There is nothing permanent except change.
June 12, 2021 – Heraclitus


The current easing of lockdown, whether permanent or not, has produced a certain restlessness. The cause will doubtless be analysed by experts in years to come. Scholars of history always turn to original sources and these can sometimes include diaries. I remember during A level benefitting enormously from John Evelyn’s diaries when trying to fathom the intrigues of Restoration England. So, for the record, I do not believe that this desire for change is some pent-up frustration caused by the restrictions. On the contrary, the British seem to have taken to social distancing like ducks to water. I put it down to seeing each other face-to face again. There is something peculiarly paralysing about Zoom meetings: while everyone chats happily enough, it is not a convenient forum for any kind of sustained debate.

Last week, we had our first live General Management Committee meeting in over a year. I had a strange sensation we were all examining each other in the flesh to see how much older we looked. The Twist brothers, Roderick and Alexander, were keen to sniff out whatever there was in the wind while Paddy Corkhill groped around in a cupboard to see if he could find anything alcoholic with which to celebrate our survival and, unaccountably, Hetty Briar-Pitt produced a miniature poodle puppy which yapped continuously for over an hour and then went into the corner of the room and watered the carpet. We are all used to Hetty’s deep love for her horses but the poodle, although of course an animal, seemed somehow incongruous. ‘Ernst bought it for me,’ she said. Ernst is her husband and also a justice of the High Court. ‘He said I was getting so low about lockdown that I need cheering up.’ ‘Does it have a name?’ asked one of the juniors. ‘It isn’t an it,’ retorted Hetty. ‘He’s called William.’ I looked at the tiny ball of curls and smiled.

We had been talking over the ether previously about whether we should move and downsize chambers, keep things pretty much as before or move to a radical hot-desking solution. The leading proponent of the downsizing option was Gilbert Timothy and he proposed a much smaller building with three or four conference rooms and a large area for the clerks. He gave me a particularly anxious glance. He must have been surprised therefore when I not only approved his plan but went one stage further and suggested we went virtual since that is how we had been working for the last year. I pointed out that lockdown had given many sets pause for thought. The reaction was much the same as a Bourbon king telling his ministers he favoured a republic.

To begin with the debate was dignified and the details of each option were considered. It soon became clear, however, that the favoured solution was to stay put but to reorganise and redecorate chambers and move to hot desking. Andrew, our senior clerk, remarked it would be more like cold desking bearing in mind the number of members coming in at the moment. I was assured that I would be keeping my own room for confidential discussions with members etc. Filled with radical zeal, I declined the offer. There were always confidential nooks and crannies and, anyway, I had managed without one for over a year now.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘it seems there is a consensus around this table, but should we not at least ask the membership?’ ‘Indeed,’ said Roderick Twist, ‘we already have the votes of the members and I can give them to you now.’ ‘My God,’ said Paddy Corkhill, ‘it’s the Eurovision Song Contest.’ I registered a protest: ‘Do I not get a vote?’ ‘We sent you the email,’ replied Twist, ‘but supposed you thought it better to abstain, being Head of Chambers.’ He then produced a typed sheet and announced: ‘Proposal A, to remain here with some modifications, Proposal B, to remain here as before and Proposal C, to lease some rooms for conferences and clerking with which I think we can include for the sake of argument William’s more radical proposal for a virtual chambers. Proposal A has 55 votes, Proposal B has 19 votes (‘Hear! Hear!’ from Paddy) and Proposal C nul points, as Paddy would put it. A thought struck me – Gilbert Timothy must have voted to stay. That would doubtless explain why his cheeks had now gone bright red. I was also about to say that the numbers did not add up to 75 when I stopped myself… best not to draw attention again to that email I never opened.