William Byfield’s Seret E-Diary June 2010

16 May 2010: “Well, after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.” Lewis Carroll

was called to the Bar in the late seventies. A year later I invited an old friend to afternoon tea in Inner Temple: a splendid hour in the common room where delightful crumpets were toasted in a little kitchen. I thought my friend would be impressed.

Instead, he was deeply sceptical. “Blimey,” he said, “it never ends, does it?” “You go to Prep School: old buildings with narrow staircases, crummy rooms, no girls and anchovy toast. Then it’s Public School – more of the same with slavery as an added excitement. After that … Oxford – more crummy rooms off wooden staircases and tea in the single-sex JCR. Then you end up here. More old buildings, hardly a bird in sight, freezing crummy rooms and those staircases again.”

I might have pointed out that he himself had attended at least three of the aforementioned institutions – we met at one of them – before going into the City, but, in truth, I thought he had a point.

It is very different now. The old common rooms have modern design and furniture, with staff in white shirts and black trousers or skirts serving, inter alia, champagne, canapes and caffe latte. There seem to me to be more women than men at the junior end; barristers’ rooms are painted in National Trust greens and blues, there are thick-pile carpets throughout and the lavatories boast the very finest liquid soaps. But the staircases are still there and Gutteridge Chambers, sadly, has one of the steepest.

As I recorded previously, the Christmas festivities had been marred by my gaffe at a Rutland restaurant where I had spotted Jacob Seely of my chambers lunching with some of his rural cronies. I put my foot in it by misunderstanding his observation about the “woes” of Claude Allerick. I blame it entirely on Seely. It transpires that Claude had been murdered in his flat on Christmas Eve, next-door-but-one to Gutteridge Chambers and, unbeknown to me, at a time when I was there to deliver some late Christmas cards to members. Whilst Claude Allerick was a bit of a stinker, who, as this e-diary will bear witness, was fond of lecturing me about my shortcomings as Head of Chambers after he left us to pursue an undistinguished career on the Circuit Bench, I did not wish him dead and would not have made an unfortunate remark about him choking on his own bile had I understood by the word “woes” that His Honour had been throttled to death by some drug-crazed burglar. No wonder juries find Mr Seely a touch creepy. As I recorded in my last entry on Twelfth Night this year, the police wanted to see me.

Foolishly, I got myself into a most terrible panic. My farewell supper at the Club culminated in sherry trifle and Welsh rarebit causing horrendous nightmares in which I was condemned to death by a kangaroo court presided over by Claude Allerick himself, one of those incongruous absurdities entirely lost on one’s subconscious.

Thus it was that I found myself the morning after at the top of our very steep staircase waiting to usher up two detectives. Sadly, instead of demonstrating an elegant sang-froid showing my lack of concern about the meeting, I managed to trip over and fall from top to bottom of the stairs landing at the feet of Columbo. It was not helped by Andrew, our senior clerk, coming out of his ground floor Hobbit-hole and announcing: “Quick, the guvner’s tried to top himself.” Fortunately, given the agonizing pain, I fainted away.

When I regained consciousness I was in the nearest A&E from whence my injuries have necessitated a lengthy spell in a private room at a London Teaching Hospital and several painful operations. Indeed, this is my first stab at typing: the laptop having been hitherto strictly banned. For the first time the Bar, Gutteridge Chambers and the law were very far away. My present recuperation, at a leafy nursing home in Berkshire, has compounded the effect. No longer do I care about cuts in fees or the avalanche of legislative garbage; about alternative business structures, professional regulators or new Codes of Conduct.

I have realised what I must do. I shall retire. I no longer want this rat-race, this chasing around courts for diminishing financial reward, trying to look after my members and the staff whilst my profession is undermined on all sides. And so I have arranged to see Andrew tomorrow morning. Only fair I tell him first. Matron is giving me a special room, just like Harold Macmillan and the Queen, and by my next entry I shall be FREE …

William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.