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The lawyers all look like actors; the actors, like themselves. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
The lawyers all look like actors; the actors, like themselves.


 

On Thursday last, I had unavoidably to go up to town to attend the annual Christmas luncheon of that symposium in symposio, that club within a club, that gathers each year under the auspices of Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, of Pook’s Hill.  The savage Landor, who acts as secretary, had as is customary confided that we might each of us bring a guest: even, ‘in the unlikely event we have any of us more than one friend’ (savage, savage Landor), guests.

 

You should know that the puckish group who gather annually for this luncheon reflect in parvo the larger association of which it is a part, firstly in that they include a superannuated politician, two Masters, a Judge, and several robed and bewigged fellows (although of course we’ve also members who belong to reputable professions as well, and indeed those who belong to none), and, secondly, that others are designated as being lights in literature or drama or the arts.

 

Granting the appalling abundance of legal buggers, I had wished to take Amin Khan along by way of helping him with entrée – what is now, appallingly, being called by the New World neologism, ‘networking’.  For various reasons, it seemed best to take as a second guest young Oliver, who is not in as great need of entrée as such, but who might be thought to dilute the force of inquisitiveness otherwise directed upon Amin Khan (two little legal lambs are less curiously regarded, it seems, than one, particularly if one of them is not constrained by religious observance in what he may eat and drink, and is, to boot, notoriously affianced to the charming and steely Pippa).

 

There were twenty of us at table – seven more, as the savage Landor predictably observed, than Jesus had managed to invite to sup with him.  Having had the meal chosen in advance and brought in by arrangement, rather than simply occupying the club-room and trusting to the mercies of the club kitchens, we were able to do full justice to the bill of fare, and had a bill of fare worthy of our doing justice to it.  (My sweet lamb Amin Khan had, naturally, the lamb, very plainly cooked.)  Not for us lesser clubs’s menus of school luncheons swilled down with Lunch Bags.

 

I had knocked Amin Khan up very early that morning so that we might be in good time; we were in fact amongst the first to arrive, with Oliver, who had gone up the night before – whereby hangs a tale – and also Ogbourne, the Retired Provincial Statesman and father of one half of the couple who are my dear Lesbian friends, Chloe and Olivia (and who, with Oliver’s Pippa, keep pushing Amin Khan at me, and contrariwise), and dear old Edwin Savernake, whose wife died last month and who, he admitted in an undertone, had perforce escaped his daughter’s vigilance to lunch with us: he was, he averred, damned if he was going to eat a single green veg. at this meal, whatever his daughter forced him to do when she stopped at his house nightly to see that he was eating properly.

 

There were twenty of us at table, by the time we began.  Old Frost sat lumpishly at one end, looking like nothing so much as the aging Bismarck as played by Curt Juergens, spilling soup down his tie and interjecting caustic witticisms.  I was next him and across the cloth from Ogbourne, who was in a boisterous mood and plaguing all and sundry to share a baron of beef with him, as that was what he wanted but could not possibly devour alone.  (I eventually gave in, on the principle that, if ever it moo-ed in life, I would readily eat it.)  In that company, naturally, the word ‘baron’ was taken up and run with, leading to Ogbourne’s wishing – after several comments regarding cash-for-honours and, alternately, the old Exchequer courts – that he’d kept shtum. 

 

Savernake was on my right, nodding at the appropriate pauses but with both deaf-aids turned off so as to avoid boredom: I am as a rule the only one he actually converses with at these dos, or cares to do.  Next Ogbourne was Geoffrey Clewer, another Member of the Bar, who resembles – and takes care to resemble – the young Timothy Dalton temp. his role in The Lion in Winter, angling his profile to best effect. 

 

The rest of the table filled itself out in the usual way: the savage Landor presiding from a middle station with his usual sardonic humour, a saturnine Hugh Fraser; his fellow Master, Christie, a leaner and more fine-boned Robert Lindsay, a sexy beast, frightening the young rural lambs with tales of his early days at the meanest and most cheese-paring set in the Middle Temple, a chambers so miserly that they had once had an outdoor clerk sacked for using too great a quantity of red tape on a brief that had been sent over (‘cut it short, you wasteful bugger’).  I don’t know that his tales of early days at Scrooge, Marley impressed upon Oliver and Amin Khan the need for economy, but they must surely have made them grateful to be junior lambs at a rather more casual, provincial High Street solictors’s set.

 

In keeping with precedent, Judge Farquharson, the baby-faced assassin, arrived late, left early, and eat frugally lest he be asked to pay surcharge.  He was barracked mercilessly by More-Tolliver, that son of a celebrated and witty backbencher, who resembles the American actor Robert Duvall in form and Peter Cook in demeanour.  Connors and O’Malley, who uncannily recall, respectively, Leo McKern and James Grout, represented Chancery.  The more humane world was adumbrated in the quieter and less flamboyant members, Hiscox the screenwriter, Ward-Plunkett the Anglo-Irish, public school jazzman, the writers ‘Dodders’ Dodson, Gaudet, and ffinch-Teffont, and the stage in the persons of McKillop and Amesbury.

 

For myself, anxiously shepherding my two lambs and with other Country Members as a cloud of witness, I can say only that I presented my usual town behaviour: correct, discreet, conscientiously charming, and utterly inscrutable.  Amin Khan was adorably diffident, out of sheer nerves, I suspect, but it came across well; Oliver, whom I feared might be a trifle too familiar (one picks up shocking habits amongst the Tabs), was so proper as to be unnaturally subdued.  (I later learnt why.  He has but lately blotted his copybook rather severely.  Pippa, who has invested a good deal in him and yet intends to mould him and his future, has taken him back, but he will be crawling dutifully for the foreseeable, the silly young sod.)

 

What I found notable – well.  Without considering the lobster bisque, the turbot, the beefsteak, the tomato salad (Savernake happily eat the horseradish mash but refused the creamed spinach, as he had sworn to do), the apple and fig crumble, the mushroom savoury, the Haut Brion, the Latour, and the port (Warre’s vintage, ’63); yes, I do feel after such high living that my joints have been beaten with iron rods, yet this also shall pass – what I found notable was the way in which, as I have long observed, barristers (solicitors are not so afflicted by the temptation) and judges, from being long in the public eye, are far more like the common view of actors than are the actors.  The law, like the detective story, is very much a morality or miracle play in the most approved mediæval fashion, and those who pursue it every one seem to wish to be Characters (commonly in two dimensions, yet Characters nonetheless).  This is also peculiarly true of dons, I may add.  I don’t imagine there was a man at that table save the actual writers, dramatists, and players who would and could refrain from out-Heroding Herod at the next opportunity that presented itself.  I imagine it to have been a salutary experience – and a warning – for my lambs.

 

The moral and application, with reference to personæ, presentation, and how we choose to come across, in such fora as Live Journal, I leave to each of you to derive.

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