No sooner have you finished one season, when it is back again as if it had never stopped. I am not writing of the ‘festive season’ although that too has a habit of reappearing sooner than expected or desired, but the ‘directory season’ where a whole host of tedious information is required, with increasingly specific instructions about format, in order for one to be considered in the ranking lists that appear about a year later.
At first blush, it seems a rather curious way to select a professional to act for you and more appropriate to finding a hotel or a restaurant, but I have to say that I do sometimes rely on it myself. Last week, I was called by Francesca, an old friend of mine from university, who read English and tends to regard ‘law’ as a portmanteau subject in which everyone who has just the very slightest contact with it will inevitably know the answer to anything ‘legal’.
‘Darling,’ she said, as she always did, even from that first day at university where I rescued her from the terror that was Doreen. Doreen was a fierce little waitress from Cork who was a member of a much underrated and under-studied grouping: female misogynists. She worked at the Kardomah, an eatery of the old school that boasted customers including dons and undergraduates, who found its café-restaurant fare an inexpensive alternative to the horrors of college cooking and loved the brilliant all-day breakfast. It was this feature that had attracted Francesca, who had not been to bed that night.
"I am not writing of the ‘festive season’ although that too has a habit of reappearing sooner than expected or desired, but the ‘directory season’ where a whole host of tedious information is required, with increasingly specific instructions about format, in order for one to be considered in the ranking lists that appear about a year later"
If you were a priest, a don, a male undergraduate (sportsmen in particular) or even me, Doreen would swoop down to serve you. ‘Now come on here, sir and sit you down. Plenty of space! I can see you are hungry and I have got just the thing.’ With priests, she was even more effusive: ‘Father, father,’ she would say to some young cleric, ‘come and sit down this minute. It’s wicked cruel the way they work you.’ Women, however, were a different story. Having one day gone through with me the ritual just described, only ten minutes before, she spotted a young woman with a child struggling to manage a pushchair and shopping bags. ‘I’m very sorry madam, but there’s no room here.’ She turned her head to stare at me with pursed lips and said, not so very sotto voce, ‘No daddy for that little one.’ So, when the person I later knew to be Francesca drifted in, trouble was inevitable. She was made-up to the nines and was sporting a peculiar feathery boa. ‘No tables today, madam, I’m afraid. The pub on the corner does very nice food.’
‘Oh God!’ she said, ‘I’ve just been rehearsing Othello.’ Doreen turned to me – ‘the acting crowd, sir, not your type.’ With a rush of blood, I heard myself saying ‘she’s my sister!’ Doreen’s attitude changed at once. ‘We’ll fit her in here, sir, next to you, if you’re on speaking terms.’ Francesca sat down and we introduced ourselves. Doreen returned to say in arched tones: ‘So, what will you be playing then, madam?’ ‘Desdemona,’ Francesca replied. I chipped in: ‘I once played Iago, at school.’ ‘Now that,’ said Doreen, ‘I would have liked to have seen.’ Thus, the beginning, and now, 40 years on…
‘… I have this most awful problem. We live in the country now, well Surrey, which you always used to say was the country without animals. The thing is that we definitely have the parking rights outside our front gate but our neighbour, whose driveway and gate meets ours at a triangle, is parking his 4 by 4 there.’ This is when I am glad I went into crime. No gangs, no criminal conspiracies, no murders, nothing on earth, is as awful as a neighbour dispute.
Of course, I hadn’t the faintest idea who was in the right or wrong and just wished to wash my hands of the whole horror. Whilst listening sympathetically, I accessed one of these barrister directories on my smartphone and found a man called James Hayton-Brown who allegedly specialised in easements, negative and otherwise, with other such incomprehensible stuff, was said to be ‘brilliant with unrealistic clients’ and ‘unbelievably clever’ and, best of all, headed the second division of the rankings, which meant he would not turn down the work. ‘Francesca, darling,’ I said, ‘do you know, I have just the man for you.’ ‘You sweetheart!’ she said, ‘I just knew you’d know.’
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.