Laying down the challenge: Philip McCormack
Chambers’ wellness policy? Check!
Chambers’ wellness officer? Check! Judiciary-generated rules of practice that mean I never have to respond to an email once the sun has set? Check!
But the message coming down from on high in Chambers is these are only a partial solution to our wellbeing dilemma. If we’re to make a real difference and offset the negatives associated with this exceptionally stressful profession then we have to find additional ways of managing our work life balance.
With that message ringing in my ears – and with Anneka Rice tangoing back into our consciousness (with a respectable and gracious performance before she got on the wrong end of the Strictly Boot) – I wondered whether our senior members of chambers might accept a wellbeing challenge à la Anneka – to go out and try something new and different and report back on a brave new world of holistic difference. Happily they are embracing the idea of a challenge at least. You’ll have to wait until the next issue of Counsel for the actual results but here’s what they have to say about it so far…
CHALLENGE 1: Tina Cook QC
I have always thought ‘wellbeing’ is an odd word, an amorphous compound that hints at what is meant without really defining it. I am reliably informed by Wikipedia that: ‘Well-being, wellbeing or wellness is the condition of an individual or group. A high level of well-being means that in some sense the individual’s or group’s condition is positive.’ Wiki then shuffles off down a rabbit hole of ‘scientific’ definitions that are the playground of developmental psychologists.
So, I’ll tell you what I think it is. To me wellbeing means something more akin to personal and professional contentment that brings a balance, an equilibrium to my daily life. It can be just the time for yourself, a time for reflection when no one else can get to you by phone or in person, readily experienced when at a classical concert or choral evensong, sat comfortably with beautiful music washing over you, giving you time for thought and calm.
But my challenge then was to embrace ‘gyrotonics’. Well, quite – what on earth is ‘gyrotonics’? Think circular motions, stretching and strengthening the muscles simultaneously, creating a toned, healthier and balanced body – the square root of yoga and pilates. Could this be the nirvana that has me aerobically energised and emotionally uplifted at the same time? What’s not to like about that? I will let you know.
Challenge 2: Gemma Taylor QC
The meaning of the term wellbeing is so illusive. As a working parent, I ‘have it all’. Which means juggling the joys of parenting teenagers and full-time work. To me, wellbeing means redressing the balance between the demands of work and parenting and my own sanity and capacity to relax and have fun. The imposed discipline of a personal trainer and a gym hold no attraction for me. I have avoided gyms since school. So imagine my delight when I was told that my challenge was that I must learn to dance! But when I had a moment to seriously contemplate it then I thought it would in fact be a modicum of exercise, learn something new and spend quality time with my husband – a no-brainer.
I am sure that I am not alone in regretting either not having the skills/confidence/level of inebriation to take to the floor whenever the opportunity presents itself at those compulsory social gatherings. I always longed to be able to get up and dance – but properly. Freestyle disco is not for me.
As a way of avoiding more strenuous sports at school, I did dabble in ballroom dancing at the Phyllis Haylor School of Dancing in Hammersmith Broadway. We were a very select few. I can’t say that the experience was enhanced by the presence of lumpen teenage boys from the ‘boys’ school’, but we lived in hope. For the magic of ballroom dancing is that it engages the imagination. Once the music starts, you can be anyone. Years later I saw the movie Strictly Ballroom. One of my favourite scenes is at the end, where they all take to the dance floor and cha-cha-cha to ‘Love is in the Air’. Sheer joy. I have been trying to persuade my husband to join me on my journey into dance ever since. Let the lessons commence.
CHALLENGE 3: Damian Woodward-Carlton QC
My first reaction on seeing the term ‘wellbeing’ is quickly to turn the page, scroll down or look away.
Over the past few years I have developed a complacent cynicism about the growth industry around ‘wellbeing’. However, Chambers’ challenge of taking up something new in the name of ‘wellbeing’ risks forcing me to recognise that my attitude may reflect more my curmudgeonly disposition, rather than an inherent problem with the notion of achieving a healthier approach to life and work.
I have endeavoured, in a rather clichéd liberal middle class way, to try to improve the balance of life – I have taken up the piano (managing to start from a base of no skill and to move backwards over several years), I make the family bread, take an intense and escapist delight in our small garden and have swum in the Hampstead Heath ponds through the last six winters. The challenge, therefore, was in choosing a new activity. Luckily, chronic neck and back pain came to the rescue. I have hit upon the flawless plan of lying down for an hour a week whilst someone endeavours to massage away middle age. Less of a new activity, more an inactivity.
When I suggested this, I was told that we could arrange for an on-site masseur, visiting Chambers – presumably just prior to court to enhance the smooth and stressless delivery of closing submissions. The thought of having a massage in chambers was frankly horrifying and potentially very embarrassing even if not carried out in the waiting room.
With some effort, I have managed to persuade our Chambers’ Wellbeing Czar that I should book a series of weekly massages (at a local chiropractic practice) and report back. This will no doubt be an onerous ordeal and I may struggle to stay awake, but in the interests of wellbeing at the Bar, I am willing to give it a go.
Philip McCormack practises exclusively in public and private law children cases and is head of the family group at 42 Bedford Row.
Tina Cook QC is a family silk practising in public law child care and private law cases. She took silk in 2011 and since then has specialised in the most complicated forensic cases for parents, children and local authorities.
Gemma Taylor QC is a member of 42 Bedford Row. She specialises in public law child care work.
Damian Woodward-Carlton QC is a barrister at 42 Bedford Row specialising in a range of public law family work.