August is here and, being unable to get away for a holiday because of rather annoying bits and pieces that all need finishing off or preparing, I am here in the metropolis. The fall in the pound means there is a pullulating body of tourists that come to gape and gawk or, if inordinately wealthy, to walk up and down the Brompton Road at night, while cars costing enormous sums of money (but of questionable taste) are driven around the pedal rickshaw-clogged streets, revving their engines before managing a burst of speed for about 25 yards. Industrial quantities of rubbish appear on the streets and presumably everyone is having a very good time.
Pondering this recently, I noticed that Richard Wilson, the actor, had suffered a heart attack, which saddened me. I had first encountered him on the screen during the late seventies as a Silk in Crown Court – the daily lunchtime programme that featured a fictional criminal trial with a real jury. He stood out as an uncannily Silk-like QC. I rarely missed an episode as it was all you needed to understand Criminal Procedure for Bar Finals. Many years later, it took me an episode or two of One Foot in the Grave to realise that Richard Wilson QC had morphed into Victor Meldrew. I suspect actors have love-hate relationships with characters they play who catch the public imagination, but the truth is he created a character of Dickensian legend from those extraordinary bitter-sweet scripts.
I have long suspected I am turning into Victor Meldrew, or perhaps, more accurately, that what appears to be the surprise and even shock effect of a youthful mind simply translates into an old curmudgeon in later years – even if, in truth, it is really the same person. Not only do I feel increasingly intolerant of other people’s lack of consideration, but I also seem to have more of those ghastly coincidences of life which made me find One Foot… such a joy, but which also make me say ‘just what are the chances of that?’ – my version of ‘I don’t believe it!’.
Top of my hate-list at the moment is the classic British remedy to any social problem: pass more laws. The streets of my neighbourhood have seen new notices on lampposts, warning that antisocial driving will not be tolerated and new regulations have been enacted accordingly. Has it made any difference to the Le Mans-in-treacle experience of the roads around me? I will leave you to guess. I cannot rule out that the odd motorist might have been spoken to by a hesitant policeman or indeed that a fixed penalty notice addressed to somewhere in the Gobi desert might have been issued, but the noise, nuisance, fumes and fuss are predictably worse than ever.
It is the typical British answer. I was moaning to the clerks about it only last month. We have allegedly solved the problem by passing a law. A law or regulation to join the millions of useless laws and regulations already there, which continue to grow like that alien plant life in The Quatermass Experiment. The only people ever to get prosecuted have to be unlucky, sitting targets and incredibly stupid.
Likewise, piles of rubbish appear overnight, suggesting that a month’s amount of food has been consumed overnight, much of its remains spilling on to the pavement. We received a letter telling us that our neighbourhood is now in a special zone which means that littering the locale will be viewed with particular gravity and visited with heavy punishment. And striking notices are sellotaped to illegally placed rubbish bags: some in purple saying ‘Wrong Day’ and others in blue and yellow bearing the legend ‘Crime Scene’. The effect? None. Well, I say ‘none’. Not quite.
This morning I received a letter from the local council with a photograph of a circular from a nearby estate agent addressed to me enquiring whether I wished to let out my flat in the holiday season. I had chucked it in the communal bin for our flats and it had somehow found its way outside at the wrong time. I was informed that a fine of £150 had been levied which I could mitigate 50% by paying now.
I really do not believe it, but possibly I will not be mentioning it in chambers.
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.