A book chronicling a three-month sabbatical spent searching for bears, country music singers and Tom Hanks may not seem of obvious interest to barristers. However, it is written by Macfarlanes litigation partner, Geoff Steward, who hopes to rekindle his love for America after years spent dealing with belligerent American litigators.
Interspersed with the author’s travels are wryly observed anecdotes about his legal career and family.Members of the Bar will identify with Steward’s description of trials, spent tugging at his Silk’s gown and passing up indecipherable notes containing ‘trial-winning points’, which he expects seamlessly to be incorporated into cross-examination or submissions. On one occasion this culminates in the Silk adopting a point, with the disarmingly frank comment that ‘it comes from behind me, but is actually correct’.
Such self-deprecating humour is a hallmark of the book. Day one of his supposedly independent sabbatical starts with him calling his long-suffering PA to ask whether he has the necessary ESTA to enter the US, and when his taxi to the airport is arriving.
His travels take place shortly before the Presidential election. They start with a side-trip to New York with his children, and his Northern roots are evident in his uncompromising descriptions of them. The rest of the book follows Steward’s travels with his partner, taking in Seattle, Alaska, Nashville and South Carolina. They meet many nice Americans, and some Trump supporters: on three occasions being told that Hilary Clinton is known to have had political opponents murdered. Their disappointment at not meeting any bears is tempered by the fact that, a week after their visit, one of their Alaskan guides is attacked.
Steward has been described as ‘Bill Bryson gone bad’. Very true. He has the same light charm and ability to transport the reader elsewhere, but with cutting and irreverent observational humour. There are times when, if you read it in public, you will be trying to hold in your laughter.
This is a great holiday read, or an inspiration to travel somewhere new. It would make an excellent stocking filler for anyone in the legal profession. Steward clearly does restore his love for (most) Americans. The only regret is that, as well as the lack of bears, he fails in his search for Tom Hanks.
Reviewer Guy Morpuss QC