October 10, 2018:
‘Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.’
- Corrie Ten Boom
There is nothing to stir the blood like the start of a new term and a trip off-Circuit. Mediaeval monarchs knew the feeling: proceeding eastward along uncertain tracks with an excess of heavy baggage through unlikely places such as Sutton Coldfield and Ashby de la Zouch, then back down the western side. It was to show their faces, hear all the moans and groans and be royally entertained. Doubtless they took too much luggage and yet forgot the odd essential item such as forks. I was reading an interesting book on this recently as my train sped westward into the lovely principality of Wales.
I had taken so much luggage that even Network Rail staff felt moved to try and assist me. ‘I’d take the lift if I were you, sir’ I was told at my destination, as I swayed at the top of the stairs rather like that coach hanging over the cliff in the original ‘Italian Job’. Eventually, I descended and found the taxi rank where a group of very determined cab drivers police their own queues of passengers and pop you into a rather roomy vehicle – a cross between a Mini and a Range Rover. My driver, who had a marked Welsh accent, but told me he hailed from Somalia, sped through the City and dropped me at my hotel.
Next morning I steadied myself for the fray. I snagged a fingernail on the over-starched bed linen and realised I had forgotten to bring nail-clippers. On trying to chase the minuscule bar of hotel soap around the shower I also realised I had forgotten the shampoo although amidst the steam I did manage to find a Lilliputian size shower gel, kindly provided for me. Later, when shaving, I must have been thinking too hard about our somewhat troublesome Defence Statement as I nicked my face with my ‘Ultra Moist 5’ smooth-glide razor with Aloe Vera impregnated blades and having counted the necessary 15 seconds saw a small blob of blood appear. I never know nowadays whether to be pleased it keeps flowing thereby displaying good viscosity or be furious that I am unable to put my shirt on faster and chance an early death. I reached in my spongebag for my Styptic pencil to cure the problem with one brief, agonizing dab, but I had forgotten that as well.
On arrival in the impressive robing room of the grand old court building, much more imposing than the modern palais de justice whose architectural finery has the lifespan of a British Leyland car of the 1970s, I was greeted with the look of ‘I spy strangers’ which quickly gave way to curiosity as my junior, Belinda Hughes-Morgan, came rushing up to greet me effusively.
Belinda is one of those juniors who make you think there may still be some point in this profession. She dashes round from court to court: opening a guilty plea here or mitigating for a defendant there; trials one day, conferences and applications on another. Yet she is always totally cheerful and has time to get her ageing leader coffee before quickly meeting her client in the 9.30 sentence, photocopying the 20-page document I had suddenly decided we needed and keeping a faultless note emailed to me at the end of the day. Then she flies home to prepare her daughter’s tea and help with her homework and all for remuneration that a local plumber would sneer at.
As I looked round the robing room I also noticed that certain faces were looking increasingly familiar and, indeed, some were clearly undergoing the same experience whilst glancing at me. It is a strange thing but, as I thought about it, some faces were familiar from past visits but others were people I knew from London and the south-east. They had obviously moved here and as I sat with my team at lunchtime in a nearby boutique restaurant equidistant between the court and Belinda’s chambers, I could see why. Although we face the same budgetary constraints, there was something here that reminded me still of life at the Bar as it was: the camaraderie and unity, shared interest about cases: a robing room that is a true common room.
And then there was our charming judge. I apologised profusely at the outset for having failed to comply with one of the increasingly voluminous and ever-changing Criminal Procedure Rules. He looked almost wounded. ‘The Rules are only mentioned in extremis, Mr Byfield. And never before the luncheon adjournment.’ Bliss!