Yesterday I went, as we all must, to Peppa Pig Park.
December 7, 2021 – The Prime Minister.


I feel like celebrating Christmas properly this year. Boris Johnson’s recent ill-fated speech to the CBI started me off. It reminded me of a case I was involved in as a junior in front of a very distinguished Recorder who was former Senior Treasury Counsel.

During my final speech, I reached for the water container behind me to pour myself a glass. Somehow, I managed to put my hand into the wide-necked jug where it became stuck. Fortunately, it was behind me and by adjusting my stance I managed to block the jury’s view. Unfortunately, the struggle to release myself played havoc with my mental processes. I realised I was now just talking drivel including sentences without verbs. Oddly, the jury seemed still to be listening as carefully as they had to the coherent part.

What I had also forgotten was that while my dilemma could not be seen by the jury, the same was not true of the eminent Recorder or my opponent. After one unsuccessful wrench failed to dislodge my hand but managed to spill water everywhere, I noticed to my right that the judge looked in serious pain. This was, in fact, because he was trying to stop himself laughing. He failed and said, ‘Mr Byfield, I am terribly sorry but I have to rise.’ The word ‘rise’ came out as a high-pitched squeak as he fled from the Bench. I turned round. My opponent was under counsel’s row – tears running down his face and snorting like a pig.

So, gripped by warm memories, I took a hazardous step avoided by most sensible Heads of Chambers, namely to send an e-mail to all members in my own name. It suggested we had a festive competition to decide who had the most interesting gripe about modern life. I thought this would be an excellent way of cheering them all up as life’s irritations are generally made more bearable by telling others about them.

I should at this stage make a confession in my diary. I divide mentally members of chambers into four categories: pleasant, barrister pleasant (which would probably be considered mildly irritating to the outside world), annoying and worrying.

I knew I had made a mistake when my mailbox was flooded with emails containing familiar grouses about litter in the streets, pedicabs blaring out ghastly music at full volume, companies taking an hour to answer phones and people who cough the moment they enter a theatre or concert hall and stop when they leave – although I must say COVID has reduced this latter group since coughing in public nowadays is a bit like having a black cat rub up against one in the early 17th century.

Another subset were grouses about Chambers: people refusing to do other people’s returns, the freezing temperature in the third-floor loo, members leaving lights on, the clerks taking two hours for lunch and the absence of decent work to name but five.

The winner was, however, Hector Harris. I have not mentioned him before. He is a member of Chambers who does only ‘paperwork’. He was rarely seen in Chambers even before COVID and is a completely inoffensive and loveable man whom I had hitherto thought of as ‘pleasant’.

He wrote to me about one issue that troubled him. He explained that he did not object to people wearing open-necked shirts and found nothing disturbing about it. I was glad to hear it. What did worry and indeed puzzle him, however, was how disturbing he found people who wore cravats but still left some part of their necks or throats exposed. As he put it: ‘Whereas seeing a person’s throat in an open-necked shirt is completely normal, seeing exposed flesh around a cravat appears wrong and almost indecent.’ He queried whether this was what those in a previous age found disturbing about an exposed ankle or how once a glimpse of stocking was something shocking.

He catapulted in my mind straightaway to ‘worrying’, but, as it happened, that day I was wearing a cravat myself. I hadn’t tied it particularly well and, as I passed my hall mirror, I noticed part of my own throat was exposed. To my horror, I saw exactly what he meant. His categorisation was immediately reversed in my mind and I announced dear Hector Harris as the winner of our Christmas competition, although I decided on balance that I would forget to publish the winning entry. Others in Chambers might just have a category for me