9 July, 2018:
‘Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it’
We have been in the grip of a heatwave. It started rather pleasantly with beautiful warm days and cool evenings. Then, as always, the days became somewhat less enjoyable and the nights humid and sticky. Morning was dreaded with that dead weight of sleep-deprived limbs and the prospect of going to court, adding further layers of clothing and headgear whilst the mercury climbed the thermometer.
This year, the heat made our Chambers’ garden party fall victim to a sudden influx of flying ants that had descended on London. The night following, I went to a grand dinner in aid of a worthy legal charity. My next-door neighbour to the right was a glamorous Silk called Patricia Jervis — pronounced Jarvis, naturally. Her gown was breathtaking and a diamond brooch almost blinded me, catching the reflection from an overhead chandelier. I decided to talk to her during the first two courses, and then turn to my left to share pudding talk with Bridget Anstruther. I made the decision that way round as Bridget only ever wants to talk about fees and I hoped I might be tipsy by then.
Paddy Corkhill, my old friend, decided to join me into his conversation from across the table. This was difficult given a giant display of flowers lying between us. Paddy compensated for this obstacle by shouting loudly as the soufflé was served. I wondered whether he might have been at some hostelry prior to the dinner. ‘Puts me in mind of old Disraeli at a City banquet,’ he said, as though it had happened last week. ‘Took a mouthful of food and a swig of the champagne and then…’–at this point Paddy began laughing at his own story, which is always disconcerting–‘and then, ha ha ha, he said “thank God, something warm at last!”’ After another bout of laughter he said, ‘Do you get it? Something warm. The champagne. The only thing that was warm. Ha ha ha. The food was cold.’
Deciding that my food was getting cold, I inserted a fork into the soufflé and started talking to the elegant Miss Jervis. ‘I wouldn’t eat that if I were you,’ she said. I couldn’t see why and I was feeling quite hungry. ‘Terribly dangerous!’ she continued. ‘Particularly in hot weather. It’s a fish soufflé. I had a friend last week who spent three days in hospital with ptomaine poisoning.’ I put my fork down, only to see Paddy bolting his food with evident relish.
The main course was no happier. This time it was Steak Dianne; hardly a candidate for a trip to the nearest A&E. ‘I wouldn’t eat that,’ said Miss Jervis. ‘The carbohydrates in that cream are enough to sink a battleship.’ I noticed she was eating a sparse green salad with slivers of chicken that had been brought to her as an alternative. ‘I don’t want to put a dampener on things,’ she said, blatantly lying, ‘but William, to be honest, you are getting a teensy-weensy bit fat.’ By ill luck, just at that moment a shirt button came undone. Patricia gave me a knowing look as I re-buttoned it. Conversation with Bridget over the strawberry Pavlova was no merrier as she dissected the Ministry of Justice’s recent pay offer. Too late, she also told me using a quiet voice with exaggerated lip movements that ‘Pat Jervis’ was a ‘terrible hypochondriac’. ‘And William,’ she went on, ‘she inflicts it on everyone else too.’
I wandered around after coffee and bumped into Quentin Passmore, a truly wonderful Silk who would have made a first-class actor. He is part of the soul of the Bar, fascinated by and expert in its history and traditions. But he is also searching for things that we barristers can do; reinventing and extending our appeal to the present age. He can cheer me up at any time. ‘Screens!’ he said. ‘They’re coming!’ Barristers will be able to present cases in many jurisdictions using virtual courts without leaving their homes or chambers. It solves all these problems of overheads and ramshackle courtrooms and it could extend our influence world-wide. We are the best. But we have to move on.’
Suddenly, the whole evening became full of hope again. I could see the vision. Quentin had more enthusiasm, verve and imagination than many barristers 40 years younger. I smiled at him but said, prompted by foreknowledge of the effects of humidity and alcohol: ‘I suppose there is no chance that we could bring it in by tomorrow morning?’