Chapter One: Cometh the Hour Cometh the Man continued:
My father was an accountant, and rather good at it. He was senior partner in a long established City firm. Solid without being showy, it had probably been around in Scrooge’s time. Now in his mid-fifties, I imagined him as an older version of the man he had been in his mid-twenties – kind, measured in thought and speech, and also solid without being showy. He had joined the firm as a trainee, and, man and boy, had worked his way slowly and methodically to the top.
My mother, in contrast, had always been something of an orchid in a nettle bed, a delicate flower to be nurtured and cosseted. She had met my father in their late teens, and courted for years as they weighed up the options; two years after the nuptials, and carefully planned like a good balance sheet, I came along. My mother was an avid collector of Toby jugs, which she dotted around the house on every available surface, so it was no surprise that I was named after her abiding passion. I was her only child – a difficult birth put paid to a repeat performance – but my father seemed content with his lot, and, as he was fond of reminding me, one child is so much more affordable.
Over the weeks and months following the Careers Day, I found my mind returning time and again to a mental picture of myself in a fetching horsehair wig, hands grasping the lapels of my barrister’s gown for dramatic effect as I made some important speech or other to a rapt jury. It was a picture I found increasingly compelling; in fact, despite my father’s strictures, my determination to qualify as a barrister surprised even me.
There are four Inns of Court dating back to the dawn of time – Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn, all nestling within hailing distance of the Royal Courts of Justice, and occupying a large slice of prime London real estate. Within their hallowed cloisters were ancient libraries, chapels, barristers’ chambers, and huge dining halls festooned with the coats of arms of the Great and the Good. As I discovered, all aspiring barristers had to join one of the Inns of Court before they could be called to the Bar. I can’t think why, but for me at least, Gray’s was primus inter pares, and the most prestigious of the four.
As I was soon to discover, membership of an Inn entailed various bits and pieces of arcane ritual, one of which was that of dining in Hall. Before being called to the Bar, I had to dine formally a dozen times as a student member during my three years at University. I threw myself enthusiastically into this custom.