"Don’t vote, it only encourages them"
November 2019 – Anon
Getting older makes me arrive at appointments earlier for some reason. When I was a young barrister, I had difficulty getting to court on time. Once, I was late for a committal hearing at a North-East London magistrates’ court. I had made insufficient allowance for the walk from the underground station to the courthouse and the tube journey beforehand. It recurs in a dream I have, together with geographical alterations for theatrical effect so beloved by the subconscious. I had meant to get there at 1000 and arrived at 1025. This was bad enough, but the adjourned hearing had actually been listed at 0930 which I had forgotten. The problem had also engulfed a first-six pupil who had come to watch the proceedings. The lay magistrates saw no reason why she should not step into the breach and did not believe her protestations that first-sixers had no rights of audience. In fact, they did not even understand what a right of audience was. She subsequently became a High Court judge but still seems to find it necessary to tell the story at dinners and events when I am present.
Tiberius Crisp, an altogether different animal, gigantic of size with the warmest of hearts and cleverest of brains was a Recorder who was sympathetic to the frailties of the Bar. I was very late for his court one day with rather better reason. I had returned to work too early after a disagreement with my liver. I said I was very, very sorry to have arrived at England’s senior Crown Court half an hour late. ‘It’s the trouble with sitting in the library,’ he said, ‘the tannoy doesn’t reach.’ ‘I wasn’t in the library,’ I replied. ‘Indeed you were,’ he said, ‘doubtless refining some legal dart for the day’s proceedings.’ I felt there was a misunderstanding… ‘No, truly, m’lord…’ I was interrupted. ‘We must get on Mr Byfield. Scholarship is one thing, but life must take its course.’ I realised later he had known perfectly well that I had overslept.
Nowadays, following a little run-in with the surgeons ten years ago, I get everywhere much too early and allow ludicrous amounts of time for my journeys. My GP says it’s all something to do with the effect on the brain of the monitors in Intensive Care which recalibrate every four hours, making a fearful bleeping sound. In my IT unit, there were ten beds which meant there were ten recalibrations every four hours. Sadly, the machines, having been switched on at different times, were not recalibrating simultaneously and it is perfectly true that I now sleep in much shorter blocks of time.
Even allowing for this, I had a nightmarish journey to a tribunal hearing last week. It was one of those strange trips in a taxi where I was trying to work in the rear, the driver had his radio on and alternated his conversation between someone on his mobile phone and me whilst his radio blared out some talk-show with the callers getting increasingly hysterical about Brexit.
I speed-read my skeleton argument and legal authorities only to look up and realise that we hadn’t actually moved for about eight minutes. ‘Sorry guv,’ said the driver, an old school cabbie, ‘every bleedin’ road is either dug up, closed or blocked by everyone else having the same idea.’ Three minutes later when we had moved another three yards, he said: ‘You’re looking a bit tense, guv.’ I was indeed feeling rather strained. Then I rallied: was this William Byfield, the hero of the late-arriving barrister? Was this the man who once told a judge that he, Byfield, need not have been late but declined to try and get on a tube train that could be compared unfavourably with a sardine can?
I confirmed to the driver that this was a bit of a crisis. ‘I shouldn’t worry, guv. The whole world’s crumbling. Sit back and enjoy it! They’re going to go it alone and negotiate all these trade deals. It’s a bright new world. They can’t even get a cab across London for under thirty quids worth of traffic chaos. This election’s one of their games. It don’t matter which lot you draw. They’re all the same.’
I sat back in my seat and relaxed. He was completely and utterly correct. I wasn’t going to be on time for court any more than I was going to vote in the forthcoming election. In a dumb-downed world of chaos and con-tricks why should I strive for perfection? It was time to loosen up and join a different kind of party.
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.