21 January 2002
The Lawyer has been observing with some satisfaction the pitched battle going on for the car parking spaces beneath the offices.
Assured of his own place in the basement of privilege, he can afford to be expansive about the plight of the junior lawyers, who would work any hours - and possibly kill - for the chance of driving to work.
"Patience," he will say at the end of the day, as he passes them on their way to the bus stop, weighed down by über-briefcases, laptops and rucksacks full of client documents, with umbrellas and raincoats clutched beneath their armpits. "And make sure you keep an eye on that computer."
He himself carries no more than The Daily Telegraph, which he has stolen from reception on his way out, and a car key, with which he gestures in their direction in a conciliatory manner, before pressing the lift button for the basement, where he has to disembark and trek down three flights of stairs and through a dark corridor, to find bay number 198, hiding awkwardly behind the heating pipes. Here he has a ludicrously complicated manoeuvre to extricate his car from behind the pipes, involving a five-point turn while sticking his head out of the window and his foot out of the door; but as this floor is given over to ducting, generators and rats, he generally escapes notice. Of course, he in his turn covets a space on the well-lit and heated upper floors, where you never have to wade through puddles to get to your car door, and where no car has less than a 'Five-series' or an 'A6' in its name. But because he shares the other perks of the car park - amazing servility from the security staff, the joy of free parking for Saturday shopping trips, a complicated system of bleep cards, pin numbers and zappers to get in and out of the place - he says little in complaint.
Indeed, I feel deeply indebted to the firm on Saturdays, when we sail past the queues for the public car parks and experience, in our turn, the fawning of the security men, the profound satisfaction of zapping the gate open, the thrill of parking in the upper car park because none of the top partners ever come in at the weekends.
Recent departures from the firm have freed up a few places in the lower circles, and the competition is fierce. Juniors in the Lawyer's department have been offering football season tickets, golf club memberships, and even comely sisters for a place; but to no avail. The Lawyer's extremely junior assistant Hugo has been playing the long game: encouraging headhunters to chat up the more disaffected equity partners in the hope of freeing up even more places, while at the same time bringing in hordes of small nephews and nieces, all raging with chicken pox and runny noses, in an attempt to send someone off on long-term sick leave.
Last week, however, a bombshell from head office: a huge car-parking fee to be levied on all salaried staff spaces - part of the new drive to "sweat the assets" that came in over the new year. The junior lawyers have been fanning themselves with their bus passes and grinning during departmental meetings. The Lawyer is feeling betrayed, partly because he is caught between his own personal Scylla and Charybdis (habitual meanness and a pathological loathing of bus travel) but mostly because the equity partners keep their free places.
"Goodness, we own these assets already - you wouldn't expect us to pay twice for them?" they argue. Revolution can only be weeks away.