murray (aka. Lord Mansfield) and the socio-political backdrop to the axial Somersett’s case [1772]. Gearey et al. The Politics of the Common Law is never an easy read and chapter 5 (where this case is covered) prove to be no exception; so in spite of a few cups of coffee (or perhaps because of) I found my #magpiemind wandering as is its wont. A browse of that morning’s Guardian rapidly yielded its gold; in the form of a new biography of Mansfield (Norman S Poser – Lord Mansfield in the Age of Reason) and what’s more a recently released movie Belle. Inspired by the enigmatic painting of Dido Belle (the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Mansfield’s nephew) that for many years hung in Kenwood House before being moved in 1992 to Scone Palace, Perthshire Scotland the film amongst other details, has the Zong Massacre [1781] (appearing before Lord Mansfield at the King’s Bench in 1783) as its social backdrop. A quick visit to the local DVD shop and my weekend’s entertainment was in place.

I could go on but I guess you get the idea; by allowing oneself the liberty of throwing the net somewhat wider than perhaps might be usual in an academic course, nuggets of information and reinforcing contextual backdrops can readily be found that otherwise might be overlooked. And what’s more that information (in today’s digital/post-modern world) can and will come in a whole variety of media; be it written, audio and/or audio-visual… a modern take on this might be a change is as good as a rest but perhaps we might let Lord Mansfield have today’s last word:

“without study, nothing can be acquired”

William Murray in a letter to his brother Charles.


(i.) “One for sorrow, two for joy…” are the opening lines of Roud Folk Song Index 20096; a nursery rhyme relating to magpies; the solitary magpie in Pierro della Francesca’s Nativity may “presage” Mary’s grief-to-come upon Christ’s birth.

(ii.) My understanding of how this “game” works is that by asking us to name three animals we successively drop our psychological guard/s; we give progressively less (conscious) attention to the process and so by the third animal we are lured into being more open/honest… for anyone who has taken the trouble to read this far; my third animal was in fact Garfield (I shall say no more)…

Happy studies!!!

Mark is studying the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) by distance learning in Shanghai, China.

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