You would be forgiven this week for thinking that its Valentine’s Day coming up with all the excitement that is building.
Sunday past saw the day start with the vaguely creepy comments from Michael Gove that the government was looking forward to seeing intimate contact between friends and family in England restarting from 17th May 2021. Yes that most mundane of social interactions the humble hug is making a comeback!
And whilst I haven’t seen it yet, the BBC started airing Emily Mortimer’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel ‘The Pursuit of Love’ staring amongst others the delightful Lily James.
It’s perhaps hard to believe that the actress who has had a number of lead roles in movies in the last couple of years such as ‘Mama Mia -Here We Go Again’ and ‘Rebecca’ once appeared on screen as a character enigmatically titled ‘Older Skunk’- I have no idea who played the younger – either way as the film has been consigned to the dustbin of history – one suspects it must have stunk!
It is amazing, however, how much we have all gotten used to the inability to shake hands on a professional basis and hug one another or a personal basis – remember don’t get that the other way around or you’ll be cancelled before you know it and have your spouse looking at you like you’re a complete eejit!
Last year in the historical reflections on the pandemic hysteria it was noted that barristers do not shake hands as a result of a custom and practice that had arisen post the Black Death days so as to reduce infection rates. I do hope that this does not become a reaction to the current problem we face.
I find that the overly strong alpha hand squeezers are often compensating for their own self-doubts so the initial greeting ritual in any meeting can be informative.
I have only once been in the situation where a client felt compelled to throw their arms around me, so overjoyed were they that their case had had a successful outcome - and it was my maiden appeal in the High Court.
The first instance decision was jinxed from the start. As was my custom I called the client the day before the trial to go through the final checks and then I called the barrister instructed in the case to do likewise. I only got his voicemail, but he was a safe pair of hands so I was not unduly worried.
I went off to a social occasion and it was not until leaving at 11.20pm that I realised I had a voicemail back from counsel to advise he was totally unaware of the case and would not be appearing in the morning!
In panic I called him back and he said he had found someone else to handle the matter and they would see me at the court.
I had to stop at the office on the way home and prepare the documents that the barrister would need to present matters before the Judge.
Obviously as you can appreciate with the parachuted professional having literally minutes to get up to speed on the case the running of it did not go as planned.
The client was devastated by the outcome. It was not a big case financially, the claim was for only £100.00, but it was a point of principle and honour for the client to be vindicated.
The amount of effort that was put into the appeal was excessive, I incurred thousands of pounds in expert witness fees and my own time and reengaged the more experienced barrister who I had somehow failed to send the brief to first time around. Failure was not an option. My fledgling reputation demanded success.
In the large imposing great hall of the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast the sun was shining through the windows and it was a bright and positive omen, despite the underlying nerves that I was trying not to show.
The case ran as well as we could have hoped but it was to no avail. The Judge’s words made it clear that we were not going to succeed on the case that we were making.
The smug faces of the Defendants as they listened to what he was saying were making me ill.
I started to get palpations as the heartbeats raced and the vibrations of them went through my skull.
How was I going to face the client, and her father and her mother who were also in attendance? I couldn’t look at them. How was I going to go back to the office and explain that I had lost the same winnable case not just once but twice?
Then a miracle happened, the Judge had spotted something that none of the lawyers had seen and, in the final few utterances, went 100% in our favour.
You’ve heard of legal technicalities that result in unexpected outcomes and this was a fortunate time that one stepped in to help rescue the day.
The other side sat open mouthed and our people nearly roared with delight as they gripped each other’s hands.
Outside the courtroom the other party and their supporters slinked away and my lady unexpectedly gave me the biggest hug you could imagine and gushed their thanks.
I was embarrassed, delighted to have won, but not really be able to take full pride in it as I had really just been there passively rather than actually been the reason for the happy outcome.
I am not the sort of person who can comfortably take credit for other people’s work. Don’t get me wrong, as the owner of a business I do regularly do so- it’s just that I’m not that comfortable with it!
When I would arrive home from work when my youngest child was still a baby I would hug and kiss my wife and then pick the child up and embrace her. As she got older she would always try to grab for my glasses, clearly fascinated by them, and I would always pull away to prevent her from taking them off my head and snapping them.
After weeks of this she eventually was successful at getting the spectacles into her control and in the most heartbreaking of moments she used her other hand to pull my head forward and she moved her own head to the side and rested on mine cheek-to-cheek!
I felt so guilty, this tiny little creature who could not speak but only communicate by screams or gestures was simply trying to give us a closer connection and unknowingly I was preventing that purest of instincts from being fulfilled.
From then on I took my glasses off when coming into the house so that the skin-to-skin contact could happen unfettered.
Thirteen years later of course and neither of my daughters want either of their parents anywhere near them!
The reason that the 17th May is resonating with me for the days that hugs can restart- albeit only in England- is that that is our Wedding anniversary.
I suspect that like most men, there is only a limited number of things that I know about jewellery.
The first is that when looking for an engagement ring you are expected to spend a sum approximately equating to three months wages- when I was growing up I had recalled that it was only one month so that was some inflation, and I did for a moment wonder would it have only been two months if i’d got married in my early rather than late twenties.
The second thing that I knew, although regularly ignoring, is that I was not under any circumstances to be trusted to pick any items of jewellery for my spouse.
That being the case, when I wanted to purchase an eternity ring for my wife it was mandatory that we were to go shopping together- no surprises!
One lunchtime she came in to town to meet me and we went into a shop that we knew of but which I had never actually been in and started to browse the sparkly things.
The owner of the premises joined us from a back room and it was clear from the way he was swaying that he probably should have stayed there. There was no actual smell of booze but his demeanour was such that we were concerned that he was more than a little tipsy.
My wife pointed at a ring that she liked in a style that she really hankered for and which I noted was coming in at about 6 months wages!
It was lovely as it shone on her finger, with eight diamonds circling around the band, and it was clear that she was smitten!
She looked at me for agreement and I smiled and nodded back and she said ‘ok, we’ll take it but you’ll have to do better on the price than that.’
She took the ring off her finger and the salesman took it and examined it with his jeweller’s eye glass. You know the kind of thing I mean and which is apparently called a ‘Loupe’.
And then he said, as he removed the scope from his eye and put the ring back on the counter top. ‘I tell you what I can do to bring the price down...I can go put some sh*t diamonds in it for you.’
And then there was silence.
Was he thinking that we were going to say ‘Yes that would be great. Could you go do that for us?’ If so he was being a total looper! Had he learned nothing from Gerald Ratner??
My wife and I just looked at each other not knowing what we should say so we said nothing for a moment before my wife said ‘Ok.. well we’ll keep that in mind.’
And then we left the shop and burst into nervous laughter and as you might expect we never crossed it’s threshold again.
On many occasions I as the leader of my organisation have said things that were intemperate and unnecessary. I would love to say that I am perfect and have always remained professional in every thing I have ever done and said; but that’s just not true.
Nor can I promise that I will never do or say anything again that will fall below the standard I would set for myself.
It is easy to have sympathy and empathy and understanding and forgiveness for people you actually know when things are said that shouldn’t have been.
I have no idea if the ring seller was a diamond in the rough who was just having a bad day or if he really justified losing us as customers for life.
In the moment I did not think to give him the opportunity that I would want afforded to me if I made an ill-judged remark; afterall it is our actions, like a simple embrace to show love and affection, that are supposed to speak louder than words.