Twenty years ago. ‘You must think I’m a terrible mother,’ she said, leaning towards me over the table. It was about 5pm and we’d been drinking since lunch time. She would have been in her late thirties, maybe, about fifteen years call or so; a mid-ranking barrister in the chambers in which I was doing a third six pupillage. I was around 24.
‘Really, you must think I’m terrible,’ she said again. When she’d finished court that morning, she’d come round chambers and gathered us all up, pathetic little pupils waiting patiently for a brief to come in, a last minute hearing at Wimbledon mags or Balham youth court. ‘Come for lunch,’ she’d said. But it wasn’t a question, it was a command, and while it was fun the first time she did it, it was beginning to get tiresome, even with my capacity for afternoon drinking.
‘The children are at nursery,’ she said, taking another slug of wine. ‘I bet you’re thinking I should have picked them up early rather than getting pissed all afternoon.’ I didn’t reply. I didn’t know what to reply. I had no idea what she was talking about at that point, children a good few years off for me. I imagine I must have felt rather judgmental, though, and not terribly sympathetic. We’d had a lot of wine by then.
I wasn’t a very good barrister. I didn’t enjoy the law conversion course much and I enjoyed bar school less. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to take myself seriously enough, though I did enjoy being in court. The alcohol sodden lunches went some way to make up for it but even they had their limits. It’s a very hard job, and harder still once you have kids - when the time came for me to choose between picking up early from nursery or staying in the pub, the pub won more than it should, and I became a lot more understanding of how hard it can be to perform all the roles expected of us.
That woman in the bar has soared in seniority, a QC now. And while many women are very successful at balancing family life and a career as a barrister, I left. It was a shaky few years, working out what to do next, until I started writing. But even though I didn’t make something of myself as a barrister, I’ve never forgotten that woman or her remarks, one of the points of inspiration for Blood Orange.
It’ll be published in a year’s time and I’m getting increasingly excited. The copyedits are done, proofs for Wildfire are in, and cover designs are being discussed. I still can’t quite believe that I’ve got the chance to make a new beginning like this. And I’m even on time for the school run, most of the time...