There were not all that many members in those days. It was not the multi-storey car park or out-of-town superstore that it is today. As a result everybody knew everyone else as opposed to the situation I now face when I come into Chambers where I cannot recognise a third of the faces or remember half of the names. Indeed, only yesterday, my attempt to ingratiate myself with the newest tenant, recently elected by the Chambers’ Committee of Public Safety, backfired.
“Hello,” I said, “Are they looking after you?” “Yeah,” he replied. “Got a desk yet?” I enquired. “Dunno.” I was just about to search out the head of the Tenancy Committee to ask exactly what this young man’s qualities were when I noticed that the junior clerks were sniggering and, Andrew, our senior clerk, was beginning his shape-shifting movements that with long experience could safely be interpreted as discomfiture. “It’s the computer lad, sir.” I smiled wanly and contemplated a joke about slipping a disc but thought better of it.
Anyway, back then, I was sent out with a lovely man called Harry James, who is still alive somewhere. At lunchtime, he always found a hostelry where we would order a bar meal and drink precisely one pint of draught beer each. It had to be in a straight glass and by a particular brewer. He seemed wholly unaffected by the alcoholic content and, in the afternoon, bounced around the courtroom, expertly adducing evidence and destroying his opponent’s case with wit and acumen. At least, I think he did. I was soundly asleep by two-thirty – jerking into consciousness only when the decibel level rose, sudden silence intervened or Harry asked me for my non-existent note.
The only part I hated was the mad dash back to court after lunch. Fortunately there was no security and it was an unimpeded sprint to the robing room to force fumbling fingers to secure collar and bands, whilst grabbing for the wig and gown and arriving breathless in court a micro-second before the judge. Once we ran into the High Court judge, entering in state through the front door, and had to waste valuable seconds bowing.
I had thought those days to be gone forever. However, the Lord Chancellor’s desire to turn the court buildings into Soviet-style concrete blocks of gloom has had an unintended consequence: with no nice and warm Bar mess and meals, however dire, we have been forced to forage further afield to satisfy the inner advocate.
I have been leading Hetty Briar-Pitt in a Dangerous Driving case south of the river. I do not remember who our client’s insurers were, but they have correct priorities – instructing leading counsel in serious motoring cases. Since the allegation involves two cars racing we have a co-defendant who looks like some talking animal from Narnia, represented by Graham Fortescue QC and his junior, Alexandra Gordon-Jones. Graham is not a party-person. Alexandra is, and, since she lives in the country, shares an interest in horses with Hetty.
Every weekday, we look anxiously at the digital clock as the short adjournment draws near. Like Hetty’s horses, we are waiting to gallop away at high speed. Graham insists, quite properly, in changing back into civvies but I have opted for keeping on the clobber to get to the eaterie before all the tables are gone. The customary request by the waiter for any drinks is met by a barrage of food orders and dire imprecations from Hetty as to what will happen if we do not get served pronto. Food is bolted down and quick-fire repartee crosses the table before we throw down money and run back to court. After agonizing efforts to get through the security arch without the bells and whistles going off, we just fail to get in before the judge and receive a knowing look.
And the ripples do not stop there. I was telling my accountant, a Mr Plumb, of my lunchtime dashes. I had never seen him laugh before, but he seemed beside himself with delight. “Your deductible subsistence expenses are likely to be much higher than last year you know. And there is no way the Inspector can refuse. They’ve brought it on their own heads. Oh dear, dear, dear…” I was glad the changes had pleased someone and even I thought longingly of tomorrow’s lunch. Deductible potted shrimps. My favourite.
William Byfield Gutteridge Chambers
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.