MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

CHAPTER THREE PART TWO: 

AT THE BAILEY

This was the moment I had been dreading all morning. I had to release myself from my starched white day collar and replace it with an equally starched wing collar and bands. To avoid attracting attention to myself, I moved around the room as though deep in thought.

My very smart Gray’s Inn tie was the first obstacle. In my efforts to remove it from the vice-like grip of the collar, it became firmly knotted around my neck and the loop was not quite wide enough to lift it over my head, as I discovered when I attempted the manoeuvre. It looked to the innocent bystander – a rare commodity at the Bailey – as if I’d decided to end it all.

Next came the problem of trying to separate the collar from its restraining stud. The two were locked together in mortal combat, and it took all of my strength to prise them apart. My composure was slipping by the minute, but fortunately Berger had shuffled off to the lavatory and was not witness to his pupil’s discomfort. At last, with numb and aching fingers, the offending restraint was torn from my neck and I collapsed, exhausted, into a chair.

The reverse performance with the wing collar had barely begun when Berger, refreshed and ready for the day’s drama to unfold, poked his head round the corner. ‘I’ll go ahead,’ he whined, in that high-pitched voice of his. ‘We have a clear start in Court One, and I want to check if all our witnesses are here.’ I nodded with difficulty, speech being all-but out of the question. ‘And don’t be late.’

Easier said than done, I thought, as I returned to the uneven struggle.

‘Having trouble?’ I turned to see a tall, distinguished man with a friendly face smiling indulgently in my direction.

‘I’m afraid so,’ I gasped, swallowing hard. ‘I can’t seem to get the hang of this collar.’

‘Let me help,’ said my saviour, and, with years of practice, he soon had me battened down and laced up. ‘You must be a pupil,’ he continued, standing back to admire his handiwork.

‘First day,’ I confessed.

‘Never mind,’ he replied. ‘It can only get worse. Who’s your pupil master?’

‘Ronald Berger.’

He chuckled. ‘Known affectionately in the profession as “Ham” Berger,’ he said, ‘but don’t tell him I said so. He’s not renowned for his sense of humour.’ He glanced up at the clock. ‘You’d better get going, it’s nearly half past ten. Good luck.’ And with that, he swept majestically out of the robing room.

Donning my snowy white wig and black, well-pressed gown, I made my way purposefully, and with as much expedition as the dignity of my profession would allow, to the ground floor and thence, after helpful directions from a passing usher, to Court One. Opening the door as quietly as possible, I tiptoed in and glanced around for Ham. He was nowhere to be seen. To my left were rows of seats dotted with a few members of the public; to my right were more seats, fortuitously unoccupied. As I was beginning to feel conspicuous, they seemed as good a place as any to sit and observe the trial process.

Barely had I sat down when Ham burst into court with his gown billowing behind him and clutching his brief, ready to do battle.  Before I could catch his eye, a loud bang of the gavel announced the arrival of the judge.