It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
November 8, 2021 – Ralph Waldo Emerson


We recently had a tenancy application from someone I knew very well many years ago. It took quite a time, however, for the penny to drop. The clerks had asked me if I knew a silk called Bonita Ackerman. There was a faint flicker of memory, but no more. ‘She’s a common-law silk sir, up around Gray’s Inn,’ said Andrew, our senior clerk. ‘Good?’ I asked. ‘Very strong,’ he replied giving the slightly anxious look that clerks manage so well. ‘Nothing wrong with strong,’ I said. ‘Oh no sir, nothing.’

I thought no more about it and left it to the Tenancy Committee to decide. I long ago opted out of that poisoned chalice and decided to maintain an Olympian detachment.

In what I thought was an entirely separate encounter, I was walking across our deserted Chambers’ reception area a few days later when I bumped into a lady with the most wonderful – and somehow familiar – beaming smile.’ ‘William,’ she said, ‘you don’t remember me, do you?’ She was wrong, I did, but I couldn’t quite place where or when. (An increasingly common occurrence for me.)

‘The tutorial establishment,’ she said. ‘Don’t you remember? You taught me British Constitution A level.’ The years dropped away and I saw her when she was 18. ‘Bonita,’ I said, ‘Bonita Okandi.’ Bonita and her sister, Toluwalese. They were extraordinarily popular at the tutorial college, partly because they brought an infectious liveliness to the place and partly because they were rather rich.

Bonita and Tolu were prodigiously hard-working and Bonita could be somewhat frightening. The other students included some lively sparks, notably a very dashing and tall young man who was a little difficult to control and something of a leader. He feared no-one except the college secretary, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Princess Anne. At least, I thought she was the only one who terrified him until I saw him in the street one day when I had just finished teaching Bonita. My enquiry about his overdue essay was met with derision.

Suddenly, Bonita faced him on the pavement. ‘Do not talk disrespectfully to our tutor. Where is your work? Go home and bring it at once.’ I was amazed to see him almost cowering. He apologised to me and said he would get it to me within two hours – which he did. I saw Bonita in a different light after that. She had real strength. Strength? Where had I heard that recently?

‘What brings you here?’ I asked. ‘Not requiring our services, I hope?’ ‘No, William,’ she said, ‘didn’t you know I returned to England and qualified as a barrister? I am here to join you.’

No, I had not known. All the pieces fell into place. ‘You are Bonita Ackerman,’ I said. ‘Of course, William. Don’t look so surprised! I got married. I have just been interviewed by your committee.’

This is how I found myself on a river bus going to a court on the other side of the river yesterday with Bonita, Hetty Briar-Pitt, one of the Twist brothers and Paddy Corkhill – where we were all due to have some kind of ghastly afternoon case review in a brief I had not yet fully mastered. We took on Bonita with alacrity – particularly when it turned out she was leading Paddy in a case – this case. The sun was shining and, for those old enough, it felt like an episode of that long-running boat saga of the eighties, Howards’ Way.

It turned out they served a range of refreshments on board including a selection of wines, one of which Paddy was waving around rather unwisely on the bow deck. Hetty was meanwhile explaining that this was the route Thomas More took with a one-way ticket to Traitors’ Gate in the Tower of London and I was rather regretting the fritters I had eaten at lunchtime as the Thames was a touch choppy.

Suddenly, Bonita said: ‘No wine for you, Paddy. Whatever are you thinking of before a court hearing?’ She swept the glass out of Paddy’s hand and downed the whole lot in one go. The years collapsed for a second time and I saw this extraordinary human dynamo as I had seen her in that cobbled street berating that naughty student, and I have to confess I could feel a small tear forming. ‘Wind drying my contact lenses,’ I said, but Bonita gave me a smile. She knew.