12 June 1999
The Lawyer is back from secondment hell, and is preparing a huge expenses claim for all the legal books he's had to buy to help him through it. It started on the first morning, when one of the partners of the firm where he's been working for the past month popped his head round the door and asked: "Mind if I have a quick chat?"
He sidled in, closing the door behind him. The Lawyer had a presentiment of doom. Sure enough, it was: "My wife's thrown me out. I think I need some legal advice, old chap." Within five minutes he had his head down sobbing on the desk, and by 11am, when the Lawyer generally likes to stop for a swift Kit-Kat and a gander at the footie section, he had him cradled in his arms, whispering: "You will keep the house. You will keep the house."
Ashen-faced, he escaped for lunch, only to find himself buttonholed in the pudding queue at the canteen. "You're that locum lawyer, aren't you? Know anything about party hedges?" To which the Lawyer's normal response is to scream "Fire! My God! Women and children are burning alive in there!" and make a dash for the nearest exit, leaving his vol-au-vent, theatre programme, binoculars or whatever he's clutching hanging in mid-air.
But because he was stranded at the client's mercy on a business park outside Bracknell he had to digest a 10ft high row of Leylandii (and a detailed discussion of who gets to wield the chainsaw on it) along with his treacle tart and custard, and only got away by promising to look up the Party Walls Act as soon as he got back to his bookcase. By the end of the first week he had agreed to wind up two estates; arranged a discreet period of gardening leave for the marketing manager, who had carelessly left an envelope of white powder on his desk which, oddly enough, turned out to be coffee sweetener; counselled the MD's chauffeur on his upcoming court appearance; and had even drawn up a surrogacy agreement for the director of finance, who smuggled the prospective mother into the offices as a management consultant. As she was eight-months pregnant, pushing a double buggy filled with shopping and clutching two toddlers by the hand, it wasn't that convincing.
It all meant late nights for the Lawyer, who was expected to keep up the billing while on secondment. Lunchtimes were spent at the bookshop in town, buying all the basic law books he hasn't had to look at since the first year at Oxford.
Meanwhile, I was organising a party for 30 three-year-olds and all their parents, who do tend to hang around rather, unlike parents of older kids, who realise they've got a good five hours before they have to take charge again and nip off to the matinee of The Sixth Sense while they've got the chance. Liability, whose birthday it was, missed her daddy very much, and he had to read Happy Birthday Maisy eight times before she got off to sleep on the Friday when he eventually returned, lawyered to death.
"Why can't they make pop-up legal books?" he asked, while I packed away all the new tomes he had bought, and amused himself with pulling tabs and opening flaps. "You know, that could be a great idea..." "How's the novel going?" I asked quickly, to forestall him, but he had already seized the children's scissors and art paper and was cutting out the prototype of Divorce for Professionals: How to Keep It All. I hate to think where we're going from here.