Precise definitions can be very important in many walks of life, indeed, I have just finished watching Marcus Du Sautoy’s BBC4 documentary on metrology. My own concerns about definitions may stem from having spent too much time with lawyers at an important time in my young(ish) adult life, or may perhaps be better explained by some degree of innate pedantry. Let’s face it, choosing a degree in pure mathematics may suggest an interest in detail – or, as in my case, the cunning identification of the subject least likely to require essay writing.
The genesis for this post started last week when I once again found myself gigging in front of an unfortunate audience. I happened to compare one of the REMIT prohibitions (flowing from the EU’s Third Energy Package) to attempted murder, and went on to suggest that failure in one’s chosen activity should not necessarily attract more sympathetic sentencing. After this gig, I was asked by a colleague whether I wrote my “jokes” in advance. I tried to suggest to him that the quality would be significantly higher were this the case, though you, dear reader, will know that I was fibbing.
Later, during a massage, I was discussing this attempted murder (almost) quip and found myself drawn into extemporising further. I pondered whether sentencing should be made more severe for attempted murder as a part of a wider package of measures to discourage incompetence. However, I shelved this idea as it would naturally lead to competent murderers being more swiftly returned to our streets, while their failed brethren would continue to be a financial burden on the state.
I then found myself musing out loud on the possibility of attempted manslaughter, but was swiftly told that this was impossible. Never one to shirk a challenge, I have come up with two possible routes to achieve attempted manslaughter – though sadly a clarinet-playing ex-lawyer I met subsequently has cast serious doubts on at least one flying in court.
Option 1: Assume that I am very clumsy (not much of a stretch). I invite my victim on a cliff top walk, relying on my clumsiness to make it probably (but by no means certain) that I will trip. Should I trip, I may well accidentally (and it would be an accident, albeit one that I had made quite likely) bump against my victim pitching him off the cliff to his likely (but not certain) demise. Should this plan fail and the victim completes the walk unharmed, I like to think that I could be arrested and charged with attempted manslaughter: QED.
Option 2: In many a film or TV show, some chap is miraculously saved from certain death by gunshot through the intervention of a handily placed Bible or cigarette case in his jacket. I encourage my victim to take part in an experiment to test whether this would work in reality – but would not reveal to my victim (sorry, assistant) that I have almost never handled a gun and am a lousy shot. Should I, by some miracle, manage to hit the Bible/cigarette case and it acts as Hollywood would have us believe then I should still be guilt of attempted manslaughter: QED. Interestingly, if any other outcome arises (well, other than most likely one of me missing the victim and his protection entirely), then my defence in the case of his injury or death would be to explain that while I had been operating to the highest ideals of scientific inquiry that perhaps on this occasion I had fallen short of my usual high commitment to Health and Safety.
As you can see, I am wasted in my current role and should either become a lawyer – just think of the opportunities to overact! – or a serial killer (I refer you to my previous remarks). It was perhaps this latter thought that led me to wonder how many victims one would need for a massacre and whether it needed to be completed within any fixed timescale? My dictionary is of little help – they suggest a large number of victims, but this is scarcely very specific. A St Valentine’s day of yore suggests that a mere seven may be enough – but it seems dangerous to generalise from a single anecdote. I doubt that killing one person a week for fifty years would be considered a massacre despite the high body count, though it would clearly call into question the effectiveness of local law enforcement agencies. However, it would be terribly disappointing if, after years of planning, one were to fall short of a massacre by a single victim or because you had taken 10 minutes too long – rather like a just failed Guinness world record attempt. Perhaps Mr Collins is concerned that a more detailed definition might encourage attempts? Perhaps I have too much time and too many spare neurons on my metaphorical hands?
Just to be on the safe side, I shall try and spend more time thinking about raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens in future. So, please don’t have nightmares – I’m not really planning to kill anyone: yet…