Legal Widow

Lydia, the Lawyer’s mother, has no time for Jack Straw’s detractors: “That poor maligned man is only trying to get things done,” she told me at the weekend, violently snipping off a blown yellow rose that suffered badly in the recent rain. She, for one, was delighted to learn that she would be seeing more of the young men she regularly passes on for others to judge – although some of them may not be so keen to see her again.

Lydia discovered a will of steel late in life. As women of her generation did, she left most decisions to her husband until she reached the grand old age of 47, when the children left home. And then she realised – just as she was hoping she could look ahead to the future – that Michael would most likely be spending most of the rest of his life behind the times.

At this point, the Lawyer was still in his first year at university, toying with fantasies of groundbreaking court cases and triumphs of obscure points of law, before discovering that his real forte lay in persuading people to spend up to three solid months (measured by the clock) sitting in small meeting rooms, with him staring at the wording of Appendix Five (Point One). His sister, meanwhile, had already embarked on the narrow – and shockingly badly-paved – path towards personal injury. But more of her another time.

The Lawyer spent so much time on the phone talking his mother through the quirks of High Trees and Collins and such like (he was very good, he actually read all the cases they asked him to – rather disconcerting for the tutors who hadn’t actually looked at them for years) that Lydia started dreaming of the Law herself. John Grisham being but a gleam in his publisher’s eye at the time, she rashly took Memoirs of an Irish RM out of the library and subsequently signed up to the bench.

Her day involves rather less fox hunting than she might have expected, and rather more cases of shoplifting from Woolworths. Even so, she never lets on she is disappointed, having entered deeply into the concept of civic duty. I took Subjudice along one day to show her Nana in action, and Lydia treated the courtroom to a discourse on suitable dress. This included not only the defendant (shell suit), the usher (torn gown), but also the defence solicitor (ink stain on tie). Although I know her real motive was the fact that he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, an offence against nature in her book. She can often finish a day in court with not a single person daring to look her in the eye.

By now, she has nurtured an entire generation of young people through their first minor offences and pub brawls, their heroic drink-driving excuses, their out-of-date tax discs and complicated TV licence arrangements, and sent them on to better things, which meant for many of them the Crown Court next door. She wants to see what they’ve all been up to, although I wonder if she’ll actually be allowed to see her old boys again.

While she has an irrational fondness for the likes of “Burgling” Bob Smith – “but he was so helpful when I locked myself out of the case in the high street” – her knowledge of his facility with a crowbar, learned in the fifth form locker room at school and rehearsed a dozen times before her, means he’ll have a job assuming an air of injured innocence if he ever sees her again. Luckily, Lydia is nothing if not fair. He’ll only be in real trouble if he wears that football shirt again. Or worse, if his defence lawyer is in light-grey polyester.