Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The tale of Corporal Barnett: antidote to Thatcher stories

Such a relief to come across a news item to raise a smile, in among all the Thatcher nostalgia. 

Honestly, they do go on about her. She may have been a giant of the twentieth century, but they seem to forget that giants can be dangerous creatures, who grind your bones to make their bread. After all, she was the one to tell the merchant banks they could gamble with retail banks’ money – our money – just like her mate, Reagan, told US banks. Seeing how that worked out, you might think a little decorous silence might be in order now. But no. The eulogies just go on and on.

So I was delighted when the wall-to-wall coverage was interrupted with the tale of the Court Martial of Robert Barnett of the Royal Marines. He, it seems, is the latest victim of a modern error – the belief that social media are private – and the oldest of weaknesses, the desire to ‘big it up’, as his counsel put it at his trial.

He was at a wedding in June last year. Having been an acting sergeant the year before, his dress uniform had sergeant’s stripes on it and, he claimed, he didn’t have time to take them off. Although once more a corporal, he therefore attended in that uniform. To make matters worse, he wore medals which his father had passed him but which he hadn’t actually won himself.

This was the behaviour that his defence would later argue was just down to his desire to ‘big it up’ at a family occasion. A private occasion. Or at least an occasion that would have remained private had his mates not posted pictures on Facebook. Which were seen by his other so-called mates back in the Marines.

Result? A court martial. And a conviction for conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. The maximum sentence was two years in prison, but I’m glad to say the Court was lenient. After all, when dealing with an offence so old and so ingrained in the human psyche, a little understanding is essential. He merely has to pay a £300 fine.

It would have been awful if they’d demoted him. After all, his hard work and devotion to the Marines had only recently won him promotion – to the rank of sergeant.

Robert Barnett. Wearing the strip he has now earned

Entirely unrelated postscript

I absolutely loved the expression I heard in a meeting recently: ‘if that roadblock becomes a show-stopper, let’s flag it up.’ Yes indeed. Then we could launch a targeted initiative to take focused action to deliver a value-adding solution. In, to borrow another phrase from the same speaker, a ‘holistic and all-round way.’

Tom Stoppard talks about lego language in Professional Foul. It was sheer joy to come across so wonderful an example of clicking together business-speak clichés to build what passes for a sentence in the language that Austen, Orwell or Stoppard himself had earlier done their obviously inadequate bit to adorn a little.

No comments: