I never liked Claudius. He vacillated even more than his nephew. However, he did get that one right. Remember the sixties version of Batman: the first part of each story ending with the duo facing some ghastly predicament near the edge of a cliff, attached to an explosive device or shortly to meet the blade in a sawmill and we had a week to ponder their possible escape.
Last month’s predicament involved Rico Smyth, a senior Silk in my chambers, who was apparently up to something and a pompous twerp of a circuit judge who knew more about it than I did. I was not long in being disabused.
The following morning I was watching The Jeremy Kyle Show on the box (or “flat” as I suppose we should now call it) in the haven of our London house when there was a roar of an engine and an unpleasant screech of brakes. A few seconds later the “buzzer” announced a visitor. I have to say I was annoyed. I had been watching Jeremy’s rather lengthy inquisition of an apparently errant boyfriend and was about to learn whether he had passed the lie detector test. I like Jeremy − “it’s my show, it has my name on it” seems to me an attitude readily comprehensible to young barristers who face so many people nowadays trying to poach their briefs − and I wondered if he, like I, had come to the conclusion that it was Beverley, not Will, who was lying.
Anyway, I shall never know. It was Rico Smyth. “William,” he said, “so sorry to bother you at home. Let me buy you some breakfast.” I am not a technophile but I do know there are easier ways of contacting people you are sorry to be bothering than turning up at their front door in a crimson Lamborghini during The Jeremy Kyle Show. Just as the appearance of a rival CEO unannounced at the office of a business competitor means a hostile bid – or at least it did in Uncle Percy’s case – so the arrival out of the blue of a senior Silk at his Head of Chambers’ home means one of two things: the News of the World has just given him advance notice of next Sunday’s headline (“Top Lawyer and the 3 in a bed romp!”) or he is leaving chambers for greener pastures.
I am glad for Rico’s sake, as I have always liked him, that it was the latter. We went to the only place to eat breakfast, in Green Park, and I toyed with Eggs Benedict as Rico tried to tell me his reasons. I say tried, because I had the strong suspicion he was speaking in code whereby I was meant to take his words and convert them to the opposite meaning. For instance, he said: “I want you to know it’s not you…I fully understand why I couldn’t have a room to myself…Hewart Chambers isn’t a better set than ours…Money isn’t everything, but I have a large family and the property in Ireland and it’s getting tough for me…I don’t mind doing some publicly funded work…I shall miss you all terribly.”
By the time I had reached my third round of delicious hot buttered toast and exotic jams, I felt a strange pulsating feeling around my heart region. Was this the end: beaten, bowed, humiliated, dead in my favourite breakfast haunt? Would I be thrown in the back of the difficult-to-maintain arterial coloured car, with the plates RIC 0, and taken to the nearest morgue? Would my Inn give me a memorial? Was I wearing clean… In fact, I had put my mobile on “vibrate” to avoid interruption, and rather foolishly placed it in my inside breast pocket.
I had four texts that had come just as the battalions to which Claudius referred. FONE CHAMBERS SOONEST (Andrew), I AM HEARING ODD RUMOURS (Paddy – a semi-detached member who is always weeks behind the news), EXTRORDINARY GENERAL MEETING THURSDAY AT 6pm – BE THERE! (a circulating text not presumably meant for me) and REMINDER FROM YOUR DENTIST – MR LIU 2HRS - UL CROWN 9AM TOMORROW.
As I waved goodbye and good wishes to Rico’s exhaust fumes, Hamlet was replaced by Macbeth in my mind:
“Light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.”
Gone − my summer of blue skies and a light Mediterranean spray refreshing my Factor 50 protected skin…there was going to be a real, no-holds-barred row and my Headship now hinged on the equivalent of a No Confidence vote in the House of Commons. Or, as Andrew so helpfully put it when we talked later that day: “Oh well, sir – one down, fifty-four to go.”
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.