Secret E-Diary

It can be a tragically small world

“Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary – that’s what gets you…”– Jeremy Clarkson


Several of us decided on a trip to Newmarket racecourse to relieve the gloom of Autumn at the publicly funded Bar. There were, of course, the usual objections from the clerks, based on some curious superstition that as soon we leave Chambers collectively, huge numbers of solicitors will require us for urgent applications, mentions and unrepresented trials which we will not be able to cover because, as Andrew puts it, we will just be doing nothing somewhere expensive. However, one power that the head of Chambers has that nobody ever seems prepared to challenge is the right to take the senior clerk out as and when he pleases. When any junior tries this it is always met by howls of protest that somebody is trying to obtain an advantage with the clerks – most often made, in my experience, by the member of Chambers who narrowly missed inviting the clerk out him or herself. So I suggested both the senior clerk and the most junior clerk should join us and indeed, in a flush of generosity, I gave them a float so that they could lay a few bets themselves.

It was a lovely day, at least to begin with. The sun was out. It was unusually warm for October and at least the races were on the flat so we were spared the cries of Hetty Briar-Pitt, who, when the race is over hurdles, alternates between pitiful whimpering as some of the horses fail to make the jump and screams of anger when she considers they are not doing enough to win. Horses are of course Hetty’s life. I have never been to an athletics meet with her, but I can imagine that she only screams there when her chosen runner is losing. Her attitude to accidents involving human beings would likely be that of the average ancient Roman at the Games. The Twist brothers were in their usual agony as to what was going to win and generally alleviated the stress by each betting separately on the two most likely horses so that family unity could triumph over individual grief. Paddy Corkhill and I headed first for the refreshment tent with Andrew, our senior clerk, where you can see far more of the races on the television and have something to eat and drink at the same time.

Somewhere along the way, we had picked up an individual called Montgomery Hopkirk, who is a leading junior in “shipping” and whose rather raffish style did not belie his true character. However, once we were back outside I noticed that he did not seem at all at ease, forever looking around. Paddy’s view was that he had bilked some bookmaker and was being pursued. My thoughts had turned to how the start of a race was very like that of a multi-handed trial. Some of the horses were rearing up just like those barristers who always make a big song and dance at the beginning but then settle down once the trial is running, whilst I imitate the older horses and remain calm at the start, and then keep a little behind round the course until making my hopefully successful charge when the winning post is in sight.

My reverie was interrupted by walking straight into a rather peculiar looking man in a tweed jacket who turned out to be Mr Justice Randall. “Watch where you are going, Byfield. You’ll be walking onto the track next.” I was just about to make a witty riposte when the judge’s eyes moved over me and settled onto Hopkirk. He said nothing, but looked exceedingly grim. Hopkirk stared back at him as if he had seen a ghost. “I’m sorry my lord,” he said, “it fell through.” The judge stared back. “We will see about that tomorrow morning,” he said and moved away.

Hopkirk came straight to the point. “I told him I had a public duty and we did not sit today.” Public duties normally refer to sitting engagements as a part-time judge, usually a recorder. He staggered off, as if in a daze. The one thing I will give Paddy Corkhill is that however bad the situation he always says something that makes you laugh. On this occasion with his mind stretching back to the 1970s and remembering the title of that television detective series about the private investigator, Jeff Randall, who was joined by the ghost of his dead partner, Marty Hopkirk, in a weekly mystery they both solved, he said simply “Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased”.

William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.

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