6th May 2020
It is 2.50 pm. Caught in that post-lunch lull, I thought I'd start writing. I have struggled to start these diaries. I am not quite sure how to do it when everyone can read them. I am sure that, like dancing, you have to write as if no one is watching. Perhaps I'll change everyone's name. I am at the dining table. There is a tree beside my window and the view is full of thin birch branches and green leaves. There is a lot of light. I know it's a birch. It's one of the trees I learned to identify when I used to go on long walks with Bayle. I'm highly allergic to them. Bayle was a big fan of trees and plants and things. I wonder what she is doing with her time now. Probably some of her art. Yen is in her room. There is a departmental meeting at her university via zoom. It's going to be a tense one. I didn't follow all the details, but basically there may be redundancies and management are being real shits about it, it seems. Despite some of these management people being in the union themselves and also being nominally, left-wing Corbyn supporters. I've always thought people's nominal politic views mean very little compared to whether they are all-round good human beings. I think Yen disagrees. I used to worry that when Summer came the lockdown would be particularly depressing, but it seems there are signs it will start to be lifted now. Rhianna will be disappointed. She is not looking forward to commuting again. She said she almost pushed a woman into the canal yesterday. She seems to go on long walks along the canal and then get into near fights with runners and cyclists who use the same narrow path. She was almost incoherent with rage when she came home, telling me that a cyclist had shouted at her to get out of the way. She was saying something about how if she had drowned the cyclist by pushing him into the canal "everyone would be upset", but that we as a society didn't see anything wrong with him invading her personal space and possibly infecting her with Covid-19. I was doing some work at this table at the time. I used some of the techniques I learned at work - nodding, mirroring the last few words of what she said, empathetic listening, to try and calm her down and move the conversation off the subject of murder. "It's just a philosophical point" she kept saying. In Paris they will be opening some streets next week - bicycle only. Gandy messaged from Paris today. Or rather just outside of Paris - she says she moved out of the city with Emmanuel. They have a garden now. I must have liked one of her work updates when I was going through my twitter and LinkedIn contacts a few days ago in something of a 3am mania. Like everyone it seems, I'm terrible at networking. I've created a list of people I need to stay in touch with to make sure work keeps coming in. It feels slightly psychopathic. Gandy isn't on the list actually - I think I just genuinely 'liked' something she posted for non sycophantic or careerist reasons. She commented on my LinkedIn photo and said I had a nice haircut. Gandy still remembers me when I had hair down to my shoulders. Her son is almost 1 now. When people you know have children there is a very real sense of the months and years passing - perhaps because there is a little human growing which, like a sundial or hourglass, provides a visual or physical representation of how much time has slipped through since the last time you checked your watch. Depressing.
8th May 2020
I am at the dinner table again, but writing under the cover of secrecy today. Yen is on the sofa doing cross-stich. She thinks I am working, as I have promised to go on a walk when I am done but this diary entry will only take five minutes. Rhianna wants to go for the walk at 2.30pm but Yen is adamant we must go at 2pm to avoid the risk of rain. But Rhianna has some important tweets to send out. If she leaves her tweeting until 4pm, they will fall outside the daily window of peak twitter activity). The politics of walking. How to explain 'tweeting' so that future generations reading these diaries will understand? I don't know. Sometimes it seems like the electronic version of howling into the void. Yesterday we watched a documentary about a man who lived with the bears. I think it was called 'Grizzly man'. He lives with the bears for 13 summers I think they said. He films them. Spends a lot of time sort of cooing at them. The documentary says he learns to 'speak their language' although I'm not sure "and how are you doing today, Mr Chocolate?", or "you're a big bear! you're a big bear! I love you, I love you" etc is entirely 'speaking the language of bears'. He doesn't seem like an altogether bad guy. There was a scene where Grizzly Man films two bears fighting over a mate - really savagely - tearing at each other's snouts and faces, until the two were at one point on their hind feet, almost motionless, locked in each other's jaws - and the larger one does a shit mid-fight. I was a little disturbed but Rhianna and Yen found it hilarious. This morning, seemingly by accident, I have picked out a shirt with bears all over it to wear.
9th May 2020 Yesterday was Victory in Europe (VE) Day - the day that the Allied Forces formally accepted Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender - now 75 years and one day ago. The usual suspects are celebrating in the streets with bunting and parties, saluting our victory over Herr Hitler with conga lines. Of course for most people it's just an excuse to flout the lockdown - which everyone believes will be relaxed imminently anyway, but there is a core of morons holding hands and spreading this virus and singing Vera Lynn's "we'll meet again" with the same earnestness they wear a poppy. Our death toll has not so much peaked as it has plataued and then begun to oscillate violently. Theo, who has so far been right in all his gloomy predictions about the course of this pandemic (and who is a doctor) believes we have not hit the peak. I must admit, the bank holiday weekend combined with the belief that from Monday we may be allowed to spend as much time outdoors as we wish, did seduce me into taking a slightly over-long walk yesterday in the Hackney marshes. It was like summer. Weeds and wildflowers everywhere, and we would have to periodically flatten ourselves against them to keep our (much less than) 2m distance as other walkers squeezed past. I even had an ice-cream and in a moment of madness I suggested we all have a picnic. Yen and Rhianna loved the idea but I quickly withdrew it, observing that if a second peak hit only just after the government relaxed the restrictions, then we would remember this idiotic picnic with some remorse. Yen made a comment or two insinuating I had turned into some kind of vicar.
11th May 2020 (00:48am)
I feel anxious. I have done very little work today despite the fact that I have four hearings this week including one tomorrow morning. They are all by telephone. Tomorrow is a children case involving X. Domestic abuse. I am preventing X from seeing his daughter. In all its human complexity there are elements of it which trouble me, but I am already certain I know the morning's outcome. Plouise once described to me what an anxiety attack feels like. She used to get them when she arrived here from France - excited about starting a new life here, but knowing no one, nor what to do, nor barely speaking any English. She described a claustrophobic tightening around her lungs that sometimes came on while she was sitting on a crowded tube carriage - and - although I suppose this wasn't a symptom of the panic attack - a feeling she had become invisible. I rarely feel anything like an anxiety attack as I just distract myself from what it is that is making me anxious by compulsively doing something else. This diary entry is obviously that. A last effort at procrastination before facing the inevitable of having to finish my work in the dead of night. I was just about to comment on the silence in the flat to emphasise the lateness of the hour (I have crept into the kitchen in search of a snack; just chickpeas - I must remember to buy more crisps and biscuits in light of Yen's penchant for all things disgustingly healthy) but as I type I can hear voices from the street. Two men in caps are (were) walking down the street talking loudly. Now the street is quiet again. There is the odd car driving down the road. You wonder where they are going. Tomorrow the lock-down will be relaxed, apparently, but I haven't read anything about it yet in the newspapers. All I know is that our prime minister is no longer ordering construction workers (and various other groups) to 'stay home'. They are now being asked to go to work but to 'stay alert', and to avoid public transport. It sounds a bit like nonsense. I telephoned my mum at about 1030pm today feeling guilty as I had forgotten it was Mother's day only to find Mother's day had already been commemorated in March. I must remember to call her and the old man more often. I get a kick out of calling him 'the old man'. Not so much a kick out of calling him. Our conversations by phone are always so stilted. Anyway, the Mother's day confusion was Twitter's fault. People keep tweeting about Mother's day. It must be Mother's day in May instead of March in some god-forgotten part of the world. Twitter is a strange world. I have been using it to promote the writing in some of these diaries but it is - as Rhianna described it - a massive rabbit hole of weirdness. Take this tweet for instance by someone I have somehow managed to follow: "I am only starting uni at 23. I feel like such an idiot for starting so late". Loads of 'likes', loads of supportive comments. Good wholesome tweet. You click on the profile and the tweet below reads: "never trust a woman who puts her tongue stud in your dick-hole, she is coming for all you got". Yen and I had a fight last night. It was a silly fight brought on by the stress of the lockdown I think, but it had a sort of half-life which continued radiating into all of our morning activities - Yen and I working in silence in the kitchen, Rhianna - thinking (wrongly) it had something to do with her, reading alone in the living room. It's difficult to say much more about it knowing that they can read these diaries (and that Rhianna must upload them for me). I feel a bit like I must be careful to avoid a Harriet the Spy type episode - who in the stories made fantastic notes of everything she observed but it culminated in her almost destroying her friendships when they were discovered.
12th May 2020 (5.28pm)
I ended up doing an all-nighter on Sunday night / Monday morning and I still feel drained save for the odd euphoric burst of almost manic energy. I find that is common when you are sleep deprived. The latest burst was triggered by my getting within touching distance of another diary. I mean one that someone has already been keeping since this pandemic started. Those are rare. This project of hunting diaries has begun to captivate me. Like antiquarians, phillumenists and tyrosemiophiles, I too now gain pleasure from the collection of obsure things. My latest find was Anne - from my chambers, who has been keeping a diary from well before this pandemic hit us. She wants to 'have a think' about whether she will send it to me. What is there to 'have a think' about? (Patience. Patience.) It was Yen and my 2 year anniversary yesterday. It was difficult to mark the occasion as it should have been marked under a lockdown but we acquitted ourselves bravely. Rhianna even bought us some anniversary chocolate, which was very thoughtful of her - even if it did highlight the absence of chocolate buying on my part. I did, however, have flowers delivered in the morning. They arrived at 10am just as I was leaving a meeting with my client and about to go into a hearing at the West London Family Court (all taking place now in Yen's bedroom by phone - Yen is exiled to the living room on those occasions). I heard a knock, and went out into the corridor a few minutes later to find Yen with a beautiful bouquet of 3x white petite double chrysanthemum, gorgeous 3x Pink Lisanthus, 3x Peach Germini - delightful, 2x Blue Statice - you get the idea. Actually the whole thing was sealed in a brown cardboard box marked 'Serenato Flowers' and left for Yen to find on the doormat with the delivery guy having knocked on the door and then promptly run away - as is now standard practice with the lockdown. Had I endangered his life just so that I could give Yen her cardboard box of flowers? Perhaps. My being able to do my work remotely and his having to risk his health for flowers reminds me that although I may think myself a red-blooded socialist I have fallen into the champagne-sipping class. But in my defence I have always bought flowers - even when I was poor. Once, when I was unemployed, I remember buying some for Elle on a trip up to Leeds. She was delighted with them. Less so when she discovered that (a) I had signed up for the dole, and (b) both her roses and the ticket to Leeds were bought using dole money. "Benefits flowers" she said, not inaccurately. This lockdown has shown me how ashamed some people are of claiming benefits - or anything which resembles a 'handout'. Then there is all the criticism of what people who rely on state assistance spend it on. There is a poem by James Oppenheim called 'Bread and Roses' which I didn't know when I bought Elle's flowers, or I might have quoted it to her. It ends like this: "Our lives shall not be sweated From birth until life closes Hearts starve as well as bodies Give us bread, but give us roses". Anyway - back to the rest of the evening. We cooked and ate a wonderful meal, and then - despite, by that point, almost 24 hours of sleep deprivation - even did a bit of boffing. Today the earrings I bought Yen arrived. I have hidden them in her cupboard behind the rice-cakes.
14th May 2020 (7pm)
Hai Café have opened again. They do delicious spring rolls. We are about to place an order and Rhianna will pick it up when she cycles to the Chinese food shop near us. She is about to buy our ingredients for the next five days of meals. We cook almost every night of the week, usually at least two of the three of us, and then we all eat together. We are going through a book called 'East' which is pretty good. A good effort-reward ratio - and most of the recipes are vegan. This lockdown and living with Yen has resulted in the longest period of vegan-eating I have ever undertaken. 'East' is so good I don't miss meat or dairy a bit at dinner time, but when the lockdown ends and Yen and I move into our new flat, I suspect the old habits will re-emerge. Perhaps then the true Drake, silent and ravenous for cheese, will strike. Today was the only day that I will not be in court this week. I feel exhausted. I am one of the respondents in an application for disclosure by the police tomorrow. I have never done it before but it seems wonderfully straightforward.
19th May 2020 (00:53am)
Today, Yen and I went for a walk through 'Middlesex Filter Beds' - which is an odd name for a sort of bird and wildlife sanctuary - although the only thing I saw was a hooting owl which turned out to be a pigeon. Yen and I weren't sure. Anyway, it was another pleasant unexplored pocket of Hackney.
My part of East London is beginning to show changes. Over the weekend Yen and I went to London Fields for the fist time since the restrictions were loosened and it was almost full of twenty-somethings cross-legged on the green. I preferred it when it was a bit quieter actually, with only a handful of joggers, walkers and the odd meditater / yoga-er. I haven't been to Victoria Park yet - I bet it will be rammed.
On the way to Tesco on Sunday I saw one of the pubs was partially open. Windows still boarded up, but a large group of my fellow Hackney denizens congregating outside, and a line of people queuing for beer which was handed out in plastic cups. The R number is apparently very low in #London - the lowest in the country because so many people have already had the virus.
I have a week of almost no court hearings ahead of me which is a pleasant shift in pace after last week. In the afternoon I put my feet up on the coffee table and read.
I was reading about the restrictions English law placed on married women owning property. The position in the 18th and 19th centuries (possibly until later - I haven't got that far yet) was that single women - a feme sole - could own property, enter into contracts, keep their earnings, be liable for civil wrongs but that after marriage that all changed. Husband and wife become 'one flesh' - biblical references throughout the case-law - and all contracts, liabilities, and property was from that moment on in the husband's name. It seems that although there were trust structures and nuptial settlements to get around this and ensure wealthy women still controlled property (held on trust for them by someone else), working class women lost any semblance of independence or separate legal personality. Relevant for me because some of the law I work with is still emmeshed with this strange system and terminology of nuptial trusts, first designed to ensure middle and upper-class women retained access to their separate property in the 1700s but which has stayed with us since.
After I read, we went for our walk and then I cooked with Yen. Rihanna. Yen and I then all ate our latest creation. I had a good day with Yen but I think she was a bit annoyed this evening because she wants to spend more time with me in the evenings and I always want to spend part of the evening working on my various projects. It's 01:20 now and I'm going to have to sneak into bed.
20th May 2020 (12:54pm)
This morning Rhianna has been recording a podcast for work. There is some sort of problem with the acoustics in this flat: she says the walls are hard and recordings made here sound as if the person speaking is quite some distance away. Over the last week she has therefore gone to some extreme lengths to resolve this problem - which has included sourcing rope, sticks and branches from Hackney Marshes - and most recently the drying rack - under which she has this morning been sitting with her duvet wrapped around it. She wanted to test out the sound and internet connection yesterday, and so I Skyped her. I was in the living room and she appeared on my screen like Kevin Costner in 'Dances with Wolves' from her makeshift tent.
Unfortunately for Rhianna, however, I unexpectedly had a court (telephone) hearing come into my diary for this morning which was the same time she was scheduled to record her podcast for work. I am notoriously loud on the phone - so much so people have sometimes asked me whether I understand the concept of a phone - so I considerately resorted to similar sound insulation precautions that Rhianna had taken and did the whole hearing from under my own duvet. The hearing itself was a quiet success.
25th May 2020
Dominic Cummings has been all over the news in the last couple of days. It has emerged that he broke the lockdown rules by driving 260 miles from London to his parents’ home in Durham to drop off his children when he became ill with coronavirus. Some weeks later he was again sighted in Durham.
The PM’s office has ludicrously suggested the first trip was not against the rules and stated that Cummings has denied to the PM the second trip. Today, his mother has said that the day Cummings was sighted in Durham for the second time was the same day that his uncle died.
I met the man whose sister spawned Dominic Cummings a few years ago, although I didn’t know the two were related until earlier this year. His name was Sir John Laws. I was at a dinner at the Inner Temple and at one point I changed seats to talk to a friend. There was this man opposite us with quite a memorable appealing face: large black rimmed glasses and a very wide mouth – he looked a bit like Mr Toad from Wind and the Willows. I don’t remember much about our conversation except that owing to a strabismus –one of his eyes pointed in a different direction to the other – I wasn’t ever sure if he was addressing me or my friend. Despite seeming to have little in common with the young people he had been placed next to, he was enjoying his wine and sat back comfortably in his chair. At one point our drinks were interrupted by a speech from the other end of the hall, during the course of which the speaker uttered a Latin maxim and then chastised himself for it and suggested we should all use Latin less. I was drifting off when I was startled by the sudden sound of booing and other heckles from Sir John Laws.
L had told me a few years before that the Court of Appeal was made up of awful right-wing judges but I couldn’t help liking Sir John Laws. I read a little about him today, and I’m not sure he falls into the awful right-wing category - some of his most famous judgments seem quite progressive, including one which protected the place of EU law in our legal system. He can’t be blamed for his sibling spawning Dominic Cummings.
Yesterday Yen came back from her walk with A having consumed some potent marijuana gummy bears. She came into the flat carrying a Tupperware box containing the Miso salted Brownies (delicious) that she and I had baked the day before and which I thought she was going to give to A. Didn’t A want it I asked? She is waiting downstairs and wants more Yen said, coming into the kitchen to gather more of the brownies. I suspect A and Yen were both high. I have asked Yen not to give A the recipe for the brownies so we can trade them in future for the marijuana gummy bears.
26th May 2020
Dip in mood. Perhaps as a result of the fact that I have so much work this week.
It is all the more depressing because Yen and Rihanna are out now socialising with various people and I am stuck in this flat working. I have not left the house in over 24 hours, or is it 48 hours? I struggle to recall.
Yen met A again today and her friend Dominic. Uncle Dominic she calls him. I very much like him. He does good accents and has a mean, somewhat politically incorrect, sense of humour. He is difficult to live with apparently, Elaine says, who no longer lives with him. They parted ways after he yelled at her unjustly because he couldn’t find his shoes.
He is the actual uncle of one of Yen’s friends – hence the avuncular moniker. He lives in a run-down but characterful Victorian house in Islington. As his MS advances, he is locked in a battle to the end to stay in his home. I hope he will succeed.
He is in the ‘vulnerable’ category for Covid-19 but I look forward to visiting him again when we can.
Rihanna also met a friend today. Yesterday I came across her diary and dipped into it. I saw she had been having feelings of distance or loneliness that perhaps is normal when you live with a couple but in many ways she has a fuller social life than I do.
All the time I spend at work seems to have meant I have fallen out of touch with most of my friends. I am mostly a hanger on with Yen’s. I get on with them all well but I’m not sure I can really call any of them friends – I’ve never had a drink with them independently of Yen for example. Uncle Dom may become an exception. Rihanna too.
I have been going to bed late this week. I crawl into it after Yen is already snoring lightly. Often, still asleep, she wraps her arms around me.
30th May 2020
It is finally the weekend. A hellish week. On Wednesday I calculated I was on the phone alone for a total of over 7 hours. Two telephone hearings on the same day – not in themselves particularly long, but excruciatingly tortuous negotiations followed. The intractable conflict was over a child. The precise balance of time each parent would have with it: term-time, the Summer holidays, Christmas, the child’s birthday, each of the parents’ birthdays, Granny’s birthday etc.
These were privately paying clients of course. No state would pay its citizens to approach this kind of dispute with the same level of labour, paperwork, conference calling and finger jabbing aggression as this. Perhaps in a hostage negotiation after a couple of people have died – but over the question of who gets Quentin this Christmas?
It occurs to me that anyone who works for the wealthy understands on a visceral level this perverse but cardinal rule of capitalism: your job and the jobs of countless others is ultimately what people with money want it to be.
This is all the more monstrous under lockdown. Doing this work from chambers, in a Georgian building on a street lined with London Planes, in a suit in central London – you have a sense of importance and ruthless glamour. Not so much half-dressed in the living room.
After I had been in sweaty war negotiations for about 9 hours - yelling, pacing, strategising - Yen came in and cracked open a window.
Apparently, Rihanna had gone in earlier to retrieve something, and on leaving had informed Yen that the room smelled like a petting zoo.
I recently put my name down in Chambers to be available for public law work at in-person hearings. I have only been putting it off for as long as I have because I have such little experience in it and the clerks haven’t sent much my way.
But I want to do it. I want to be a key-worker. I want to take the train to court again.
2nd June 2020
It is almost 2am. Traffic surprisingly busy and I think I can hear a helicopter. It seems the lockdown has mutated now and we are in a new uncertain and slightly chaotic phase of Covid-19.
Those previously in the 'vulnerable' category - people for example like my father, who had a triple heart bypass about nine years ago and who is diabetic, is now permitted to leave home under government guidance.
There are protests all over America and Europe, including here in the UK, over the killing of George Floyd by Mineappolis police. A huge demonstration in took place yesterday in Trafalgar Square and another is scheduled for 3rd June. I have a hearing which may be over by then and if I can I want to go.
I spoke about it briefly with Yen and Rihanna. Rihanna was in two minds about it. Yen did not think it was a good idea to break lockdown. My view is that most of us have broken lockdown to some limited extent for the purpose of convenience or missing a friend. Protest and solidarity with these demonstrators seems to me a far more valid justification.
My mood is swinging between hopeless lethargy (earlier today) and manic energy (presently). I think this is due to mild sleep deprivation.
I have decided today that I want to set up a new writing project. I want to get people that the middle-class respectable left likes to advocate for or write about - to simply start writing their own stories.
My plan is to pay them directly for their stories and let them write it: cleaners on strike writing about lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), migrants writing about border crossings; black protestors clashing with police at BLM demonstrations.
I want to pay them for it. I am going to take advantage of the government grant for self-employed people affected by Covid-19. My earnings had taken a hit but I previously felt uncomfortable taking government funds when the treasury was under such pressure.
I now realise that was idiotic. I can't trust a Tory government to direct that money responsibly. I'll take it and pay my new writing team.
16th June 2020
01:26 am - I feel it has been a long time since I last wrote. I can see my last entry was written late at night and I am a little embarassed that despite the frenzied energy with which I proclaimed a new writing project I have made no progress with that.
One problem is that my plans are not very coherent or clear. I had toyed with the idea of setting up a PR/ghostwriting service for various groups - prisoners and their families, precarious workers, etc. I have also already paid some writers for the organisation I work on with Rhianna and it is quite fun trying to pick out writers who we think will have interesting stories to tell. Franz on a couple of occasions has spoken about and started making some tentative exploratory steps in setting up a paper but has never gotten around to it.
I think now that my sudden desire to pay writers stemmed in part from a passing but intense resentment towards my work which is well remunerated but which (particularly when I have been doing a long stretch of work for privately paying clients) can occasionally feel futile or petty. Essentially I cannot imagine ever fighting over the minutiae of a child's weekend routine on my own account with the same intensity that I do for my clients.
Of course I am paid to do it, and I am grateful to be paid well - but beyond the sum of money that funds my rent and food budget, the rest simply sits in a bank account. It will be used as a deposit when Yen and I buy our first home together. That will be nice, to have a home of our own, but I think Yen and I are different in that for me it would equally be nice to rent somewhere with her. The difference between renting and owning for me is simply a question of economics; there is a definite financial security when you buy but I have that to some extent anyway because of my job and there is no added emotional connection to the bricks and mortar of my home whether I legally 'own' it or not. The important thing will be that Yen lives there with me. If anything part of me has an aversion to owning. I note Thatcher, like many on the right before her and now, wanted to drastically increase the rate of home-owners in the country. She understood it makes you more conservative and gives you a vested interest in the status quo.
I am also now disinterested in making money because we have enough money for the deposit. So long hours spent on any case which is neither worthy nor interesting seems useless.
I think paying working class writers, precarious writers or activists - whether through Rhianna's organisation or Franz's or an entirely new project of my own was my way of attempting to inject some meaning into the long hours I spent recently seeming to do little else of value other than making money. I think when I last wrote I was emboldened about the possibility of a new writing project by the fact that Rhianna and I had been able to find and hire writers very easily and by the idea that I do not think many people are doing what we are doing - e.g. hiring for example a striking cleaner who has no experience of writing.
There are sometimes complications, however, with the ethics of hiring writers to write about social injustice in the first person - as Rihanna pointed out over the weekend. In any event, I should I suppose consider whether paying writers is the most effective way of contributing to struggles for social and economic justice before significantly diminishing my housing deposit fund.
I feel a little more well rested now although it is 2.40am now. I have had a number of arguments this past week with Yen and Rhianna which I regret and which I think in part has been due to me being overworked. One with Yen was about my refusal to cut down my work hour. Another was about our relative prosperity and my arguing we should not speak alongside the 99% if we are going to be buying property - but I made the point in quite a confused and unpleasant way over dinner and Yen thought I didn't want to move in with her or buy with her (which to her are much the same thing) - although I do and I felt bad. Then the next day I had a heated argument with everyone over dinner again about the police. Then a couple of days later I was cantankerous when Rhianna wanted to discuss reflectively some ethical issues within the organisation.
This June 16th I will turn over a new leaf and make a farewell to dinner table arguments.
I note I have commented very little on what has been happening outside my own life and household. Briefly as it is now 02:50:
a) I went to a Stand Up to Racism vigil and took a knee briefly. Although about half or more of the speakers were black, surprisingly given we were in Hackney, a fairly large majority of the crowd was white. I don't make that observation particularly critically and it was good to see that solidarity.
Some speeches: a councillor, I think, spoke about porters and cleaners in Homerton Hospital who were not on NHS contracts, who were low paid and not provided sick pay as a result, and despite being on the front line of Covid-19. 80% were BAME. At this point a road cleaner was walking through the crowd in his green and yellow overalls, pushing a skip. He started listening to the speech midway through - and at the point the councillor started talking about cleaners, how they were undervalued and underpaid, I saw him listening with a smile on his face. Eventually he moved on to carry on with his work.
An elderly orthodox Jewish man spoke about the importance of solidarity between the black and jewish communities (as well as everyone else). He noted the civil rights movement was inspired by the stories of the Old Testament. That is something I note James Baldwin writes about beautifully: he claims that while white Americans might have loved the kindly injunctions of Jesus to turn the other cheek and love thy enemy, black Americans sought justice from the vengeful god of the old testament and saw parallels in Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to their struggle - strangers in a strange land. The Jewish speaker went on to note that when his grandparents died in the gas chambers - and he echoed the last words of Eric Garner and George Floyd - they could not breathe either.
The Mayor of Hackney spoke briefly. He has launched a review into place names and parks and estates and roads in Hackney which have names in honour of slaveowners. He spoke of the many vigils that were taking place at the same time and then passed the mic to the other speakers saying that he had spoken for long enough and that there were black voices that needed to be heard.
As the mic changed hands one of the organisers was on hand with gloves to wipe it with a presumably disinfecting cloth. The crowd incidentally, were largely in masks, only slightly spread apart. It was a strange sight.
A young black man from the crowd spoke at one point. He spoke of how the police in Hackney have been mistreating black people in the area for a long time. There were chants from him and us of 'no justice, no peace'. He got the crowd fired up a little. One of the organisers of Stand Up to Racism, the black woman who was passing around the mic then said that most of the police were good and it was only a minority that were bad. The crowd were less fired up.
The cleaner was back now, his skip abandoned somewhere, with his phone out recording everything.
There was a speaker who was part of a Muslim organisation. He opened with some Koranic lines - was a bit of a slow intro - but perhaps I was just tired as by then I had been standing for quite a long time. My first gathering of any kind in months. He noted that in ethnic minority communities we must also be vigilant of racism. He said Gandhi had been a bit racist apparently. That was not acceptable to say one thing to one community and another thing back home.
b) the shops have opened for the first time today. Food shops and newsagents have been running continuously but all other shops can also open today. I have not seen any yet though.
c) yesterday I went to London Fields. More pleasant and a lot less crowded than the last time I was there. Huge, passive aggressive, signs from the council around the park which read "if you need to use the toilet go home". This was never a problem pre-pandemic but since there are no shops or pubs with toilets available, people have been pissing in the parks a lot. Also a sign by the toilets saying "USE AT YOUR OWN RISK".
d) Tomorrow I will be going into central London for a hearing in Holborn. There was always a risk it would be cancelled and replaced with a telephone hearing but now it seems likely to go ahead. I am curious what it will be like - the tube, the court, Holborn itself. I will go to sleep now so I am rested and can have a good wonder around
17th June 2020
0100am: The hearing that was going to be held in person in Holborn was conducted by telephone in the end. So rather than see the Tube and the city for the first time in months I had another hearing with my laptop on Yen's bed and my mobile set on speakerphone and the various parties simply voices in the room.
It was just as well as some last minute work has come in unexpectedly. Irritating as I was meant to spend some quality time with Yen this evening. And god I wanted to phone my sister - I just remembered it was her birthday today! I did wish her by text but meant to call her after dinner. How did I forget?
I have not left the house at all today. I am tempted to book out a solid week from work as a sort of lockdown holiday. I could buy a camera and wander around London. Pick up a present for my sister.
18th June 2020
Yesterday I took the overground for the first time in months, travelling from Homerton to Canonbury to take a look at the house that Yen and I were (past tense) going to buy. I believe the last three months may have been my longest period of abstention from public transport since the age of 3. But that didn't register when I was standing on the platform speaking with Yen and until she said 'this is so weird' I had almost seamlessly lapsed back into the normality of taking the train. The train itself was fairly busy and I regretted a little not having found an excuse to travel earlier when the carriages were empty and you might have gotten more a sense of the surreality of the pandemic in London. Things were different though: it was rush hour and yet your face was not buried in another person's armpit; I would say 85% of the passengers were mearing masks, mostly the same kind. I wonder where they buy them from. I wear one that Yen's friend Elaine made herself.
In respect of the house - Yen had massive second thoughts about it and we decided not to buy it in the end. I though it was quite a cute little place - ex-council, but seemingly built at a time when some real thought and care went into social housing. Yen thought that the experience of lockdown had made her rethink the importance of space, a balcony, perhaps even a garden. I feel bad for the couple who we were going to buy it from. They seem nice and have a baby who was eyeing us suspiciously from her mother's arms when we arrived - we were the first strangers she had seen in months apparently. The father had a familiar accent - perhaps Leeds or Wakefield and reminded me of a friend of mine. They had innocently taken down a wall in the kitchen without planning permission and hadn't though it would be a problem. Once they put it back, the resulting lack of space tipped Yen over the edge. I don't really mind but I hate endlessly looking at houses.
On the way back I saw two other things I had not seen in months:
- A beer-garden in use. It was obscured from the street by shrubbery except at the front gate and it felt a little like a secret garden. Inside people were eating and drinking although that is not yet allowed. Pubs are not yet meant to be open. An entertaining sign at the entrance explained all this away as follows:
We are not serving draught in open containers. We are selling 8 pint mini kegs, bottles and cans. We are not providing glasses. We are trying to operate within the law and not sell drinks in open containers. Everything is vague right now. We ask you to help us whilst we try our best to navigate these times with vague guidelines from government.
We would love you to buy food and enjoy the garden whilst you wait and eat"
I suggested to Yen that we order some beer and food and eat it in the garden whilst we wait. "Wait for what?" she asked. More food I said. In the end we just went home and I bought a vegetable burger as a pre-dinner snack from the chip shop near ours.
2) In the chip shop I saw one of the first football games since the lockdown. The premier league had returned that day. All the players were wearing shirts with "Black Lives Matter" in place of their names.
19th June 2020
I am in bed but cannot sleep. Too many late nights possibly. Yen is asleep next to me so I write this on my phone. I bought an air purifier this week and we haven’t worked out how to turn off the blue night light glow it casts. I think that is keeping me awake. Yen is I think afraid of the dark so the glow isn’t bothering her. She is snoring very quietly.
The air purifier set me back a few hundred pounds but it rapidly filters the pollen out of the air and may well drastically improve my quality of life in the summer months. My nose and sinuses - usually as congested as a tube carriage in rush hour - central line - is effortlessly inhaling oxygen like nobody’s business. When I think of all the months, possibly years of summer - spent sneezing, and suffering and clawing out my eyes it makes me think that money spent on your health is one of the best purchases you can make. Second only perhaps to money spent on the health of comrades. And books.
Which reminds me - PJD recommended one and I must remember to order it. I have not made many lockdown purchases so far. They have been:
- Three books: 'Veganish' - a Jack Monroe cookbook; a legal history; and ‘Living with Plants’ (Yen and I have recently bought three pplants. I forget their names except for one whose botanical name is Monstera Deliciosa. Monstrously delicious is fitting as it’s common name is ‘Swiss Cheese’ - it has big holes in the leaves)
- A table made from scaffolding wood. A bit hipster for my liking but it has grown on me and Yen likes it;
- the plants;
- the air purifier.
Yen and I still need to write to that nice couple whose house we are no longer buying to inform them of that fact. She keeps putting it off.
I thought this flat we are dumping was largely fine. I hate going to house viewings. When Yen suggested we let this last flat go, I agreed on the condition we look for a place considerably more expensive next. Yen understands this to be because I thought we needed to cast the net wider.
That is of course *a* reason. But it would be dishonest not to admit that another consideration that operated in my mind, which I didn't tell Yen about, was the attraction of taking on a debilitating amount of debt. Yen is getting increasingly irritated with my barrister work hours but she will lose all moral high-ground if I really need to work 70 hour weeks simply to avoid our home being repossessed.
As Yen looks at me in shock as I keep clicking on the increasingly extortionately priced properties on RightMove, however, I have begun to wonder, whether there are risks to taking on a debilitating amount of debt. I almost gave myself away the other night when Yen showed me a property and instead of saying "it's not big enough" I said "it's not expensive enough" by mistake. Yen laughed and asked if I was joking. "What if you get sick and can't work?" she has started to ask. Perhaps this is a bad idea and it would make more sense to simply reduce my work hours to more normal levels.
21st / 22nd June 2020
Went for a nice walk today through Middlesex Filer Beds with Yen and Rhianna. The last week has been a difficult one for us all I think with a lot of work and not much time off to do things together as a flat. I think I will try and make a renewed effort to take more time off work as I really do enjoy life more when I work less. We walked by the canal mostly and had lunch on a bench outside a chip shop.
Govril was in touch earlier this week - offering me a lot of money to make a few YouTube videos for his news website every week. He says it gets thousands of views a day and that Boris Johnson and Meghan Markle's team knows him well, or knows of him well. He says this is definitely definitely true. He will be applying for funding from the government and is confident he will be able to pay me but will I agree to have my name linked to the site? I have no problem helping him out so I said yes. He is a complete blagger but a good guy nonetheless. I have to say that as he reads this diary from time to time.
I sent Govril a piece I pitched for the London Review of Books blog but which they rejected. He has been asking me for an article for some time to add to his site. He sent me the reworked version today - butchered somewhat - with some brutal commentary on the writing. I have spent a few minutes cauterising the wounds and mashing together a Frankenstein's monster of my writing and his writing which may or may not be acceptable to him. I will ask for it to be published under the name of 'Drake'. I have not sent him my latest edits yet and have instead asked him to first send me some of his writing for Rhianna and my website. A bit childish and mercenary, but he has been saying he would for ages and has still not supplied the goods.
Govril says he will try and get a comment from a Supreme Court judge on it. The thing about Govril is that although he is a blagger he is also a sometime journalist, and remarkably persistent - he does seem to have interviewed Lord Sumption somehow. I do wish him the best of luck with his site.
23rd June 2020
I breakfasted as normal with a bowl of Jordan's Crunchy Nut (granola) and as a treat, a packet of Thai Sweet Chilli crisps on top. Both are foods that Yen would never eat unless perhaps in a life or death situation. I took the foods out of my own cupboard space which I have been allotted since Derek moved out and I really feel that has cemented my place in the flat. I am a little less of an interloper, a little less of a guest. My cupboard space is my indefinite leave to remain.
When I first arrived I would put any food I bought into Yen's cupboard and she would watch with disgust as I put my Rich Tea Biscuits, Batchelor's Super Noodles and Thai Sweet Chilli crisps next to her rice cakes and almonds and walnuts. Once or twice she asked me to put it in the bottom cupboard so she would not have to be offended with the site of the packaging each morning.
I breakfasted alone as I have been doing for some time now. When I first arrived I assimilated many of Yen's routines. Our eating routine is very different. I grew up in a family where we only ate dinner together, and where I would frequently eat all other meals in five minutes or less standing up hunched over the kitchen counter. Usually breakfast was a can of 'Nourishment' - which is not exactly a protein shake, just a can of cardboard tasting liquid for people who are too lazy to make a meal. A Chinese takeaway for breakfast was also not unheard of. In terms of lunch - it was not uncommon for lunch to be one of those delicious microwavable burgers you can find in a newsagent.
With Yen under lockdown, I would initially go to bed on time, wake up relatively early - even when there was no work and eat a leisurely breakfast, lunch and dinner together. I say leisurely, but as I often procrastinate and/or have huge amounts of work to do at all hours of the morning, afternoon and evening - breakfast and lunch would often involve me inhaling all the food about thirty minutes before Yen finished and then letting my eyes dart anxiously to her cereal bowl, her mouth, her spoon, back to her cereal bowl, her mouth again spoon, and so on and so forth, until the meal was concluded.
For a long time breakfast was a mixture of milled oats, flax seeds, chia seeds and a pinch of cocoa powder, with oat milk, some pear or banana and some raisins. Eventually I felt as if an important part of my identity was being erased. I feel much more comfortable with my own cupboard space, although I think eating Yen's diet for too long appears to have permanently damaged my tongue. Jordan's Crunchy Nut granola now tastes overly sugary - it has never tasted like that before. Similarly, the crisps have become too salty.
Last night I finally sent Govril the last edits of my article for his news website and he also sent me a piece for my and Rhianna's website. It was a bit of a ridiculous situation in which Govril kept emailing me yesterday, saying he would do it and asking me for my article, and I kept replying saying I would do it and asking him for his. We must have exchanged about twenty emails each saying the same thing each time. You can only have these types of exchanges with Govril. I do miss spending time with him and once the lockdown eases further I will arrange a drink.
A house viewing today at the Boundary Estate by Arnold Circus. It is sometimes (inaccurately) described as one of the oldest council estates in the world, having been formally opened in 1900 over what was previously a congested area of slum housing.
It is stunningly beautiful with seven or so streets radiating out of the circus like the spokes of a spider's web. The centre itself is an elevated garden, the streets are beautiful five storey redbrick buildings. There was a stench of piss in the hallway and flies, and internally, the walls floor and ceiling look a bit dilapidated but that can all be fixed with a lick of paint. Not the smell of piss - the council need to sort that out. They probably never will. On balance though it is an excellent find and the answer to all of Yen's and my housing woes.
On the cab ride home I pressed Yen to agree making an offer on it immediately. I read Yen extracts from Wikipedia and various other historical websites about the Boundary Estate. I added lines here and there in order to tempt Yen (who is fatally indecisive) into agreeing to make an offer. She saw what I was doing, though.
I should also say that the cab ride there and back was the first cab I have taken in months. I washed my hands before getting in the cab as instructed by my Uber app (the first time in this pandemic I have thought to wash my hands as a precaution to protect others) and put on one of the masks that Elaine had made for us. Other than that it was a normal cab journey and its inclusion in this diary entry came only as an afterthought.
Rhianna read the piece Govril has written for our website and asked me who had written it. I read it again. It was typical Govril - talking about "hot girls" and kissing strangers in beer gardens for god's sake. He belongs to a different era. These diaries present a challenge as they need to be honest but they should also be written in a way that they do not cause undue offence to old friends. I suppose the best way of describing Govril is to say that in many ways he is like James Bond and would probably write his diaries like James Bond unless I edit them out. I have suggested some edits which he has blithely accepted.
24th June 2020
1630: The effective end of Lockdown was announced yesterday but I have not had time to look at the news properly until now. This is just a skim read but it seems that on 4th July pubs and restaurants will be opening, as will museums and galleries, hairdressers and cinemas. The 2 metre rule is being abandoned in favour of a business friendly 1 metre rule. I think those who are shielding can meet people - so I will see my parents again. My dad is keen to see me. My mum too I am sure.
This may be a big gamble elsewhere in the country but I think it may be the right call in London where rates of infection are now very low and where - at the expense of thousands of deaths - we seem to have something not very far off from herd immunity. I don't really know though - I haven't been following the news very much lately. Surprisingly Keir Starmer don't seem to oppose this move too much. Richard Burgon - who unsuccessfully stood for deputy leader of Labour does and I saw a short clip of Boris Johnson deftly playing the two off against each other at Prime Minister's Questions.
Thinking about sitting in a cinema again - I see myself walking up the stairs of the beautiful Castle cinema in Homerton, walking up the stairs, buying a Peanut Butter Blondie and settling down to watch - I don't know what, it's been so long. It's a strange feeling. It's also strange to imagine myself staring out into the streets of the city from a pub window with a plateful of chips and mushy peas.
Govril told me the title of my piece was not 'clickbait' enough. He said that in the profession you want to have headlines which are clickbait. My headline wasn't that. I gave him a sexier one. It was an admittedly dry piece about about whether judges should really be trying to read our facial expressions and body language in court but the title I gave was I think:
"Why you are at greater risk of conviction when judges don't like your face".
I then sent him another alternative which simply read "Judges absolutely HATE this....". Govril replied to say that he had spoken to someone on his team who helps with quality control and he says 'Judges hate this' can't go in as a title.
9th July 2020
I was back in court for the first time in months. The hearing was to be held in a court so far away it might as well have been in the Outer Hebrides so I woke up at quarter to five to get the 5.31am train from Euston with what I presume was an intended change-over at some point at either Crewe or Liverpool but which, for reasons which are better left obscure, I never boarded.
I took this case pro bono - how legal cases taken on for free are described at the bar. In Latin pro bono publico means 'for the public good'. The case was that of a mother whose children had been abruptly removed by their father to an undisclosed address far far away; all contact between mother and children having then ceased. Once in the not too distant past it would have been considered in the public good that our taxes funded this person's legal representation. But as it happened she was not able to secure any public funding and she would have probably remained unrepresented had I not come across a call for help posted two weeks earlier on Twitter. The Father was funding his legal team privately and had unleashed the Rottweilers upon her when she sent out her SOS.
I have pieced together my journey from ticket stubs and online receipts and I record it here in epic detail.
Foolishly, I can see that I ordered my Uber somewhat late at 4:58am. I was conscious it would take some time to arrive but there was still time to make the 5.31am train I thought. Unfortunately, I had some trouble finding the car, which was in a completely different spot to where my phone's GPS said it would be, and when I finally bounded into the back seat it was 5.08am. Still, I could see with relief that although we would be cutting it a little fine there still remained six precious minutes to race through the station.
My faith in my itinerary was confirmed to me by the driver just before he drove down a narrow dead-ended alley outside my building. "Oh. Is there no way out of here" he said, beginning to reverse. I looked at my phone in fury and could see it was now 5.10am.
With my expert if by now somewhat impatient guidance on how to get out of the estate he began undertaking a three point turn when suddenly, inexplicably, the driver - I see from my online receipt his name was Mr Abdur but to protect his identity and in tribute to Homer - and primarily due to his problems with depth perception - I shall call him here the Cyclops: the Cyclops became caught between two bollards outside my building. He had somehow undertaken his 3 point turn at the only point in the alley where he could have gotten trapped by bollards. There was a bollard in front of his car inches away from the hood and a bollard behind inches from the boot. We were as a result in the ludicrous situation of being practically parked between these fucking things and still having not left my building despite it now being 5.12am.
I watched the Cyclops lurching forwards and backwards for a while and then in frustration I got out of the car. I got out and saw the really pitiful state this car was in, trapped between two bollards. Like a traffic conductor I gestured for him to continue reversing. He reversed an inch and then stopped, neither reversing nor driving forwards. I made my 'come hither' gesture again with increasing annoyance. At this point he came hither too much and hit the back of his car onto the rear bollard. I made the 'stop' signal. The Cylcops bellowed and got out of his car to take a look. Luckily (I say luckily, but I didn't actually care at this point) there appeared to be no real damage. It was now 5.16am.
The Cylcops got back in the car and was now once again lurching forwards and backwards and backwards and forwards but getting nowhere. This time I also felt there was a lot less trust between us in respect of my hand signals. He then suddenly bashed the front of his car against the front bollard (I hasten to add the front was his look-out.) Just as I had sunk into the depths of despair, somehow, and against all odds, he managed to wrangle the car free from the octopus like grip of the bollards, I flew into the back, and we were speeding towards Euston. By this point I believe it was seconds past 5.18am.
Having seen his driving skills, I refrained from asking him to hurry for fear of obliterating a pedestrian but as I watched our car bombing it past Dalston Junction and then cornering at great speed onto Essex Road I began to hope.
Although I dared to hope until the very last minute it was of course completely hopeless. By the time I jumped out of the car stuffing a tip into the Cyclops' hand it was 5.31am. I ran hesitantly to the platform in the vague hope that a train delay would save me but when I made it to barriers my train had already left. I stuffed the wasted £50 train ticket that I had purchased for the public good into my pocket. I then went about the business of buying a new ticket, pro bono Richard Bransono, for the eye-watering sum of £160.
It was now just after half past five in the morning and my next train was not until 7:07am. For no good reason I had had perhaps no more than an hour of sleep the night before. There was no charger for my laptop or phone, no cafes were open, and Burger King was still closed so I had nothing to do now except twiddle my thumbs on a station bench and make small-talk with a homeless man who had sat down next to me. I didn't understand a word he was saying and he didn't seem to understand a word I said so it wasn't a great conversation but it kept me going until about 7.05am. At that point I looked at the time and reflected that I would be cutting it a little fine now, but luckily had just enough time to race to the platform.
In fact, when I got to the station barrier, the station staff told me that the doors were locked and that I had again missed my train. I showed them my train ticket with an expression of real alarm and that seemed to do the trick - they said that there was a 7.10 am train on which my ticket was also valid. I sprinted to that platform and finally, at long last, made it onto an appropriate train.
As it turned out, my victory was to be short-lived. I was meant to change at Crewe but a last minute platform-change meant I somehow missed that train too. I walked out of Crewe station in a daze and asked a nearby cabby to estimate how much he would charge to just drive me to my final destination. £114 as it turned out.
By the time I arrived at court I was so late I did not have time to buy a new pair of shoes or cufflinks as planned (I was in between moving and both shoes and cufflinks were at my parents' home when the lockdown hit.) So for my first hearing in months, I arrived at court pairing a relatively smart suit with heavy battered brown walking boots and with large quantities of my uncuffed shirt spilling out of my suit sleeves. The only saving grace was that the walking boots hid all evidence of the fact that my suit trouser hems had come undone and that I had stapled them back together.
I leave out of this diary the real story of the day which was what brought this mother and father and their children to court and I Ieave out too all of what transpired on 9th July, except to say this:
Although I had prepared for this case in agonising detail, I arrived at the door of the court in poor spirits, not confident at all this was anything other than a doomed campaign. Then, unexpectedly, the hearing which was set down for 2 hours somehow ended up lasting the entire day, the judge's afternoon cases having been cleared out and she suddenly having time to hear the parties' evidence in great detail.
As a result I missed my fourth train for the day - an advance single the loss of which would take my eventual travel bill up to circa £450 - but with every minute of my cross-examination I felt we were firing cannonballs into the case against my side. By lunch she was wondering aloud if the children might come home after all. I avoided saying anything, concerned what would happen, when after the lunch-break, it was her turn to be cross examined.
I am not easily brought to tears. Aside from when I missed the 5.31am train, I struggle to recall the last time I have openly wept - but my client's delivery of her story from the witness box was so moving that I actually needed a moment to steady my voice when, her evidence over, it was time for me to deliver my closing submissions. Luckily it was not total shit. I avoided again the temptation to end with Cicero's closing line in his legal submissions pro Milo ("but I must stop for I can no longer speak for tears - and my client has ordered that tears are not to be used in this defence") and I went with something only slightly more sober. Then with both parents in tears (they hugged), me on the verge of tears, and the judge somewhat visibly moved too, the children were ordered to return home. In this job it is a point of principle that you do not choose sides - the cab-rank principle they call it - that no matter how apparently undesirable your client, how reviled by you or the general public, you take your clients as they come - literally as a cabby might take them if they were lining up at a taxi rank - and you fight hard and fearlessly for them. It is a noble principle I think which has meant that at times of great public hysteria, those accused of even the gravest crimes get their fair defence. And yet, I relished having been on the right side today if there is such a thing. To have fought on the side of the angels. And it was only all the more satisfying to have done it for free. Or I suppose to have paid circa £450 in travel fees for the honour. But what an honour it was.
An odd turn of events which I cannot speak about here led me to having a pint with a friend in Liverpool before continuing my journey back home. My first visit to that city, and my first post-lockdown beer in a proper pub. I drank with the sun in my eyes, a little more quickly than usual, determined not to miss my fifth train of the day.
I then boarded the train with my new-found friend and we both put on our masks as per the latest rules on public transport. It is odd to hold a conversation with someone masked and to only look at their eyes as we spoke. A woman across the aisle joined in our conversation. She apologised eventually and took her mask off saying she felt hot and claustrophobic in it and couldn't keep it on for three hours. I didn't mind. I watched the greens and yellows of the English countryside race past my window once again.
I arrived in the late evening at Euston where I hailed a cab to take me to my sister's flat in Old Street - where Yen and I were due to do 5 days of cat-sitting while my sister and her husband went camping in the Lake District - their first holiday since lockdown. This gave Yen and I the chance to go on our own holiday in Old Street.
And so I ended the evening with Yen, a take-away and a long-haired Maine kitten on the sofa.