Chapter Two Part Two: The Search for Pupillage
‘Good, good,’ he nodded, clasping his small, chubby hands over his ample stomach. ‘If you’d like to start on Monday, phone the clerks and they’ll tell you where to find me.’ He stood up and consulted his watch, rather like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. ‘Now I must be on my way or I’ll be late for court.’ And so saying, he gathered his wits and papers, not necessarily in that order, and scurried off.
The interview was over; in those few short minutes, I had wed myself to a complete stranger for the next six months.
In reflective mood, I made my way slowly up Chancery Lane to Ede & Ravenscroft, Robemakers to the profession since 1683. Like a Matador donning his Suit of Lights, I was transformed from head to toe by an unctuous assistant smelling strongly of mothballs.
The list of apparel, like the bill, was enormous. Two pairs of pinstriped trousers, two black jackets with matching waistcoats, six white collarless shirts, six white starched day collars, six white, starched wing-collars for court, six white pairs of bands to wear around my neck when appearing in court, two sets of collar studs, one barrister’s gown and, finally, one snowy white wig with personalised box which had to be specially ordered and would take at least three weeks to arrive.
One last stop before returning home to prepare my father for the shock of paying for all of this was Butterworth’s Law Bookshop in Bell Yard, where I purchased the latest edition of Archbold, the criminal practitioner’s bible and an indispensable tool for the successful advocate. Booted, kitted and spurred, I was ready to do battle.
Unfortunately, I was at home when the bills hit the door mat, and my father hit the roof.
‘Good God, Boy!’ he spluttered, doing the mental arithmetic as a man of numbers does. ‘This is more than I earned in the whole of my first year as an accountant!’
‘Well, that was a long time ago, father,’ I replied lamely. ‘And besides, as a barrister, I must look the part.’ He looked thoroughly unconvinced, not to say fuming, so I added hastily, ‘I’ll pay you back, of course, once I’m established. Perhaps you can look on it as an investment in my future.’
‘Future what, is more to the point!’ he said. ‘If only you’d taken my advice and become a solicitor. Look at this!’ He stabbed his finger at the bill from Ede & Ravenscroft. ‘Two hundred guineas for a wig, and a further one hundred guineas for a box to keep it in! Why on earth do you need a wig box? To stop it escaping I suppose!’
‘And one hundred and fifty guineas for a gown! So by my calculations’ – he was seldom wrong in these matters – ‘your fancy dress is costing me five hundred guineas, and all for the privilege of talking the hind leg off a donkey. And that’s assuming,’ he added, witheringly, ‘you get the chance!’
‘It’ll all come right, I assure you, so…’
‘And from what you tell me, for the first six months, you won’t earn a penny! It beggars belief!’
Mercifully, my mother came to my rescue, as mothers are wont to do.
‘Don’t be so mean, George,’ she said. ‘Toby has to look the part, and I’m sure he’ll look an absolute poppet in his wig and gown.’ She smiled encouragingly. ‘I can’t wait to see you in action. We’ll both be so proud!’
‘Don’t hold your breath, dear,’ said my father, though he was a beaten man. ‘You’ll have to wait a good six months, if not longer, and, who knows, by that time poppet here may want a whole new outfit!’
As somebody said, and it wasn’t my father, you can’t put a price on success.