Love your enemies, just in case your friends turn out to be a bunch of ********.
June 9, 2022– R A Dickson


I don’t know when it was that I worked out that, as a species, our closest bonds with others are often created for shorts bursts of time based on associations that arise by circumstance. They can leave an intense bitter-sweet memory. For instance, a family holiday in Snowdonia. I met a fellow 12-year old, Will to my William; a lonely boy who was staying in a nearby cottage. For a few days we were inseparable: one of those intense childhood friendships. Then my boisterous cousins arrived, as they did every year. They prized me away from Will until our friendship vanished. I was weak. I have always remembered my abandonment of him with guilt, pain and regret.

The next, and very different, brief friendship was with a very clever boy, but disruptive influence, at my school called Alex. He was a few years younger than I and we clashed whenever we met. I was a prefect and he was a major trouble-maker. Our drama master had a soft spot for Alex, recognising rightly that he was very talented. In order to divert him from bad paths, he cast him in the school play which was an adaptation of Gogol’s The Government Inspector. I played the local mayor who, together with the local populace, creates havoc by trying to corrupt the inspector on his tour of inspection. Alex played the inspector’s servant, Ossy. We looked each other in the eye at the initial rehearsal. I quailed first. His smile in the form of a sneer was chilling.

Acting allows for no respecting of persons. Actors stand or fall together. You need to have each other’s back. If your lines go wrong in a scene, it is your fellow actors who cover you. Alex and I were in many scenes together. We rehearsed together on most nights. He was actually a fantastic actor. Slowly, our life outside receded. We became friends. We saved each other’s backs constantly. We tested each other to learn our lines. We laughed together when we came off stage. When the play ended, we went our separate ways at school, but we always smiled and had a joke when we bumped into each other. There was mutual respect.

The third memory was also from school. Pupils were sometimes allowed to select the readings for a week in assembly. It fell to me one week. We were allowed to go a little outside biblical or spiritual readings but it needed to bear some relationship to matters of the soul. I had first selected some poetry, a bit of C S Lewis and the like. All went well until the Friday. Not long before, I had been shown a fascinating book containing the memories of someone interrogated by the Inquisition in the 17th century, who described her feelings towards her interrogator and the strange bond, almost love, that grew up between them during her interrogations – even though the inquisitor sought to secure the evidence that would end with her dying in the flames. I had not appreciated that in a short slot before prayers, I might not be able to convey the full sense of the book, and the passage I had chosen had a somewhat graphic reflection on the exact punishment she faced. There was one of those ‘atmospheres’ as I read. The younger boys looked rather nauseous and the sixth formers had their mouths dropping open. I agreed later with the Headmaster that there is a time and place for everything.

What brought all these particular memories to light was an open day for law students in my Inn. We had a Q&A session and I was asked whether you needed to like your client. As I was answering, these memories surfaced. ‘Oddly, you have a closer relationship with a person you are cross-examining,’ I said. ‘You see, when it is your own client, you are both tense. Inevitably, they miss things out. We call it “going off proof”. Mentally, you visualise shaking them. When you cross-examine someone, however, you both know what is happening. It’s a contest. You respect good answers and witnesses often appreciate skilful questions. It can be relaxing and fluid. I was much too clever once and received a stunning put-down from the witness. I remember saying “touché!” For a brief time and in the strangest way, you draw close – even though you both have entirely conflicting intentions.’ They all seemed to understand completely. I might even have tried that Spanish Inquisition passage again, if the book had been to hand…