Secret E-Diary

Whatever happened to August?


"August, the summer’s last messenger of misery, is a hollow actor."

11 September 2019: Henry Rollins

I record for posterity that any opportunity to stream, buy, steal or borrow Jacque Tati’s film-masterpiece, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, should be taken. It is far superior to the current resurgence of vaudeville running twice daily in the House of Commons, where one feels a catchy song and dance routine coming on every time someone mentions prorogation. Monsieur Hulot begins with a memorable scene. A huge number of French holidaymakers are at a railway station. The tannoy keeps informing them of platform changes which are then reversed. It is like Thameslink with buckets and spades, celebrating the French holiday exodus in August.

I missed our version this year by accepting a late-July brief that ran into the middle of August. My decision; I cannot complain. The case was a mystery worthy of Netflix as to how my client could explain how a simple fall could have caused multiple injuries to the person he coincidentally thought was seeing his girlfriend. Myriads of experts opined on the possibilities whilst we came under concentrated attack by the Prosecution. My client, whose teenage years had perhaps not best equipped him for the cut and thrust of the local AG, launched a verbal attack in retaliation, imitating my opponent rather amusingly and ending with a curious tirade delivered in a Caribbean patois somewhat at odds with his desperately pale face, coloured only by uncontrolled acne, and his obvious roots in East Anglia.

I caught a fast train back. Ahead of me were a few blissful weeks of freedom before returning for some whacking sentence. I don’t skip any more, but I bounced along in my head as I twirled into Chambers. Then, a portent: I saw Betty Anderson in the clerks’ room. Betty runs Chambers’ health and wellbeing group. She makes you feel well just by smiling at you. Unlike the stereotypical mind and body type, Betty never nags, often goes out with Paddy Corkhill, who likes the odd glass, and is full of empathy and wicked humour. She asked me, in an entirely non-medical way, how I was feeling and then told me what she had been up to. Listening to her, I felt even more like simply turning up at an airport with a sponge bag, as I used to when younger, looking at the departures board and simply going where the fancy took me.

I ducked the usual line of people who take the arrival of the Head of Chambers as a cue to offload the latest series of grouses they have about lack of work, low fees, the absence of loo rolls in the basement lavatory and the current brand of coffee and then move with the skill of slalom gold medalists at the Winter Olympics to moans about the clerks (unless it is a clerk), their fellow members and, finally, the Head of Chambers.

More and more wanted, for less and less reward. We have to fight it!

There were three briefs on my desk. Before I shoved them into a GDPR-compliant drawer which has a combination lock (although, sadly, I have forgotten the combination) to await my return from some intercontinental adventure, I glanced at them. This was fortunate as it happened. The first was an application by the Crown to appeal an unduly lenient sentence. I remembered it was the case where the prosecutor turned to me after the judge had finished sentencing and said: ‘Wow! That was tough.’ A response was required within 14 days if my client wanted to take part in the proceedings. Five days were left. The second was a request by the Court of Appeal for my observations in respect of a 37-paragraph complaint from a disturbed client about a case I did in 2004 with a return date of 21 days. The third was a letter from a regulator wanting my observations on a 160-page bundle of evidence as soon as possible.

I went downstairs. No spring or skip in my step anymore, mentally or otherwise. ‘Problem?’ asked Betty. I told her. ‘It’s monstrous,’ she said. ‘All the main people involved in each of these cases are doubtless sunning themselves abroad. This is the real vice of the Bar nowadays. It’s not “work hard and play hard”; it’s just work work work. More and more wanted, for less and less reward. We have to fight it! You are going on your holiday William, aren’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ I said lamely, as I hailed a taxi to take me home to start working. Betty… you are so right; but tragically this work ethic, abused by all and sundry, is so ingrained.

William Byfield*, Gutteridge Chambers

* 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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