A wedding provides Chambers with a welcome distraction from current woes
July 9, 2012: “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury”
There is a member of Chambers who has not featured in this diary hitherto. He is called Valentine Parr. His absence from it mirrors his absence from my life and the corporate life of Gutteridge Chambers. Until I saw him at Wimbledon at the weekend, where a very charming solicitor had invited me late in the week to the Ladies’ Final, I had completely forgotten his existence.
She had also invited me, in the alternative, to the Men’s Final. However, despite this tempting offer from her stash of debentured centre court tickets, I concluded that the strain of watching a British man trying to be the first Brit since the Norman Conquest to win the tournament would be greater than the sight of powerfully built women launching themselves at each other on a piece of grass that, in real-life, looks from the stands about the size of a postage stamp.
P, as he was known when anyone here was last conscious of his presence on planet Earth, is best described as an occasional practitioner. He gave up defence work in the second six months of his pupillage, having been ‘sacked’ by three clients consecutively. Even the prosecuting authorities despair of his hyper-Sloane voice and inability to make any kind of connection with even upper class jurors who think that either he was the kind of public school boy who was invariably tortured by older boys in ways yet to be discovered by the CIA or, in the case of the more penetrating observer, never went to public school at all.
He wafted past me by the café serving strawberries and cream in a curiously ill-matching blazer and boater and then turned round and spoke to me. “Always good to get a stiffie!” he said. Before I could formulate a diversion such as fainting, wrestling him to the ground or shouting “there’s Serena Williams” to my benefactress, he had clarified his comment by adding: “Good old Hettie!”
Light dawned. He must have received the very large and elegant card that had recently landed through our letter-boxes from Henrietta Briar-Pitt, whose forthcoming nuptials had been set for August. Wisely, I think, she had opted for the shorter engagement to the High Court judge who was tying the knot with her. High Court judges have faults and failings like the rest of us, but lack of intelligence and perspicacity are generally not two of them. Without any disrespect to Hetty, whom we all love dearly, whilst no-one could show greater love and devotion to our equine friends, she has been associated over the years with a somewhat less tolerant and more abrupt manner towards her own species. We could only surmise that at some point in the possibly very near future Mr Justice Pennington will wake up and bolt.
But for now it is the most enormous fillip to Chambers. Barristers are not unlike thoroughbreds in some ways. Top class horses are inclined to kick up at the slightest trouble. Attempts to pacify them simply worsens things and before long they are careering round the paddock, riderless. They are also easily spooked by other horses behaving badly and getting all the attention.
Unsurprisingly, constant fee reductions, diminishing work, dirty doings and auguries of worse horrors to come, combined with other barristers dashing around from chambers to chambers as if participating in some kind of frenzied “musical chairs” based on Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, has got them all in a state of semi-permanent hysteria. My efforts to restore calm have been about as successful as those of Charles I, Louis XVI and Nicholas II respectively.
However, I had forgotten the art of distraction. The appearance of a piece of gold bordered cardboard, as stiff as a bathroom tile, announcing the nuptials of HB-P and Ernst Pennington seems to have done the trick. Parties are planned. A hen night is in the offing, the details of which I would rather not be told; morning dress is coming out of mothballs and the Chambers’ ladies are visiting boutiques and milliners throughout the metropolis. Whilst pleased that this has saved my head for a month or two, I am not forgetting that in a rash moment I promised to lead Hetty up, or is it down, the aisle. I am now also wondering whether Valentine’s receiving an invitation means that he is friendly with either the bride or the groom, which is extremely unlikely, or that this joyful event is going to be somewhat larger than I had imagined, with the entire Temple stuffed into some giant marquee. Time and the new joint bank account will tell…
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.