Secret E-Diary

Working in August isn’t all bad

'My favourite Nice restaurant is in the market. It's open mainly for the market people, and shuts in August.'  – Mary Quant

As I have recorded before, when I had been at the Bar a couple of years, I arranged tea in Inner Temple with one of my former pupils from the eccentric tutorial establishment at which I had been tutoring for a few years after I graduated. He had been a rather irreverent young man in those days, seeing a good deal of what he considered nonsense in the established way of doing things. I was fond of him because he was a breath of fresh air. Indeed, when I started my pupillage, I ended up sharing a large flat with him, his girlfriend and three other pupils from the crammer who had also drifted to the metropolis.

He was much amused by the Temple and, looking around, said: ‘It’s the same thing all over again.’ I looked puzzled. ‘Schools with quadrangles and staircases; halls and chapels. Old universities with quadrangles, staircases, chapels and halls; and now they are all here – exactly the same.’ He put a muffin in his mouth as if to confirm the point. He could have said the same about terms.

From childhood, we learn to think of working time in terms. It starts as Christmas Term, Spring Term and Summer Term. Later, we learn to take on board Michaelmas, Hilary, Lent and Trinity. Four terms for some institutions, three for others. But always terms with holidays in between. After university, unless we go into teaching or academia, most of us understand that this idyllic passing of time now moves to a working year with a few weeks break snatched here and there. Unless, that is, we become barristers, where, like the schools and ancient universities, our lives remain governed by terms.

Some may think that it is something of an affectation in the modern world, but the link between practising law and academic law has always been very strong: indeed, it is one of the reasons why it is difficult to regulate all barristers, because, in part, the qualification is an academic one. However, as I sat in court on Thursday in front of a High Court judge, well into August, it struck me that the old system was somewhat under threat. When I got home, at least two news items featured senior judges giving judgments in two different divisions of the appellate courts. The only thing that suggested that some adherence to old customs remained was the postcard waiting for me from Hetty Briar-Pitt, my junior in the present trial, apologising for ‘ditching me’ in the ‘middle of the trial’ and ‘hoping all was going well’. Turning the card over, I saw a beautiful view of the Amalfi coastline and an Italian stamp. The only surprise about Hetty’s summer holiday was not her abandonment of me but where on earth she had put the only thing that mattered in her life, the horses.

There was another good old tradition and that was that no Silk worth his salt was ever seen in the Temple in August. I remember as a young junior walking close to Fountain Court with one of ours on the way to a wine bar when he spotted another one of his number. He dragged me into the doorway of a libel set and waited for the other Silk to pass. Unfortunately, and doubtless overcome with the same embarrassment, the other one had also dived into a doorway and neither wanted to be the first to emerge. I thought we were going to be there all day.

On Friday I walked the same path, conscious of several Queens Counsel in front, behind and on both sides. On entering Chambers there was not a scintilla of surprise at my presence in the Clerks’ Room amongst the skeleton staff. ‘Trial going well sir?’ asked Matt, the junior clerk. ‘A little longer than expected,’ I responded in an aggrieved way. ‘Well, sir,’ he said, ‘most of Chambers is working and some of them are even doing them night-shifts in the pilot project.’ ‘How awful!’ I replied. ‘Not really, sir. It’s as I was saying to Mr R Twist when he was moaning: empty roads, no schoolkids, no queues, seats on the underground, parking for your car and all whilst being paid. It’s the best time of year to work.’ I paused for a second. ‘I suppose you have a point. I expect your journey time from Essex will be much reduced.’ ‘Doesn’t make much difference to me, sir’ he said, ‘I’m off to Ibiza on Saturday.’