Since the publication of May It Please Your Lordship last November to great critical acclaim, I thought you might like to read a few snippets from the book to see what you’re missing, and to drive you irresistibly to Amazon to purchase your very own copy, to love and cherish. In keeping with Amazon’s mantra of never knowingly being undersold, it’s available on their site at the ludicrous give-away price of £6.29, instead of the RRP of £8.99. Is it worth the candle? You tell me:
‘I DO HEREBY call you to the Bar and do publish you utter barrister.’
The Master Treasurer of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn took my outstretched hand, shook it limply, and turned to the next student.
Poor old buffer, not long for this world, I thought, as I made my way back to my seat, hot and uncomfortable in white tie and tails, and looking for all the world like a tailor’s dummy.
In spite of the heat and discomfort, I was barely able to contain my excitement. In those few short words, I had been transformed from chrysalis to butterfly.
A question fluttered briefly through my mind – cabbage white, or red admiral?
But I dismissed it. I had no doubts. The legal profession, one of the oldest and most revered in the civilised world, was about to be shaken to its very foundations. How I envied those whose good fortune it would be to instruct me in their cause, to fight the good fight and emerge triumphant or, tant pis, to be comforted in the knowledge that their life savings had been well spent.
Only dimly aware of the ritual unfolding around me, my thoughts wandered back to that fateful day when I had taken my first hesitant steps on the path towards a career at the Bar.
I was in the lower sixth at school when old ‘Tripod’ Biddle, the Head of Physics who also doubled as the Careers Master, had organised a Careers Day in the Great Hall. Various stalls were set out to promote suitable careers for the sons of gentlefolk, and we washed around aimlessly in the best traditions of gormless adolescents without a single creative thought between us.
It must have been a depressing sight for all those old boys who had taken the time and trouble to sell their wares in return for drinks and lunch with the Headmaster and Governors.
I was about to resign myself to an agreeable life of debauchery when Tripod bounded over and took me gently by the arm.
‘Hello, Potts,’ he said. ‘Seen anything you fancy?’
‘Frankly, sir, not a lot.’
‘Then take my advice. If you can’t find a proper job, how about the law? According to Jean Giraudoux, there is no better way of exercising the imagination than the study of law. No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a lawyer interprets the truth.’
He chuckled, and bounded off in search of another lost soul.
During the holidays, I mentioned my nascent interest to my father.
‘Splendid idea, my boy,’ he said, with an indulgent beam. ‘A good solicitor is the pillar of his community, and highly respected.’
‘Well… actually, I was thinking of becoming a barrister.’
‘Good God,’ he spluttered, the beam disappearing in an instant. ‘Whatever for? They’re pompous idiots in fancy dress, who talk the hind leg off a donkey and charge the earth for saying bugger all. What you need is a proper job.’
And that was his last word on the subject.
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.
More in the weeks to come – watch this space.