The busy have no time for tears.

June 27, 2023 – Lord Byron 

During the Pandemic, brave public workers turned out to work while many of us were under house arrest with not an office party in sight. Not only were they working heroic hours, but, with the medics, those who had retired were recalled to the front line to help their colleagues.

These were hardy types. We once had a legal equivalent in Chambers called Duncan Clark. I came down from university and wrote the usual letters and he was assigned to give me a pep talk at Chambers about the Bar. He told me how barristers spent their weekends pacing around at home, waiting to get back into court and how long holidays by the seaside were torture to a barrister who would only be counting the hours until it was time to return for the next case. I was beginning to have doubts about my suitability for the profession when he suddenly stressed the need for an iron digestion, and I heard my stomach rumbling rather noisily. I rang my mother from that little phone-box (still there) near Temple tube to tell her I had decided to be an actor, a teacher or a priest. ‘Don’t be silly dear!’ she said.

Duncan is long retired. He cannot have enjoyed lockdown. He would have enjoyed life now though. The courts have a mountain of cases to shift. As a result, life as a silk feels like my days as a junior. Cases are being allocated to court centres far from their original destination and I am seeing places I have not seen, or in some cases wanted to see, for years. The Robing Room is like a cast call from Last of the Summer Wine and whole new series of connections are being made with a new generation of barristers and solicitors. It is as good as my morning vitamin shot to get the adrenalin pump working.

It also has that peculiar effect on one’s health that I remember from years ago. I had a tendency to what the family doctor called ‘psychosomatic’ illnesses, where there is a root cause, but the brain somewhat inflates the symptoms. Everyone else around me called it hypochondria, where there is no underlying illness in the first place. I know the doctor was correct, though. For one thing, we were his private patients. This was not because we were some plutocratic family shunning the NHS, but as a result of his breaking a needle in my father’s arm while giving him an injection when the nurse banged a door rather loudly. Despite a quick exploratory op at the local hospital, it travelled to his back and remained there until the day he died (from unconnected causes).

Nothing was ever said about it. You didn’t sue people in those days. We were all just admitted to the private entrance thereafter where he sat on a stool by a Bunsen burner usually smoking a small cigar. He had a wonderful bedside manner which made you feel better simply for seeing him. When I was a teenager, he explained that as a young doctor in his era, there was not much else you could offer. Just as he could radiate wellbeing to his patients, I found I often passed my health fears onto my friends who would develop exactly the same symptoms.

As you get older, of course, some aches and pains do become friends and companions. That pill in the morning to keep the old acid levels down; the beta blocker that takes the edge off scathing sarcasm in the Court of Appeal and the statin which allows you to have both the strawberries and the cream. Something else has returned: the ability to park illness until the end of a case. I had forgotten that. It is quite extraordinary.

And so I found myself in a remote location this week with a delightful junior called Ned, with oohs and aahs as I entered the Robing Room, faces I knew so well and names I couldn’t quite remember, being offered the blackest of coffees where the spoon could stand up in the mug of its own accord. I dashed it down. Why not? The acid pill held. The case was a late Return so I had yet to visit my juvenile client. Jolly security staff in the cells. They didn’t have murder cases every day. My client asked me how old I was? I answered him with a degree of trepidation. ‘Don’t worry!’ he said, ‘I like a daddy type.’ Ned stifled the laugh in his handkerchief.