Communication – Who Needs It?, by Ben Jeapes

For a lot of this year I’ve been locked in battle with the Irish legal system.

Not in a bad way, I hasten to emphasise. Our solicitor is a pleasure to work with, and just like ours in England, the system is peopled with competent professionals who are very good at what they do.

But they don’t do it like we do it, and vice versa.

I have lasting power of attorney for an elderly, fragile Irish friend who resides in England but is the sole heir of a relative who has died in Ireland. The Irish power of attorney system is subtly different to the English one. Almost 99% congruent, but with differences which become apparent when trying to deal with the Irish probate office. Apparently the differences would disappear if we could just get our friend’s GP to sign an affidavit, witnessed by a solicitor, to say that they are physically fragile but mentally fit. This kind of thing would raise no eyebrows at all in Ireland. In England we have been told very firmly that no GP would sign something like that. The word “liability” comes up quite a lot.

We are caught between two jurisdictions, each of which makes perfect sense in its own term and each of which naturally assumes their way is everyone’s way, because why wouldn’t it be?

But I’m a writer, so it’s all grist for the mill …

It’s easy to set up good guys and bad guys in a piece of fiction. Isn’t it closer to life to set up people with clashing expectations? No one except a Shakespeare villain sets out deliberately to be bad, after all.

Think of all the dramatic potential in a situation where two people naturally assume they are talking the same language, then set off independently and do something that mucks up the other one’s plans. Picture the reader watching this, sucking in their cheeks and groaning in despair as they see the approaching train wreck.

Or maybe just stop (we’re back in real life now) and think of how any disagreements you may have with someone else - religious, philosophical, whatever - are just down to the fact that you’re both assuming the other one is saying something different to what they think they are saying?

Long live lack of communication!

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. www.benjeapes.com

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