I must learn Russian. Then I could tell the delightful young Russians sporting in the swimming pool that splashes of water are fatal to my laptop. Then, why do I care? The sky is blue, the air is warm and scented, small and medium craft are bobbing gently against the slight motion of the sea. The others have gone to Ventimiglia to buy a host of useless articles and so I am catching up with my diary.
I need the rest. Rico Smyth’s departure had created a challenge to my leadership – a chambers’ meeting in which my head was on the proverbial block. I had some things on my side: barristers, whilst extremely talented in focused argument unravelling the complicated affairs of their clients, could not organise a piss-up in a brewery when it comes to their own affairs. I hovered around the clerks’ room as they came back from court in dribs and drabs. They smiled and said “hello” to me but I noticed a disturbing proportion failed to meet my eye.
I wandered upstairs to our meeting room at about 6pm and found about 40 of them in tiers of assorted chairs we had assembled. By tradition, our meetings are chaired by the senior junior, David Moncrieff, who was reaching that stage of life where he had become difficult to predict. I sat amongst a small coterie of Silks who would probably support me – more on the “threatened species” principle than because of any particular love.
The thrust of the attack was that we were failing to attract decent work and the best members were peeling off. Times are difficult. You cannot be in a set which depends on publicly funded work, face huge fee cuts, have increasing numbers of solicitors and prosecuting agencies doing work in-house without fear. However, it is just like the Bar to confuse challenges with the Bubonic Plague. Anyone who has read The Golden Bough or seen The Wicker Man knows that that the only answer is human sacrifice.
Jacob Seely led for the Opposition. He is a thin, pale, bespectacled junior aged 35 who has established a niche practice prosecuting peasants from the third world who carry Class A drugs. However, there is a difference between asking some bewildered Colombian why her daily bowel movement included a large quantity of cocaine and interrogating William Byfield QC on matters within his expert knowledge. On the whole, I suspect the Colombian mule was more convincing. My normal fluency deserted me. My cheeks were warming and I was speaking at twice my normal speed. Dr Liu’s recent dental work produced a spitting and spluttering effect which hardly added to the performance. “I sink chew are edgareating, sorry, exaggerating” delivered at the speed of light caused titters amongst a little claque of juniors who I myself had interviewed for tenancies in very different circumstances.
My supporters looked glum. I started thinking on the bright side: no more complaints, staff problems, committee meetings and paperwork. This was quickly replaced by the truth: no more room to myself, the humiliation of walking through the Temple and the downcast eyes every time one walked into a robing room. But, humans can shy when faced with the abyss. My saviour was Henrietta Blair-Pitt – one of a small band of family practitioners. She came from a squirearchical family and, frankly, always had a better rapport with her horses than dysfunctional families; but, as one deaf old judge once told me, you can at least hear her. He added, rather unkindly, that it was absolute tripe most of the time, but audible tripe. She launched a blistering attack on my leadership and said it was family practitioners who were the real victims. The 38 criminal practitioners looked queasy.
At this point, I noticed Roderick Twist. He had said nothing, so far. Sly, subtle, insinuating – a man with “trimming” in his blood. He was in for Silk this year and was in calculating mode. He had been looking disdainful, but now stretched his neck and moved his head in a strange arc-like motion from left to right. He cut off Henrietta’s babbling and said “Paddy, what do you think?” Paddy Corkhill, my old mate, always behind the curve, but a real human being: hard-working and hard-living. Could I hope?
He was unusually pithy: “Well, he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he paused and looked at the seniors, “but we could do a lot worse.” The bubble burst, the mood changed and there was no vote. Much wine was consumed and they left happy and guilt-free. The Queen could go safely to Balmoral. There would be no change of government.
Ah…here come the Ventimiglians clutching parcels and a dry martini with aubergine canapé has appeared on my poolside table. Good old Paddy. I may forgive him one day.
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.