Legal Widow

The Lawyer was preening himself all last week in preparation for an interview with some how-to-make-a-killing-in-industry business programme on Radio Four. He was invited to speak on project management. “Ta ta tee ta ta tee ta,” you could hear him singing to the mirror in the mornings and “lo la lee la lo lee la”, an affectation he has picked up from rehearsals with the local Gilbert and Sullivan society. (For in his youth the Lawyer had been a fetching Nanki-Poo and adores wearing the short kimono and black tights of a Japanese peasant singer – even if these come via my underwear drawer from Marks & Sparks – because he feels they set off his legs to a tee – or even a tee tee ta.)

Confidently, he donned his best pinstripe and set off for the local radio station, where they were to “link him up to London”. Five minutes of microphone adjustment, requests for water and throat clearing, and he was on.

“Mr Parchment,” came the merciless tones of the interviewer, “Talk me through the worst project you ever worked on.” Sudden silence down the line, while the Lawyer struggled with what he later described as “hysterical deafness”.

Language, he told me, had deserted him. He could hear the words she was saying, but couldn’t string them into anything resembling a sentence that he could understand. The seconds slipped past unbearably, a trickle of sweat slid down his neck, and the Lawyer heard the wraith of a long-held but secret ambition – anchoring the nine o’clock news – give a tiny sigh and drift away. “Project management,” he blurted out. “Can be. A very tricky. Course to get round.”

“Oh my god,” I thought, listening in on the kitchen radio. “He’s going into a golfing analogy.” “That’s my daddy!” shrieked Liability, banging on the kitchen counter with a big spoon.

I feared he was going to treat the listeners to his “life’s a pitch and putt course” routine, or even his theory of the “18-hole course of life”, which takes half an hour and only really works when every guest at the dinner table has an empty bottle with their name on in the kitchen. Luckily, he stuck with the shorter “life is a par four with a crosswind blowing”, talking the interviewer through a very tricky game on the Dornoch Firth in 1996, and left her struggling to get the programme back on track.

Memories of dreadful presentations were floating before him, he told me later. The time the laptop packed up on a £10m pitch, leaving him to act out 32 powerpoint pages with only a coffee pot and a plateful of bourbon biscuits as props. Or the time 250 conference delegates in a hushed and darkened hall tried, on the Lawyer’s invitation, to find a page in their briefing pack which had never been included in the first place. The Lawyer’s cry of “Where the hell is it, Colin?” was lost in the sound of Colin, a very mediocre assistant, running up the aisle and bursting out of the door, never to be seen again.

“Are you saying,” said the interviewer at last, “that project management is like a game of golf? Or that it’s just a game? Or even that you’d rather be playing golf than project managing? Or…”

“Or that you’ve strayed on to the wrong programme by mistake,” I thought, disloyally. Meanwhile, Liability was happily drawing pictures of her daddy on the kitchen counter. “I’m going to tell everyone my daddy is famous,” she said. “He goes on the radio and talks and talks and talks.”