Evil hangs over Aylesbury in a heavy veil. You mark in every face you meet, marks of weakness, marks of woe. Sometimes it seems the gates of hell were flung open and all the wickedest creatures poured forth to find the only bus running was a direct one to Aylesbury. The town is a repository for depravity. In Trainspotting, Renton says of his friend “Even in his ma’s womb, you would have to define Spud less as a foetus, more as a set of dormant drug and personality problems.” Aylesbury is full of Spuds.
A guy in the year above me at school murdered his mum with a machete and a shower pole. A guy I sometimes sat with on the school bus murdered his dad and buried him under the patio. I once saw scoundrels tear down a road sign and use it to barricade a frightened ginger lad in the ladies toilet in the multi-story car park. I once witnessed drug fuelled juggernauts hoover up half-g lines off a wheelie bin in the Friary car park. I once saw hoodlums hitting tennis balls at cinema goers off the top of the multi-story. I had high hopes for jury service- I was excited about engaging with evil in an official capacity rather than as a powerless witness or a misguided participant.
For me, the justice system had hitherto been nothing but a lumbering machine, a distant menace devouring humans. In fact, the justice system had always presented itself as a tremendous source of injustice, imprisoning normal people for minor misdemeanours and releasing dangerous criminals into the world. When I was called upon to become a cog in the great purveyor of injustice, my excitement overcame my irritation. I was curious to see how the monster functions.
On the first morning, the crown court proved strangely elusive. It turned out to be the red brick building at the bottom of market square. I have often remarked upon the unusually high density of bastards gathered in that area. I always assumed they accumulate at the bottom of the hill due to the force of gravity alone, but it is in fact the law which draws them there. They are waiting to be digested by the justice system.
Aylesbury Crown Court seeks to give the impression of being bigger than it is, like a Jack Russell or a rude boi. It tries to loom over you but it’s not quite large enough. Despite its aggressive ugliness, the building is anonymous and hard to identify. The metal sign has been so heavily engraved with synonyms for “penis” that “Crown Court” is hardly legible. Like most public signs in Aylesbury, it has become a penile thesaurus.
The Aylesbury flag flies proudly on top of the building. It is appropriately weird and distressing- a swan in chains. The shackled creature screeches. The background comprises of two colours- the red of rage and the black of despair. I would have been perplexed by this monstrosity, but long ago Aylesbury cultivated in me a sense of unquestioning acceptance.
The Crown Court makes ludicrous use of space as if it was designed by a mentally impaired architect. Upon opening the heavy metal doors you are immediately confronted by two security guards. They are right up in your face not due to safety regulations, but simply due to a lack of space. Two overweight guards, desks and a metal detector are stuffed into the tiny lobby and the atmosphere is oppressive, although far from sinister. Incompetence and discomfort are the overarching sentiments whilst Mini Cheddar is the dominant scent.
On the other hand, the staircase behind the guards is ludicrously spacious. The stairs are marble and the banisters gilded. It seems that the whole town’s budget is blown on that staircase.
Up a flight of stairs and into the juror’s room. The first thing I saw was the toilets. They are manky, malodorous, missing tiles and someone had punched a hole in the door, but, like the staircase they are inexplicably spacious. The windows are alarmed so the jurors can’t escape.
Upon entering the jury room, you immediately find yourself at close quarters with the other jurors. The room is lit by long strip-lights of vicious brightness. They are bright enough to hurt, but somehow the room remains gloomy. They are everything a light shouldn’t be.
Having rushed from the car park I was alarmingly sweaty, and the twenty two eyes that greeted my arrival only opened my pores further. The room was stiflingly hot and by the time the usher arrived, I was so sweaty I looked dangerous and unpredictable despite my feeble physique. The usher left us to wait indefinitely. Nobody talked and everyone looked at everyone.
In Aylesbury Crown Court, the jurors’ room is an L shape. This means there are some people you can hear but can’t see. This is incredibly sinister. It is like the room is designed to accentuate tension and ferment fear between the jurors. You hear scratching and grunting from around the L-bend. After half an hour I heard a disembodied voice shout, “I hate it! I just hate things like this! Why do we have to be here!!” One wizened young man looked fearful. How can a young man be wizened, I hear you ask? Because it’s Aylesbury.
The man beside me was rocking back and forth, growling with rage and choking me with rancid breath. He pulled out a copy of The Sun and flicked through, alighting on an article entitled “QUICK! GET THE SEX BOMB DISPOSAL UNIT OUT HERE!” After reading the picture for several minutes he slammed the paper down and resumed his rocking and raging. He looked like a psychopath and it seemed that at any moment he might begin to wound and maim. He probably harboured the same fears about me in my sweaty state. When I took out a book, he emitted the same pained groan people produce when they witness extreme suffering.
I resided in the toilet for as long as I could without arousing suspicion. It was relaxing in there. No disembodied scratching. No eyes all over you.
A noticeboard informed me that Aylesbury Crown Court’s rate of “ineffective proceedings” is twice the national average (22%). It is easy to see why. The building breathes incompetence. How can you work effectively in a topsy-turvy building where the toilet and the stairwell are the nicest places? I was losing my mind after half a day.
After four hours of waiting, the usher floated in. We expected a case. We got a discharge. At least until the next morning. The following day the waiting and sweating and watching and raging was repeated for several hours before we were discharged again.
Then again the next day.
Finally, after several days of this barren Beckettesque existence, we were called into court. We filed into the juror’s box, which was, of course, painfully small. I wasn’t just rubbing shoulders with the psychopath- we were entwined like a jigsaw puzzle. The New Testament was passed round and we swore upon it. The judge was the kind of sterile lump who looks like she’s never done anything illegal in her life, the kind of person who is more repugnant than a criminal.
The defendant was accused of possession with intent to supply. He had 800g of cannabis as well as growing equipment in his apartment. His defence was that he doesn’t abuse the herb, but rather uses it in rituals to give thanks to God. The barrister explained that we could understand “the herb” to mean cannabis.
I looked at the defendant standing all alone in the dock. He was wearing a black suit, the sobriety of which belied the twinkle in his eye. His dreadlocks were imprisoned in a large woollen hat. Accusations of greed and avarice were bandied about, but I couldn’t equate them with the man before me.
It was so clear to me that the defendant was not a heartless bastard high and plastered. He just wanted to be loved, that’s why he broke the law. He didn’t want to use the drugs to get high. He didn’t, as the prosecution claimed, want to sell the drugs to make money. Indeed he didn’t, as he claimed, want to sacrifice the chronic to curry favour with the Gods. He just wanted to be loved. He just wanted to be loved and that’s all anybody ever wants. I resolved to do everything in my power to help this lonely man.
The next day we waited and waited in that infernal room, but waiting isn’t so bad when you know what you’re waiting for. I felt dizzy with love and compassion, Christ incarnate, a saviour in the making. After several hours we were called into court, but instead of hearing the case we were informed that the trial was postponed because the barrister’s wife was ill. Why had we waited for three hours to be told this? Presumably incompetence, although I would not rule out cruelty.
The following day we waited for several hours with the same sense of anticipation. When we were called into court, however, we were informed that the case would not go ahead since the new barrister had been unable to read the case because he was too busy, too bone idle or too badly educated. The trial was adjourned indefinitely, the jury was discharged and the lonely defendant escaped my tender loving clutches.
The following week we spent another four days waiting indefinitely in that stifling room. The usher wandered in occasionally to give us the impression we still existed. Her joviality was most frustrating- I would have preferred her to be rude and obnoxious, a valid outlet for my frustration.
Jury service, like most things, serves as an apt metaphor for life. You spend most of your time waiting indefinitely for nobody knows what. When you’re sure the waiting’s over and something’s going to happen, this something is curtailed by trivial concerns. When you’re really sure the waiting’s over and something’s definitely going to happen, this something is curtailed by someone else’s incompetence. And when you’re certain something is going to happen, it’s suddenly all over.
During life, as during jury service, you maintain the illusion that you are worth something, that you will do something, that something will happen to validate your presence.
Despite being repeatedly confronted with nothingness, with emptiness, with a complete lack of purpose, you continue to hope and to dream. Is it courageous or stupid? Probably both. My discharge was my death- a meaningless conclusion to a meaningless wait. Before the horror of it all could overwhelm me, I injected joy and meaning into my life once more with a Bucks Balti Balti, Aylesbury’s great panacea.