Category Archives: General Rambles

Voyager's route home

Further thoughts upon the Pon Farr

On a previous stardate, back in 2020, I wrote a piece about a classic Star Trek episode, ‘Amok Time’ (1967). This is the one which features a trip to Vulcan, and Spock being on heat – due to the seven-yearly pon farr mating urge – and not even vaguely logical. Obviously, my inner legal historian (OK, not all that ‘inner’ …) was intrigued by the ‘trial by battle’ between Spock and Kirk over the minxy T’Pring (Spock’s fiancée, who was keen to dump him for a rather buffer Vulcan called Stonn). Now, in my continuing – possibly impossible – mission to watch everything Star Trek, I have seen a Voyager episode from 30 years afterwards, ‘Blood Fever’ (3:16, 1997), which takes up some of the threads from ‘Amok Time’, and expands upon some aspects of Vulcan mating and marriage customs, in the lore of the Star Trek universe. It also, perhaps, raises some questions about the pitfalls of trying to maintain storylines and ideas over a long period of time, when attitudes in our own world may have moved in important ways.

Anyway, the episode involves a male Vulcan engineering ensign, Vorik, going through the pon farr and focusing his attention on half-Klingon, half-human Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres. Vorik proposed to her (declares koon-ut-so-lik). She refused him, but he would not take ‘no’ for an answer and attacked her. She punched him out. However, the physical contact involved in their fight (he had her by the neck at one point, and held her face in a similar way to the famous ‘mind meld’ position) ‘infected’ her through sort of rapey telepathic bond, and Torres began to go into a version of the pon farr with Klingon characteristics. She still wasn’t attracted to Vorik, though, and pursued Lieut. Tom Paris, while they were stuck on a rather desolate planet, on an ‘away mission’.

The implications of the pon farr for those who could not get to Vulcan was explored. The deal with that is that, if they can’t mate or fight, or perhaps suppress the whole thing through meditation, a (male?) Vulcan may well die. So what to do? The whole problem is not helped by the Vulcans’ ‘Victorian’ attitude to the whole sex thing and insistence that the pon farr is terribly private. Vorik says insists that  he can try and get on top of it, and ‘resolve [his] situation privately.’ Meditation is mentioned, but there is a strong hint at Vulcan wanking too (or is that just me?). Certainly wank-adjacent is the Doctor’s scheme of programming a Vulcan woman on the holodeck for Vorik.

The Vulcan is confined to his quarters – presumably justified on grounds of protection of the rest of the crew. He escapes, however, and follows Torres down to a planet where she is working, to ‘consummate their union’. It is not clear that her consent is in any way relevant to him. Seeing Torres and Tom Paris about to have sex, Vorik challenges Paris (the koon-ut-kal-if-fee). Torres steps in and takes the challenge and is allowed to do so. The two fight, Torres wins, and this purges both of them of blood fever.

What do we learn, in terms of law, customs and practice surrounding marriage and sex?

There is some expansion on the Vulcan trial by battle idea …

  • It is possible for a woman to fight
  • It can be fought without the ritual weapon, the lirpa
  • Fighting itself gets rid of the pon farr chemicals
  • Fighting need not be to the death, nor on Vulcan, to have this effect.

… and Vulcan marriage …

  • Arranged marriages are the norm
  • If it is logical to assume that one’s betrothed is lost, one may seek another mate

What do we learn about Star Trek and gender?

So – we are thirty years on from ‘Amok Time’: how has the mood changed with regard to ideas about gender and sex? Well, there are positive things: Torres is definitely her own woman, active, respected and brave, and she gets to participate directly in the ‘trial by battle’ section of the story, rather than sitting back decorously and letting the men fight it out. But there may be a bit too much emphasis on the nobility of Tom Paris, not wanting to have sex with B’Elanna while she is ‘under the influence’ – I mean, obviously this is good, but, dramatically, it is being set up as a balance to the attempted rape by Vorik on Torres, and the icky (at best) holodeck sexbot idea. And the joking discussions of Klingon ‘rough sex’ might not be beyond questioning.

I am left wondering about the choice to maintain, or bring back, the pon farr idea in the 1990s. I can see why it was tempting to bring in the conundrum of how to deal with desire in the situation of the long journey home of Voyager, but the (real) world changed quite a lot in those intervening years (challenges to and much removal of the marital rape exception, improvements in understanding of rape myths and gender inequality) and the narrative of virtually irresistible sexual urges in a male of a particular species (however muddied in gender terms by the transmission to Torres) might have been best left in Stardate 1967.



Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Some personal (sort of legal) history

Still clearing out my home of many years, and finding many ‘gems’ from past lives. Very odd to come across something I hadn’t thought about for decades – the essay I submitted for the university admissions process, back in the deep past. A history essay, which clearly appealed, for some reason, to those making these decisions. Sure it would not have been the stammering, nervy, nerdy, interview that swung it. So thank you, Catherine the Great, I suppose! Also – in palaeographical news – my handwriting does not look like that any more!




Flipping Norah …

Confession …

For many years, I assumed that this was some bloke called Nigel or Norbert, who preferred his middle name. And only a man would be a city archivist in 1930, wouldn’t he?

Wrong! This was, in fact a woman, Norah Dermott Harding. And she seems worth a bit of investigation. I am intrigued about her appointment, and how it all went for her, and why she left after just a few years (marriage? And all that expertise lost?). No, don’t tell me there are many other things I am supposed to be doing …



Also ran, or a bit of a gallop off in the wrong direction

Some time ago, it became apparent to me that there was a fair chance that any research-related keyword trawl of old newspapers would bring up results relating to horse racing. I suppose it’s not particularly surprising – there are lots of horse races and racehorses, and the equines  can’t all be called Dobbin or Silver, so owners use whatever daft word or couple of words that may pop into their heads.

Today, I did an idle search for ‘Petty Treason’ in a newspaper database, just to check there wasn’t anything more I should be adding to my current project, and was interested and surprised to see quite a few hits from the 1960s and 1970s. I had forgotten the whole horse thing, but, as it turned out, most of the hits were, in fact racing results or lists of runners. It would seem that there was a filly called Petty Treason, which ran in races all over the country for a period in the early 60s. I rather like the fact that she was a lady horse (yes, that is the technical term)  certainly resonates with my project, and its subject matter of women killing their husbands as petty treason. I also like the fact that Petty Treason’s sire [horse daddy – see, I know some of the words] was called High Treason.[i]

Petty Treason does not seem to have been massively successful – I have only seen one victory so far – but at least she did not follow the path of her namesake-offence and end up being burnt at the stake. She seems to have become a brood-mare [yes, again, note horsey vocab – crushing this!] and produced some offspring, with different stallions [and I am remembering more horsey vocab – that’s called ‘covering’ the mare, isn’t it … resonances with ‘coverture’ …?] though sadly they did not get treasonous or criminal names. Poor show.

Now – how on earth am I going to get this into the paper I am writing, on petty treason, for a conference in a few weeks? Stakes, that’s the link, isn’t it? Needs some thought. Giddy up!




[i] See, e.g., Times 14th  Sept 1960 p 14, and, for her win see Times 13th June 1961 p.4.

Image: Photo by Daniel Bonilla on Unsplash  See if you can get it – yes that’s right, it’s a horse! See, this equestrian stuff is easy. Off for a bit of dressaging now. What, you don’t dressage? Oh, you must

Exam question setting season musing

A problem question problem (in the form of an essay)
‘I should spend less time devising “amusing” out-of-date pop culture themed names for my problem question characters, and just call them Arnold, Betty, Charlie and Deborah’
(Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash – though we aren’t doing traditional exam hall exams this year. I miss them.)

Pulling our Leggatt?

Judicial humour – what do we think? Ever appropriate? I am slightly torn: On the one hand, it can be the cause of horrid sycophantic laughter in court. On the other, I do like a pun, in general, so I suppose there’s no reason why a judge should be barred from the fun. But on the third hand, when these things appear in meticulously-prepared Supreme Court decisions, there is a bit of a feeling that the judge in question must have been rather too pleased with himself (or herself, in theory).

Anyway, I noticed this little pun in Lord Leggatt’s judgement in the recent big nuisance case (about the posh London flats, the owners of which were annoyed at people looking in from a viewing platform at an art gallery), Fearn and others v Board of Trustees of
the Tate Gallery [2023] UKSC 4.

Overlooking in two senses! Ho ho! Groansome or great? You be the judge!



Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Badge saying Coal Not Dole'

Striking times

In these times of strike, my thoughts turn (predictably) to the important question of ‘What did Welsh newspapers of the 19th/early 20th century have to say about strikes?’

And of course the Welsh and English language press had much to say about the great industrial battles which are a part of Welsh and wider British labour history. But naturally enough, there is at least one bad poem on the subject, here, from 1853:

This one takes a bit of a dodgy turn in the middle, having started off in a way which could be read as positive. Be happy with your lot, workers!

And this one tickled me – report from 1904 of a striking choir in the West Midlands. No doubt that would have seemed a particularly terrible thing to readers in the ‘Land of Song’. Note the use by church ‘bosses’ of scab child labour to cover essential services …




Main image – something very evocative of my childhood, not quite so long ago, but long enough.


Law, Equity, Doomed ‘Marriages’? (And ‘Lesbian Rules’)

In more than one previous post, I have gone on about what I think is the questionable use of metaphor in legal writing and judgments. I am not too keen on the use of metaphor in legal discussion. Isn’t it often more confusing than elucidating? And not infrequently more than a bit pretentious?

Well, whatever one makes of the general question of metaphor, there are some individual usages which are particularly objectionable – emasculation is my least favourite, and the reproductive metaphors (Cowcher v Cowcher, anyone?) are also pretty grim, and indicative of a special brand of judicial self-regard. A historical sex/gender-related area of metaphorical activity which had me thinking today was from the 1870s, when the big news in the legal world was the bringing together of the administration of law and equity in one court system, under the Judicature Acts 1873-5.

Those of us who have been through the law-degree route will be very familiar with this being metaphor-ised with watery imagery, in ‘Ashburner’s fluvial metaphor’ (‘two streams of jurisdiction [which], … run in the same channel [but] run side by side and do not mingle their waters’[i]]. At the time of the acts themselves, however, quite a different metaphor was used: that of marriage (or, in some cases, marital sex).

One account mixed metaphors of war and consummation of marriage. Which may well say something about some people’s experience of marriage. More commonly, a more-or-less consistent wedding metaphor was used, though in this poem copied from Punch, the likely tensions in the marriage are certainly emphasised.[ii]  Surprise, surprise, the ‘gruff’ masculine character is the common law, and ‘sweet Equity’ is the bride (virginal, obvs).

One possible problem with the metaphorical marriage can be seen though, if we add in something a bit earlier. It is a completely anachronistic reading, I know, but it made me smile anyway. Another image of equity, much older, but apparently still current in the days of complaint about the problems of separate jurisdictions, in the nineteenth century, was that of equity as ‘the lesbian rule’. Yes, you read that right. And wrong. Because, sadly, it is not, in fact, a suggestion that the Court of Chancery was much more open-minded than other jurisdictions, and welcoming to women who were attracted to women.

It was brought up in a letter by  ‘A Voice from Lincoln’s Inn’, printed in that well-known legal source,the Monmouthshire Merlin for 16th March 1850:

‘[Truly has it been said by that ancient but erudite lawyer, Sir John Doderidge, that “It is a court of conscience, which giveth comfort, considereth all the circumstances of the fact, and is, as it were, tempered with the sweetness of mercy: it mitigateth the rigour of the common law, and leaving the inflexible iron rule, taketh the leaden Lesbian rule and issueth this sentence full of comfort to the afflicted, “Nullus recedat a Cancellaria sine remedio”’. [The Lawyer’s Light, (1621), p.175.][iii]

Sadly it is actually about a flexible tool for building purposes, the origin of which was ascribed to Lesbos (and which is contrasted with the oh-not-at-all-phallic inflexible rule/rod of the common law). The point is its bendiness rather than its sexual preferences. Still, I do think that those of us who teach in the property/equity area should be making more of an effort to bring this metaphor back. As chance would have it, I am doing some equitable bits of Land Law this week, so I don’t suppose I’ll be able to stop myself bemusing the students with it.  Seems a bit more exciting than rivers anyway




Another interesting image for the fusion of law and equity – from a previous effort – is that of mixing strychnine and prussic acid – ‘A Horrible Compound’, Punch, 19th May 1860, p.8. This image made a comeback in Punch, 19th March 1873, p. 8:

Chemistry of Law Reform

There is talk about a contemplated ‘Fusion of Law with Equity’. Perhaps if this be effected, the resulting amalgam will be innocent, or even salutary. Such is sometimes the case with a compound, the constituents of which are deadly poisons.’

Then in 1875, we have a nice disease image: Punch 21st August 1875, p. 6

Suitors’ Sufferings

As Law is to Rheumatism, so is Equity to Gout. The fusion of Law and Equity may be said to form the counterpart of Rheumatic Gout.)

And on the ‘lesbian rule’ issue – of note is the to-ing and fro-ing between seeing the ‘lesbian rule’ as a good or neutral thing, and seeing it as a bad thing (the ‘palm tree justice’ of its day – another image which could certainly do with some examination). We certainly get ‘lesbian rule = arbitrary’ in Earl of Dalhousie v. Lord and Lady Hawley (1712) Mor. 14014, a Court of Session case, but older uses of the phrase are not necessarily hostile, suggesting that there is virtue in flexibility, and adjustment to the irregularities and curves (as it were) of a situation.

More matrimonial images

We have a law-equity marriage in a description of the effect of the Statute of Uses 1536, in ‘The Conveyancer’s Guide’, a long, long poem about, yes, conveyancing (and why not?( published in a collection of 1885:

‘The use, which was a sort of bride

was fast to the possession tied:

they were conjoined and married.

You can’t have one without the other:

like man and wife they go together.’

–  J Greenbag Croke (ed.), San Francisco 1885) Poems of the Law,

[i] Walter Ashburner, Principles of Equity, (London, 1902), 23.

[ii] Well, not entirely consistent – it does have a nasty miscarriage metaphor too, in the first verse.

[iii] (Doddridge’s book was actually printed in 1629, I believe). This image was used in English legal writing from (at least) the early modern period – e.g. Selden, Janus Anglorum 1 c.7, but elsewhere as well, and is usually credited to Aristotle, Ethics, v. References are often rather negative (it’s the thing we don’t want law to be) which would strike a chord with women in general and (modern style) lesbians in particular.

Photo by Jeremy Wong Weddings on Unsplash

Judges and kisses

Continuing with love-themed stuff, in honour (or, more probably, dishonour) of the season of pink hearts, and making it vaguely law-themed, here are a couple of bits on two things you wouldn’t think to put in the same title – judges and (remembered or imagined) kisses.

The first snippet comes from a breach of promise case.  I give you the reported sentiments of Lawrance J in the Suffolk assizes, in a breach of promise case in 1906. The case was brought by a certain Ethel Wheelhouse against ‘a veterinary surgeon’ (note, her name is publicised, his is not). Ethel did actually win the case, albeit recovering only a relatively small amount (£5) in damages). Nevertheless, there was some comment from the judge as to the quality of the love letters between the two: they never ‘got to burning point’, and, in particular ‘there were no crosses for kisses’. All in all, things had been ‘hotter in his day’. Was any of that really necessary? Rather condescending, and not a little narcissistic. And I am not sure anyone wants to think about judges salivating over hot kisses.

Then, also from 1906, we have an extra-judicial opinion on the subject, also related to love letters, from the Master of the Rolls (Sir Richard Henn Collins). This one, which combines condescension (again) and a bit of an obsession with kisses. He was giving out prizes to some ‘girl typists’, and felt moved to ‘speak of the lady typists’ love letters’,  asking (a bit creepily, let’s be honest, though no doubt thinking he was charming) about the idea of writing a love letter on a typewriter, and whether any of them had ever received a type-written love letter. In particular whether there was ‘in the region of type production anything that of itself could depict a kiss’. I am imagining that being followed by nervous laughter. And why would a type-written x not be obviously the same as a written one?

The very dreamy Richard Henn Collins. Relax ladies, he was married (and is now extremely dead).

Finally, getting much more modern, there is a report from 1907 of a judge rebuking a defendant for saying in court that a woman used to give him whisky and kisses, on the grounds that ‘when ladies kiss me, I generally hold my tongue’. Did he have to? Pass the heart-shaped sick bucket.



Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

Bolder than the rest

Who needs a bit of historical cheer and encouragement this morning? I enjoyed this little 1908 story of a Llanelli ‘female’ who was ‘bolder than the rest’ and put a snobby minister in his place. 

It does leave questions, doesn’t it: who was this excellent woman, and who was the condescending clergyman? Just one more tantalising glimpse of women of the past not shutting up and taking it.

It encouraged me, anyway. Will be drawing on the energy of the unknown objector today, if anyone should talk down to me!